Temple Thoughts

Family gathering for hymn singing

When I tended my father at dialysis a few weeks ago, he tried to tell me something and was stopped by tears.  Finally he managed, “I get to go to the temple on Friday.”  He was going to attend my niece’s endowment.  She will leave for her mission in January.

This would hardly seem tear-worthy, unless you understand that my father has been on dialysis for 5 ½ years, and has been weakened by the gradual failure of all his organs.  He is in a wheelchair, and sleeps much of the time.

Six months ago, my parents’ stake president dropped by their place to give them temple recommend interviews.  Dad is rarely strong enough to get to church, so the president had come to him.  I thought it was a lovely gesture, but didn’t imagine the recommend would ever be used.  Still, it was a good for my dad to report to his stake president where he stood in his faith, like a last testimony to be witnessed and signed.

 Not long after that, I was talking to Dad about my calling as an ordinance worker, and an experience I had had with a patron in initiatory. I had gone to get her and found her with her head in her hands.  I thought she might feel faint or ill, and asked her if she was all right.  Our conversation was in Spanish, since she was from Mexico.  She said, “I was praying.”  I nodded, and then surprised myself by saying, “Many come here to pray for themselves or for a family member.  I’ve come to pray for my son sometimes.”  She brightened.  “I am praying for my son.”  At that moment, we were sisters, mothers who had a glimpse into each other’s lives.  She gave me a few details, and I let her know I had been through similar things with my children.  After I did my ordinance work, I kissed her on the forehead.

When I reported this to Dad (who is the reason I speak Spanish; he took me to Guatemala three times), he said, “I wish I could do initiatory.”  I asked if we couldn’t arrange to have him do just one name.  My brothers could help with the wheelchair.  Dad shook his head.  “I’m too weak.”

But this—my niece’s endowment—he had chosen to attend, knowing that he might not get through the entire session.  He was also concerned he might impose.  How would he do anything from his wheelchair?  I assured him that we work with patrons in wheelchairs all the time.  “We’ve got it covered, Dad,” I said.

He went, made it through the whole session, and saw my beautiful niece enter the Celestial Room into the arms of not only her family, but also of her 5th grade teacher, a temple worker.  In the fifth grade, my niece had life-threatening seizures, and this teacher was always on the alert.  Surgery solved the problem, and she is seizure free now–free to drive, free to go on a mission.

Yesterday, as I attended prayer meeting in the temple, the matron said, “Smile at your sisters.  You never know what burdens they are bringing here.” Indeed.  So often, I have seen couples holding each other and weeping in the Celestial Room, or single patrons clearly in prayer, tears streaking their cheeks.  We don’t ask what’s wrong.  They have not come to hold conversation with temple workers, but with God. We can provide kleenex, though.

I did a “room follow,” which means that I attended an endowment session as a helper.  Room followers are really there to be sure that nobody feels conspicuous or incompetent.  We help as needed. I’ve always believed we symbolize angels who are present to help anyone who might be confused about where they are, where they need to go next, or what they’re supposed to do.

This session was unusual for me.  I recognized a man who I knew from another setting, and who I knew  had a troubled past.  He had even spent time in prison.  There he was, in white. I’m sure he appreciated the endowment and the focus on redemption better than most, just as my father appreciated being in the temple one more time, when he had thought that his weakness would keep him away.  (And there might be yet another visit, as my nephew is being married in the temple in two weeks.)

I thought of this patron, emancipated from his weaknesses and the consequent spiritual (and physical) prison; imagined the contrast between him in the prison jumpsuit and him in white.  I have been in court a few times, and have seen inmates brought in from the jail, all in orange jumpsuits and with manacled hands. I recalled a note from a friend:

 Our son went to jail a few years ago. My husband and I went over to see him.  On the way over, I thought, “I can’t do this. I can’t see my son behind bars.” Gently, the following words from the third verse of “How Firm a Foundation” came in my thoughts:

“Fear not, I am with thee, oh, be not dismayed, for I am thy God and will still give thee aid. I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, upheld by my righteous omnipotent hand…”

That same verse had moved me years ago when one of my children was struggling and I felt helpless.  I was playing the organ in my ward and reading the words as the congregation sang.  I started crying and could barely read the notes.  Fortunately, it was the closing song, so I was able to wipe my eyes before anyone could see the tears.

That song is also my father’s favorite.  Many of us, his children and our families, spend Sunday evenings with him and sing hymns.  When we sing this one, he insists on the final verse, and I often request the sixth:

 E’en down to old age, all my people shall prove
My sov’reign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And then, when gray hair shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs shall they still, like lambs shall they still,
Like lambs shall they still in my bosom be borne.

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I cannot, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, I’ll never, no never,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!

I know  it won’t be long before my father is dressed one last time in his temple robes,  for burial.  He has not become a wealthy man, and it has never mattered.  (In fact, we Blairs tend to go for third world countries, not three-car garages.)  He has become a citizen of the world, fluent in more languages than he would want me to say, and willing to bring anyone of any ethnicity into his heart.  He is faithful in everything.  I consider him a man of God who is finishing a glorious life.

I likewise trust that the patron who I know from somewhere else will continue to come to the temple.  He hungers and thirsts after righteousness, for he has known the kind of starvation and thirst many of us never comprehend.

Out of the corner of my eye, I watched him proceed to the veil.  I know he realized that he belonged in the Celestial Room.  It was made for people like him.

Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this. It’s lovely.

  2. This brought tears to my eyes, especially the verses of How Firm A Foundation. Thank you.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Lovely, Margaret, thanks.

    I was struck by your sixth verse, which includes the words “when gray hair shall their temples adorn.” That popped out at me because I have gray at my temples. For now it’s that distinguished touch of gray thing, but I see it as the earnest of a fuller flowering. And I found the image of one elderly borne in His bosom like a little lamb quite powerful.

  4. Singing that at my father’s side is a powerful thing. Actually, I meant to include a photo. I’ll add it. My father is old. It happened so fast.

  5. Mark Brown says:

    Margaret, thank you so very much for this.

  6. I was in Dr. Blair’s phonetics class 20 years ago. He often seemed to be computing something several levels deeper than where I was. Wonderful man.

  7. You are so lucky, Joanne! I took a class from my father as well, and am continuing his life’s work as best I can–through parenting and also through honoring other cultures/languages. It is a marvelous legacy. Oh, I got an A from my dad (earned!), but only an A- from my husband.

  8. Margaret – Your posts always make me cry.

  9. J. Stapley says:

    Thank you, Margaret.

  10. living in zion says:

    Thank you so much, Margaret. You have no idea how much I needed this softness today.

  11. Margaret — You’ve got my head and memory in temples again. It’s been a few years, although the memories seem quite fresh. Don’t know how long it will be before I’m back again, but I think it’s a day closer due to this — maybe more. Thanks to you and your dad for your this gift. If you feel like writing my name down sometime, I would be grateful.

  12. Blain–you’ve got it. Your name and lots of prayers.

  13. Thank you

  14. Margaret, that was beautiful, truly beautiful. Thank you.

  15. This is the best piece I have ever read at BCC.

  16. Thank you, Margaret. I’m going to be sharing this one.

  17. Thank you for the tears that I shed while reading your story. May our Heavenly Father be with you always.

  18. Molly Bennion says:

    “My father is old. It happened so fast.”
    Oh, yes.
    Thanks, Margaret, for another lovely post.

  19. Thank you Margaret.

  20. JennyP1969 says:

    Dear Margaret,

    Thank you for this gift of words so heavenly laced by the Holy Spirit. I feel your kiss on my own forehead, for my son also grieves my heart and keeps my prayers ever flowing. I am you at times, the sister from Mexico at times, and the former inmate, also, because I feel imprisoned by some of our LDS past, present and future. Your father in many ways is my father, and your hymns our hymns, and your pure faith….still, my own. No matter how dark the things I do not understand or care for within Mormonism, the gospel is such pure, pure light…..always reminding me — or you, Margaret — reminding me that whatever I may or may not perceive as wrong with this church is healed many times over by what is right with it. Further, there come wondrous surprises of soothing healing by the fruits of many people therein who help guide us through the dark night into redemptive holy light while offering a box of tissues. Words fail to express my gratitude for this lovely post.

  21. Thank you for that beautiful, even poetic reminder of our interconnectedness, JennyP1969.

  22. Beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  23. European Saint says:

    Thank you, Margaret. Your father sounds like a wonderful man, one who has embraced the meaning of charity. I too have a father whose health has been tried as of late, and it has caused me to reflect upon all he means to me, to us. The temple helps us put things into perspective. God be thanked.

  24. My father never got to be old. Never got to the temple, either – damned cigarettes. I miss him so much. Thank you for a beautiful, touching essay.

  25. Thank you for sharing these experiences, Margaret. Because of a particular experience I had a couple years ago, I now find myself particularly moved by the seventh verse of “How Firm a Foundation,” and I’m sorry that we don’t usually get to sing it. God bless you and your father.

  26. Melissa, my father was eighteen when he lost his father to a heart attack. He lost his only sister to a heart attack when she was forty-one. He is the last survivor of his family. Three of us Blair kids have red hair. My grandfather was a redhead, though neither of my parents is. I never met my grandpa Blair, of course, but he was a singer–as are many of his grandchildren.
    European Saint–isn’t it a blessing to have been raised by someone who is always growing in charity? I have much to learn, but am so grateful for the example.
    And Madhousewife, I second your wish for that 7th verse. Wish we’d sing all of them–with gusto!

  27. Bro. Jones says:

    Thank you for this, Margaret.

  28. Sharee Hughes says:

    This was beautiful, Margaret. I am reminded a time when I cried in the temple–not because of any problems I had at the time but because I could sense the person whose work I was doing standing there beside me as I went through the ritual at the veil. The feeling was so strong I was overcome by tears of joy for this sister who had obviously accepted the Gospel. I had a hard time saying the words. At one point I did say to the veil worker, “She is here.” That s not the only time I have felt the presence of the person I was going through for, but they don’t happen often.

    God bless your father. He sounds like a very dear man.

  29. Sharee Hughes says:

    That should read–I am reminded OF a time…

  30. Lovely essay. While I admit that I never have had quite the kind of experience that Sharee Hughes relates, I know many who have. I haven’t been able to make the emotional connection like that, but I keep going, with that hope that the temple will become something more for me than just a quiet place of peace, but also to be “endowed with power from on high.”

  31. I have been that weeping mother in the corner of the Celestial Room and have been appreciative of the smiling temple worker in the corner and the abundant kleenex. We sang “How Firm a Foundation” (verses 1, 3, 4, & 5) as the opening hymn at my 14 year-old son’s funeral this summer after his sudden and unexpected death. I was grateful for the strength it brought me to get through the service. I figured I would be a blubbering mess through the whole thing, yet hardly shed a tear.

  32. Your dad is one of the kindest and wisest men I know. What a blessing it must be to have a father like him.

  33. Margaret, again you offer a lovely gift. Thank you.

  34. I am really moved by the comments. I cannot imagine what it would be like to lose a child to death, though I know about other ways of losing a child. Thanks to all for these touching comments and little glimpses into your lives.
    bmcarson, my husband and I were talking about my dad as we drove to school. I said I was so grateful to be his daughter. My son is with him now, and I will leave shortly to get him to dialysis. This very difficult time of decline for him has been a gift for us, his children and grandchildren, who have been honored to serve him.

  35. I have often wondered what it would be like to have a father like yours. He sounds like a wonderful man, who taught you the important things in life. Give your dad an extra hug, and thank you for sharing what it feels like to be a daughter who feels that eternal connection. As I get older there is less jealousy, and more yearning to know my Heavenly Father, as the love that I father can bring.

    Thank you for a small glimpse.

  36. I took a class from your dad more than 30 years ago. He is a very inspiring teacher. He helped me through several hard times in school. He always was supportive when my work faltered. He really kept me going to finish my degree.

  37. After reading so much election “stuff,” this was a lovely balm. Thank you.

  38. Antonio Parr says:

    This is masterful and moving, and precisely the kind of encouragement that we should all seek to offer each other. Just beautiful.

  39. Jim Melton says:

    Thank you for these peaceful and thoughtful sentiments about the temple. Wonderful stuff.

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