I first met Heidi and Jeff 26 years ago when we moved into our home. They were among the first neighbors to introduce themselves and welcome us to the area. Our neighborhood at the time was full of young families just like us. We seemed to fit in except for the "active in the church" angle.
I had made it pretty clear that I wanted nothing to do with the church, but to my surprise, people stayed our friends. It didn't matter to them what our religious affiliation was going to be, they just wanted to be our friends. We were invited to neighbohood get together's, Splenda started playing church ball with Jeff, Heidi would bring treats and we began a great relationship.
Over time, as our interest in the church kicked back up, Heidi and Jeff were right there. They made sure that we never sat alone in meetings. Jeff even went to Gospel Principles class with me so I wouldn't be with strangers. When we took our first Temple Prep course, Jeff and Heidi hosted it in their home on Sunday evenings. I don't remember what they did with their children, but they rearranged their own busy lives to make the experiences meaningful for us. Beautiful spiritual memories were had there in their living room. They were a huge part of our day when our family was finally sealed in the temple. They had been through every step of the process with us.
As life goes, change happens. Jeff and Heidi sold their home, moved further south and gradually we began to lose touch. Of course, we'd see one another at special things like weddings, missionary coming's/going's, funeral's..... but as is usually the case, you move on while never forgetting the good that those friends brought into your life.
Once I heard of Heidi's diagnosis, my mind turned to all the things we had experienced together those many years ago. Our children were still somewhat little when they moved so we missed much of the critical years with our kids. I wondered......did Heidi and Jeff have any idea what their friendship meant to Splenda Daddy and I? What it has meant to our family? Our children? And now our children's children?
The impact of fellowship. I'm sure that when we moved in, and Jeff and Heidi befriended us, they had no idea just what the next quarter of a century would bring to our little family. They just saw us as fellow young parents muddling our way through like they were. However, their efforts to follow the Savior, reach out and love their neighbors has proven to provide the foundation of strength for a family that has seen it's share of rough times.
They couldn't have possibly known that we would struggle with rebellious teenagers, unplanned pregnancies, suicide, end up part of the USMC family and gained a couple of girls from the ward as beloved daughter-in-law's. They couldn't have even dreamed of the challenges, heartache or struggles we would come to know.
Nope. None of that was in their minds when they decided to invite us to that Elder's Quorum shindig. And then the next event, and the next, and the next. When they introduced us to other's in the ward who adopted the same approach of love and friendship.
And yet. Here it is 26 years later and I'm thinking back on all of it and wondering, do they know the impact their simple acts of discipleship have meant to an entire family? Jesus Christ commands us to "Love one Another". He doesn't put caveats on that commandment. Such as: Love one another unless they don't go to the same church as you, believe the same religion, parent their children like you, hold the same political belief's.
It's simply to love one another.
Amazing what can happen to a family when someone embraces them and loves them back into the gospel. No matter what horrible challenges they are faced with, struggles that are fought, or heartache presented - the anchor the gospel gives them is enough to hold them steady while they weather the storm. Incredible to think that the simple act of friendship from Jeff and Heidi to Splenda and mCat could have such positive lasting results. Our children were raised in the gospel and each of them are strong in their belief's. Our grandchildren are being taught the ways of Christ and each family is valiant in their own way.
What if Jeff and Heidi had never knocked on our door? What if they would have thought "Meh, they are over on the other street - someone else's problem." What if they didn't act like a disciple of Jesus Christ and reach out?
My family's outcome could have been much different. I could be telling a much stranger story right now. One with less of a happy ending (not that there is an ending but you get the point).
Because Heidi and Jeff were Christlike. Because they looked past our flaws. Because they cared enough to love us and invest their time and efforts into us........ we have a beautiful family legacy that I pray will continue for eternity.
So Heidi, I am so sad for your sickness and pain, but I want you to know that your's and Jeff's righteous efforts have blessed our family beyond words. I can never thank you adequately for being brave enough to reach out to us and then to keep reaching the arm of friendship every step of the way as we worked our way back to the gospel. You didn't give up when other's would have. You stayed by our side even when we didn't choose the temple after that first round of classes. And the next. You made it clear you were our friends regardless of what we chose to do. That love and fellowship from you is not forgotten. It's forged deep in my heart and will be forever. There are generations of my family that will thank you for your example and dedication.
My thoughts and prayers are with Heidi, Jeff and their kids as they face this difficult chapter in life. If I could make it go away, I would. Instead, I can only honor her example and be the best disciple of Jesus Christ that I can. Reaching out, fellowshipping, and being a friend to all.
I hope I can do it even half as good as Heidi.