All I did at age 21 was play baseball, surf, and hang out with my friends. I wasn’t going to Church very often and I was on my way to Hawaii to finish my college baseball career…or to the minors to take my shot at the big leagues. My life was filled with one fun adventure after another. From San Diego to LA, I had the coast covered. I couldn’t have dreamed up a better situation at age 21. There was just one issue though. After all was said and done for the day, and I’d lay my head down on my pillow at night…all I felt was emptiness. What the heck?
Exactly one night before the baseball season started, I was laying in bed and couldn’t go to sleep. During that night I had a spiritual experience that would be hard for me to describe here in this blog. What I can tell you though is that as a result of that experience, I learned that “you cannot do wrong and feel right”. (Benson) I learned that “God will feel after you and he will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings.” (JoD) And most of all I learned that what Paul stated in Acts 17:27-29 is true….that I am a son of God, and that He is “not far from any one of us,” especially when the nights are the darkest.
As a result of that experience, I decided I would try and go to church a couple times. I was as raw and unpolished as they come at that point. Can you believe I would go to Del Taco on Sunday, and actually sneak burritos into Church? I wasn’t quite as bad as an Alma or a Paul in their heyday, but sometimes I look back at myself and wonder, “who was that guy?”
It was hard for me to go to Church. I didn’t feel good about myself and I was friendless. No familiar faces among a sea of strangers. I went to the Newport singles ward. Didn’t really talk to anyone and left. Then I went to the Huntington Beach ward. Again…didn’t really talk to anyone and left. I’m not really the type that likes to go into a room where I don’t know anyone, but I knew I needed to be in Church and deep down I wanted to go on a mission. Going to sacrament and then grabbing my surfboard just wasn’t cutting it…so I decided I’d try to last the entire 3 hours! I still remember the first day I stayed for the whole block as if it were yesterday. I was sitting in third hour wondering how I made it so long. No one had talked to me and I thought I was too cool to reach out to anyone else. (Yeah… I was an idiot) I don’t know what would have happened during the following week. I may have never came back…but…
Out of the blue, a guy I had never seen before came and sat next to me. “Hey…my name’s Jevin” he said with a big grin on his face as he extended his hand. I hesitantly shook his hand and said, “…hey man, I’m Greg.” Before I knew it, Jevin had me talking as if we were great buds. After the class was over he says to me, “Hey Greg…you want to grab some dinner with us?” Sounded good to me. It wasn’t some Mormon “fellowship” obligation deal that ended with the last amen for the day. It was a genuine attempt to make a friend out of someone that looked really lonely. So we walked out into the foyer and he introduced me to about 20 people. The last person that he introduced me to that day happened to be a girl… and she was a 10. (more to come on that later…) I didn’t realize it…but he was one of the coolest dudes in the ward. This guy didn’t need any more friends, and he certainly didn’t need to talk to me, but he went out of his way to do just that. It was Jevin’s character than enabled him to be an instrument in the hands of God on my behalf at that time. “Character is how you treat people that can do nothing for you.” (Goethe) There was absolutely nothing I could do for Jevin when he befriended me.
Spencer W. Kimball once said that “God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs.”
There is no way I could have known then just how significant this little tiny experience was with Jevin. When I look back on the events that transpired, I’m able to see it for the miracle that it is. This much I can tell you. Jevin probably didn’t think twice about it, but I know that he was sent by God himself to “watch over me” and to “meet my needs”. He was 8-10 years my senior. He had no business sitting next to me and introducing himself to me that day. He was a returned missionary…and a cool one. I needed that. Within a few months I moved out of the “baseball house” and in with Jevin. I needed that. I met with the bishop and told him I wanted to go on a mission. He got me on the right track and challenged me to read the Book of Mormon. I needed that. The Book of Mormon, repentance, and prayer helped me feel the power of the atonement. Like Alma, “I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. When I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.” …Oh how I needed that.
I prepared to serve a mission everyday from that time forward. For an entire 8 years prior to that time, I had never shared the gospel with my best friend Brian. Never. After my own conversion, I shared the gospel with him, and before I left on my mission, he was also converted, and was baptized. I can still clearly remember our embrace as we stood there in our wet clothes. I left on a mission and one year later, Brian sold his boat and left on a mission as well at age 23. Check out what Brian wrote me in an email while he was out on his mission: When Brian got home from his mission, he married an Idaho girl named Deneese. There is no possible way that this takes place if Brian doesn’t join the Church and go on a mission. Their beautiful kids, Camden and Greyson would never exist. This family…isn’t a family without this string of events. Generations inside and outside of his family would have been deprived of his testimony.
As for me and my family…do you remember that girl I told you Jevin introduced me to that day in the foyer? Yeah…she is sitting next to me right now. Before I left on my mission we were engaged. It’s pretty rare to be engaged on a mission…and just as rare to have someone wait for over 2 years…but here we are.
“By small means, are great things brought to pass.” Forget fellowshipping! Start friendshipping. This one small act of friendship…an extended hand, a smile, and a dinner invitation changed my life, my family’s life, and thousands more that I was able to bear my testimony to. It was the strengthening I needed at a pivotable time in my life and its affects are endless. Imagine if Jevin didn’t come up to me that day. I probably would not have my wife and kids. I might have not followed through to serve a mission. My best friend Brian doesn’t join the church, serve a mission, or marry his wife. You would probably not be reading this blog right now without that one interaction that took place in a church class long ago. I couldn’t imagine my life without those things! I just can’t.
This is what I want the world to know. All of what I just shared here might not have ever happened if this one random guy had not come up to me to extend his hand. It’s almost as if the clasp of his hand took place as I stood at a spiritual fork in the road. That moment in time was God’s way of giving me an opportunity to live up to the potential and foreordination I had before I came to this earth.
So…next time you see someone sitting in church all alone…think of me, and consider what it might mean to that person if you just extended your hand…and offered your friendship.