Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, March 26, 2010

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!


At 3/26/2010 9:59 AM, Blogger Karlene said...

I've come to really look forward to your Friday posts lately. They are awesome and inspiring.

Fridays are hard for me because that's the day I get my iron shots. The shots aren't bad, but the fatigue because the last shot has worn off is hard. They've recently extended my shots to every three weeks, which is good news--but the last week is so darn tiresome.

All week I've walked around in a pony tail and sloppy clothes because I'm just so tired. But you've inspired me once again. I'm going to go shower, put on clean clothes, do my hair and make-up, and ROCK the world! :)

At 3/26/2010 10:13 AM, Blogger Lisa said...

Wow, thank you.

It is really easy for me to get lost in self-inflicted pity parties. Life really is pretty great for me, yet I find ways to "look for the bad".

Thank you for helping me see my life in perspective.

At 3/26/2010 10:33 AM, Blogger Cheri J. Crane said...

Loved this blog post! And the message you shared from the heart. While I will still avoid high heels (they wreak havoc with the arthritis--and provide too many opportunities for klutz inspired moments) I will dress up for the day, even if it is snowy. ;)

At 3/26/2010 10:54 AM, Anonymous Anna said...

Loved this post. I have a friend that died last year of cancer. She amazed me throughout it all. She did her church calling (as long as she wasn't sick to her stomach). She was cheerful and chatting to all her friends at church. I know she had her down pity moments (she kept a blog). But she really kept her spirits high for the most part.

I have days where I don't want to go to church (and for no good reason). I think about her and how she went to church and was there at 9:00 even when going through cancer. She didn't want to die, but wasn't afraid of death. She had a strong testimony and I will never forget how much she taught me (and our whole ward).

At 3/26/2010 11:32 AM, Anonymous becca said...

Love that. If I knew how to needlepoint I'd put it on a pillow. If I knew how to vinyl-letter, I'd hang it on my bathroom wall. (As it stands, I've scribbled it on a post-it note to stick on the kitchen cabinet.) "The worse the day, the higher the keels and the brighter the lipstick" - and thank Heaven for people who will confess to that! Imagine if she hadn't told you, but just thought "I fooled her good." Thanks for sharing that.

At 3/26/2010 12:33 PM, Blogger Deb said...

I’ve always been a “back row sitter” in Relief Society, or actually, anyplace I go. I don’t like bringing attention to me for reasons that seems so petty right now, but over a year ago I was asked to be the second counselor in the Relief Society presidency and I couldn’t figure out why. Now, sixteen months later I finally know the reason for the calling. It was to give me a little more courage. Now I have almost as much as you, Kerry. If I hadn’t been obligated to conduct and give lessons in front of fifty plus women, and humiliate myself on a regular basis, I wouldn’t have learned that a person really can’t die from mortification, and its okay to laugh along with everyone else when you make a mistake and things do go as planned.

We never know what our Father has in mind when He sends us a calling. I guess that’s why we’re encouraged to accept them no matter what they are.

What color is your lipstick today?

At 3/26/2010 1:24 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

I think you should put up a hand-painted sheep or two up on eBay. I'd bid on it!

At 3/26/2010 1:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hugs Kerry, this is why I love you.
(Well, one of the reasons) :-)

At 3/26/2010 4:22 PM, Blogger Amy said...

Kerry, I love you with all my heart! Thank you so much for that much needed thought. And thank you times a million for being one of my shepherds!

~Amy Dahlke

At 3/26/2010 4:24 PM, Blogger Jennie said...

I forwarded your blog to my sister and my cousin. I'm sure you know why. In my eyes you're always wearing those four inch heels and bright, bright red lipstick. And that's one dang cute sheep.

At 3/26/2010 5:04 PM, Blogger Marnie said...

Kerry, can I tell you how much I love you? Having just spoken to you on the phone, this brought tears to my eyes. You are an inspiration and a spiritual shepherd to so many of us! I count myself miraculously blessed to call you my friend.

At 3/26/2010 10:46 PM, Blogger Margaret Turley said...

Wow! I needed an upper so I came here and I got it just like I knew I would. You are wonderful Kerry. Thanks for sharing this inspirational VT story. You are a shepherd that is easy and desirable to follow. I'm definitely going to share your message.

At 3/26/2010 11:50 PM, Blogger L.T. Elliot said...

Your posts are a balm to my soul. So often, you're my Mary Ann. However, I'm going to have to start charging you for all the kleenex's you run me through. ;)

At 3/27/2010 12:21 AM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

I'm so glad you decided to get up and write this post :)

At 3/27/2010 2:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kerry, you have always been my best friend and when I read your blogs here I remember why: you have always seen the glass as half-full instead of half-empty. You inspire me!! Keep in touch.

Sarah A.

At 3/27/2010 2:05 PM, Blogger Krista said...

Thank you, Kerry. Today my kids won't know it's a lipstick and heels day. They'll just know I love them and this life. I needed this.

At 3/27/2010 5:53 PM, Blogger UTMomof4 said...

That was a really wonderful post. Something I really needed to read. Very uplifting. Thank-you.

At 3/30/2010 9:28 AM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

Thanks, everyone, for taking the time to leave a comment. I just wish I could do Mary Ann justice in the first place.

My husband suggested I forward the blog and comments to Mary Ann's family. This morning I managed to track down her husband and do just that. I have no doubt he will be as grateful for your kind comments as I! Imagine being the kind of person whose very life continues to inspire, even when the spirit has moved on. That is SO Mary Ann.

At 4/19/2010 12:33 PM, Blogger Lori Nawyn said...

Kerry, thank you for being a light in the darkness. I carry a copy of Counting Blessings with me almost everywhere I go because I find such comfort in your words. What a blessing to be able to read your blog posts as well. Thank you!

Love you bunches.



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