One of the claims to fame for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is our interest in genealogy. One of the programs in the Church that allows us to do this is FamilySearch Indexing, where we digitize the handwritten data--census records, military records, things of that sort from countries all around the world.

I just changed my stake information in my FamilySearch Indexing account. Because of that, the number of names I've indexed was reset to zero. Before that I had about 470 some names as the total amount that I had ever indexed.

I was speaking to a friend recently about a story from scripture he seems to have been contemplating lately. It's the story from the New Testament where, after Christ feeds the 5000, He walks on water to the disciples that are attempting to sail through a storm on the Galilee. It's also the story where Peter leaps out of the boat and walks to Christ on the water. It's a pretty power-packed couple of days, and the part that always stands out to me is everything that happens to Peter. But it's Christ's development, if I may be so bold as to call it that, is what has recently sparked my interest.

In order to understand the events that lead up to Christ walking on water, I feel like it would be helpful for me to start with the feeding of the 5000. And since I don't really have any concept about how big of a number 5000 actually is, I set a goal to index 5000 names by the end of the year. That averages out to about 150 names a day. At about 50 names an hour, it's 100 hours total, averaging almost 3 hours a day.

Wish me luck! I see now that I've started that I'm going to need it. South Dakota census records are not easy to translate, as it were.

I know that God lives, and with the help of His Spirit we can do great things in His service. In the name of Jesus Christ.

A Family's Redemption

The new site for the Philadelphia temple has been announced. The old site was on Market Street somewhere, but the new site is on Vine Street, closer to the Philadelphia Art Museum. The Church's official press release is over on the Newsroom Blog.

The following is a Google satellite image of the new site:

I mean, just look at this. Compared to the beauty of even the most urban of temples, this parking lot is absolutely destitute. An empty, dirty place that who knows how many people pass through, or pass by, without taking a second look. And having been to the City of Brotherly Love dozens of times and probably having passed by this very spot, I'd say I've been guilty of the same thing. It's almost hard to imagine that a nasty old parking lot, a place for cars and telephone wires to pass through, could ever become holy ground. But that's exactly what will happen at this spot by the time the temple is built.

Which makes me wonder how many times I made that mistake while looking at my own life, because of my past.

I had a parking lot life once--one where people would come and go as they pleased, usually throw some trash on the ground, then leave again. "I mean sure, there's tons you can do with a vacant lot," I'd think to myself "but just look at you--why would anyone want a life like yours?" The way people teased and taunted me all throughout my childhood, plus the hand I was dealt through my family's choices and circumstances, left me feeling the way this picture looks.

I remember praying often for God to take me away from all of that--to help me fly far away, to know something better. Something more. I wasn't even sure what I wanted--I didn't have the words to ask for it--but surely whatever it was would be better than where I was and what I had. I asked and asked, but never really dared to hope that my prayers would be answered, or that my life would change.

But Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ were at work in my life from the first prayer I ever said, guiding me towards people that would show me better ways of living. By the time the true message of the gospel came into my life, He had already been gutting out the filth, cleaning up the messes I and others had made, and He healed wounds I thought would be like nasty oil slicks on the asphalt of my conscience for the rest of my life. Jesus Christ, the carpenter that He is, knows all too well that every life is a living house. C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity that :
"God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what he is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised.
But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is he up to? The explanation is that he is building quite a different house from the one you thought of — throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards.
You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but he is building up a palace. He intends to come and live in it himself."

Which is the miracle of that parking lot picture--because there will come a day when it will be healed and made into a beautiful mansion of eternity, like this one:

Image courtesy of

Or this one:

Image courtesy of

Seeing what my Father in Heaven has done makes this new opportunity in Philadelphia all the more exciting. I'm already hoping to take my parents to the open house so they can see how incredibly beautiful the temples are on the inside. By doing so, it's my hope they'll understand why I go so often. I hope they'll feel the same peace and joy that comes into my life every time I go because Heavenly Father is there. I hope they'll see for themselves that by living the way I do, His Spirit dwells with me and builds me into a sacred and holy temple. I want them to know that Heavenly Father is eager to build them up too, to bring a peace, protection, and a surety into their lives that they've never experienced before because it doesn't exist in any other place.

If they could catch the smallest glimpse of just one of these things, they'd understand why I want them to consider what the Church offers, to share in these experiences with me. These ordinances we do are all about family--sealing us together so we can live together with God for time and all eternity. And if the price of that blessing for all of us means I have to step away from them, to work for us in ways they cannot see, and endure in hope that they'll understand some day, that's what I'll do. I've come to appreciate that eternal life for me would hardly be eternal happiness if my family wasn't there with me. But they cannot have those blessings of eternity if they choose not to give their lives over to God, and He won't force them into such a choice. He'll offer His gift to them, but they have to receive Him in order to have His joy.

Our Savior Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Light. None come unto the Father except they accept the mercies of His Son, and give away all their sins to know Him. I testify that Heavenly Father lives, He loves us with a greater love than we could ever imagine. He desires to have us back to live with Him, so He sent Jesus Christ to die for our sins, which allows us to repent of our mistakes and to be forgiven. Through His forgiveness, we can return to our Heavenly Father with great rejoicing and a fullness of new heart. I look forward to that day, and I trust that if I will be obedient, this journey will end joyfully somehow. I believe this with all of my heart, with the certainty of saints, in the holy name of Jesus Christ, my beloved Savior and Redeemer.

Reaching: A Temple Experience

I wander through the stilly night,
When solitude is everywhere.
Alone, beneath the starry light
And yet I know that God is there.
I kneel upon the grass and pray,
An answer comes without a voice.
It takes my burden all away
And makes my aching heart rejoice...

I found an old hymn book at DI last night when I went there with a friend, and because I wanted a closer look at it, I ended up buying it. It's the 1948 edition, and there have been enough changes to the hymn book since that edition that I wanted to spend some time looking at it.

I came across this hymn as I was thumbing through it, and it really resonated with me because walking alone at night is something I do often. Living in Provo, it doesn't worry me much--and not because it's a Mormon college town where there are scores of people wandering around at all hours of the night anyway. The way the campus is set up, it's easy to make it to my favorite haunts through wide open areas, well-lit places, and places with lots of people that are always awake (i.e. the freshmen housing.) The rudest thing that has ever happened to me here at night was the time some jerk stuck his head out of the passenger widow of a car and screamed really loud when he went past me because he wanted to scare me. Not exactly anything to write home about.

But the past few days have been long ones for me, full of unanswered questions about what I'm supposed to be doing about many situations I cannot actually change, so in the spirit of both this new hymn and old habit, I made the 45 minute walk up to the temple to find some peace of mind--if not resolution, which in all honesty I wasn't expecting.

As I made my way to the temple, carefully scanning my surroundings constantly for any unexpected changes that might be a threat to me, I was listening to my iPod. Several of Elder Holland's talks came on, and with each step I took into the right direction, with every word of his that met, matched, and answered the concerns of my heart, I found the uphill way to be more of a comfort than a burden. The uphill path was one I recognized and had come to know intimately. I was on familiar ground where I knew the way and knew what to expect. It restored me to the even, sure-footed rhythm I had somehow lost in stumbling. But once the temple was in sight, the rest of the world fell away.

Once I arrived, I didn't actually go inside the gates at first. I sat next to a tree on the quad just outside the temple gates and stared up into the glowing pillar of light that pierces heaven from the Provo temple, and I found the architecture less bizarre the longer I stared at it. The Provo temple has a rather curious beauty, but you can't fully appreciate it until the night you need to see it desperately. In that moment, you won't be able to imagine anything more beautiful....

When I am filled with strong desire,
And ask a boon of Him, I see
No miracle of living fire
But what I ask flows into me.
And when the tempest rages high
I feel no arm around me thrust,
But every storm goes rolling by
When I repose in him my trust...

The words of Sister Holland were a comfort to me as I sat there, when she reminded that God uses broken things to bring about His miracles. The broken wheat is the way to bread, and the broken bread is the only way to eternal life. I certainly felt broken in that moment, but less afraid because I know the broken way. Once the disorientation of my fear had left, I realized that I not only knew this story, I knew the ending. All I had to do was choose it.

The Inconvenient Messiah follows her remarks, and I had just started listening to it when I turned off my iPod and entered the gates. It was nearing midnight, and I wasn't sure how much longer they would be open to me. I needed to see the world from the safety of the mount. I'd seen it dozens of times from that apex of white light, and I needed to see it again. I made my way softly past the still fountains and bright lights until I came to the highest point right before the temple doors...

... where I turned around, and saw my Father's kingdom.

Nestled into the valley before me were the pinprick lights on the ground that looked so beautiful against the night sky. From where I was standing, it looked as if heaven was below me as well as above me, and I felt surrounded by His eternity, the pavilion of His hiding place.

I thought about those lights and realized that my faith, as much as it taxes me to keep the light burning brightly, that pinprick in the night is how much of a difference each one of us will make to others when we are prepared, and the darkness comes. Being that light is the hardest thing I've ever tried to be, since the only way to glow is to be surrounded by darkness, but that kindled flame is everything--everything that will ever matter to me.

I sat there for some time, praying. I'll admit, the peace that came to me wasn't overpowering. I wasn't completely back to the wholeness of heart I craved. But I now had enough oil in my lamp to get me home, and to try again in the morning. When I saw a man shutting the gates to the parking lot, I knew it was time to go. I stood up, put my headphones on, and began my journey home.

I finished The Inconvenient Messiah, where Elder Holland told me a story about Spencer W. Kimball, how utterly overwhelmed by despair he felt when he was called as the Prophet. He then said something that I hope will sink deep into my soul.
"If for a while the harder you try, the harder it gets, take heart. So it has been with the best people who ever lived."
So true! And while I would love it if I didn't have to lengthen out this lesson any longer than it has to be by opposing the hand that teaches me, that isn't my call to make anyway. My struggles may go on regardless of how good I'm being, but like the hymn says...

It matters not what may befall,
What threatening hand hangs over me,
He is my rampart through it all,
My refuge from mine enemy.
Come unto him all ye deprest;
Ye erring souls whose eyes are dim,
Ye weary ones who long for rest,
Come unto him! come unto him!

It shouldn't take an old hymn book from DI to get me to see that at this point, but I'm so glad what I needed was there just the same. An answered prayer is an answered prayer, and whatever form it comes in is good enough for me.

I testify that our Heavenly Father sees our struggles, and that the hands of His Son touch our lives gently--through storms, silence, fair weather, and everything in between. He always cares, and He always answers. In the sacred name of Jesus Christ that frees us where we stand.

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