At a YSA temple trip last weekend, I struggled to leave a strange, seemingly undefinable (albeit crushing) weight behind me as I served within hallowed walls. It almost took my crossing that threshold to realise how tightly I was wound. I certainly knew I needed that trip; I’d been looking forward to it, yearning for the peace that I’d feel there as I took time to finally be alone and still. I left London behind, but I couldn’t quite leave the feeling I’d been too preoccupied to face. I thought of the Summer months, so exciting and jam-packed with people and trips and heart-breaking news stories and places and talking. I’ve been speedily ambling through- I’ve been doing good things and learning good things; but when I thought of the most affecting thing of the summer, I shamefully grew a few degrees warmer and my throat turned dry.
I had been talking to my mother- something we are both trying to do more I think- as I walked to my evening tube station. The station was unusually quiet for a Friday evening, and as I approached the wide staircase I hung up with Mom and wound up my headphones. An elderly-yet spry- woman adorned in designer-wear pushed past me on the staircase and grumbled at me, “not on the staircase, idiot, put your phone away.” There was no time for me to be stunned or for me to roll my eyes and smile slyly at the un-necessity of the quip- for I completely forgot myself and before I knew it, I was chasing the woman down. “I beg your pardon Madam, but who do you think you are?” The scariest part of the experience was that my voice was loud and level, confident and demanding. “Who are you to have an opinion about whether or not I’m using my phone? How exactly are you put-out? Look how wide this staircase is; how much room you have. What business of yours is it, the manner in which I descend a staircase? Don’t you run away from me, you started this; you’ll let me finish! How unnecessary was your mean comment? You’ve irritated me so much– I’ll keep up with you!” She pulled ahead of me, shouting insults behind her. Still, I followed, taking it upon myself to remind her about how short life was and how she ought to mend her ways. When she reached the ticket barrier before me she seemed smug; and I felt a powerful surge of smugness myself as her ticket got caught and the barrier shut her out, unable to pass. Like a spite-filled maniac, I laughed forcefully as I glided through the barrier. I didn’t leave it there. Passing through the barrier I spun on my heel and planted myself in front of her barrier, looked her dead in the eye and challenged her, “I’ll race you to the tube.” And I swanned off.
I’ve never behaved so despicably. No sooner had I stepped on to the descending escalator, leaving her huffing and puffing at her blockaded barrier, did my legs begin to shake and my heart began to pound. Was this the moment when my human self returned where a monster had momentarily resided? Where did that come from?! I turned around, face on fire with guilt and shame. Could I go back, apologise? Should I? What would I even say? How could I possibly explain how rude I’d been? What kind of day had she had? Would she ever feel as bad about her part as I was feeling about mine?
Though this was one lone incident- something I’d never done before and hoped never to again- I wondered if I was subconsciously harbouring a current of ugliness that ran for the most part undetected. It humbled me, and I think I felt very poignantly far from “holiness”. It’s been sitting at the forefront of my mind for weeks now, and though I’ve been penitent and tried to make amends, hoping that so many more “rights” could right this wrong, I’ve been feeling self-conscious and a little frightened of the Hyde to my Jekyll.
And so I sensitively entered the temple… and someone spoke unkindly to me as I attempted to serve. I don’t know if the person I encountered there was having an equally toilsome couple of months- if he had been beating himself up in the same ways I had, or if he’d had the worst day in human history… but his small yet gruelling interchange with me pricked me to the core and I did something I’ve done maybe only once before in my life: I retreated to the bathroom. Such a girlish, dramatic act. I closed myself in there miserably, feeling so much hurt bubble to the surface that I could barely choke down hot tears. This was not right! I was not right! This wasn’t the experience I needed so desperately! It was hurtful and it was not just! But why did it get me so riled up? How could I possibly feel the same anger that I’d felt on the train station steps here in the temple? “Where could I turn for peace?”
I slogged through the next hours of the weekend, wrapped up in confusion, heaviness and a little despair until I naughtily evaded my responsibilities within our group and slipped into an Endowment session by myself. Taking that time to quietly serve as a patron, without the constraints of time and schedules and duties, I was able to feel the world slow down a little bit.
I love the perspective that the temple offers us. I distinctly felt relieved as I heard, “everything will be fine.”
I’ve realised I need to be kinder to myself; to embrace the certain reality that now is not a time for perfection, but rather a time to learn the ways in which I need my Saviour personally. People have bad days, weeks, months, even years. Things get heavy and people are very imperfect, even at the best of times- or in the best of places. I thought of the hymn Saviour, Redeemer of my Soul and the line, “Chasten my soul til I will be in perfect harmony with thee.” How grateful I am that our redeemer knows us by heart rather than deed; and how grateful I am that still in those hard times, I can testify of Him, and His redeeming love. I feel my Saviours love undeniably when I am in anguish. Indeed, it feels sweeter, more palpable.
I took away a few other thoughts from the weekend.
First: nothing can substitute the private experience of reflection and revelation at the temple.
Second, a member of our Stake Presidency reminded me of this beautiful encounter with the spirit world as told by the prophet Joseph F. Smith in Doctrine and Covenants 138:
11 … I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great.
12 And there were gathered together in one place an innumerable company of the spirits of the just, who had been faithful in the testimony of Jesus while they lived in mortality;
13 And who had offered sacrifice in the similitude of the great sacrifice of the Son of God, and had suffered tribulation in their Redeemer’s name.
14 All these had departed the mortal life, firm in the hope of a glorious resurrection, through the grace of God the Father and his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ.
15 I beheld that they were filled with joy and gladness, and were rejoicing together because the day of their deliverance was at hand.
16 They were assembled awaiting the advent of the Son of God into the spirit world, to declare their redemption from the bands of death.
17 Their sleeping dust was to be restored unto its perfect frame, bone to his bone, and the sinews and the flesh upon them, the spirit and the body to be united never again to be divided, that they might receive a fulness of joy.
18 While this vast multitude waited and conversed, rejoicing in the hour of their deliverance from the chains of death, the Son of God appeared, declaring liberty to the captives who had been faithful;
19 And there he preached to them the everlasting gospel, the doctrine of the resurrection and the redemption of mankind from the fall, and from individual sins on conditions of repentance.
23 And the saints rejoiced in their redemption, and bowed the knee and acknowledged the Son of God as their Redeemer and Deliverer from death and the chains of hell.
24 Their countenances shone, and the radiance from the presence of the Lord rested upon them, and they sang praises unto his holy name.
Third: a sweet moment I shared with a friend who had not served in the temple for over a decade. She and I sat together in front of the temple that night and by chance, saw a shooting star streak across the night sky. She gasped and recalled that the only other time she had seen a shooting star in her life had been in the same position; leaving the temple at night as a young girl. I thought of that little miracle: evidence that God was there, and that He knew my sweet friend personally. He is in the details of our lives.
Lastly: Jessica Ivey, whose new calling in our ward as a Family History Consultant has only solidified her even greater calling in life to facilitate the salvation of her ancestors. She brought four hundred ancestors with her to the temple.
Jess was gracious enough to share her family history experience with me:
Before we all moved out, my flatmates and I wanted to arrange a little gathering at our place for a few friends. We started up a Facebook event that we all became hosts of so we could add people, whilst doing this we decided that maybe five or six people would be an appropriate number for our small central London, top-floor flat. I invited the few people that we had agreed upon and as the week went on completely forgot about the page. The end of the week came, I had invited a few other people, a couple asked if they could bring their friends who were in town and I saw no problem with it. What was the problem with two or three more people? We could squeeze in. The day of the party came and we stacked all of the chairs we could find into our living room. Six people arrived, but not the six people we had agreed on, suddenly I realised what had happened as the doorbell rang over and over again and more and more people piled into our tiny apartment. There was a point when we thought that we couldn’t possibly fit any more people into the flat and when we acknowledged that there definitely would not be enough food for all the people there. At this very moment, the doorbell rang again and all of the missionaries from our ward piled into the flat. All six of them. Again, six doesn’t seem like a large number, but when there are already 20 people not including yourselves occupying every possible space in the room it was just too much.
Why am I telling you this story? Well, that party was honestly the best one we had ever had at the flat. The conversation never stopped, the food, although not loaves and fishes, miraculously managed to stretch to feed everybody. The entire room was heaving with joy and laughter the whole evening.
We started with a few names and before we knew it, our small gathering turned into a celebration.
Three months ago I received an email from my mum with a list of family names that she had been sent by a distant relative who wasn’t a member of the church but was really interested in our family history. In the email my mum asked if I could add these names to familysearch. When I read the email a sense of dread welled up in me. I had always assumed that family history was something for the older members of the church to do when they had a lot of time on their hands. I thought it was something overly complicated involving ancient machines and trawling through dusty ledgers. For this reason, I put off doing the work. It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I ventured into the family history centre. I sat down with one of the consultants there as she showed me how to use familysearch and ancestry. I was hooked.
The poor girl was sat in there with me for ages as I asked question after question and desperately searched for more and more names. It wasn’t until she mentioned that she was hungry that I realised we had been in there for six hours. On that day I found 22 names to take to the temple with me. I clutched the printed cards in my hand the entire way to the temple. Upon entering the small room next to the baptistry and writing my name on the small slip of paper an older man that I had never met before asked if he had heard my name correctly and if I was related to someone in Plymouth. I replied that my mum lives in Plymouth as tears began to well up in his eyes and then mine after I realised who he was. This man, nearly 35 years ago, had taught my mum the gospel. He was from Las Vegas and just visiting England for the express purpose of visiting my mum. She had told him earlier on in the week that I lived in London which meant that he wouldn’t have the opportunity to meet me. He had just stepped off the plane when his two young sons expressed the desire to go and do baptisms at the London Temple, something not previously planned into their schedule. The overwhelming blessing of meeting the man partly responsible for my being born in the gospel and sealed to my parents was only heightened by the fact that he was able to baptise me for my mother’s ancestors and also bring them into the church too.
After this special moment, I could feel the Lord’s hand helping me in all of my family history work. Throughout the next coming months it became easier and easier to find relatives that were ready and waiting for their work to be done. The pile of printed out ordinance cards only grew and grew as I was finally called as a family history consultant myself. In this calling I was able to serve at FSY in the temple challenge room especially set up for the youth to find their ancestors and get a taste for family history. I saw youth who had no interest in being there suddenly become animated and anxious to find their ancestors names. I saw young women frantically calling their parents to find out more information. I held young men as they held back tears of excitement after finding a name when they thought all the work had been done. I saw the spirit of Elijah take over other people’s hearts just like it had done for me.
The weekend of the big Temple trip arrived and I was ecstatic to have with me a total of four hundred and thirtyeight names ready for baptism and confirmation. I had planned on giving a few out to other people. I had asked a friend who became close to my Dad when he served in his ward on his mission to do my Father’s family names. I asked another close friend from Scotland to be baptised for my Scottish ancestors. At the door of the temple I turned around to see so many people from our ward, so many faithful and hopeful saints that I loved and cared about. I just knew that I couldn’t withhold my names from any one of them. As I walked into the small waiting room and saw everyone dressed in white and ready to do the work for all of my ancestors an overwhelming sense of peace washed over me knowing that one day I would walk into another room just like that and see another group of people dressed in white as they welcome me back home.
During that weekend we baptised and confirmed four hundred of my family names and I felt the rejoicing in heaven as I saw the smiles on the faces of my friends. I cannot and will not believe in a gospel that preaches ‘til death do us part’. Knowing that I will be with my family in heaven again keeps me going through difficult times and is the most important principle to me in my life. I feel so blessed to have the knowledge that one day I will stand before my Father knowing that I have done everything that I could. Knowing that I am loved. Knowing that I am home. For that I am forever grateful.
I started with a few names, and before I knew it, my small gathering turned into a celebration.