High Heels and Bright Lipstick
by Kerry Blair
A not-so-funny thing happened on the way to a recent Visiting Teaching Conference. Being a dutiful guest speaker, I arrived with fifty hand-painted sheep that beautifully coordinated with my visual aids and outfit. (Not that I dressed as a sheep. Although, now that I think about it, I am “fluffy” enough to make a good one.) Clearly, I had everything I needed to inspire and dazzle—except my scriptures and the carefully-prepared talk I had zipped inside the scripture case. Those I left behind on my dressing table.
Now, if you think this is going to be a blog berating myself for being so Martha-like that I remembered everything about feeding sheep but the Shepherd, you’re wrong. (Not about me berating myself; just about me doing it here.) Instead, I'll remind you of an annoying thing about people in this church. Even after you’ve publicly confessed: “Um . . . uh . . . I hate to . . . er . . . say this, but I . . . um . . . seem to have . . . er . . . forgotten my . . . uh . . . talk . . .” they still expect you to continue speaking. Um, right. Except, my message contained passages of holy writ that, while duly marked and easy to find in my own scriptures, seem somehow to disappear in every “generic” copy on earth. (Is that just me or does it happen to everyone?) Furthermore, meaningful quotes from prophets tend to lose a little punch when paraphrased by people with faulty memories.
All these things went through my head as I wished the floor would open up at my feet, but still the eyes of the congregation. Before my brain engaged, my mouth blurted, “Let me tell you about a woman I used to visit teach.” Those words led me into a couple of personally-sacred experiences and “sound bytes” I want to share with you today.
I was a super-busy mother of four young children when I was assigned to visit Mary Ann. She was an “older sister” (meaning she was then the age I am now) who lived alone in a tiny efficiency apartment. On the first visit she explained that she was in the city to be near medical treatment for cancer. Her husband worked more than a hundred miles away, maintaining their insurance and home while trying to pay the ever-mounting bills.
To say I was overwhelmed by this woman’s plight was an understatement. I recognized at once that I was too young, too inexperienced, and not nearly inspired enough to tend this poor lost sheep for the Savior. I called the Relief Society president who assured me she felt strongly that I was the right person at the right time. When I continued to protest she asked ever-so-kindly if I doubted the Lord’s ability to grant inspiration or merely her worthiness to receive it. (Relief Society presidents can be so difficult.) I ended up accepting the assignment and doing what little I could for Mary Ann. Over the course of the months I served as her Visiting Teacher, I taught her absolutely nothing. She taught me, well, absolutely everything—though I didn’t fully recognize it at the time.
Two experiences—of dozens—and then we’ll all go on about our weekends.
Lesson One. I met Mary Ann in the bygone era of Homemaking Nights—meetings I considered largely a waste of time and hot glue. Mary Ann loved them. One of the craft nights fell within thirty-six hours of a chemo treatment. When I went to pick her up, she looked not like death warmed over, but like death left out on the counter—in a hot room. Still, she staggered toward the car with crafting bag in hand. I was horrified at her gaunt face and sunken eyes and begged her to stay home to rest.
Mary Ann opened the car door and said, “Kerry, dear, you stay home to rest when you have a cold. When you have cancer, you get up and go anywhere anyone will take you.”
Lesson Two. Not long before Mary Ann was unable to continue living alone, she came to church looking absolutely spectacular. Her make-up was carefully applied and she wore a lovely new dress and (*gasp*) two-inch heels. Tears of joy ran down my cheeks as I hugged her and said, “I’m glad you feel so well at last!”
With her arms around me still she whispered, “The worse the day, the higher the heels and the brighter the lipstick.”
I have never forgotten those words, or the electricity of Spirit I felt as she said them.
As I said, it was most of a lifetime before I realized that the Lord sent me into Mary Ann’s life, not for anything I could do for her, but for everything she would do for me. I was her Visiting Teacher, but she was the shepherd. I hate to think how lost and desolate I would likely be now if I had not been blessed then by her guidance and example. Thank goodness (and God) I accepted that call.
This morning, I am still mortified to recall the evening I cared more about my handouts than my scriptures, but I’m grateful it happened. Besides a jolting reality check, it was a much-needed gift of remembrance. I woke this morning at 4 AM, in too much pain to sleep. Two weeks ago I would have taken a pill and spent the next couple of hours in the dark, bemoaning my lot in life. But I’ve been reflecting on Mary Ann too much lately for that. I still took the pill, but instead of indulging in self-pity, I got up and got dressed. (Yes, I put on lipstick, but me teetering around in high heels scares the pit bull, so I opted for my classy monkey-sock slippers instead.) Then I sat down to share with you the story of the good shepherd who—years ago—showed me the way through a wilderness I face today.
And, lest you feel slighted, here is a little sheep handout for each of you, too! It's way better than the one I painted!