By Kristine John
As Mormon women, we spend an immense amount of time serving others.
Charity is a virtue we are encouraged to embrace and then imbue from the time we enter Relief Society at age 18 on throughout the rest of our lives.
Many times, we have been taught ways to show love to others beginning at the knees of our own mothers, and in turn, desire to teach our own children how to reach out and serve with the pure love of Christ.
It was just last week that a sister in my ward brought by a loaf of bread for our family.
All 9 of us had been sick for about a week, and receiving a loaf of warm, sweet-smelling bread was a pure blessing.
As the sister kindly handed me the bread, my mind went back to an experience I had about 4 years ago that helped solidify in my mind that charitable giving really isn't about the gift, it's about the pure love that is extended through such an act of charity.
In May of 2005, a new sister moved into our ward in Silver City, NM.
I had often seen families and sisters move into our ward, and had always striven to make an extra effort to welcome them with a kind word and offer any help that they might need while they were at church.
Truly, beyond that, I felt that other sisters or families could fill in with the friendshipping and kindness in the neighborhood.
(After all, I had my hands full with many children, including my newborn 6th child!)
This time however, I could not shake the recurrent promptings that I needed to do something more for this family.
As a homemaker, I have come to find that I love to bake, and I quickly decided that I would bake some extra dessert that night and run it over to the new family.
Unfortunately, that night, our dessert flopped.
The cookies I made were burned and, in my mind, ungiftable.
I determined that I would try again in a couple of days.
The next time I pulled out my grandmother's strawberry bread recipe.
I had recently discovered it in my files, and had yet to try making it.
Remembering the delectable, moist, fruity bread, I was excited to not only make this treat for my family, but also to share something unique with the new ward members.
I carefully measured, dumped and stirred, determined to follow the recipe to the letter therefore ensuring a perfect end product.
I watched the timer carefully, tested the bread with a toothpick, and finally, as it tested done, pulled it from the oven.
As I twisted the pans to loosen the strawberry bread, I notice that there was cooking oil oozing form the top of the bread.
My grandmother's strawberry bread had never looked like this!
Again, the end product, in my mind was not appropriate to give away.
Disheartened, I debating just not trying again.
I was a good baker, and yet twice in just as many days, my baking had failed and I was disappointed in myself, and my cooking skills.
It was a quiet persistent prompting that encouraged me to try one more time.
Calling on my tried and true recipes, I pulled out the bread recipe that I had used for years.
This was the bread that fed my family when we couldn't afford to buy a loaf at the store.
I had made hundreds of these loaves, and I was convinced that this time, I would have an acceptable end product, one that could be shared with love.
I watched the bread carefully, wanting to ensure it would be "just right".
When the timer on the oven rang, I quickly walked over to pull the bread from the oven.
In one glance, my heart sank.
My loaves of bread had not risen appropriately in the oven and I was looking at nice browned but relatively flat loaves of bread.
I took the bread out of the oven, turned it onto cooling racks, and started buttering the tops of the loaves.
Upon closer inspection, I decided that this bread, while in my mind, not perfect, was definitely edible, and would suffice as a gift for the family I had in mind.
I wrapped the warm bread, prepared it for gift giving, and headed with it, and my family out to our car.
As we pulled up to the curb, I told my husband, "I'll just run the bread up to the door. Most people are a little intimidated when they see 6 kids."
I grabbed the bread, walked across the street and knocked on the door.
I'll never forget the explanation I gave this sweet sister as I handed her the fresh baked but flat loaf of bread,
"I need to give this to you. I know it's not the best bread I've ever made because it's flat, but I've tried 3 different times to bake something for you, and none of it has turned out. I know, though, that I'm supposed to bring you something, so here's this loaf of bread."
I was embarrassed at that point, and therefore, rambling as I explained.
The sister graciously took the bread, invited me in, AND invited my family in.
She was at a point in her life where she had been hurt deeply by people in the last city where she lived and she needed to feel valued and loved, especially in the middle of a move.
As we put groceries away from her recent trip to Wal-Mart, we talked about numerous things, and began a friendship that endures to this day.
That loaf of bread opened the door to a friendship that began healing in her heart, and blessed my life as well.
It wasn't an experience I remember because of the bread.
It's an experience I remember because of the impact that that act of service had on her life.
Truly, it's not about the bread.
It's about love, sisterhood, and extending yourself.
It truly can make all the difference.