It was one of those general conferences where some of the speakers reported the growth of the Church, and I was involved in the excitement of temples, visitors’ centers, more missionaries going into more countries every month, the member-missionary program expanding in wider circles …
And then a little voice inside me asked, “What about your neighbors?”
Just as quickly another voice replied, “My neighbors are hopeless.”
I honestly felt that way—especially that same night when I caught the three neighbor boys, ages twelve, ten, and eight, doing some mischief in our yard. That made me angry.
Just a week after the Millers (I’ve changed the names) had moved in, Bonnie, my six-year-old, came in crying from a welt on her forehead. “Jerry hit me with a rock.”
Kathy, my ten-year-old, was indignant. “Mama, Jerry Miller threw a big rock at Bonnie because she was holding their cat. When she started to cry, Mrs. Miller came out and Jerry said we were calling him mean names. She told us not to bother her family and stay in our own yard.”
“We didn’t call anyone mean names, mama,” added my serious eight-year-old, Cynthia.
My five children had always had their differences with other children in the neighborhood, but we mothers just separated them until they calmed down; an hour later they were usually playing together again. But Mrs. Miller’s invariable attitude was to defend her own children no matter what they had done.
After the incident when I caught the boys in our yard, I marched the boys home to their mother and scolded all of them: “If any more rocks are thrown into my yard, if my little ones are bullied or threatened, or if one of you peeks into my windows, I’ll call the police. And if you’d control your children, Mrs. Miller, instead of everybody else’s, maybe this neighborhood would have some peace again!”
Shaking, I returned home. But the next day as the anger disappeared, I knew I’d done the wrong thing. “If ever a family needed the example of a good Latter-day Saint neighbor,” I thought, “this one does. Could I possibly have set a worse example? And look what it did to me. I never want to feel such anger again.” I prayed aloud, “What should I do, Heavenly Father? What would your Son do?”
As I asked, the answer came clearly to my mind: “Show forth great love.”
As I thought about it, the challenge became exciting, and I went straight to the kitchen. While I baked and frosted a chocolate cake, the children and I talked about the Millers and how we had treated them as well as how they had treated us. We discussed the Savior’s example of doing good to others.
When the cake was finished, I carried it to the neighbors. Mrs. Miller wasn’t there, so I handed it to the oldest boy and told the three boys “I baked this cake especially for you.” Their faces showed both shock and pleasure. “I feel bad that I became angry, but do you know who really feels bad? Your mother. She loves you boys very much and it hurts her when you do things you shouldn’t. Could we try harder to get along and be good neighbors to each other?”
“Alright,” mumbled Tom, embarrassed, “we will.”
As I turned to leave, all three spoke simultaneously, “Thanks for the cake, Mrs. Brown!”
During the next month the results of this gesture were unbelievable. No more rock-throwing. My two littlest girls didn’t once run into the house afraid of the Miller boys’ threats. And all three boys cheerfully called, “Hello, Mrs. Brown,” whenever they saw me.
But I was still deeply ashamed of having become angry. I didn’t see Mrs. Miller and I didn’t try to seek her out—even when Cynthia and Bonnie told me at lunch: “Bonnie wouldn’t let Jerry Miller play with her racing car because he kept pulling off the wheels, and when Jerry started to cry Mrs. Miller came outside. She wasn’t upset with Bonnie. Instead she told Jerry, ‘If Bonnie was wrecking your car, you wouldn’t let her play with it, either.’ Then she told him to go inside and think about it for a while.”
I still wish I’d gone back to show love to Mrs. Miller herself. They moved a month later, and I’ve never known where they went. But I do know I’ll never forget the lesson of one chocolate cake.