I Worried about Their Future
I grew up in an environment where many men smoked, drank, and lived unchaste lives. I saw this kind of example in my own family and in most of the men in the vicinity, so I came to believe it was normal. At the early age of 20, I got married. Four years later, after we had three children, we divorced. But I later met a wonderful woman, who not only accepted me with three children but gave us five more. We have been married for more than 30 years.
One day about 22 years ago I began to fear greatly for the future of my eight children. I didn’t want them to go through the same dangerous situations I had, and I was afraid they would be lost in the wickedness of the world. I didn’t know what to do to help them, but I became very receptive to the things of God. Whenever someone knocked on the door with a religious message, I opened my door and my heart. I listened attentively, accepted their pamphlets, and went with them to their houses of worship. Still, I wasn’t at peace; I couldn’t find what I was looking for.
A few years passed, and a pair of young missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came to our home. With my wife and our five children (the other three lived with their mother), I began to hear the discussions, attend church, and get acquainted with the members and their beliefs. After several months we made the wise decision to join the Church, and 17 years have now gone by.
I understood that I had to make changes in my life if I wanted to teach my children the right way. For example, I could not teach them to keep the Word of Wisdom and live a chaste life if I was not living these commandments. By striving to live the teachings of the gospel, I was able to change my life and teach my children. I was also able to baptize my three children from my first marriage and get them back from the world. All eight children belong to the Church now. Four have served missions. One was too old to go on a mission, but he served as a stake mission president. Six are married, all in the temple.
At the beginning of 1999, we had a regional conference in southern Florida. After fulfilling an assignment to deliver earphones for the conference translation, I went into a hall where thousands of Church members were seated. I remained standing at the back of the hall, and I was able to observe one of my sons with his baby. I looked in another direction and saw another son with his wife and children.
A wonderful feeling of joy came over me at that moment, and I could not keep tears from my eyes. I remembered those terrible days when I was so worried about my children’s future. Now I was weeping for joy because I no longer had those worries.
The gospel and true Church of Jesus Christ made it possible for us to find the right way to help our children and to have joy and happiness. Christ is the light guiding our lives. His teachings persuade us to do good.
A Small Thing
I joined the Church when I was in high school and was the only member in my family. I had a difficult time making the transition to life in the Church, finding many of the activities and callings unfamiliar. So when I was asked to be a visiting teacher for the first time during my second year in college, I struggled to understand exactly what that meant. My companion was a faithful young mother, Sister Bray (names have been changed), and it was easy for me to let her set the appointments, direct our visits, and care for our sisters. One sister, in particular, proved more challenging than the rest. Cassie was less active, living with her boyfriend, and expecting their first child. She always seemed sad or troubled.
One Sunday the branch presidency asked us to make sure we invited everyone on our visiting teaching routes to a missionary fireside that evening. “No problem,” I thought. “Sister Bray will call Cassie.” I scanned the chapel. Sister Bray was out of town that Sunday and would not be making any calls.
When I reached my apartment after church, I felt the tugging of the Spirit: “Call Cassie.” I stoutly refused. Surely she wouldn’t come even if I did call. A second time the Spirit prompted strongly: “Call Cassie!” Again I refused. Finally the Spirit was impossible to ignore, and I grudgingly made the call—only to reach Cassie’s answering machine. “See,” I thought, “I knew it wouldn’t do any good.” I left a message telling Cassie and her boyfriend, Will, that there would be a fireside that evening and we’d love to see them there.
At the fireside I noticed that although many were in attendance, Cassie and Will were not among them. “I knew they wouldn’t come,” I thought, somewhat smugly. With 10 minutes left in the fireside, I was quite surprised to see Cassie and Will enter the chapel. The missionaries stood up quietly and left with them. “How about that!” I said to myself.
Christmas break came soon after that, and I attended my home ward for the holidays. A month later when I returned to my college ward, one of the members excitedly approached me and asked if I would be at the baptism that evening. “Of course,” I said, “but who is getting baptized?” The sister answered, “Will, Cassie’s husband.” Husband? I went to look for Cassie as quickly as I could.
When I found Cassie and Will, I congratulated them on their marriage and Will’s baptism and asked how it had all come about. “Remember that fireside you invited us to attend?” Cassie answered. “We got there late, so the elders took us into another room and showed us a video. Will liked it so much he asked to hear the discussions. We were married, and today Will is getting baptized.” I was humbled and ashamed of myself and yet in total awe of Heavenly Father’s love for each of His children.
But this isn’t the end of the story. Not long ago I had the opportunity to return to my college ward after being away for six years. I was thrilled to see many familiar faces and to introduce my old friends to my husband and two children.
As I passed through the foyer, I saw someone I thought I knew but who looked different somehow. “Don’t I know you?” I said. “Yes, I’m Cassie. You were my visiting teacher. You remember Will, don’t you?” She pointed to the man standing to her left, then called to two children in the hallway. “And these are our two children.” She looked happy, peaceful, and sure of herself. She said she was serving in the Primary presidency. “Have you had a chance to go to the temple?” I inquired. “Which one?” she asked with a smile. “Chicago? Detroit? Nauvoo? We’ve been to all of them.”
This encounter once again reminded me “that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass” (Alma 37:6)—even a small thing like a phone call.
Home Teaching with Brother Skinner
I was baptized into the Church as a teenager but stopped attending not long afterward. Three years in the army did nothing to restore my spiritual health. Yet soon after I was discharged, the gentle but insistent urging of the Spirit of the Lord directed me to return to activity in my home ward. I dutifully obeyed.
Although I was rough around the edges, the elders quorum welcomed me without question and put me to work as a home teaching companion to Burniss Skinner, second counselor in the bishopric. Under Brother Skinner’s loving tutelage, I felt my testimony begin to take root.
Some of our assigned families struggled with tight finances, young children, chronic illness, loneliness, and Church activity. Others exemplified the peace of gospel living. Among these families, Hazel and John Peterson were particularly special. Their son Mike had been a high school friend and one of the young men most instrumental in my conversion. As a young investigator, I had taken the missionary discussions in their home; now I was returning as their home teacher.
In each home we visited, Brother Skinner pleasantly and patiently ministered from the abundance of his heart. His words and gestures of comfort, blessing, care, and counsel have remained in my heart as lessons of the Savior’s love. Home teaching with Brother Skinner was not a burden but the greatest privilege and honor.
Within a year I had advanced in the priesthood, was sealed in the temple to my dear wife, and moved away from Brother Skinner and our home teaching families. After finishing college and law school, I spent 20 years in the military, moving my family to live in four countries on three continents. But I never forgot Brother Skinner, and while serving in various wards and branches, I tried to emulate his compassion and commitment.
After retiring from the air force, I moved back to my hometown to continue practicing law. The intervening 20 years had reordered the wards along entirely different boundaries, but I felt that I should visit Sister Hazel Peterson, who had lived alone since her husband died of cancer.
Six months later, however, I still hadn’t visited her. One winter morning I was driving to my law practice when the image of Sister Peterson unexpectedly came into my mind. Passing by the freeway exit closest to her home, I discounted the feeling and continued driving. But by the time I reached the next exit, I found myself leaving the freeway and backtracking to Sister Peterson’s home. Just as the Spirit had gently compelled me to return to activity almost 25 years earlier, it now gently whispered that I should visit my old home teaching sister.
I knocked on Sister Peterson’s door and waited. After several minutes, I wondered sheepishly if she was out. Another knock, another few minutes. Finally the window above the door rattled and slid along its track. Sister Peterson peered down at me. The years had whitened her hair to the purest wool, and she looked tiny and thin. Her face was contorted in pain. Despite her labored breathing, she began weeping as she recognized me. “Oh, Kevin,” she said, “I’m so glad you’re here. I’m in such terrible pain from my arthritis, and I need a priesthood blessing. Thank you for waiting—please come in.” Before turning away from the window, she added, “I thought you were Burniss.”
I was startled to hear the name Burniss. “Do you mean Brother Skinner?” I asked her. “Does he still live around here?”
“No,” she said. “He lives another 40 miles [65 km] north. But he still works near here, and I have his work number. I called about 20 minutes ago and asked him to come give me a blessing. He should be here any minute.”
A car pulled into the driveway, and Brother Skinner stepped out—much grayer but with the same pleasant spring in his step and kind smile on his face. We shook hands, and 20 years of distance melted away. We entered Sister Peterson’s familiar home, the site of my spiritual apprenticeship to Brother Skinner so many years before. I anointed Sister Peterson’s head with consecrated oil, and Brother Skinner pronounced the blessing. We were together again, companions in an impromptu call to service from the Lord Himself.