Some years ago, our family moved to Salt Lake City after having lived in California for twenty-seven years. Six of our seven children had been born there and were fully entrenched in a sunshine routine that included beach trips on Thursday afternoons and schools with lockers and lunchrooms outside.
I had grown up in Utah. When we received a calling that invited us to move to Salt Lake City, I felt some concern about the implications of finding a place and a welcoming community for our two high school aged sons. I knew and loved the rooted community of Utah neighborhoods, but I worried that our two youngest California boys would be disconnected, fish-out-of-oceanwater newcomers in that often multi-generational community. In one of many prayers I offered for and with our children, I said, “Heavenly Father, please help Christian and Matt to each find a friend when we move to Salt Lake City.” Immediately after my having pronounced the “amen,” both those boys opened their eyes and said in earnest protest, “Mom, what kind of losers do you think we are? We will have more than one friend each!” I admired their confidence, but, knowing the blessing of even a single loyal friend, I continued to offer that prayer in private.
I needn’t have worried. The very day we arrived in Salt Lake City, our moving truck pulled into the driveway of our new home, loaded with all of our belongings. Having arrived earlier in our car, we went outside to watch the unloading. Almost immediately, a car full of teenaged boys drove down our street and slowed, then stopped in front of our new home. They watched the unloading for a moment, then the boy in the driver’s seat leaned out the window and hollered at our newcomer sons. “Hey, your car has California license plates on it. You must be new here. And you probably swim. Wanna go swimming with us?” It didn’t take our boys long to locate their swimsuits and eagerly jump into that car full of observant and thoughtful boys. Those local teenagers had met our newcomers where they were: on the curb, ready for a welcome and friends.
Years later, when my husband and I were on assignment for the Church in Bolivia, I spent an afternoon visiting Church members with local leaders while my husband was engaged in meetings. I had asked the leaders to arrange for us to visit in the homes of young women who might benefit from some personalized attention. Responsive to my request, a group of the local leaders picked me up at our hotel and we drove together across La Paz to a home where we would meet with a young woman named Luz.
While we drove, I asked the stake president about Luz. Without hesitation, he answered my questions about the young woman I would meet. “Does she regularly attend Church?” “Oh, yes. She never misses a meeting. She is a strong and faithful example for all the other girls.” “Are her parents members of the Church? Does she have health problems or struggle with school or have other challenging needs?” “Oh, no. She is exemplary in every way.”
I was a bit stumped. Typically, I visited people with extra challenges or stuck spots. I didn’t doubt that I would love becoming acquainted with Luz, but it wasn’t obvious to me what I might offer to her.
When we arrived for the visit, we entered the tidy cinderblock home to find a very simple, cement-floored living space with a semi-circle of folding chairs and a small group of people awaiting us. We all took our seats, then all eyes turned to me, as if to say, “Well, what now? This was your idea. What are we going to talk about?” I was asking myself the same question. In an attempt to stall to enable me to receive some inspiration, I asked all those in the circle to introduce themselves. There was a group of local leaders, including the Young Women president and the branch president, plus Luz’s mother with a tiny sleeping baby boy strapped to her back, and Luz. I eagerly “mucho gusto-ed” them all but was still unsure how to proceed. Based on what I knew about her, I couldn’t imagine what we were there to offer Luz. Stumped, I simply and directly asked her.
“Luz, I have come from thousands of kilometers away. I have just a couple of hours to visit someone in Bolivia. Undoubtedly after careful prayer, your leaders have felt that you are the person that heaven would have us visit. I freely admit, I don’t know exactly why we are here. Do you?”
Luz’s eyes immediately filled with tears. In a gracious attempt to rescue her, her branch president asked, “Sister Clayton, as you know (I didn’t), after heavy rains, Luz’s family’s home has recently slipped down a hill into the ravine below with most of the other homes in our branch. Luz’s father is camping on the rubble, waiting for the time he will be allowed to rummage through the ruins to recover whatever is salvageable from among their things. In the meantime, the family is living in the church building with other families from our branch.”
At that point, Luz was ready to speak for herself. She said, “Hermana, I am trying very hard to help my tired mother with my six younger brothers. I help her fix dinner in the church kitchen, then I help them with their homework and tell them stories until they fall asleep in the classroom that is our temporary home. I’m not complaining. I love my brothers and my parents and I want to help. I just want to know, does Heavenly Father know I am here? Does He care? Maybe you came here to answer that question for me?”
Yes! Yes! And Yes! I was honored to be meeting that brave young woman where she was – briefly in that borrowed home – assuring her of the love of her Heavenly Father.
The Savior himself unmistakably set the pattern of meeting people where they are when He met the Samaritan woman at the well as she sought water. Surely that life-changing rendezvous was not accidental or coincidental. He had gone to where she would be to offer the living water He had to offer.
When we meet others where they are geographically, we are loving as the Savior loved.
On other occasions, we may meet others where they are spiritually. When a neighbor became closely acquainted with the woman next door, she learned that that modest sister felt uncomfortable about her ability to interact in spiritual discussions with the women in her ward. She sheepishly explained that she had never read the Book of Mormon all the way through. Her thoughtful neighbor responded with ready encouragement that they could solve that discomfort together. She invited her neighbor to come to her home every Monday morning and they would read the Book of Mormon aloud and discuss it together. They did. They read it once. Then again. When others learned about the practice, they wanted to do the same. There are now several reading circles that meet weekly in that ward and are edified together.
The scriptures tell the poignant story of the prodigal son and his joyful return to his family, his home, and himself. We read that the father “had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). Joyfully, gratefully, without reprimand or rejection, that father met his son where he was spiritually.
When we meet others where they are spiritually, we are loving as the Savior loved.
On other occasions, we meet others where they are physically, doing seemingly small, unglamorous things to enable them to meet the demands of their lives in practical ways. A husband and wife were stretched in a thousand ways after the husband suffered a stroke. The wife wearied as she sought to meet all the daily implications of her husband’s needs. Seeing the need, attentive, compassionate friends assembled a calendar of fellow neighbors who could spend an hour every day assisting their friend with a therapeutic walk down the hallways of the nearby chapel. Their service was a small, practical effort that produced a large benefit for them all.
The scriptures set a standard for that kind of meeting needs. Exodus 17 tells of Moses’ obligation to hold the rod of God high in the air to keep the Israelites safe from the onslaught of the Amalekites. Not surprisingly, Moses’ hands “were heavy.” Noting the need, Aaron and Hur, set a stone under him to enable Moses to sit, then they “stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.”
When we meet others where they are by attending to their physical needs, we are loving as the Savior loved.
On still other occasions, we may meet others where they are by attending to them emotionally. A courageous woman endured months of treatment as she battled a late-stage cancer. She was perpetually weak and nauseous, all her hair fell out, and she braved repeated surgeries. Now blessedly in remission, she recalls gratefully her neighbor across the street who left her porch light on day and night for months as a sign of her support. That patient says through her tears that there were many sleepless nights when the sight of that bright light in the dark night assured her that she was not alone.
A wise and wonderful bishop shared his experience of running a marathon with the youth in his ward. They had all trained diligently, but one young woman struggled to go the distance on the day of the race. Seeking to help, the bishop carried the girl’s small backpack and walked behind her hoping to keep her going. When that strategy didn’t seem to help, he tried walking a few steps ahead of her to set a pace. The young girl only seemed to grow more discouraged. Finally, the bishop determined to walk at her side, neither ahead nor behind, simply meeting her where she was. She brightened, pressed on encouraged, and finished her race.
When we meet others where they are emotionally, we are loving as the Savior loved.
Recently, I admired an inspired would-be saint meeting several young Mexican children where they were in a wonderful way. We were in Ensenada when we watched that young American mom at a street corner in front of an ice cream store with her children. Her young daughters were sitting very still on small wooden stools while local Mexican women with babies strapped to their backs and young children at their sides, carefully worked the visitor’s daughters’ hair into dozens of small, perfect braids. Feeling affection for those hard-working moms and their patient children, the visiting mom slipped into the ice cream store behind them and returned with large cups of assorted flavors of ice cream, complete with toppings. The wide-eyed Mexican children gratefully accepted the gift and sat down on the sidewalk to delight in the unexpected, thoughtful and, for them, unprecedented treat. That visiting mom had met the local mother and her children where they were geographically, practically, and emotionally, in an unpretentious, delicious way.
The Savior taught, as paraphrased from Matthew 25:35-36: For I was an hungered and thirsty [or in physical need] and ye gave me meat and drink. I was a stranger [or in emotional need] and ye took me in. I was naked [or in spiritual need of covenantal protection] and ye clothed me. I was in prison [or geographically separate] and ye visited me.
When we meet others where they are physically, emotionally, spiritually, and geographically, we are loving as the Savior loved. In fact, as He has said, we are loving Him (Matthew 25:40).