Earlier this year, Natalie and I were asked to speak in church. We were given the topic “Families and the Temple” due to our recent experience of having Tateym sealed to us. Because the topic was so near and dear to our hearts, and we had so much personal experience to draw from, it was probably one of the easiest talks I’ve ever prepared. In fact, it was one of the rare times in recent history where I didn’t come scrambling into the meeting late because I was still finishing my talk. We didn’t really let anyone know we were going to be speaking, so we thought we’d post our talks here for those who might be interested in seeing what we had to say.
I have the privilege of leading singing time for the Senior Primary. I appreciate the organization that is involved in the primary. Each month is outlined with a message that is to be taught to the children. The focus during primary this month has been about Heavenly Father’s plan and that families are central to that plan. What is God’s plan? In a nut shell Father created a plan we can follow to return to live with Him. It’s called the plan of salvation or the plan of happiness, and it’s like a map charting our course that will lead us back to him. We started in the pre-mortal existence as spirits. Next, we came to live on earth to receive bodies and families. We are instructed to learn and grow and become like God. When we die we enter the spirit world and await final judgment and are then assigned to one of the three kingdoms of glory.
As we know, the First Presidency has always stressed the importance of family. The family is the most important social unit on earth. It is also the basic and most important unit in heaven. God’s purpose for the family is to provide a place where children can be raised by parents in an environment of love and acceptance, where they can be best guided to adulthood.
The first line written in The Family: A Proclamation to the World states: “We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.”
The Proclamation also says: “Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. ‘Children are a heritage of the Lord’ (Psalm 127:3). Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Husbands and wives—mothers and fathers—will be held accountable before God for the discharge of these obligations.”
The church stated in the December 2004 issue of the Ensign that: Temple marriage is the beginning of a new entity that can endure forever—an eternal family. It is therefore most important that husband and wife keep the covenants they make in the house of the Lord. President Joseph Fielding Smith (1876–1972) said: “Marriage according to the law of the Church is the most holy and sacred ordinance. It will bring to the husband and the wife, if they abide in their covenants, the fullness of exaltation in the kingdom of God.”
President Hinckley said: “Sacred Ordinances and covenants available in the holy temples make possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.”
My husband and I were recently sealed to our daughter in the Salt Lake Temple , January 15th, of this year. Tateym had been placed into our loving and longing arms by her birthmother 2 ½ years ago when she was only two days old. I’d like to share a personal family story with you and it began more than 5 years ago. It’s about how Eric and I learned firsthand the importance of family and the temple. Before I do, however, I’d like to tell you something our temple sealer said to us on that very special day. He said: “As we sit quietly in the temple and contemplate, the spirit teaches each of us something different. We are able to learn by opening our hearts and our minds and allowing those teachings to seep in.” I believe this possible in this sacrament meeting today. As I share this story, you might find you can’t relate to my experience directly, but I hope you will open your heart and your mind and allow the spirit to teach you.
Years ago my husband and I were sitting on the couch reflecting on our first 2 years of marriage and how much fun we’d had as a married couple. We reminisced about all the places we’d traveled and the memories we’d made. We were proud of our current financial situation and how stable we were becoming. I then said to Eric (and I’ll never forget this) I actually said, “What if we weren’t able to have children? Wouldn’t that be nice not to have pressure from people to have a family? We could travel the world and play the rest of our lives. We’d never have to worry about anyone but ourselves.”
Of course I didn’t really mean what I’d said, but clearly my ignorant 23 year-old brain didn’t understand anything. Even though I had been an active member of the church all my life, I didn’t know who I was or why I was here. I thought having fun was happiness. I didn’t understand families are the central part of the plan of happiness.
Several months later, we noticed a lot of our friends had started their families. I remember watching a home video of a couple we were close to. The wife had just given birth to their first child, a girl. The nurse gently handed her the tiny swaddled baby. My friend was quickly overcome with emotion and tears started to stream down her face.
As I watched this video, I thought, Yes, that looks really neat. I want to experience that. Eric felt the same way and soon we decided it was time to have our family. Months went by, and then a year, and…. No family. Finally we were told by our doctor after many procedures this wasn’t going to be a possibility for us. Needless to say we felt hopeless and devastated. Our perfect little world came crashing down all around us. Suddenly and ironically family became the most important thing to Eric and I. Unfortunately it seemed so far out of reach. Without having to think very hard about it, we decided we’d try to adopt a baby. I felt very strongly we found ourselves in this situation because there was a little angel that was meant to come to our family. Immediately we met with a case worker at LDS Family Services to start the long process of finding the baby we were suppose to bring home.
During this emotional process one miracle after another began to fall into place. Eric and I knew we were on the right path. Soon we met a courageous young woman in a difficult situation, who decided she wanted us to adopt her unborn child. She wanted her baby to be sealed in the temple to a loving mother and father. She knew this would not be a possibility unless she made the gut wrenching choice to place her child with a man and a woman who had been married for time and all eternity in the temple. I am so grateful for the sacrifice she made.
I wish I could stand up here and say the placement of our daughter went perfectly smooth. It did not. Satan was determined to stop this great blessing from happening. He was able to influence a member of Tateym’s birth family to stop this adoption from happening. Eric and I took a step back believing this wasn’t going to happen for us. However, Tateym’s birthmother was very determined to do what was best for her child. She sought legal counsel and was able to safely move forward with her plans.
On August 6th, 2008 at 4:40 am, Tateym was born. Eric and I were able to be there for the delivery, which we almost missed because we got pulled over by a policeman for speeding. After Tateym’s birth, the nurse handed me a swaddled beautiful baby girl. I was the first hold Tateym and the first to feed her. That moment was completely indescribable. I became quite chocked up when I realized my dream of becoming a mother was finally coming true.
Because Eric and I thought this day would never come, we quickly realized we didn’t have anything ready at home to take of our baby, so we soon left the hospital to buy supplies and make arrangements.
First, we called our parents and absolutely shocked them when we said we were bringing home our baby girl. We hadn’t told anyone we might be getting Tateym for fear it wouldn’t happen.
Next, we borrowed a bassinette from our neighbors and then ran around town like chickens with our heads cut off, buying everything in sight that had a picture of a baby on it.
Finally, two days later, we were able to bring our daughter home from the hospital. That was a wonderful time, exhausting, but amazing.
Adoptions by law can be finalized after six months. Once finalization takes place, we would then be allowed to bless Tateym and be sealed to her in the temple. Sadly, this didn’t happen as planned. Again the adversary was determined to stop our family from becoming an eternal one. He was determined to destroy it. We found ourselves in a situation no adoptive couple ever wants to see themselves in. Tateym’s adoption was being disputed. Over the course of 2 ½ years, we were taken to court several times. Our case went from the district court, to the court of appeals, and clear up to the Utah Supreme Court. There were times we truly thought we were going to lose our daughter.
This was the most difficult thing we’d ever faced in our lives, but we refused to give up. The Lord reassured us through numerous priesthood blessings and personal revelation he was watching over our family. However, I was still very anxious and my heart ached every waking moment. I was able to find comfort on bended knee, pleading with the Lord, day after day, to help our family. I also turned to my Savior, learning all I could about Him and His atonement.
President Hinckley testified by saying: “We know not all that lies ahead of us. We live in a world of uncertainty. For some, there will be great accomplishment. For others, disappointment. For some, much of rejoicing and gladness, good health, and gracious living. For others, perhaps sickness and a measure of sorrow. We do not know. But one thing we do know. Like the Polar Star in the heavens, regardless of what the future holds, there stands the Redeemer of the world, the Son of God, certain and sure as the anchor of our immortal lives. He is the rock of our salvation, our strength, our comfort, the very focus of our faith.
“In sunshine and in shadow we look to Him, and He is there to assure and smile upon us.
“He is the central focus of our worship. He is the Son of the living God, the Firstborn of the Father, the Only Begotten in the flesh. He is ‘risen from the dead,…the firstfruits of them that slept.’ He is the Lord who shall come again ‘to reign on the earth over his people.’
“None so great has ever walked the earth. None other has made a comparable sacrifice or granted a comparable blessing. He is the Savior and the Redeemer of the world. I believe in Him. I declare His divinity without compromise. I love Him. I speak the name of Jesus Christ in reverence and wonder. He is our King, our Lord, our Master, the living Christ, who stands on the right hand of His Father. He lives! He lives, resplendent and wonderful, the living Son of the living God.”
I learned to trust my Savior. I learned he knew the despair I was feeling at the prospect of losing my daughter. I was able to develop the faith that no matter the outcome, if I pushed forward, he would take care of my precious baby and he would help me through whatever was to come. I hoped the Lord would make things right, but I came to an understanding he may not in the way I wanted him to. Life is full of unthinkable trials to make us strong.
Remarkably once I accepted this truth and accepted God’s will, things started to turn around. The Utah Supreme court finally said enough and threw our case out and around that same time, Eric and I found out we were pregnant with a son.
One good thing about experiencing such heartache, is the ability to feel unbelievable happiness afterwards. It’s hard for me to feel worthy of such happiness. It’s difficult for me to wrap my brain around how much love my Father in Heaven has for me. God listened to each of my 3,650 prayers, pleading for an eternal family. I have such a strong testimony of prayer. My prayers have always been answered. It may have taken years for those answers, but the blessings have always come in the way God intended.
“Pray always, and I will pour out my Spirit upon you, and great shall be your blessing—yea, even more than if you should obtain treasures of earth.” (D&C 19:38.)
President Ezra Taft Benson leaned a poem about prayer when he was young that he would say to himself. This poem beautifully illustrates my testimony concerning prayer. It goes like this:
I know not by what methods rare
But this I know, God answers prayer.
I know that He has given His word,
Which tells me prayer is always heard,
And will be answered, soon or late.
And so I pray and calmly wait.
I know not if the blessing sought
Will come in just the way I thought;
But leave my prayers with Him alone,
Whose will is wiser than my own,
Assured that He will grant my quest,
Or send some answer far more blessed.
God’s plan is the plan of happiness. Happiness was watching my daughter walk into the sealing room of the Salt Lake Temple dressed in her beautiful white dress. Happiness was kneeling at the altar with my family. Happiness was looking through my tears at my daughter’s little hand placed on ours as the sealer performed the most sacred of ordinances. Happiness is saying out loud, “We are now an eternal family”. Happiness is knowing our son will be born in the covenant. Happiness is knowing God lives and we can return to him.
Family is the only thing we have. It’s the only thing that matters. It’s the only thing we can take with us. Because of God’s perfect plan, this is possible. I testify of this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
The Plan of Salvation
I lived in heaven a long time ago, it is true;
Lived there and loved there with people I know. So did you.
Then Heav’nly Father presented a beautiful plan,
All about earth and eternal salvation for man.
(“I Lived in Heaven,” Children’s Songbook, 4)
This simple primary hymn speaks of a beautiful plan, the Plan of Salvation, that the Lord prepared for us.
In speaking of this great plan, the Prophet Joseph F. Smith said:
“The Lord designed our coming, and the object of our being. He designs that we shall accomplish our mission, to become conformed to the likeness and image of Jesus Christ, that, like him, we may be without sin unto salvation, like him we may be filled with pure intelligence, and like him we may be exalted to the right hand of the Father, to sit upon thrones and have dominion and power in the sphere in which we shall be called to act.” (“Chapter 17: The Great Plan of Life and Salvation,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith, 1998)
The ultimate goal of this plan is for us to become exalted, to become like our Father in Heaven. In order for that to happen, we needed to come to this earth to learn, to be tested, and to obtain a physical body like our Father.
We know from the scriptures that Adam and Eve were the first to come to this earth and obtain physical bodies. They were placed in the Garden of Eden, where they dwelt for a time before they were cast out for disobeying the Lord’s commandment to not eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
The Bible Dictionary explains this event, which we refer to as the fall of Adam, in the following manner:
“The fall of Adam is one of the most important occurrences in the history of man. Before the fall, Adam and Eve had physical bodies but no blood. There were no sin, no death, and no children among any of the earthly creations. With the eating of the ‘forbidden fruit,’ Adam and Eve became mortal, sin entered, blood formed in their bodies, and death became a part of life. Adam became the ‘first flesh’ upon the earth (Moses 3:7), meaning that he and Eve were the first to become mortal.” (“Fall of Adam,” Bible Dictionary)
As I just read, “the fall of Adam is one of the most important occurrences in the history of man.” Had that event not occurred, none of us would have the opportunity to come to earth.
The Prophet Lehi, in speaking to his son Jacob, taught: “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” (2 Nephi 2:25)
In the book of Moses we can read the Lord’s account of the fall:
“And unto Adam, I, the Lord God, said: Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the fruit of the tree of which I commanded thee, saying—Thou shalt not eat of it, cursed shall be the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life.
“Thorns also, and thistles shall it bring forth to thee, and thou shalt eat the herb of the field.
“By the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, until thou shalt return unto the ground—for thou shalt surely die—for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou wast, and unto dust shalt thou return.” (Moses 4:23-25)
“Cursed shall be the ground for thy sake”? “In sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life”? “By the sweat of they face shalt though eat bread, until thou shalt return unto the ground”?
So where do we find the joy that Lehi spoke of?
We know there is great joy found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Plan of Salvation is a plan of happiness. The healing power of Christ’s atonement is infinite, and can bring us peace and joy throughout our life.
Today however, I would like to focus on another commandment given to Adam and Eve, another part of that great plan.
President Gordon B. Hinckley stated:
“The Lord has told us to multiply and replenish the earth that we might have joy in our posterity, and there is no greater joy than the joy that comes of happy children in good families.” (General Handbook of Instructions , p. 77)
President Ezra Taft Benson said:
“Thank God for the joys of family life. I have often said there can be no genuine happiness separate and apart from a good home. The sweetest influences and associations of life are there. Life cannot be fully successful, no matter what goals we attain in the material world, no matter what honors of men come to us in our lives, if we fail as fathers, mothers, and children.” (“Family Joys”, New Era, Jan. 1973, 4)
Families are an integral part of the plan. The very first sentence of The Family: A Proclamation to the World states:
“We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.”
“The family is central to the Creator’s plan” because it is within the family where the gospel should first be taught. Through the example and teachings of faithful parents, children’s testimonies will grow.
Elder M. Russell Ballard said:
“The family is where the foundation of personal, spiritual growth is built and nurtured; the Church, then is the scaffolding that helps support and strengthen the family.” (Ensign, May 1996, 26, 81)
Families are a source of strength in a time of weakness, a source of knowledge in a time of doubt, a source of compassion in a time of sorrow. “The family is the primary support structure in God’s plan.” (“Strengthening the Family: The Family Is Central to the Creator’s Plan”, Ensign, December 2004)
The Proclamation goes on to further state:
“The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.”
Elder Boyd K. Packer spoke of the significance of the temple, and the sealing ordinance when he said:
“In the Church we build other buildings of many kinds. In them we worship, we teach, we find recreation, we organize. We can organize stakes and wards and missions and quorums and Relief Societies in these buildings or even in rented halls. But, when we organize families according to the order that the Lord has revealed, we organize them in the temples. Temple marriage, that sealing ordinance, is a crowning blessing that you may claim in the holy temple.” (The Holy Temple , 8).
The Sealing Ordinance
What an incredible blessing that we can be bound to those whom we love for all eternity! What a wonderful source of peace and comfort, knowing this short, mortal probation is not the only time we’ll have to be with our loved ones.
Elder Robert D. Hales shared a story of when he was a young man in his early twenties to illustrate the beauty of this doctrine:
“While serving in the Air Force, one of the pilots in my squadron crashed on a training mission and was killed. I was assigned to accompany my fallen comrade on his final journey home to be buried in Brooklyn. I had the honor of standing by his family during the viewing and funeral services and of representing our government in presenting the flag to his grieving widow at the graveside. The funeral service was dark and dismal. No mention was made of his goodness or his accomplishments. His name was never mentioned. At the conclusion of the services, his widow turned to me and asked, ‘Bob, what is really going to happen to Don?’ I was then able to give her the sweet doctrine of the Resurrection and the reality that, if baptized and sealed in the temple for time and all eternity, they could be together eternally. The clergyman standing next to her said, ‘That is the most beautiful doctrine I have ever heard.’” (“The Eternal Family”, Ensign, Nov. 1996, 64)
The sealing ordinance is more than just a source of peace and comfort in our lives though. It is an essential part of the Plan of Salvation. Like baptism, confirmation, and the endowment, it is a requirement for exaltation.
In the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord teaches us:
“In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees;
“And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage];
“And if he does not, he cannot obtain it.” (D&C 131:1-3)
We know Satan does not want to see us succeed in this life. He seeks to make us as miserable as he is, and consequently works tirelessly to destroy our families—the central unit of our Heavenly Father’s plan.
Fortunately, within the gospel we have been given the tools to overcome those forces.
In her talk, Natalie spoke of the trial our family went through in adopting our daughter. Through his influence on others, the adversary worked relentlessly to try to tear our family apart. Time after time throughout the lengthy legal process we would encounter opposition and delays, which would prevent us from being able to finalize the adoption and go to the temple to partake in the sealing ordinance with our daughter.
How grateful I am for the power of prayer. For the comforting spirit, and feelings of reassurance the Lord poured out on us in those countless hours spent on our knees.
How thankful I am for the power of the Priesthood. For the blessing of being able to place my hands on my wife’s head in her time of need, and give her blessings of peace and comfort. For the ability to turn to the worthy Priesthood holders in our families and among our friends, and ask them to administer to us in those dark moments of despair.
The Lord’s plan is a perfect plan, and he has provided us with power to protect our families.
Often times, despite the best efforts of faithful parents, children may still fall victim to the cunning traps of the adversary and fall astray. The sealing ordinance carries with it powerful blessings though.
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught:
“When a seal is put upon the father and mother, it secures their posterity, so that they cannot be lost, but will be saved by virtue of the covenant of their father and mother.” (History of the Church, 5:530).
Elder Orson F. Whitney expounded on this when he said:
“The Prophet Joseph Smith declared—and he never taught more comforting doctrine—that the eternal sealings of faithful parents and the divine promises made to them for valiant service in the Cause of Truth, would save not only themselves, but likewise their posterity. Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and sooner or later they will feel the tentacles of Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold. Either in this life or the life to come, they will return. They will have to pay their debt to justice; they will suffer for their sins; and may tread a thorny path; but if it leads them at last, like the penitent Prodigal, to a loving and forgiving father’s heart and home, the painful experience will not have been in vain.” (Conference Report, Apr. 1929, 110.)
Some may find themselves yearning for the blessing of an eternal family, with a spouse who does not share the same eternal goals.
Elder Richard G. Scott spoke of his own personal experience with this very situation:
“May I share a personal experience to help any who feel anguish when eternal marriage is mentioned since you believe your spouse will not prepare for that sacred experience because of deeply rooted characteristics or habits. About five years into our marriage, we had a growing experience. Our precious two-year-old son Richard died while undergoing surgery to correct a congenital heart defect. Within six weeks, our daughter Andrea passed away at birth. My father, then not a member of the Church, loved little Richard very much. He said to my inactive mother, ‘I cannot understand how Richard and Jeanene seem to be able to accept the loss of these children.’
“Mother, responding to a prompting, said, ‘Kenneth, they have been sealed in the temple. They know that their children will be with them in the eternities if they live righteously. But you and I will not have our five sons because we have not made those covenants.’
“My father pondered those words. He began to meet with the stake missionaries and was soon baptized. In just over a year Mother, Dad, and the children were sealed in the temple. Later, President Kimball put his hands on my father’s head, promised him the vigor and strength of youth, and gave him the sealing power. He worked as a sealer for 11 years in the Washington D.C. Temple with Mother at his side. You do your part. Don’t abandon hope for a temple marriage.” (Conference Report, Apr. 1999)
Others, through no fault of their own, may have never found their eternal companion.
Elder Russell M. Nelson taught:
“But what of the many mature members of the Church who are not married? Through no failing of their own, they deal with the trials of life alone. Be we all reminded that, in the Lord’s own way and time, no blessings will be withheld from His faithful Saints. The Lord will judge and reward each individual according to heartfelt desire as well as deed.” (Conference Report, Oct. 2008)
Whatever the trials we face, whatever the obstacles we have to overcome, the Lord will help us to succeed in His plan if we turn to Him.
Elder Robert D. Hales said:
“The fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ brings great comfort in stressing times of mortality. It brings light where there is darkness and a calming influence where there is turmoil. It gives eternal hope where there is mortal despair. It is more than just beautiful doctrine. It is a reality in our lives that if we can be obedient and obtain the eternal rewards that God grants us, if we will draw nigh unto Him and embrace the eternal doctrine, we will be blessed.” (“The Eternal Family”, Ensign, Nov. 1996, 64)
In her talk, Natalie spoke of some the trials we encountered in our journey to start a family. As we faced the challenge of perhaps never having a family, and fought our way through the possibility of having our family torn apart, the Lord has taught us. While it may not have been the way I would have preferred to have been taught, it was undoubtedly an effective lesson.
Through that experience we have truly grown to understand, and appreciate, the importance of the family. Family is, as the Proclamation states, “central to the Creator’s plan.” Family is the means by which we can grow and become like our Father in Heaven. Family is our greatest source of joy.
As I knelt at that sacred altar in the Lord’s holy temple, with my eternal companion—bearing our unborn son—across from me, and my sweet little daughter’s hand placed on ours, I was able to experience that joy spoken of by Lehi. Following that beautiful ordinance, I was able to take my daughter into my arms, and in that brief moment, feel the Lord lift our burdens and pour his love upon our family.
What an incredible experience it was to have the Lord testify to us of the incredible significance of that sacred ordinance!
In closing, I would like to share with you a thought from Elder Richard G. Scott:
“I know the exquisite joy that comes from an eternal marriage sealed at a temple altar through the holy sealing power. When there is righteousness, a commitment to give of self, obedience to the commandments of God, and the resolve to seek His will in all things together, that joy is unspeakable. I do not have words to express the fulfillment and peace that flow from such a supernal experience, even when there is a temporary interruption of the glory of life together on earth. It is that joy and happiness I want so much for each of you. More importantly, that is what your Father in Heaven wants for you.” (Conference Report, Apr. 1999)
I am so grateful for this wonderful plan of salvation our Father has prepared for us. I’m thankful for the wonderful blessings of families, and the sealing ordinance that allows us to be together throughout the eternities. I know our Heavenly Father loves us, and that through His plan we can have incredible joy in this life, and exaltation in the life to come.