Poetry and musings of a zany Mormon girl who is very proud of her Erda roots.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

First Observe, Then Serve

Last week was full of surprises that kept me on my toes. Late on Saturday night I was talking to friends as a party I had hosted started to wind down. During the course of the conversation it was brought to my rememberance that I has committed to giving a talk in Sacrament meeting during church the next morning.  It's been some time since I was asked to give a 15 to 20 minute talk and I was a little excited to be asked. Even having forgotten my commitment, this didn't bother me much. I had been asked to give my thoughts on a specific talk given during the most recent biannual General Conference -- all I needed to do was summarize the talk and add my own thoughts.

Waking early Sunday morning to prepare my talk, I was struck to do two things: write everything out and share stories about my brother, Adam. This was a little unusal. I typically jot down some notes and write out quotes but mostly just speak my mind. And I usually leave thoughts of Adam to be shared with close friends.

After giving this talk and hearing the responses from those in my ward, I feel that there are reasons I needed to write it all out and speak of Adam. I needed to share these thoughts here and I needed to be reminded of my brother. So here it is, the talk that has stirred the emotional pot and brought me back to my blog again - hopefully for good this time.

In June of 2003 my family went through one of the most difficult things a family can go through. My mom and my brother, Adam who was 11 at the time, were driving home to Erda on the lonely stretch of Utah road between Ibapah and Wendover. It was really the back end of nowhere. Something happened and the car rolled six times. Every time it flipped it landed on the passenger side. My mom suffered a few minor scrapes and bruises. Adam didn't make it. In the days that followed we witnessed many miracles. Our ward had split about six months before so when this happened we had the benefit of two wards coming to our aid. I felt the power of the Holy Ghost more strongly than I thought possible. I literally felt the power of prayer as so many families headed the teachings of Christ when he said to mourn with those who mourn. There were a lot of meals, hugs, and tears shared but one act of service has lodged in my heart forever. After a visit of condolence our neighbor, Danny Idom, noticed that our yard hadn't been attended to. He came back early the next morning and without knocking on the door or saying anything proceeded to mow the lawn, weed flower beds and set everything right. He saw a need that we couldn't fulfill at that time and he gave us his efforts to fill it. Danny internalized and heeded the Lord's teaching found in John 15: 12.

“This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.”

Relief Society General President Linda K. Burton summarized this commandment in four words easy to remember: she said to First Observe, Then Serve.

Sister Burton shared a story that illustrated this point.
Almost 40 years ago my husband and I went to the temple for our Friday night date. We had been married only a short time, and I was nervous because this was only my second time as a newlywed. A sister sitting next to me must have noticed. She leaned over and whispered reverently, “Don’t worry. I’ll help you.” My fears were calmed, and I was able to enjoy the rest of the temple session. She first observed, then served.

Sister Burton urges us to listen to the Prophet. She said:

One of the greatest evidences we have that our beloved prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, is the Lord’s chosen servant is that he has learned to follow the Savior’s example—serving individually, one by one. Those of us who have entered the waters of baptism have covenanted to do the same. We have covenanted to “always remember [the Savior] and keep his commandments,”1 and He has said, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.”
Notice how the following words from President Monson include the same invitation: “We are surrounded by those in need of our attention, our encouragement, our support, our comfort, our kindness. … We are the Lord’s hands here upon the earth, with the mandate to serve and to lift His children. He is dependent upon each of us.”

First Observe, Then Serve
Adam was always a high strung individual. He was excitable and sometimes quite irrational. Growing up we always had a family project that took up most of the summer. These were not fun. It was always hard work. Because of these projects I can lay and finish drywall. I know the basics of building construction, how solar panels work, how to stuff a circuit board, make a phone cord, and run a small business. I also know how rural sewage systems work with a septic tank and drainage fields. I know this because one infamous summer we had to redo the system in our back yard. Adam complained all the time about the work and would refuse to help so one day we locked him in the gardener’s shed. He screamed and fussed until we let him out. After that, whenever he complained we hinted that a trip to the shed might be in order and he straightened out. It was around the same time that I learned an important lesson with Adam. When he started going into a fit complaining that it was unfair to ask him to do a chore I would take him aside, wrap him in my arms and hold him until he calmed down. I would then explain that we all needed to work together and he needed to contribute to family effort. After a time of gentle words and soothing he would meekly go and fulfill what had been asked of him. I saw through the Saviors eyes a young man who just needed a little understanding – to be heard and loved for a minute – and I was able to serve him by giving him my time and a calming embrace. I taught my mom this technique with Adam and she used it frequently. Since he passed away this memory has given me great comfort. I know that Adam felt my love for him. I observed and served my brother in a crucial time in his short life.
Brothers and Sisters, it is not enough to theoretically love others. You must show that love, that caring, that charity as Christ would. By serving the individual we truly do as President Monson encouraged:

“We are surrounded by those in need of our attention, our encouragement, our support, our comfort, our kindness. … We are the Lord’s hands here upon the earth, with the mandate to serve and to lift His children. He is dependent upon each of us."  

Who around you is in need of help? Who needs some small kindness? Who needs a listening ear, a gentle hug, a sweet word of encouragement? When you recognize a need it is a prompting by the Holy Ghost to act, to serve, to be the Lord's hands. Do not let the moment pass, but act. When you first observe, then serve.

Sister Burton related another time recently when she was prompted to go to the temple. She said:

A few weeks ago, I was hurried and frazzled, with too many to-dos on my list. I had hoped to go to the temple that day but felt I was just too busy. As soon as that thought of being too busy for temple service crossed my mind, it awakened me to what I most needed to do. I left my office to walk over to the Salt Lake Temple, wondering when I was going to recapture the time I was losing. Thankfully, the Lord is patient and merciful and taught me a beautiful lesson that day.
As I sat down in the session room, a young sister leaned over and reverently whispered, “I’m really nervous. This is only my second time in the temple. Could you please help me?” How could she ever have known that those words were exactly what I needed to hear? She didn’t know, but Heavenly Father knew. He had observed my greatest need. I needed to serve. He prompted this humble young sister to serve me by inviting me to serve her. I assure you that I was the one who benefited most.
After Adam passed away my dad wrote a pamphlet on how to respond to the grief of others as we remembered the helpful service of our friends and neighbors. Among the helpful tips he relates a piece of advice that is applicable in all times of life. Do not say, “If there's anything I can do for you, just ask.” Instead, just act. Danny Idom saw our lawn was a mess and came over to mow, trim and weed. A kind sister saw Sister Burton's need for help in the temple. I saw my brother's need for understanding. Don't leave your service until someone is pleading for your help. If you see a need, find a way to fill it. This does not mean that you must take on the burdens of the world. There are many things that cannot be fixed by one person. Strive to be receptive to the Spirit in your home, your ward, your community. Don't wait for a service project or for an assignment. Become friends with those you home or visit teach. Learn to be the Lord's hands in the lives of others as they are His hands in your life.

First Observe, Then Serve

I've been thinking a lot about the importance of getting to know others. Of reaching out and becoming familiar with all sorts of people so as to recognize when things are a little off. Of knowing  when to step up and help out.

This week two members of neighborhood passed away. It was amazing to attend the first funeral and see how well everything worked because there was a plan that just needed to be set into motion. I can't remember much of Adam's funeral. I remember the important parts. But don't ask me who set up chairs, brought food, or gave us hugs. Those things all just sort of happened. Someone else knew what was needed and served my family in specific ways that total strangers couldn't have.

I think right now I'm going to start small by grooming my thoughts into more charitable ones than I'm naturally inclined to have. I'm going to work on being more kind to my family. I'm going to be more available to help when others really are begging for aid. Once I've mastered the little things then maybe I can move on to the bigger issues of humanity. Maybe.


  1. Hi, I found this post while writing a RS lesson based on Sister Burton's talk. I really like what you've written. Do you mind if I share parts of your story?

    1. Sorry that I haven't checked this site for a long time. I hope your RS lesson went well!