Do you know that ranch dressing is one of my very favorite things? I ask for a side of ranch practically everywhere I go. It’s actually kind of annoying. I like it on pizza, chicken, fries, burgers… I draw the line at sweet stuff, but really that line is written in pencil, not ink. I’m going to tell you my favorite story that involves ranch dressing. Are you shaking your head right now, thinking I’m writing you an article that is all about ranch dressing? Are you doubting my story telling skills? Oh, ye of little faith. This is a story about the time my husband and I had to make an emergency run to the grocery store to get some ranch dressing for the pizza we were having for dinner. We had to hurry because we left our pizza baking in the oven. (Disclaimer: My Time to Blossom does not advocate leaving your dinner to cook whilst you run a fool’s errand). We had thirty minutes to go to the store, grab some ranch, and hurry home.
We walked into the store and headed for the refrigerator section of the produce department. As any dressing aficionado knows, this is where the best store-bought ranches live. On our way there, we got “stuck” behind a man in a wheelchair. Something about this man caught me off guard. He was a little bit scary looking. He appeared to be old, but he wasn’t old—if that makes sense. He was frail. His fingernails were painted with a glittery nail polish. He had long hair with clips in it and smeared eye liner rimming his eyes. His ears were pierced all the way around. He had two bags on his wheelchair that were overflowing with personal belongings. He had a baseball bat on the back that he used to hang empty bags, presumably used to carry items like groceries. I wasn’t sure, but it looked as if maybe his wheelchair was also his home.
He was balancing all of his groceries on his lap, wheeling himself around with one arm and holding his items with the other. I was impressed by his skills and became sort of mesmerized by him. I found myself wondering what kind of life he had lived to end up where he was: alone, handicapped, homeless. He looked like maybe he was on drugs, and that made me nervous. I noticed a sign on his back, but couldn’t get close enough to see what it said. I’m still not sure how it happened, but after we got the ranch we came for, we ended up behind this man in the checkout line. Immediately I became transfixed again. I watched each item that he placed on the conveyer belt. Yogurt. Bananas. Hamburger patties. V-8 drinks. He mentioned to the cashier that he might have to put some things back if it turned out that he didn’t have enough money to pay for everything. Now that we were closer to him, I was able to see some of what the sign on his wheelchair said. There were lots of words on there that were covered by his belongings, but from what I could see, this man was sick with AIDS. I was watching a dying man decide which foods he could afford. My heart sunk down into the pit of my stomach, and I felt like I was going to be sick. This man is someone’s son. He was born the same way I was. He was once a baby, a toddler, a teenager. Where was his mother? Did he have any friends? What kind of choices had he made in his life? I wanted to save him, and I’m not even sure from what.
What happened next is one of the most profound spiritual experiences I’ve ever had. A voice came to me, loud and clear. I don’t know whose voice it was, but sometimes I remember it as my grandma’s. The voice said, “If Jesus were here today, this is who he would be hanging out with.” My entire body was filled so strongly with the spirit, I don’t know if I had ever felt anything like it. There is a reason I am still talking about this experience three years later, you guys. My heart was bursting with love for a man I had never even seen before. I felt an urge to take care of him, to give him a place to sleep, to buy him a meal, to cut his hair. I just wanted him to know that he was loved not only by me but by his Savior.
When the cashier finished ringing him up, it turned out that he was over budget a bit on his groceries. I watched him carefully consider each item. Keep the bananas. Lose the yogurt. Keep two of the V-8’s, but lose the other four. He came to a package of frozen meat patties. “Put those back,” he said quietly. I couldn’t believe it. That was so much protein! How many dinners could those hamburgers provide him? Like a month’s worth! I turned to my husband. I was silently sobbing at this point. “I want to buy him the meat,” I whispered, “but I can’t say it; I need you to say it.”
“Hey, my friend!” my husband began. “We’d like to buy those hamburgers for you.”
The man wouldn’t even make eye contact with my husband.
“They’re $26,” the cashier said to us. “Do you still want to buy them?”
My husband looked at the man again, “Can we get those for you?”
The man kept his head down and whispered, “If you want to.”
The cashier finished ringing the man’s groceries up and then rang up our ranch and the meat patties. We were poor newlyweds, so we charged all of it on a credit card. I didn’t care. I’m probably still paying off interest on these meat patties, and I still don’t care! I was silent through the whole ordeal; I knew if I started to talk I would lose it and then I would just be known as this insanely unbalanced woman who bawls uncomfortably in check out lines. As I watched the man roll away with his groceries, I felt sad. I wanted to follow him and make sure that he was going to be okay, but I knew that I couldn’t. I looked back at the woman behind us in line. She was crying, too.
This story and this man are so close to my heart that I am weeping as I am typing this right now. I can’t even tell this story in person without crying and getting the chills. I don’t know why I was able to have that experience that night, but I am grateful for it. For a small moment, I saw someone the way the Savior sees them. And not someone that I love already, like my family or friends. Not someone rich or powerful or outwardly beautiful. Someone who was having a bad night. Someone who was sick. Someone who didn’t have enough money to provide himself with basic human needs. Someone who seemed different from me in every way possible. And yet, when it came right down to it, we were so much the same—both needing the forgiveness of our Heavenly Father and the love of our Savior.
I think a lot about when Jesus taught amongst the Pharisees. The Pharisees were thought to be the most righteous and spiritual people around. They made sure that everyone saw how good and holy they were. They wanted everyone to see that they were pure, so they only spent time around other people who they thought were good enough or clean enough. When Jesus walked among them, he did things much differently. He ate with the sinners and the rejects. He spent time with and taught those who were looked down on and those who the Pharisees thought were unrighteous and unclean. When they saw Jesus among these people, they accused him to his disciples. “How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?” When Jesus heard them ask this he answered, “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick.” This was a rebuke to those who would never let themselves be caught with someone who didn’t look or act the way they thought was right. Jesus spent a lot of time around those who were the most different from Him because it was those people who needed him the most.
If anyone today runs the risk of ending up like the Pharisees, it’s those of us who are members of the Church. We are the ones who know the scriptures like they did. We are those that believe we are trying to keep all of God’s commandments. When Jesus speaks to the Pharisees, we should listen as if he were actually correcting us—not some group of faraway bad guys. The Pharisees cared more about looking like they were good people than actually being good people. They would never be caught spending time with the “sinners,” the homeless, and the outcasts. The funny thing is, instead of keeping them clean, this made them sinners and hypocrites. Do we ever do the same thing? Who are the sinners and outcasts today? Do we treat them more like Jesus did, or more like those Jesus rebuked?
The Pharisees made a really big deal out of little rules, and they had a LOT of rules. They had rules for how many steps you could take without making the Sabbath unholy. They had rules saying you couldn’t bake on the Sabbath. You weren’t even supposed to look in a mirror on the Sabbath, because that would risk you seeing a gray hair and tempt you to pluck it out. If you plucked it out, that would count as “reaping,” which apparently was not allowed in the field or on your scalp. And yet, even with all of their super strict and specific rules, they ignored some of things that matter most. They were so worried about looking holy to other people by acting and speaking a certain way that they shunned and ignored the people who needed them. Jesus had an amazing way of describing how hypocritical they were. He said that they would “strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel,” meaning that they would strain and make a fuss about swallowing a gnat, and then immediately swallow a whole camel like it was no big deal. They were so worried about their friends catching them looking in a mirror on the Sabbath that they ignored helping the poor and kept entire groups of people from being around them.
I grew up in an area with a lot of LDS members. It took me a long time to separate the actual gospel of Christ from the Mormon culture that I grew up around. I had grown up thinking that there wasn’t a place for me in the Church, when really there just wasn’t a place for me in the Mormon culture that I had grown up in. The more I worked on my personal relationship with Christ, the deeper that relationship became, and I was able to gain a stronger sense of who I am. I saw myself the way He sees me. Not as a perfect person, because none of us are, but as a good, kind, and loving person who was trying her best to make everyone around her feel loved and accepted.
I’ve not always made the best choices in my life. I have made mistakes here and there, and some of those mistakes have made certain people think that I am not religious at all. When people find out that I am a Mormon, and that I am “religious,” they often say, “I knew there was something different about you.” I know that on the outside, I don’t always match what some have culturally come to know as “Mormonism,” but my insides match those simple gospel teachings of the Savior. “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” “Serve one another.” “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged.” I am not perfect in all of these principles, but I am trying my best every day. I know that The Savior makes up for what I lack—the same way He does for everyone.
Jesus came to earth to die for our sins, but He also came here to set a perfect example of how we should live. Though we will never be perfect as He was, we can always read and study the stories in the scriptures so that we can better understand how God wants us to be. When we know better, we will do better. These stories, combined with prayer, help me to understand which things are actual gospel principles, and which things are just cultural ideas about the gospel. What is the gnat you’re straining to swallow? What is the camel you’re swallowing whole? I testify to you that if you strive to have a deeper personal relationship with Christ by studying His life and praying to Heavenly Father, the Holy Ghost will confirm to you which principles are most important for you to follow and which things are mostly cultural ideas, and therefore may be less important. You see now, this wasn’t really a story about ranch dressing at all.