Airing My Dirty Laundry

[B]y love serve one another.  For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Galatians 5:12-13

Our Sacrament Meeting theme last week was on service.  The Primary President spoke about how her summer enrichment with her kids has been setting a goal to serve others every day.  She spoke about how opportunities appeared as they sought them, describing with amusement the giggles of her children as they concocted a plan to stealthily pay for the car behind them in a fast food drive-through.

The high counselor then related an old Clay Christensen story, where Clay had discovered one summer day that an elderly woman in his ward had an ancient iron fridge in her basement filled with rotting food.  So Clay, as a good home teacher, took it upon himself to dispose of the fridge – and invited a neighbor to help.  As they’re dying in the heat, halfway up the stairs, the neighbor asks, “Clay, could you tell me a little bit about the Mormon Church?” And Clay said, “Don, frankly, this is the Mormon Church, right here.”

The next night I was reading Tracy McKay’s new book, where she describes the youth of her ward voluntarily cancelling a ski trip, just so they could show up at dawn and help pack up her house that was getting foreclosed on after her divorce.

And then — I’ve had one of those infamous 80-hour work weeks.  On Tuesday, I worked on my home computer until 2 in the morning on a project.  The next morning I left to travel to a meeting in New York.  And as I logged on to my work computer, I realized that in my exhausted haze I hadn’t transferred over my work from the night before.  The deadline was in a couple of hours, I was heading out of town, and I had no access to my files.

I panicked.  Then I immediately texted my visiting teacher.  Who was leaving on an errand with her kids before she also headed out of town.  Her day was insane enough, but without hesitating, she swung by my house, snuck in through the garage, bounded up my stairs, climbed over my dirty laundry pile in the middle of my upstairs hallway (I had meant to start a load), logged onto my computer, dragged the file over to my email, and clicked “send.”


The literal laundry pile my visiting teacher cheerfully did not judge me for.

It was a 10-minute errand for her, but it meant the world to me.  This teeny moment, alongside everything else from the week, made me reflect: the fact that I live in a community where we can all ask for favors on a minute’s notice and everyone treats it as ordinary and jumps to help – it’s awe-inspiring.  And inspiring me to serve those around me more.

In this great big messy world we live in, we all need help, and we all need to help each other.  Service is beauty.  Service is truth.  Service is the gospel of Jesus Christ.  From stealth purchases to rotten refrigerators to emailed files, this is why I love being a Mormon.

Go forth and serve.


  1. Angela C says:

    Stories like this one are the reason that I don’t like the aphorism “The church is true, but the people aren’t.” I say “Come for the church, but stay for the people.” We might originally be attracted to the teachings, but it’s really all about how these imperfect people try so hard to be good to each other, despite our flaws.

  2. @AngelaC: Honestly, I’d be fine scrapping 80% of our doctrine and teachings in exchange for even more “how can we serve our families and communities today?” It’s where we truly shine.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    The Gospel indeed.

  4. OK, this makes me a little cranky. It’s a good story and I like it. Hurrah for the visiting teacher. (Seriously.) But told as a lesson on the greatness of Mormonism-in-practice, it’s a complicated pat on the back.

    Mormonism in practice is an example of a highly communitarian group/society/culture/church, with relatively small well-defined communities (Wards and Branches). The individual service about which stories are often told are the natural and common fruits of communitarian thinking–for members of the community, for insiders.

    There is much to appreciate in a communitarian ways. Of course, the dark side of communitarianism is insularity–boundaries tend to be strong and outsiders tend to be ignored–and too frequent rejection of individuals who do not fit the mold.

    I am probably communitarian by nature and I like these stories. However, I am trying to learn to reach beyond the natural community in service to and inclusion of outsiders. I was raised on the Samaritan as a model. It seems to be a hard lesson for me. As Mormons we do reach outside our own insular communities, but the outreach looks to me like an expression of essential Christianity (and that’s a _good thing_). Not distinctly Mormon. And not so much in quantity or kind that it stands out within the larger Christian community. (To say nothing of practices and religions that make hospitality an important virtue.)

  5. Carolyn says:

    Ha, you can be contrarian if you want Christian. I totally agree that in any well-developed community and Christianity at large this sort of thing happens all the time, and in that sense we’re not unique. I still love it, appreciate that Mormons are so good at it, and want to seek to promote it everywhere.

  6. I should add that Clayton Christensen is a saint. I know him, I’ve seen him in action, I’ve been part of the community in which he lugged a refrigerator. In a weak and failing way I tried to follow in his footsteps in a particular calling. May we all . . .

  7. Sara Bybee Fisk says:

    SO lovely. Thank you!

  8. Angela C says:

    Personally, I think Clayton Christensen is spot on. If we want to win converts, we create communities of true discipleship.

  9. Um, OneDrive?

  10. I found the stories lovely and exactly right – this is what Mormon’s do so well.

    At the same time, it made me feel a little sad as I am very aware that I am not a person who everyone drops everything to help. If I left work at home and needed help, I wouldn’t have anyone to call. I’m an extreme introvert who just doesn’t do these kind of communal friendships (I find church social groups suffocating). I recognize that a good lot of this is my choice. I know *how* to get myself into the middle of a ward society, doing so just brings me more stress than fulfillment (and I say that from experience).

    I think there are likely a lot more people like me (the introverts struggling along in an extroverted church) than sometimes is acknowledged. So much of the care is about friendships and stewardships (the example of the fridge). If you don’t fall under one or the other, then you are a bit on the outside looking in.

  11. Mormonism in practice is an example of a highly communitarian group/society/culture/church, with relatively small well-defined communities (Wards and Branches).

    I wonder if this is why my ward seems to have a hard time “being there” for its members. It’s fairly unique in having essentially no boundaries in practice (one member even comes from a neighbouring country outside the stake) with most of the members “concentrated” in a city of nearly 2 million. Our home and visiting teaching percentages are in the single digits and the bishopric hears rumblings all the time about the general lack of support either on Sunday or during the week. I think we mean as well as anyone else in the church, but the distances involved are a real hurdle to spontaneous assistance where physical presence is necessary.

  12. I know I have seen service work really well around the Mormon world in many US states I have lived, but I have been so disappointed with it in Utah. In the 5 years I have lived in Utah, I have served as I was trained to outside of Utah: delivered hundreds of meals, spent many many hours babysitting for free, cleaned several homes, drive to doctor appointments etc (really it is so easy to serve ward members when they live within 3 blocks). But when I had a flooded basement on a Sunday after church and asked 38 people for help, the only one response I got was one person offering to come the next day after the Sabbath. It was an eye opening experience as to my perceived place in the community.

    I will be honest, since that day I have greatly changed my focused recipients of service to the homeless. Maybe I needed to appreciate service for it’s own sake and not as part of a community that could potentially reciprocate in times of need. I have been so blessed with love in this switch.

  13. We live in the UK and are LDS. My husband was assigned to an elderly sister whose husband was not a member. Even when the assignment changed he continued weekly visits. She died and he has continued for years to make 2-3 visits to both her husband and her brother who has been taken into a care home while we were away on holiday. I go about once a week as well. As far as I am concerned , even though they are both non-members they need our help and we are happy to serve.

  14. I think mormonism shines where service intersects with organization. We had an apartment fire in my student ward, and in short order visiting/home teachers were contacting their people, the bishopric set up a church gym to receive people who couldn’t go home, and everyone was offered a spare room to stay with someone. It was very efficient.

  15. This is wonderful.

    One of the things I have realized over the years is that for people to serve, we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable. That’s much harder for some people than it is for others, but I think it’s a necessary component to a faithful life. Our belief in our independence is a construct; it’s our shared need that is most real, and where we find the spark of the divine.

  16. Thanks for this, Carolyn. Sometimes the littlest things can make such a difference.

  17. Rachel Whipple says:

    Being a good Mormon is just being a good neighbor. When we lived on Long Island, it wasn’t a Mormon who helped me the most, but the Russian Jewish and Puerto Rican Catholic couple who lived across the street. When we were out of town for Christmas and the temps dropped so low in NY that we were afraid our pipes would freeze, they were the ones who broke into our house to make sure the heat and water were going enough that it would be okay. Jen helped me paint my kitchen and took my kids for me the night I went to the hospital to have a baby. Visiting teaching can help teach us to be this kind of neighbor, and heaven knows we need this kind of service and connection, both in and out of the church.

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