Today's guest blogger is oldest son, Jeff. For a season, as he explains below, Jeff was inactive in the Church, disaffected and disillusioned about life in general and the Church in particular. His story is not dissimilar to many in the Church today, and he and I agreed his story about how he is becoming a more diligent home teacher might be instructive. I've changed the names of all the participants except Jeff's family of Kim, Izach and Tessi.
In Section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, we learn those who inherit the Terrestrial Kingdom, "are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus; wherefore, they obtain not the crown over the kindgom of our God." (Verse 79, emphasis mine). By extension and implication, then, we may assume those who do inherit the crown are valiant in their testimony of Jesus. The Church offers many facets in the diadem of celestial glory. Home teaching is one way we demonstrate our willingness to "step up" and be counted.
Not Your Model Home Teacher
I'm the first to admit, I'm not exactly the poster child of a home teacher. I know I have brothers who are way more qualified to address the subject and who have been seen as an example of what a great home teacher looks like. I guess my lack of home teaching excitement stems from my hippie days of using the excuse, "If we all just treated each other as brothers and sisters and acted as good neighbors, there'd be no need for home teaching." I think the better answer now is simply, I never had a testimony of home teaching.
I remember home teachers coming throughout my early years, though some sporadically, but we always had Dad, so who needs home teachers? I remember Dad teaming me up with his counselor when he served as Bishop of the young married student ward at the U of U. It was when I was preparing for my mission. Honestly, I remember going, but couldn't tell you who we visited or lessons taught. All I do remember is how Travis Baer made me feel after as we sat in his car or mine for hours taking about how hard being a teenager was, or what the meaning of life was for me at the time. I guess Dad was inspired to that end, but I still had no real testimony of home teaching or its value.
For years I declined to be a home teacher, citing my job in timeshare and its odd hours as a valid reason why I couldn't get with families. I also hated the idea of letting a family down which I knew I'd probably never visit. A few years ago when I had settled into my new job, I was given my assignment of two families. After the outpouring of service and help we received from this ward, I felt it was an opportunity to try and serve or give back in some way, so I accepted, and was determined to change my lacking ways.
I was assigned two families, both were familiar names, and both were prominent names surrounded by family within the ward. Why do these guys need home teachers when their parents and siblings live next door or down the street? It seemed rather redundant, but it saw it as an easy task. Imagine my surprise when the mother of one of the families approached me and told me I had been hand selected to home teach her son. She held an important calling in the ward and knew the needs of everyone, and she wanted me to take care of her son's family as they had recently come back to Church after a few years away. I didn't want to let her down, she had been so good to us since moving into the ward. I home taught sporadically. We had them for dinner and invited them to social events and called it home teaching so I could be seen as at least 50% on months I actually went. Izach had left on his mission and my new companion was shy and withdrawn when he was at Church, so I mostly went solo.
I built a relationship pretty fast with Brian and Jenna, as both had divorces and inactivity in their pasts. I'd say we became friends and understood each other on many different levels. Brian made it very clear in the beginning that if I showed up in a white shirt and tie, I may not be let in. Those who know me, know that my casual dress most my life is my calling card. I remember several times growing up, the look and the "You're not wearing that are you?" They are words I mostly heard from Mom, though I continue to hear them from Kim on occasion. The casualness was ideal for me and encouraged me to get my home teaching done. I found myself enjoying my visits and discussions with Brian and Jenna. The best way to describe Brian would be me in my twenties, though he is probably five to ten years my senior. Saying things controversial to get reactions, or purposely wearing a colored shirt to Church, anything to see who would judge, were things we had in common. Anything to stir the pot just a little, or to provoke the label of a "Rebel Mormon" that follows the beat of his own drum.
A few months ago, our Elders quorum president re-assigned all the home teaching. I looked at the names and immediately after class approached President McCarthy, lobbying to keep the Hoffmans as one of my families. I even told him I'd keep the two he had assigned me in addition to Brian and Jenna. He told me that with Izach back as my companion, he felt impressed to assign me the Bells. He explained that Brent's and Brittany's 19 year-old son could really use Izach's influence as he was now graduated, not really working a job, not planning a mission, and not coming to Church much. He said with this new assignment, he wanted to give me another low maintenance family. I told him he couldn't take Brian and Jenna from me, and I'd gladly take all three as long as I could keep them. He caved and let me keep Hoffmans and added Bells, but re-assigned the third to someone else.
With the new challenge and inspiration that they needed Izach, I knew I had to step up my efforts and commitment to be more diligent in my home teaching efforts and if nothing else, be a better example to Izach than I'd been in the past. My new assignment came the end of May and we jumped right on it and visited both families the first weekend of June. It felt good to have 100% home teaching for June and to be done so early in the month. Last week, I felt an urgency to stay on track and get our visits done early in the month. Little did I know at the time what the real urgency was, but I would find out Sunday after Church.
After meetings I rushed home and got some lunch for the girls and got changed into my shorts and flip flops home teaching uniform. Izach had ducked out of our meetings to attend the singles ward. He arrived home just in time to leave and so he stayed in his shirt and tie from church. We spent about forty minutes visiting with the Bells and left them with a simple message and prayer. Their son, James, was there for the second month in a row and I congratulated him on being at Church earlier in the day. I was hoping that we were somehow making a difference with him, but it's hard to know with a wayward teenager. Izach and I have both borne testimony on whatever our message is, and I hope that is somehow getting into James's heart.
We then headed across the street to Hoffmans. Brian met us outside as we were standing on the front steps. He had come from the garage door and yelled, "If you don't know where the side door is by now, we probably shouldn't let you in." We followed him through the side door, through the garage, and into the front room. We started with our normal chit chat and jokes about me being in the flip flops and Izach being in his shirt and tie and how backward to "the norm" that was. The conversation moved quickly into bad relationships and ex's, driven mostly by the fact that Jenna's son and grandson were living with them and regrouping after a messy breakup. My anxiety grew as I was pulled into the ex bashing. Over the years we let Izach and Tessi hear and see more of our dealings with George and Cindy as they grew older and became adults, though I doubt they will ever hear the full gory details of those horrible years.
As I was pulled deeper into conversation, my uneasiness began to consume me, the Spirit finally said to me, "This is counter-productive, and not what they need." I scrambled in my mind, trying to search for the words of how to steer the conversation back to our topic of Covenants and Ordinances. I'm not even sure how I transitioned the conversation, the Spirit had taken over at that point. Somehow we got to the subject of going to Church for us individually, and not expecting someone else to come prepared to feed us spiritually. I have shared my re-activation story with the Hoffmans in the past, so I picked up my story where I had left off. I explained that as recently as only a few months ago, did Kim realize that I had only been back active about six weeks when we got married. Six weeks after seven years being away! Those first few months were hard. It was hard going to Church, and I'd go as far as to say I hated it and felt it was a complete waste of time. Here I had just gone through a miraculous journey back, laden with deep and profound spiritual experiences, including meeting Kim and marrying eighteen days later. I couldn't understand how so many people just didn't get it. I felt angry and let down every week I went.
As I told Brian and Jenna the story, I gave them my similar close that I had used hundreds of times on my timeshare table. I said, "Guys, there's a hundred reasons not to go to Church, and if you look you'll find all one hundred. But, if you can find just one reason why you should go, and why you need to go, that one reason will be stronger than the hundred not to." As I got emotional, I pointed at Izach and finished. "My one reason was Izach and Tessi. I now had kids to think about, and if for no other reason those first few months, I went for them. They were my one reason." Everyone was a little misty-eyed by the end, and then Jenna spoke up and said, "Thank you. It's funny you would bring all that up. Brian and I have been talking the past few weeks and had decided that maybe we'd take a break from Church for a while." Wow! Funny I would say that? No, it wasn't funny, it wasn't coincidence. The Lord knew exactly what He wanted me to say, and what they needed to hear. I bore testimony that they were needed, that they could make a difference.
You see, it wasn't until I quit focusing on, "What am I getting out of this?" and started looking for ways to help others see and feel what I had experienced in my own conversion, that I finally felt fulfillment in going to Church. I quit going for me, and went for others, and in that I got what I needed.
I now have a testimony of home teaching and why I go. I never had that before, but the calling is as real to me as the day I was called as a full-time missionary. I now go to try and help others avoid the pain of where I've walked and to taste the peace and joy of what I've found on my journey. I'm just a shorts and flip flops kind of home teacher. I'm not saying my dress code is right or wrong. All I know is on a Sunday afternoon the Spirit used me, flip flops and all to make a difference.
In sales we have a saying, "Half the battle is in showing up." I think sometimes that's all the Lord asks.