Thursday, July 9, 2015

Extreme Makeover: Ward Edition

       "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." -James 1:27
       What does it mean to be Mormon? Yes, I know being baptized makes you a member of the Church, but what does it mean to be Mormon - to live the Mormon life? There are many possible answers. For me, the answer lies in a story.

       When I was just a deacon I had an experience I'll probably remember for the rest of my life. There was an older sister in our ward who lived alone in a house on the corner. Somehow a fire started in her home and by the time the fire department could put it out, the house had been gutted. The exterior was scarred and the floors and walls were blackened by flames. Debris littered the floor with many of this sister’s personal possessions either ruined or consumed in the blaze. The situation seemed hopeless. The good lady who had been self-sufficient one day was in dire trouble the next. When I heard about the incident, I cringed. Whenever we drove past the house I saw the damage that had been done and I hurt for this sister. I pitied her and her seemingly un-salvageable situation.

       But our bishopric saw things differently. They didn't see a lost cause. They saw a neighbor in need and work that needed doing. Soon word went out that everyone would be pitching in to help this sister rebuild. A schedule was established and people worked around the clock to clean and repair the house. Priesthood quorums pitched in and Relief Society sisters organized. Anyone with home repair skills volunteered their time and anyone who could learn home repair skills got to work alongside them. 

       Still, it seemed like a daunting task. I looked at the house and wondered why we were working so hard to fix something so broken. Still, all the adults seemed eager to help and I wasn't going to get left behind so I volunteered like everyone else.

       As our ward worked, the house slowly transformed. New drywall was put in and electrical work was done. Fresh paint was applied and the kitchen was rebuilt almost from scratch. I did what small tasks I could and was impressed by what I saw. It seemed to me like a miracle the way things were coming together.

       On the last day of the project, a Saturday, the Aaronic priesthood boys were brought in and charged with a special task. Since this sister had been living on her own it was hard for her to keep her lawn as neat as the others on her street. But our leaders thought this sister ought to have a yard to match her house, so for that morning and much of the afternoon us boys tamed what had once been an unruly yard. We pulled weeds, mowed the front and back lawns, and mended an old fence. We exterminated some pests and edged the grass. By the time we were done the place was immaculate, inside and out.

       That evening everyone gathered outside for a barbecue dinner to celebrate the completion of our ward project. The house was pristine, the grounds around it were trimmed and neat, and this sister had her home restored to her.  I remember seeing a lot of my neighbors there smiling and laughing, some of them tired from the day's work.

       As I watched everyone at that party, I thought about what our ward had accomplished. This was better than any episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition I had ever seen. But there were no cameras. No newspapers came to cover the story. We didn't turn the house into a big mansion, it was just back to being a regular house. But still this was better than any TV show or dramatic charity event could ever be. Here was a group of people who came together, taking time out of their weeknights and weekends to do a service for their neighbor. They worked overtime and nobody got paid. They did it because of their faith. They rallied together because of a shared assumption: that when a neighbor needs help, we come to lend a hand. We come because that's what Christ would want us to do. 

       As members of the Church, we spend a lot of time talking about doctrines and values. All of that is great, but what being Mormon means to me is captured best in this story. When you're a Mormon, you help others. It doesn't matter how important or insignificant you are to the world at large. Everyone has something to give so everyone helps out. Even if you don't know your neighbor well, you just serve because it's good. 

       I love this Church, its doctrine, and its history. But what I love most is that simple principle that all Mormons seem to know and try to live by: that "we believe in doing good to all men" (Article of Faith 13). I've never been the best at living this principle, but I'm thankful for all the opportunities I have to get better at it, opportunities that come because of this church. Thank heavens for every casserole that's ever been delivered by a Relief Society sister and every home teacher who shovels snow. Thank heavens for the scout leaders who spend their weekends in tents and every nursery leader blowing bubbles. Thank goodness for all of that sometimes thankless service, because that's what being Mormon means to me.

Picture Credits (in order of appearance);
2. "rollin' " by Eelke,
4. "2007-08-11 133" by Patrick Schommer,, (altered from original).

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