Life was hard for my twelve-year-old self.
For starters: I had to share a room with my two-year-old sister. I wore hand-me-downs. I was expected to do my own laundry, do the dishes three nights a week and …AND… I had to share a bathroom with my four brothers.
There I was engulfed in Pearl Jam and flannels wishing for my own pair of Doc Martins and not the knock-offs my mom bought me. Because life was unfair.
(It’s important to note that, although my twelve-year-old self would never admit it, I had a wonderful childhood. Memories of camping trips, craw-dad hunting, bike rides and Grandma’s house fill my eyes with tears as I recollect the love, the peace and the security my parents worked hard to provide for us. Unfortunately, in my self-centered mind, I just assumed that everybody else lived in this same utopia.)
One of my closest friends during that time was “Lucy.” She was quiet, kind and considerate. A far cry from my loud, clueless self. One day while walking home from school she asked me about my family and I animatedly lamented on the craziness that was my clan.
“I am the middle of seven kids!”
“Wow, that is…”
“CRAZY! I know! I have four brothers: two older than me and two younger than me and an older sister and a younger sister and I don’t even get my own phone in my room because my parents are just so, I mean they didn’t even give me a good reason they just totally don’t respect my privacy. When you are drowning in a sea of siblings you never, EVER have any privacy and my brothers are just soooo annoying and I have to spend time with them because of that whole ‘families are forever’ clause.”
As I finished my one-breath rant my friend beamed, “They sound great!”
“I’d love to meet all of them.” She said in all seriousness.
“Umm. . .OK. You should come over sometime to see for yourself how horrible it really is.”
The grieving process was taking hold as I was sure to lose such a wonderful friend once she experienced the circus that was my home life.
Then something odd happened.
I stood in the doorway ready to save her from the raging monkeys when I saw her go further into the chaos. She liked my brothers.
Lucy complimented my mom on her tuna casserole. As my brothers and I back-washed our peas into the carefully selected opaque cups I watched in horror when she took second helpings.
Then she did the dishes.
I know, surreal and my mind couldn’t possibly compute why she was behaving so oddly. It wasn’t until she insisted on staying for Family Home Evening (even after I explained it as forced family time) that I started to worry about how she’d react to our weird, Mormon ways.
My mom handed her a Book of Mormon and when I thought she couldn’t be more uncomfortable, she volunteered to read and continued to read to herself long after the closing prayer and distribution of brownies (which of course she helped bake earlier that evening).
My mom, despite her tuna casserole, is an amazing woman. I often dub her as the “family scripture guru” but most importantly she’s always heeding spiritual promptings. That night was no different when she sat down by my new friend and patiently explained what the Book of Mormon was, how it came to be and why we cherish its words and teachings. She read the witness testimonies, explained the table of contents and shared a bit of her own testimony. Lucy soaked it all in and came back to our madhouse as often as she could.
It wasn’t until a bit later in the school year when she unexpectedly had to break plans and head to her own home that I insisted on coming with her. She was hesitant at first but I have a knack for weaseling myself into places I’m not graciously invited into (call it a gift that I have honed over the years).
“Besides, you have done my dishes so many times I really do owe you, and I’ve always wanted to meet your younger brother and sister.” All part of my plan to not have to interact with my own.
She relented and as we walked to her neighborhood I started to notice that we were heading into a part of our small town that I had never really been to before. The apartments were outdated, the yards not kept and the term “dodgy” finally made sense to me.
Remember my amazing mom? Well, as selfish and loud and moody as I was my mother instilled in me some good old fashioned manners. When we walked into the two bedroom apartment I didn’t flinch when the sheet of cigarette smoke hit my senses. I didn’t once let my friend; my dear, sweet friend, see me react to the deplorable surroundings.
Her little brother and sister were quietly sitting on the floor watching TV. My eyes darted from the empty bottles and cans strewn about the room till they rested on the couch to see Lucy’s passed out mother.
I didn’t say anything. Lucy wrapped her mother in a blanket, kissed her siblings on the head and started to pick up the remnants of her mother’s latest drinking binge. I grabbed the garbage bag to meet her halfway and together we cleaned up the mess. Swept the floors, did the dishes and brought out a can of soup for dinner. After clearing the table we went down the hall to do some homework.
Doing the numbers in my head, I couldn’t work out how a family of six lived in a two-bedroom apartment. We passed the lone bathroom, the room her two brothers shared (her older brother was never home) and headed toward the master bedroom. The king-sized waterbed took up most of the room but with the water mattress ripped, all that the bed was used for was a dumping ground for clothes, toys, and junk: rendering the biggest bedroom useless.
Lucy opened a door in the back and welcomed me into her five by three-foot walk-in closet. A small pad, a couple of blankets and two pillows was the bed she shared with her six-year-old sister. I took it all in and remembering what my mom taught me, commented on her posters and with a smile started talking about school, our latest crushes, and within minutes we were just two twelve-year-old girls laughing over boys and figuring out our math homework.
The evening lapsed inside that tiny closet until we heard glass shattering and a woman yelling. Lucy darted up and headed to her mother who was knee deep in the garbage stuttering over curse words. I stayed back as Lucy calmly led her mother to the table and patiently fed her soup.
With a gentle voice, she told her mother of the day she had. I grabbed a broom and started sweeping up the mess while Lucy cleaned spilled soup from her mother’s chin.
Mercy is the compassionate treatment of a person greater than what is deserved.
Mercy is taking a step back and acting out with love instead of judgment.
My friend; my sweet, kind and patient friend lived a life less than what she deserved. Where-as I was self-serving and under appreciative: she was patient, tenderhearted, forgiving and compassionate.
I remember how many times I watched my own mother instinctively reach out to Lucy. Without knowing the full circumstances my mother always followed the spirit: enveloping my friend with the kindness, the nurture and the wisdom her own mother was incapable of giving.
When I came home that night I looked at my room, the two beds, the full closet and nice home that I lived in and was ashamed of how I had taken it all for granted. I was not responsible for my siblings’ welfare, I had a mother who took care of our needs and a father we could depend upon.
However, as the years have passed the more I learn about our Savior and the closer I live my life to His teachings, I can now appreciate what I couldn’t back then. It wasn’t the house, the room or the things I had that Lucy envied most.
It was the safety of the home as we knelt together in family prayer.
The warmth of the Spirit when we read the Book of Mormon together.
The laughter when we shared life’s ups and downs at the dinner table. The support of a family united with parents centering our lives with Christ.
Our Heavenly Father’s mercy for his children is often manifested through His faithful servants. Blessed are the mothers who care for all His children: the neglected, the lost and the forgotten. Blessed am I for Lucy, who taught me the depths of selfishness can be surmounted by the mercy to forgive and the compassion to love.