Today I am writing about an experience I had two summers ago. It was a surreal experience, and it was one that left me extremely secure in the knowledge that Heavenly Father knows his children and cares about them. He is indeed in the details of our lives.
I grew up in Southern Alberta, Canada. Southern Alberta is gorgeous. It’s flat prairie landscape is covered in waving golden wheat, emerald green grass, yellow mustard flowers, and crowned in majestic purple mountains. And the sky. It is amazing. You can watch a storm form in America, and follow it as it crosses the border, marches across the land, finally reaching you with a woosh and the musty smell of dirt and grass and freedom. Oh, Canada! The True North Strong and Free!
But this is not an ode to Canada, although, if you ask me, I will tell you just how much I love it.
This is a story that stretches across time, and converges in one sacred space nestled in those majestic purple mountains.
It takes place in the Cardston, Alberta LDS Temple, and that is a building that I love and hold very dear. It is a place my great grandparents helped to build. It is a place where families are sealed together forever despite all that this life can throw at us. And it is a symbol of hope.
I grew up going to this temple as a youth for service activities. Before a member of the LDS faith is of a certain age, admittance into the main part of the temple is not allowed. These rooms are reserved for faithful members who understand the promises and covenants they are about to make between themselves and the Lord. But there are rooms that the youth can enter and participate in sacred ordinances. These trips were always very special, and remain some of my favorite memories.
Aside from these opportunities, the temple is a beautiful marvel of architecture and interior design. The walls are covered in breathtaking murals depicting the life of Christ and other Biblical and Scriptural stories. The colors and fabrics and furniture all combine to leave the viewer transported into a sacred space filled with peace and reverence. Needless to say, to me, this place is Heaven of Earth.
So, dear reader, I have set the stage for you.
On a gorgeous sunny day, I took my husband of ten years to this temple to show him the place that I love the most.
And here’s where my story of God’s hand in our lives begins.
At the temple, service opportunities are offered every hour on the hour. But you need to arrive at the latest 15 minutes early to prepare for participation. If you miss this window of time, you will be asked politely to wait until the next session begins.
My family’s home is 45 minutes away from the Temple. And on this day, my husband and I arrived a little shy of the 15 minute mark. At the front desk, we were asked to postpone our service opportunity for the later hour, and we agreed. I told the man at the desk that we were from out of town and that I had been dying to show my husband this beautiful place that had meant so much to me as a youth. He asked me my name, and I told him.
#1: As it turns out, he was my cousin. Both of my parents have lived in Southern Alberta their entire lives and their families stretch back through the history of the area. He was my father’s cousin.
He was kind and gracious and suggested that we take a walk through the building and even stay for lunch in the cafeteria set aside for the men and women who serve within this great building. What a treat. A self-guided tour that ends with food. Who could ask for more?
And here my dear friends is where I get chills.
#2: As we passed through the hallways and rooms, we came to a door. As my husband went to open the door for me, a man on the other side opened it first. He looked at me in wonder, and then he moved on. We walked through the door on our way, allowing the door to shut on its own.
But the door did not shut.
“Sheila?” I heard a voice say.
My name is Jessica. My mom’s name is Sheila. She is 65 and I am 32. We look alike, but I don’t think I would pass for a 65 year old, no matter how humble I am being.
The man had come back through the door and he stopped me. He told me that I looked just like my mom when she was 16 years old. The age she was when she joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He had been the youth group leader in a town called Warner that was 40 miles from this building.
My mom grew up moving from foster home to foster home. When she landed in Warner, she was a 16 year-old weary traveler searching for something. She wondered if it was at all possible for her lost family to be joined together some day for time and all eternity. Warner was a town populated by Mormon Pioneers way back in the 1800’s. Her foster family were members of this faith and would bring her to church with them. As she learned about the gospel of Jesus Christ and his teachings, and the hope that we as members have that families can be sealed in temples for the eternities, she knew that she had found her answer.
This particular man and his wife, he told me, had been influential in her spiritual journey. They had introduced her to the gospel and it’s hope. They had changed her life and the life of my family for ever.
Here I was in the very temple that had forged our family forever, meeting the man who made it possible. At that time I lived in Chicago, Illinois and had just come to visit for the day. He lived in Warner and had just come to serve for the day. If my husband and I had arrived on time, our paths would never have crossed.
I am trying to live as a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I do this because it means so much to me. But, when I am feeling sad and lonely, I remember my mom, who has been through so much. I remember that she believed in something so much that she was willing to stake her life on it. And I remember the peace of mind that she has every single day because she went to the temple. And then I fight on.
I don’t think that meeting this man was life changing. But I think it was important.
For one thing, it was a testimony years in the making for this man that sharing what you love with others is fruitful. I told him that not only did my mom have a daughter, but she had three sons and nine step-children who were all faithful members of the Church and were raising their families to love God too. All of this from the power of one person.
For another, it made me proud and grateful for my mother who, all alone in the world, cared enough about her own people that she was willing to find a way. And that she keeps finding a way still.
And it showed me that God cares about us. He cares about me. He cares about my mom. He cares about this man.
Whenever I remember this story, I get a little chill inside and my breath catches in my chest. To me, it is magic. It is truth. It is love.
The love of a Heavenly Father for his children.
Jessica Clark is a wife, mom, writer, runner, knitter, and proud Canadian. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in Anthropology, and has been a student of people and cultures ever since. Right now she is busy studying the behavior and cultures of the people of Texas.