Give and Take
Stories in this episode: Frances struggles in her role as a mom of three kids but is offered a helping hand right when she both needs it most and it's the most difficult to accept; Phyllis has always been eager to accept callings, but in her grief and loneliness after her husband passes away she feels like letting someone else step up to the plate—that is until she’s reminded of how service can deeply affect the lives of those who give.
Phyllis and her husband, Harry:
KaRyn Lay 0:03
Welcome to "This Is the Gospel," an LDS Living podcast where we feature real stories from real people who are practicing and living their faith every day. I'm your host, KaRyn Lay.
So when you first saw that our theme for the week was "Give and take," did you think, "Oh, cool! Opposites!" . . . Okay, nobody thought that. But it totally helps my introduction if you pretend that you thought that, okay?
Because as we've produced this week's stories, I've come to a new understanding of this timeworn phrase that–and I'm going to give you a little bit of history in the 18th century referred to the practice of adding weight to a horse to even out an unfair race. And today, it usually references compromise in a relationship or in a contract.
By the way, bucket list item to squeeze a reference to horse racing into the host segments of "This Is the Gospel"? Check. Okay, I digress.
In our discipleship practice, we talk a whole lot about the virtue of learning to give. But I think it's fair to say we talk much less about the virtue of learning to take, or to receive. And yet, as we're going to see from today's stories, these two words are so much more than just opposites.
Giving and receiving are inextricably tied together in our spiritual efforts. And they're inextricably tied to our growth as followers of Jesus Christ.
Our first story today comes from Frances and while it focuses on her experience of parenting, tiny humans, the things that she learns about how to receive? They're relevant to every single one of us. Here's Frances.
I had a two year old daughter and a six month old son, and I found out that I was pregnant, unexpectedly and unplanned. First, I got really mad. Having kids was not easy for me. I felt like parenting didn't come naturally to me. And I didn't enjoy it as much as I sometimes felt like I should, or as much as it seems like other people did.
And I felt really overwhelmed. I had two little kids and the thought that I was now going to have another one was just really traumatic for me. The only person I could really think of to blame was God. And I never really had that experience before, to be honest, being mad at God. And it was hard to talk about because it's not really kosher to say that you are having a baby that you don't really want. And it's especially not kosher to say that in company where maybe someone is on the other side of that same scenario.
Why do this to me when there are lots of people who would probably be really happy to find out that they were having a baby, and I'm not one of them? That doesn't seem fair.
So first, I had to learn to kind of accept my feelings and say, I'm not going to feel badly about the way that I feel about this. And then I just got really depressed after I was done being mad, I just got really bummed. And I spent a lot of time in bed, candy–you know, I just didn't know what to do. I felt like the idea of having another kid occupied so much of my brain space that just living my normal life seemed really, really hard.
I remember being at Costco, it was a Saturday we were at Costco, my husband and I and our two kids. And it was just a nightmare. It was so crowded. We were trying to feed them that messy greasy Costco pizza. And I just broke down crying. And I said, "How am I going to do this? Now I'm going to have one more kid, and I'm still going to be coming to Costco, and I can't even do it now."
And that's when I really came back to God. I think when we say like, "Having a prayer in your heart," I've always thought of it as like a happy Disney character frolicking through the woods always with a song, you know. And this was not like that. But it was the closest experience I've ever had to having a constant prayer in my heart.
You know, I didn't kneel down and say, "This is the moment and tell me what to do." It was almost all day every day just saying, "How do I do it? Show me. Help me. Teach me. Please, please, please." And then I got this impression.
When I have impressions, it usually comes as an idea that just won't go away. It keeps coming back into my mind. And that's what this was, a really simple–"When you need help, ask for it. When people offer you help–accept it."
I don't think I was surprised that that was the answer, because honestly, I was so in the dark about how it would work, that I didn't actually have any idea of what the answer would be. This is probably not a great place to be in general, as a person, but I was so desperate for an answer that I feel like any idea that came to me, I would have been like, "Great. If that's how it's gonna work, then that sounds great to me." I just needed something to hang my hat on so badly.
But–"When help is offered to you, accept it," as I sort of turned that over in my mind, it became really clear to me that what that meant was to move beyond these scenarios that I had always thought, "These are acceptable times to receive help." And that impression, it became very clear to me that what it was teaching me was that we don't earn help. We don't have to be worthy of help. We don't have to be on the brink of disaster, or a breakdown of ourselves or our family, to be in a place where it's acceptable to take help. If someone wants to help you, then just let them help you.
Once the baby was born, I–my initial feeling was just relief. It had just been so hard for me when I was pregnant to imagine anything about what it would be like once she was born, that then when she was born, I thought, "Okay, well now I have something to start with." My mom was with us and she had planned to stay for six weeks.
And then my husband was going to take his–he had like two weeks of vacation that he could use as parental leave, so he was going to take that once my mom went home. And we all thought, okay, at eight weeks, we're going to be just a well oiled machine and that's going to be fine.
At around five weeks, I really found myself back in that place of just major panic, and also back in that place of just being really mad. And I'll also say here, I feel like when you first have a baby, everyone wants to help you. And I think this is true of a lot of things when your spouse first passes away, or when you first move in somewhere and you're new, it's easy for us as people to kind of coalesce around a person in the immediate aftermath of that kind of event.
But what happens when it's six weeks later, or six months later, or a year later? Whatever the thing is, that person is still living with the impact of that experience and that circumstance. And I think that that was also a really important part of that impression I had to accept help when it was offered to me. Because I think we also start to think, "Oh, well, I shouldn't need help by now. My baby is six months old, what's wrong with me that today I wake up and I can't function in my life," or "I can't do the thing that I need to do." I think we offer help less as we move away from whatever the inciting event is. And I think we also accept help less because we think we should be over it.
So my third baby Tabitha was five months old, it was Christmas time, and my middle son Alistair was like one and a half and my oldest daughter, Beatrice was three. And my husband Andrew was very sick. And my kids had been sick and it was Christmas time and I was in this window where you should be functioning, right?
You should be fitting back in your jeans and doing your thing after you had your baby. And we were just not in that place at all. I had these three good friends from my neighborhood and we all went over to one girl's house and we were going to decorate Christmas cookies with all these–everyone had all these little kids.
And it was really fun and the kids were having a great time but I was telling these girls just, "Man, I'm in a bad spot." You know, "I'm really tired. This baby's not sleeping. My husband is down and out. My kids have been sick. You know, we're cooped up in the winter. I just really feel like I'm not coping."
And then we heard a scream and all this scuffling, and one of my friends went over to see what was happening, and she came back and in her hand, she had a fistful of hairo–of someone's hair that my son had pulled out of another girl's head. He had just completely unprovoked yanked out this handful of hair, just out of her head. It's–I still don't understand it. What happened? That's what happened.
He pulled out this fistful of hair, and I just, I just broke down, crying, I was so embarrassed that he had done such an awful thing. I was so tired, I was so overwhelmed. I just felt like garbage, like a really bad person and a really bad mom. And I just screamed, "Everyone in the car! Get your stuff, we're leaving! No cookies for anyone." I just thought the only thing I know to do is to go lock myself in my house and just wait . . . until I don't know what. But we obviously can't be around people. I just wanted to disappear.
So I started, you know, throwing everything in our diaper bag, and we've got to get out of here and my friend said, "Okay, all right. Hang on, hang on. Beatrice"–my older daughter–they said, "Just leave her here. You know, the kids are watching a movie. They're having fun, she's fine. Just leave her here. And we'll bring her home later."
I left her there with her friends and I went home and I put my other kids down for a nap. And I just sat on the couch, staring into space. Because I think another really hard thing when you come to that place is you think maybe I've figured this out, and then something like that happens and you realize, oh, I haven't. But now what do I do? Because the thing that I thought I knew how to do, I don't. So the way that I was doing it before, maybe I need a new way. But how am I going to figure that out? I felt a little bit like I was back where I had started, which is a pretty demoralizing feeling.
So my phone rings, and it's one of these friends and and I thought, "Oh, great. She's calling to tell me that Beatrice broke someone's nose or punched a hole in the wall or, you know, what is this going to be?" And she said, "Okay, we all got together, and we booked you a massage. We pitched in and we booked you a massage. And I'm going to come to your house and watch your other kids."
And this is a person who had you know, kids of her own. She said, "I'm just going to bring them over, it's totally fine. They'll play with your toys, everyone will play together. And you can go get this massage." And she said, "Don't rush through it, sit in the sauna, do what you need to do. And when my husband gets off work, he's going to bring dinner and we'll just have dinner at your house, with your kids and your husband, and we'll see you when you're ready. But the first appointment we could get you isn't for two hours. So I'm going to come now, and you can just go do what you want to do."
And I went–I remember–I saw a terrible Chris Pratt movie and I ate a huge tub of popcorn and then I went and got a massage. And I just couldn't believe it, partly because . . I thought, I wouldn't have done that. I wouldn't have thought to do that for someone else.
And partly because I thought–I do not deserve this help. My kid did something really bad–I mean, he didn't set a fire or something, but it felt really bad to me and really embarrassing. I was embarrassed and I was ashamed of what had happened. Not only of what had happened, but also that I clearly was not coping in a way to have stopped it from happening.
And I thought, why would they want to help me when I'm at the root of this problem? But they wanted to help me because they were my friends. And because they were kind. And I think it would have been really easy to say, "This is too much," or "Let me pay you back," or "I'll do the massage. But you know, I'm not going to take this extra time." But that impression just came back to me that–this is help that's being offered to you and you should say yes. Because these are people who love you, and they want to help you.
And that was five years ago, almost six years ago. And it is still the most transformative act of service that anyone has ever done for me. I feel like it finally helped me get over this idea that we have to deserve help in order to accept it, because that was really, for a combination of reasons, that time, easily could have been categorized as my least deserving time.
My kid had just pulled out someone's hair, it was Christmas and everyone was busy, my baby was five months old and shouldn't I be able to cope with this? For all those reasons. So it was really kind of the final nail in the coffin of that misperception about when it's okay to need help, and when it's okay to accept help. And that really changed the way that I now approach giving people help or offering people help.
I think sometimes we sit on it a little bit, because we want to extend the right kind of help. We don't want to offend people, we want our efforts to look the right way and to be received in the right way. And so we kind of mull it over, I think sometimes we second guess ourselves, and we think oh, wow, maybe I think this person needs help. But that's just my own mind and maybe they don't. And that's a whole other thing, right? Maybe they don't! Who cares? Offer it anyway, it doesn't matter if they quote unquote, need it or not. When do we not need to know that someone loves us? And when do we not have space to say, "Okay, yeah, I won't cook dinner tonight. And that's fine."
The other thing that I learned from that act of service was that the best way to offer people help is to do it in a way that they can't turn you down. And that's what they did. They didn't call me and say, "Hey, we were thinking of booking you a massage but does this time work?" Because I would have said, "No, you guys don't have to do that." And then it becomes a standoff, just like when people are fighting over who pays the bill at dinner, right? "Oh, but we want to," "Oh, but you don't have to," "Oh, but we're going–" you know, it just becomes a mess.
They called and said, "We booked you a massage at four o'clock. And I'm going to be at your house in 10 minutes, so that you can go to a movie. And I already called my husband and he's bringing dinner over." If I had been given the opportunity to say no, I know, I would have felt like I should have said no. The worst question that we can ask is "Do you need any help?" Because someone is always gonna say no.
So I stopped asking that question. My favorite way to offer help is to say, "I'm going to bring you dinner. I can bring it to you today at five o'clock, or I can bring it to you on Thursday at five o'clock, which one would be better?" Or I say, "Hi, I want to help you. Here are some ways that I can help you. I can bring you dinner, I can watch your kids, I can come help you clean your fridge, I can drive you somewhere. I can pick up your kids from school. Which one of these would be most helpful to you?" So I'm not saying, "I'll either help you or I won't help you." That's not the question. That's not the choice that's available. The choice is–what kind of help would meet your needs the best.
Members of the Church, I think we talk a lot about giving help, right? We serve other people and that's how we show them that we love them. We serve other people and that's how we show God that we love him. We do service projects.
We have a day of service but we don't have a day of receiving service. We don't have a day called that. You know, there's a lot of emphasis on giving help, but as members of the Church, our spiritual salvation, our spiritual lives depend on receiving help from God and from Christ.
That's the whole gig of the Atonement is receiving grace, receiving forgiveness, receiving repentance. That's what it hinges on, is being able to receive those things–receiving love from Christ.
How can I be a disciple of Christ if I don't receive His love? How will I know Him? If I don't let Him love me? And if I don't let Him help me, and I don't think we talk about it enough. We are completely dependent on receiving help from God and from Jesus to ever have any hope of being with them again. We can't do it. We can't do it without their help.
So how do we learn to accept help from God? Well we learn how to accept help from people on Earth, the things that we feel like we can't do in our mortal lives, without other people then become the model for what we can't do in our spiritual lives without the help of God.
And it's a gift to have those opportunities here to learn how to receive help. Why would I ever say no to Christ wanting to help me in a spiritual way? But don't we do that too? Don't we say, "Well, I'm not worthy of receiving your help. I haven't done enough to earn help from you."
And it's just as untrue in our spiritual lives as it is in our temporal lives. There is nothing that we can do that disqualifies us from help, from receiving help from our divine family. Just like, there's no rule about what we have to be experiencing, or what we have to do to receive help on earth that, you know, in a temporal way, those are conditions that we have put on it, because of our own pride and our own insecurity.
And we put those same conditions on receiving divine help for the same reasons, because of our pride, or because of our shame or embarrassment. But why would we ever say no? If God is saying, "I forgive you," why would–why would we say no? If Christ is saying, "I'll carry this burden. I'll pay for this sin. I'll take on this weakness." Why would we ever say no?
KaRyn Lay 23:23
That was Frances. And I don't want you to be jealous of me but I have been blessed by Frances's wit and wisdom for almost 20 years now when we served in our Singles Ward Relief Society, the same one with Sarah.
You know, when we were first talking about her story, I nonchalantly asked her why she thought learning to receive is an important part of discipleship. And then she blew it out of the water with that truth bomb that learning to receive is integral to our ability to accept the Savior's freely proffered grace and mercy.
The Eternity altering gifts of our Lord and Savior are dependent upon us knowing how to receive good gifts, regardless of whether we feel worthy to receive them or not. And how cool is it that as disciples, we get to practice this important skill with each other?
I think I am changed forever by that idea. It's an invitation to stay put emotionally and physically when someone says, "Hey, I'm here to help." And that's not always easy to do. Because shame, pride fear, those are easy triggers that tell us we're not deserving of such gifts.
But I really believe and I think that we've seen from Francis's story, that if we push ourselves through the shame and the guilt, good things will unfold for us. And let's not kid ourselves that we're just accepting help to let someone else get blessings from serving us. Because that's not quite right, is it? If learning to receive help, will ultimately actually bring us salvation–well, then I guess everyone is blessed, including us and our posterity when we learn to say, "Yes, thank you."
And I can tell you one other thing that's changed for me because of Francis and her story. I don't offer help the same way that I used to. Because of her example over the years, I now often reach out to friends with a menu of things that they can pick from, as well as asking them to tell me if they need something specific.
And I do this for two reasons. One is that I've realized that when I am in my deepest moments of despair, I can barely remember to brush my teeth, let alone examined by complex system of needs and wants and hopes. And if that's true for me, then most likely it's true for others.
And secondly, it allows me as a giver to offer only what I can actually do. So it takes the burden off of the receiver to worry if they're asking for too much. And it allows me to give without resentment. We're going to hear a little bit more about the nature of giving in our next story from Phyllis who discovered that our capacity to dedicate our lives to God doesn't really diminish with age. Here's Phyllis.
My husband was 73 years old when he passed away, and then died of a massive heart attack. So that was what happened with him. And I surely missed him because we were together every day. And we worked together, you know, lived together, shopped together so he was greatly missed. And I was Relief Society President. And I had talked with the bishop and then we decided that I should stay in the ward, you know, in my position, because everything was so great with all the sisters. And I felt their their love and their closeness.
And that was where I wanted to stay. It was 1980 when we came to this award, because we had been called as leadership missionaries. In doing so we spent three years as missionaries. We also then decided to stay in the ward after our mission was over, so we moved into the area and all got along really well together no big, you know, dissensions, and there was mostly women. And most of the women in the ward were widowed. So I think they were happy–happy with my husband and I as well as the other missionaries.
I spent three different times as Relief Society President adding up to the 18 years. They really needed me. They really needed me. And so when one bishop after the other kind of just kept you on. I was always ready to serve and I enjoyed being with people and solving problems. But there were times when it was a little more difficult.
There was a time when my husband Harry passed away and I was busy in church, but I was still lonely and tired. And I wanted to do so serve, but I wanted to sit back and watch somebody else do the job. We also had a business and it was–thankfully right next door to the church.
And we lived on the other end of the block. So everything was kind of tight. And so we found ourselves at work a lot. And then I found that I was by myself doing the job. I kept the business for seven years after my husband passed away and it was just me by that time.
I was very fortunate to be an a ward where they just enveloped me. And everybody knew everybody else. I had been in that ward for–was it 28 or 30 years?–and so I knew every person that came in one by one. Then a little time went by a couple months and all of a sudden in my mind, I thought, "You know what I'm going to get called to the stake Relief Society as the education counselor. And the thought wouldn't leave me.
And I just knew that they were going to call me but I asked the Lord to please let them Stake President know he's not supposed to call me. I would be down on my knees praying and asking my Heavenly Father to intercede because I didn't want him want to go do anything else. I didn't want–I wanted to stay right where I was. I just felt that if he called me to the Stake, I wouldn't be in my word anymore. I wouldn't be happy. And so consequently, I was there pleading with him to not call me. And I just felt that I would be happier where I was.
But it was probably at least two weeks and I think I prayed all day and prayed on my knees at night. And I was telling Heavenly Father, I would tell Him, "You know, this person needs me for this, and, and I need to do this or that for that reason. And the stake doesn't need me, they've got all kinds of people to call, I'm just sure that I'm not supposed to do that. That it would be better if I just stayed where I was. And so just tell the Stake president to put it in his mind maybe he's not supposed to call me in."
And then the one evening, I was pleading with the Lord, and I was at the same time, thanking Him for all the blessings He had given to me, because I had many, many blessings. And I used to always say, "Thank you for all the blessings that you have given to me. And, and I really appreciate them." And I've always thanked you for them." And even though I didn't know what the blessings were, and also then as I was praying, thanking Him for all these blessings as well.
Then a voice came in my head that said, "Yes, it's true. I have given you many blessings. And now I'm asking one thing of you, and you're telling me, 'No.'" So then, I realized what I had been doing. I realized that I was counseling the Lord, to take care of my life, the way I wanted it, not the way that He knew was best, when I knew better than that. And so I started to cry. I actually did sob.
So I told the Lord–I repented. I told the Lord that I was sorry for what I was doing and what I had done, that I knew better. And that I wanted Him to understand and go ahead and do whatever He was going to do whatever the Lord wanted, wherever the Lord wanted me to do, I would do gladly.
And so that's where it got left for the night. And next day, when I came home from work, I checked my telephone messages like I always did. And it said, "Sister, Grangroth, the Stake president has asked for you to meet with him Wednesday evening, at seven o'clock." And so I did. And so I was called to be the Stig Relief Society counselor for education counselor.
So then I served for three years. It was fine. Saying yes to the callings that I received, has blessed my life. After I had said yes to the Satke calling I realized that that was where I needed to be. And I had several friends in the Stake Relief Society and we got along well, and we came up with some innovative things and we were okay for three years. We were doing very nice things. And the Stake president got released, and so did we.
Well, I learned that the more you take part, the more you try to do for others, the better your own life is. I truly believe that serving others makes you happy. And I felt that I was happy. Because I was willing to say I was wrong, the Lord blessed me by letting me be happy in that calling, and I look back, there wasn't really any calling that I was unhappy.
It was always good when you were busy doing something for others. The more you take part, the more you try to do for others, the better your own life is. I know that my Heavenly Father loves me, wants me be happy, wants me to work doing things for others in the Church, which brought me closer to the gospel. I learned tho trust the Lord, that He knows best.
He understands everything you knows us inside out, frontward and backward and all that kind of stuff. The Lord knows each one of us. And Heavenly Father is in charge and He does know best and even if it starts out wrong, if you do your best, then it'll be okay, and you'll be happy too.
KaRyn Lay 36:14
That was Phyllis, my sweet 98 year old neighbor from the Assisted Living Center near my house. You should know that Phyllis and that family business she talked about? They were the suppliers of the original marble Christus statues for Deseret Book in the 1980s.
But even better than those lovely representations of the Savior that so many of us–including me–have sitting on our mantels, I think we can clearly see that her life and her service to her God has been the real monument.
When I first heard this story, I could tell that there was something in it I needed to learn. Though Phyllis is called to serve as the Relief Society president in her 70s came from an 80 plus year old Bishop, it's clear that the real invitation to sacrifice her will came from a loving Heavenly Father.
Phyllis understood what King Benjamin taught us in Mosiah chapter two, verse 17, that when you are in the service of your fellow beings, you are only in the service of your God. And so she turned to Him when she wanted to offload the job, trying to seek His approval. And His tender response was the exact kind of conversation that you can only have with someone who loves you enough to invite more from you.
Now, here's where I think both Francis and Phyllis–the four time Relief Society president–would want me to add a word of caution about the temptation to give from a place of obligation rather than a place of love.
I'm reminded of a time in my early 20s, when I showed up to serve a sister in my Relief Society who needed both love and a clean apartment. Well, I gave her the clean apartment, but I left the exchange feeling totally angry and frustrated, and acutely aware that I had only added to her shame instead of alleviating it. And in keeping with our theme of good friends lovingly retraining us, I reported the day's activities and that horrible feeling afterwards to a friend who gently said to me, "You know, it sounded as though there was no charity in your service."
And he was right, those words stung, but he was right. The love of God was nowhere to be found in my giving. And I wonder often if that sister would have been better off if I had never offered that service in the first place.
So how do we give from a place of charity and take from a place of gratitude and humility? Well, for me, the answer goes back to the beginning of our episode when I suggested that give and take are more than just opposites but rather relational words, words that need each other to be fully realized. Before His ministry that was filled with giving and giving and more giving that led to the ultimate gift in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ retreated to the wilderness where James Talmage says in his masterful book, Jesus the Christ, that He most likely learned the scope of his earthly mission.
And I think it's safe to surmise that in that quiet time filled with fasting and prayer, He asked for and received grace and virtue from His Father in heaven. Enough grace and enough virtue that when later in His ministry, a woman touched the hem of His garment, He had virtue overflowing. Power above and beyond His needs that allowed Him to give to her without depleting his reserves.
There was full charity in His service to her because He had learned to receive grace before doling it out. And the good news is that right now, just as it was for that woman millennia ago, who touched Christ's garment, that virtue, that power, is fully available to you, and to me right here right now, so that we can have overflowing reserves to do His work. We just have to take the hand that is ever outstretched and covenant to offer a hand to others in return
That's it for this episode of, "This Is the Gospel. Thank you to our storytellers, Frances and Phyllis and a special thank you to Phyllis' son Bruce and daughter in law Anne for joining us as we recorded such a special story. We also have to give a little shout out to the kind staff at the Wentworth for their help and support.
You can see pictures and learn more about our storytellers in our show notes at LDSliving.com/thisisthegospel. All of the stories in this episode are true and accurate, as affirmed by our storytellers. And if you have a true story about your life and living the gospel of Jesus Christ, we have a pitch line and we want to hear your story. You can call and pitch your story at 515-519-6179. We meet so many of our storytellers this way.
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This episode was co-produced by me KaRyn Lay and Erika Free with additional story production and editing by Katie Lambert and Erika Free. It was scored, mixed and mastered at Mix at Six studios and our executive producer is Erin Hallstrom. You can find past episodes of this podcast and other LDS Living podcasts at LDS living.com/podcasts