Friday, July 19, 2013

Visiting Teaching Seminar

I am feeling so thankful this week. I have had the opportunity to serve a couple of people, and I've had so many people serve me and help me. I've been humbled a lott. I've felt the spirit a lot. And I've really been reflecting on how blessed I am to have so many wonderful people in my life. The Lord has placed so many wonderful men and women in my life and each has touched my life in unique and important ways.

We had our visiting teaching seminar last night. We began planning in April (originally we were going to hold it in June, but had to reschedule). I found an idea to compare visiting teaching to a meal at Of Worth. I thought that was a great idea, and so we met and began to plan. My presidency and visiting teaching coordinator and supervisors were a huge help. The evening went like this:

We had an opening song (Lord, I Would Follow Thee, Hymn 220) and an opening prayer/blessing on the food. Then Julie compared how we must decorate and prepare for a meal. We don't use plastic forks for a 5 course meal, nor do we use our best china for a barbecue. We prepare for the meal. So, too, we should prepare for visiting teaching. We should be praying for those we visit teach and we should be listening to the spirit to know what they need.

Then Jami talked about how we can bless our sisters' lives through prayer, just as we bless the food. We can pray as companions before we go on a visit. We can pray with the sister as we end the visit. We can also remember them in our daily prayers so that we know what their needs are and so that the Lord will bless them. Jami shared a story from Daughters in my Kingdom about a sister in Brazil. She couldn't call the sisters she visit taught...they didn't have phones. But one sister was about to have a baby and didn't have any clothes for the baby. She gathered a few sisters and they sewed a layette. Then the sister prayed to know when to take the clothes. She had a feeling and knew when it was time to go to the hospital. The woman had just had her baby and now had clothes for her baby and wouldn't have to take the baby home wrapped in newspapers.

Then Teresa compared visiting teaching to appetizers. Appetizers are fun...like hor'd ouvres served on a tray at a party. So, too, visiting teaching can at times be casual and fun. Especially as you are first getting to know someone. It is saying hi to them at church, sending a message on Facebook or sending a text. It's the way you begin to build a relationship. Teresa shared how comforting it is to know that there is someone you can talk to and that people care about you.

Then everyone ate their appetizers...chips and salsa...and visited for a bit. I encouraged them to share any positive experiences they've had with visiting teaching.

Then Heidi compared visiting teaching to the meal... it's the heart of visiting teaching...the face to face visit usually with a lesson. She shared this quote by Sister Mary Ellen Smoot that I love: "My desire is to plead with our sisters to stop worrying about a phone call or a quarterly or monthly visit, and whether that will do, and concentrate instead on nurturing tender souls. Our responsibility is to see that the gospel flame continues to burn brightly. Our charge is to find the lost sheep and help them feel our Savior's love." She shared a story from Daughters in my Kingdom about a woman who would go visit one of her sisters. The woman would open the door but not the screen door and stand there. The visiting teacher asked how she was and then quickly gave a summary of the lesson and left, month after month. One day the visiting teacher got a call from the Bishop. That sister had delivered a baby that had died. They were having a graveside service and the woman asked if her visiting teacher could come, because she was her only friend. She also shared this quote from President Kimball, "You are going to save souls, and who can tell but that many of the fine active people in the Church today are active because you gave them a new outlook, a new vision. You pulled back the curtain. You extended their horizons... You see, you are not only saving these sisters, but perhaps also their husbands and their homes."

Then we ate. We had mock Cafe Rio food, and it was great. We got the recipes from Favorite Family Recipes. Yum!

I passed out popsicles for dessert while people ate and visited. Then Laurel compared visiting teaching to dessert. The sweetest part of visiting teaching is that we make friendships that last a life time. She shared that her mom was a visiting teacher to a woman across the street from her. It's been about 30 years since they met, and they don't live in the same neighborhood now, but they are still dear friends. This woman has been at all of their temple sealings and many of their baby blessings. Laurel's mom has helped her in countless ways, and vice versa. Laurel said that she has often felt like she didn't need visiting teachers. She is active. Her life is good. But Sara is her visiting teacher and on Sunday asked if she could come visit on Tuesday. Laurel said that she needed that visit so much, and that she counts Sara as one of her dearest friends.

Then I spoke. Here's my actual talk (or very close...I added a couple of things as I spoke and cut a few things out):
Visiting Teaching has been on my mind for months now. I could probably talk for 30 minutes or more about visiting teaching, but I will try to keep my comments brief. We have been richly fed tonight…both physically and spiritually. My visiting teaching supervisor, coordinators and presidency have compared visiting teaching to eating. I’m going to take this a few steps further.

I want to start with a quote that has nothing to do with food, but that I absolutely love. President Kimball taught: “There are many sisters who are living in rags-spiritual rags. They are entitled to gorgeous robes, spiritual robes…. It is your privilege to go into homes and exchange robes for rags. You are going to save souls, and who can tell but that many of the fine active people in the Church today are active because you were in their homes and gave them a new outlook, a new vision. …You see, you are not only saving these sisters, but perhaps also their husbands and their homes.”

To me, that sums up pretty completely what visiting teaching is all about. It is a call to minister, to redeem souls, to be a part of the Savior’s work. In relating that quote to the theme for the night, let’s reframe that quote and say that you are going into homes to feed His sheep. You are going to exchange a diet of junk food for food with sustenance, for living bread and living water. We have all heard that the Lord is hastening the work, and that we have a responsibility to share the gospel. I truly believe that one of the greatest ways we can do that is by visiting teaching.

Many of you know that my family was here visiting from AZ and Canada a couple of weeks ago. We ended up talking a lot about visiting teaching and home teaching. My brother in law said that in their stake, they are asked to do as much for those they visit/home teach as the teachee will allow them. So, perhaps some people on your list would like to be invited to the whole feast. You can pray for and with them. You can have friendly interactions in and out of church (the appetizer). You can have a sit down visit with a lesson (the meal). You may become dear lifelong friends (the dessert). Others on your list may not feel ready for the full feast yet. Perhaps there is a neighbor on your list that is only ready for appetizers… perhaps you talk to them in the front yard or send them a message on Facebook or drop a plate of cookies off the next time you bake. There may even be some on your list that aren’t ready to enjoy the meal at all right now. Perhaps, they are unwilling to let you visit with them at all. But you can still pray for them. I promise if you do, it will change your heart…and may change theirs too. My brother in law shared a story of a friend of his that really tried to magnify his calling as a home teacher. But there was one person on his list who wouldn’t open the door for him at all. He said he didn’t want home teachers. SO each month, they would go home teaching. Then they would pull up in front of this brother’s house, sit in the car, say a prayer for him and leave. They did that for months. One evening, there was a knock on the window. The man asked what in the world they were doing. They told him and he said that if it was that important to them, then they might as well come in. Slowly, his heart was softened and he opened his heart to accept more of the meal. But be careful not to assume that they only want appetizers when perhaps they are ready for more.

I know that it can be scary to visit people you don’t know, particularly if they don’t go to church. But it helps me if I remember that they are children of Heavenly Father. They are someone’s mother, sister, daughter, friend. If I pray I have the courage and faith to try. In October 2012, President Monson gave a talk entitled “See Others as they May Become”. This has really influenced me as I’ve served as RS President. Pres. Monson said that there are many individuals who have little or no testimony right now that would change if we would share our testimony with them. He said, “We should develop the capacity to see men (and women) not as they are, but as they may become ..when they have a testimony of the gospel.” So, have faith, have courage and try to invite these less active sisters to the feast. If they won’t let you give them the whole meal, then give them as much as you can. Love them. Serve them. Know that they have the potential to change.

As a presidency, we truly enjoyed meeting with you in interviews to see how visiting teaching was going. We love you. We know your lives are busy. But this feast is the Lord’s feast…this is His work.
Julie Beck said, “Through Relief Society (and visiting teaching) we practice being disciples of Christ. We learn what he would have us learn, we do what He would have us do, and we become what He would have us become.” So I am asking you to pray for those you visit teach. I’m asking you to love them. I’m asking you to invite them to the feast. And actually, I’m not the one asking. Our Savior is. We’ve all heard the quote that Heavenly Father does hear our prayers, but it is usually through others that He answers them. This is your opportunity to be an answer to others’ prayers.

As we met with you, I know that for many of you scheduling is difficult. We live at a time when our schedules are busy. Most of you have heard me say that a few months before I was called as RS President, I felt like I couldn’t possibly add one more thing to my plate. Ironically, soon after saying that and praying about that, I was called to be RS President. I worried at first (and still do at times) how I could possibly do an adequate job serving you, working full time in a job that I feel is important and not let my family suffer. What I’ve realized is that as we put the things that matter most first in our lives, we are given additional strength and ability. The Lord enlarges our capabilities. I believe that will happen for you if you make visiting teaching a priority…you will find time that you didn’t think you had. Or you may recognize things that are taking up time that aren’t that important. I know I could spend a little less time on Facebook and more time Face to Face. I could read a few less books and talk to a few more people. As you make this commitment, you will bless these sisters’ lives. You will feed them spiritually.

The General Relief Society Board is emphasizing that visiting teaching is a call to minister. It is a call to serve and to bless those you are assigned spiritually and temporally. It isn’t something to check off a list. It is also a way to inform us of any needs those sisters have. Julie Beck said, “A sister in this Church has no other responsibility outside of her family that has the potential to do as much good as does visiting teaching.” I think that is pretty significant. No other responsibility has the potential to do as much good as visiting teaching outside of being a mother and a wife.

I’d like to speak for just a few minutes about the benefits and blessings YOU will receive if you visit teach. I truly believe that there are blessings for those who are visit taught as well as those who visit teach.…We will feel more peace of mind when we partake and participate and invite others to participate. I know that many of you feel guilty because you aren’t doing your visiting teaching as well as you’d like. As you feed the Lord’s sheep, you will have peace of mind. When you serve others, a feeling of peace and happiness will surround you. I know that some of you struggle with loneliness… I have felt that way at times in my life. As you visit teach, you will develop friendships that you may not have otherwise. Some of that loneliness will dissipate. As you show the Lord that you care about His daughters, He will send His spirit to be with you more abundantly.
I have been studying charity and ministering and serving others in the scriptures for the past several weeks. I was so touched when I read 1 Peter 4:8 “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.” If I understand this verse, then developing charity (which we develop as we love and serve those we visit teach) will help us to be forgiven of our sins. I think partly because when we develop true charity, we have no desire to hurt others and so we sin less. Of course, we still need to repent when we sin...and we will sin, but as we show our love to the Savior and to our fellow men, the Savior will forgive us more mercifully than he could if we didn’t exhibit this love. I know I need His mercy. I have a multitude of sins that need to be covered.

My favorite verse of scripture: Moroni 7:48...”Wherefore, my beloved brethren pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he has bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the Sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.” I know that if we pray with energy of heart, that we will be filled with his love and that this love does help us to become like Him, to become like He is and to be purified.

Perhaps the best reason to do visiting teaching is for the example you set for your children. Because I work full time, I am very careful to try not to schedule things in the evening. I try very hard to be home to eat dinner with my family, help with homework and music practice and to read to them and spend time with them. So when I am gone in the evenings, they want to know where I am going and why. When I go visiting teaching or do Relief Society work, I explain what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. I hope and believe that my children are learning to serve and seeing that I love the Lord as I serve. I know that watching my grandmother and mother visit teach and be visit taught had a profound impact on my life. STORY of MY GRANDMA. My grandma was a great visiting teacher. She often took one of her sisters who was disabled to the store or to doctor's visits. She called them nearly daily. She loved them. I am not a perfect visiting teacher, but most of the reason I have a testimony of visiting teaching I learned from watching my mom and my grandma visit teach and be visit taught.

Feed His Sheep. Invite them to participate in as much of the meal as they will. Pray to love them. You will be blessed, and so will they.
*****

After I spoke, Brother Vincent (from our Bishopric) spoke. He shared a little bit from the talk "Be Anxiously Engaged" by Elder Ballard. Then he shared some personal experiences about how visiting teaching and home teaching have blessed his own son and family. He spoke about how each person we are assigned to visit is someone's son or daughter. Most likely someone is praying and pleading with the Lord in their behalf that someone will be able to touch their heart and love them and have a positive impact on their life. The spirit was palpable.

Then we closed with a song by Jenny Phillips, "Sisters in Christ."

The spirit was very strong throughout the meeting. I'm so thankful for all that was shared. I'm so thankful for the wonderful women of the ward. I learn so much more from them than they do from me. I am so blessed to be able to serve. It is stretching me in so many ways, and I am so very blessed. And especially, I am thankful for the opportunity to become more like my Savior and to show my love for him in small ways as I serve.