A long time bestie just got called to be a teacher in our Relief Society and today was her first lesson. A couple of days ago, she had sent me an email asking for some help. Her lesson was on missionary work and fellowshipping. She wanted to know if I would share my feelings about the time that I was inactive and then what it was like to come back to the church. She knows I serve in Young Women's at the same time as her lesson would be, so she asked if I would just write down in a letter.
I had to think about it for a few days. Not that it would be hard, but how could I adequately express my feelings without typing out a whole novel, and yet still give enough to help supplement the lesson material?
My final product:
It's no secret that Dave and I would most likely NOT be active members of the church if it wasn't for this ward whose members at the time loved us back into activity.
Both Dave and I made choices during our teenage years that led us away from the church. We met and while we both had been taught and raised in the gospel, it wasn't important to us at the time. When I was pregnant and almost due with Luke we moved into our current home. Immediately, the surrounding neighbors sought us out to meet us. While they didn't pressure us about church, in my own head, I perceived their intentions were to suck us into something I wanted nothing to do with.
I went far enough to openly display my message of "we want nothing to do with your church".
I had met one neighbor who happened to be a patient at the clinic where I worked. One day, she stopped by and flat out asked me, "So what is it with you and the church. Are you or are you not?"
I said "not" and don't bug me about it again.
At that point, in most wards, we would have been left alone. However, our, or rather, my rejection of their efforts did not stop them from continuing to reach out to be friends with us. It was well known that Dave loved sports. They made sure that he was invited and put to use in the ward ball games. I went with the boys and many of the wives sought me out to chat and be friendly.
They invited us to ward functions and with out fail, the minute we walked in, someone was by our side asking for us to come sit with them, or to welcome us, or to just greet us and make us feel comfortable.
When I herniated the discs in my back, I was laid down flat for several weeks. Someone in the ward got wind of it, and the next thing I knew we had meals, and offers of child care and help for anything we needed. It was during this time, out of sheer boredom that I picked up my seminary Book of Mormon and decided to read it. As I read, my testimony came flooding back to me. When I prayed to take Moroni's challenge, it was if I was being told that I already knew this was true, I just needed to be reminded.
From there, activity became the norm for me and the boys. Dave wasn't there yet and he worked on Sunday's so it wasn't possible for him to attend anyway. I empathize with the many mothers that struggle the 3 hours of church all by themselves because I did it for many years. However, I always had help from the ward members. Someone sitting next to us, would pass along a treat. When Corbin got restless, I would send him to sit with the teenage Teachers at the doors who would draw him pictures and keep him entertained.
When Dave was finally able to attend, he was embraced like I was years earlier. It became the natural thing for us to do. We were invited to Temple Prep classes. It wasn't until after our third round that we finally took the leap and were sealed in the temple. From there, we have never looked back. Our testimonies continue to grow as we serve in our callings, teaching, and learning from others.
Ours is most definitely the kind of story that I believe President Hinckley was talking about when he referred to retaining new converts. Give them a job, give them a friend. This ward exemplified his counsel. Many of the faces that were there for us in the beginning are now gone, but replaced with just as loving and kind other faces. That one quality in this ward seems to never have gone away.
When I hear stories of other wards and the disconnect that many feel in their own ward families, I am reminded of how blessed we are here. This ward is full of missionaries that teach purely by their examples of goodness, friendship and genuine concern. Right now, for many of us, that is the best we can do. We cannot serve full time missions. But we can continue to be good people. Be kind, loving and accepting. When we have new families move in, we can go and welcome them. When we have neighborhood activities, reach out, invite them to sit with us, make them feel comfortable. Be interested in them. And above all else, leave the judger mcjudgerton locked up at home.
Then, one day when the time is right, either becoming a new member or returning to activity will become easier for them, because of the path you paved with your kindness, love and fellowship.
If I had to add to this now, I think I would remind my fellow LDS friends that while we as a church focus on missionary work and preaching the gospel, that doesn't mean that when repeated efforts do not lead to a conversion or baptism then we are through. I think that is where a lot of misconceptions have been drawn. A person of another religion or faith perceives that our only intent for friendship is to "rope 'em into baptism". If that is our approach we are sadly, sadly WRONG and we need to change our ways.
Rather, I believe that we need to focus more on just being good people. More accepting. More open. More receiving of others whose religious belief's differ from ours. And BEING OKAY WITH THAT. If our belief's interest others then we need to be willing to share them, but if they do not, we need to be okay with that and continue the relationship. Moreover, learn more of theirs, find the common ground, embrace the differences for the good that they bring our relationships. I strongly believe that in the end, when each of us finally meet our Maker and account for our time on this earth, we will be judged more on how we treated others rather than how many people we were instrumental in their baptism's.
Before Debbie's lesson today, I squeezed her hand, and wished her luck. I thought I sensed some anxiety, but then when I remembered what a wonderful heart she has. How much she exemplifies the very message she was asked to teach, I knew she was gonna do just fine. She would be a great instrument in God's hands to convey a message that we all need to be reminded of.
Be kind. Be a friend. That is missionary enough sometimes.