You might have heard the quote, "It takes a village to raise a child." Well, today, I was reminded just how true that quote is! I had the opportunity to attend a church service in which my "little brother," Derek Hales, spoke about the experiences he had while serving his mission in Baltimore. Surrounded by many of the same people in my own personal support group, I couldn't help but think about the experiences I had surrounding the departure for and return from my own mission several years ago.
Most missionaries carry a small photo album around with them containing pictures of their family, a few friends, and maybe even a girlfriend. Being cut off from the people you love most for two years can be difficult, but having a small reminder that you have people back home who love you and who are praying for your safety and success is often just the thing you need to refocus, and make it through. I think I was a bit unique because my photo album was quite large and consisted of pictures not only of my immediate family, but also of my extended spiritual family!
My best-friend, Josh, and I had a discussion once about all of the people my family knew, but more specifically loved and cherished as relatives. He was amazed that we could have so many intimate connections which extended generations—close friends of my grandparents and their children, as well as close friends of my parents, and their children. I thought about it and realized that the gospel truly does bring families together. I'm not talking merely about our families here on earth; I'm talking about our heavenly family.
I think that I am a pretty lucky kid to have these intimate connections at every stage in my life, but perhaps one of the most crucial times for me was throughout high school and prior to my mission. Elder L. Tom Perry said, "The friends we choose to associate with are main contributing factors in the formation of our character." Adolescence is a time of confusion and self-exploration and my peers, though loving and concerned, in hindsight did not always offer the best advice. However, the love and support I felt from two families that my parents had befriended provided the safety net I needed to avoid serious spiritual peril in a time where my testimony was wavering. I thank Heavenly Father often for my fun, kind, and friendly parents for having the insight to make lasting friends that could provide me with the necessary "village" I needed to be properly raised.
One of the families in my village was the Johnson's. I can remember the Johnson family being involved in my life from the moment my family moved to Murrieta. Craig was in the bishopric and over the scouting program. I remember when boys were rowdy or obnoxious, they would have to step into "Brother Johnson's office", which consisted of doing push-ups in the hallway! LOL! I remember him teaching me how to toilet paper someone's house properly—shredded paper and all. I remember he was the first one to let me drive a car. I remember how we would play Mariokart on Nintendo 64 and he would imitate all of the different character's voices. I remember him talking me on the Mormon Battalion trail because I wasn't able to go when the rest of our scout troop went. But most of all I remember that he cared about ME!
The other family in my "village" was the Hales! I don't actually remember how my parents started hanging out with Brent and Laura Hales, or at what point our families seemed to be connected, but it seems like we formed an intimate connection seemingly overnight. I can remember that one day this family was only our acquaintances and then suddenly they were our eternal friends!
Brent and my Dad served in the bishopric together and I can remember how they always seemed to have fun. Brent was always happy and encouraging. At a time when I felt very self-coconscious about going to church, He never seemed to judge me, and was always happy to see me. I'm sure my parents confided in their friends about challenges that we faced, but Brent was always there to put his arm around my shoulder and extend encouragement and support. I remember that he gave me my first real job! I was a file clerk in his law office!
Laura was just like Shawna, another Mom! I think my mom got sick of hearing Laura say, "He's a good boy" about me! LOL! She never failed to make me feel welcome! She was always interested in my life and was willing to support, encourage, and guide me anytime! I remember orange rolls and chicken cordon bleu. I remember coming home from my mission and going straight from the airport to her house and a feast! LOL! I remember her kindness and gentle reminders that I needed to be an example to her kids! I remember pool parties in the summer and church parties all year round. I remember she always saw the good in me and either overlooked, or disregarded the bad.
Having these other sets of parents in my "village" also provided me with SEVERAL brothers and sisters—all younger than myself. I love them all, and while I don't get to see them that often, I can honestly say that they have each taught me lessons and I look up to them in several ways!
Aenon- Conviction! Aenon is one of the most passionate people about her convictions I have ever met. It is refreshing and at times intimidating (all I can say is Titanic…LOL). But I respect and admire her for that trait. In a world where people's opinions are so easily swayed by trends and fads, Aenon stays passionate about her convictions! Hey Red, remember Sailor Moon, Pokemon, and Dragon Ball Z!? Emma- Strength! I think Emma is a strong, beautiful, caring person. She always had a strong will and a mind of her own. I'm pretty sure we even got into arguments—which looking back is a little pathetic because she is 5 years younger than me—but Emma always held her own! LOL! She is strong not only in will, but also in testimony! Emma always seemed to love the gospel and have a desire to choose the right. I admired that! Remember playing Princess and the slave and cleaning up my room?! Andrea is still scarred! LOL!
Danebaby- Peacefulness! I didn't get to spend much time with Danebaby, but I remember looking into his eyes as a newborn baby and feeling peace! They were a gray-blue and full of light! I won't forget how he made me feel even though he probably won't remember me at all!
Ashley- Gentleness! Ashley is quite and gentle. She is concerned, reflective and contemplative! The missionary handbook is always talking about "quiet dignity" and Ashley epitomizes that! She is caring, but not overbearing. She is sweet and happy! Sometimes I see Ashley and I realize maybe I need to talk less and care more!
MaeMae- Sharing! Megan was born on my 18th birthday! I think she's the first person I think about every birthday since then! She is full of life and energy and spunk! And I am happy and honored to share a birthday with her!
President Gordon B. Hinckley said, "Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children." With the knowledge that we are children of God, our friendships have the potential to become more than earthly relationships, but intimate familial experiences that can last throughout the eternities. I have had the privilege throughout my life thus far of being able to recognize, love, and respect some of my heavenly relatives. It's interesting to me, that in Arabic, the word "relative" also has the same root and is a variation of the word "near" or "close".
On dictionary.com one definition for the word "close" is "marked by similarity in degree, action, feeling, etc." another, "intimate or confidential; dear" and my favorite, "based on a strong uniting feeling of respect, honor, or love!" While I love my immediate family with all of my heart, the funny thing about love, is that there is always room for more! On occasions like today, it feels more like a family reunion than a gathering of friends. I get to see members of my "heavenly family" that I once associated with on a daily basis and embrace them and reaffirm my love for them! What a privilege and an honor it is for me to have such wonderful people to consider family!