Unexpected Testimony

Today is the 30th of the month. I pick up a bar of dark chocolate at CVS on my way home from work, contemplating an appropriately warm and playful message to attach to it. When I reach home, I realize someone else had the same impulse: a cute pumpkin card is taped to my door. I finish my card and zip over to my neighbor’s house for a brief, unannounced hello and chocolate delivery. I remember how much I like this woman. I wish I knew her better. Speed-visiting teaching complete.

I am not a great visiting teacher. The whole process often feels awkward, imposing, or inconvenient. But I can’t dismiss this program – as much as it would ameliorate my guilt when I forget to call two months in a row — because visiting teaching has meant something to me at unexpected, irreplaceable moments.

In honor of the end of the month, here are three (of many more than I deserve) memories:

Every few months, I receive a handwritten letter from a young woman who joined the church as a college freshman during my years in Boston. As she’s quick to remind me, I was her first visiting teaching companion. One woman on our route lived in a rough part of town – nearly an hour away by train. Every month, my companion made some improbable treat in the creative confines of her dorm room, and we talked our way into friendship as we switched from the Green Line to the Red Line. Some memories have a tangible quality – I can see us leaning against the bars in a crowded train, sprinting to our visiting teachee’s apartment in the rain, returning home at 10pm to a pile of homework.

*******
During one of “those periods” of bone-wearying busy-ness and worry, I returned from work to find five paper bags, each packed with an inventive, nutritious lunch. I hadn’t been shopping for days, and I was working through lunch and dinner most days. I sat down on my couch and cried. I saw one of the women who packed these lunches at the Exponent II retreat this year. Eight years later, I still felt a rush of gratitude.

******

Same time period: I was much too busy and emotionally exhausted to be a visiting teacher, but I accepted a route anyway. I could tell my introverted new companion wasn’t always comfortable with this calling, but she was more conscientious than me at making appointments. I was her ride. Driving back from a visit one day (and I cannot tell you the name of a single woman we visited in our year together) I inexplicably broke down in tears. My companion waited with indescribably patient compassion. I could feel it permeate the car. So we talked. And talked and talked. A few years later, she was maid of honor at my wedding.

*******

So I try to do my visiting teaching — or at least drop off dark chocolate and keep the door open for more moments of grace.

Deborah

Deborah is K-12 educator who nurtures a healthy interest in reading, writing, running, ethics, mystics, and interfaith dialogue.

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  1. Sue says:

    I love visiting teaching. I don’t love giving the message, in fact I find that the most annoying part, since it usually interrupts the friendshipping, but I love the excuse, the reason to get together with someone and reach out. I’m not extremely outgoing, but it has been rare for me not to make new, lasting friends after being assigned as a visiting teacher or to make good friends with my partner. I’ve heard it derided as “assigned friendship” – shallow and without meaning – but I look at it more like – you’re assigned to make friends. I think there IS a difference.

    I think it’s important to try. Not the message, not the visit – but the effort to reach out to someone, to reach outside yourself.

    Great post.

  2. idahospud says:

    Control freak that I am, I do VT on my own terms. I don’t like the ‘assigned friend” idea, so I tell my VTees that I would rather be their friend than sit on their couch with a lesson–so I generally take a meal or two a month in to one harried sister, and have a little playgroup with the toddlers of the VTees (and of my VT partner, who I have converted to My Way).

    A couple of years ago I asked my RS president to assign me Visiting Teachers who don’t come (“I know you’ve got some,” I joked). I told her that while my Visiting Teachers were lovely and came every month, I would never go to them if I needed help–it would be my neighbor or best friend or MIL. And, as a homeschooler, it just seemed like there was never a good time for VTs to come. So my wise RS President assigned my best friend (who hates to visit teach, but who I see nearly daily) to me, and it’s perfect.

    Worked so well I asked the HP group leader to assign me HTs that don’t come (“I know you’ve got them,” I joked, but he wasn’t amused). Poor guy, he kept asking me if there was a deeper issue and I had to let him know that the issue was rather shallow–I just don’t like them to come and if I needed help, I’d call my neighbor or my FIL. “This is the Lord’s work,” he kept telling me, and I told him that I appreciated his concern, but that I was just letting him know what I needed from him. After a go-round with my husband, he finally assigned my neighbor to us. This neighbor is an incredible HT, but he knows that I don’t want him giving me a lesson each month. I just want him to continue to be our friend and to give and receive help as we have always done.

    Perhaps at some point I’ll be asked to do something differently, or I will want to do things differently or my family’s needs will change, but for now it’s perfect.

  3. Dora says:

    Thanks for this good reminder about how good VTing can be.

    I confess that I’ve never really liked RS or VTing. Rationally, I can see why we have programs like this. But I haven’t been moved by them in a while. This isn’t to say that I don’t have amazing female friend in the church, because I do. But most of it is based on choice and kindred recognition, not on geography or assignment. Or maybe just need to grow up and recognize the kindredness of all women? Hmmm …

    However, I still have very fond memories of my all-time favorite VTer. We were both really busy, but would find time to go for lunch about every other month. She has msucular dystrophy, so would pick me up in her car, and we could park near the restaurants with her handicap plate. And we’d just sit and talk. About the church, about being single, about new discoveries, about anything. The thing is, we’d known each other for years before this, but had never connected on a deeper level. I can’t even remember a single, official message she brought me. But I do remember and treasure the friendship.

  4. Deborah says:

    Yeah, I’m not so good about giving the assigned message, but I guess I view that more as a vehicle than an obligation. I often try to find a favorite scripture that’s been on my mind to share (even on a notecard to pass along there or surreptitiously during sacrament meeting). I think there’s a lot of room for creativity within the scope of paying attention to and becoming closer with the women in our ward.

  5. Caroline says:

    I’m not a great visiting teacher, but I rather like the program. It is a good excuse to get to know someone a bit.

    I do, however, deeply dislike giving the message. I never do it. It just seems so awkward to transition from a social dynamic to a didactic one.

  6. Janna says:

    I think the church would do well to forgo spending time crafting a message each month in the Ensign. It appears that many (or most) women don’t use it, and find it prohibitive to the goals of visiting teaching. My visiting teachers share it each month, and it’s definitely not my favorite part. Fortunately, my visiting teachers know me pretty well and choose to share quotes with me that they think I’ll like 🙂

    On a related note, I have requested that the RS not change my visiting teaching assignments. I understand that the assignments change frequently because of turnover, etc., but I find my partnerships so satisfying – I’ve taken matters into my own hands so that I can more easily keep this “commandment.”

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