Grandma Knows

This past week we had the opportunity to do the baptism for Sandy’s grandmother, who left this life six years go.

I knew going into it that it would be a tender moment for Sandy but I was quite surprised that it ended up being the same for me.

It left me to ponder, after it was done, and as we walked out of the temple we had a very interesting conversation that ended with the question: “Does Grandma know?”

Too often the thought of death is one we avoid. The natural man tends to think of death with great finality. We know as members of the Church that there is a deeper meaning but even still we do not spend enough time pondering these bigger questions.

Therein lies another rich blessing of doing family history and temple work.

In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul advises “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)

After we had completed our work for Grandma and a few others in the baptistery that day I watched in wonder as the waiting room for the Logan temple filled with people. Across the glass the work of baptisms continued without stopping. There were two witnesses and a recorder, as well as those lined up to go into the font and those waiting in white for their turn. On our side of the glass sat rows of people line up for their turn to enter the font room, while still others were busy getting white clothes to change into or to check in for their turn for the whole process.

Everything was in order and working efficiently. There was a lot of work being accomplished thanks to the sacrifices of everyone there.

As I watched that I pondered the other side of this process.

What is it like? Do they feel what we feel? Are they accepting what we are doing on their behalf?

It made me contemplate a little deeper what Joseph the Prophet meant when he said, in a letter to the Saints, “And now, my dearly beloved brethren and sisters, let me assure you that these are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers—that they without us cannot be made perfect — neither can we without our dead be made perfect.”

It is easy to see, as we do their temple work, how “they without us cannot be made perfect”. But what does it mean that “neither can we without our dead be made perfect”?

And just what does it mean to be “made perfect”?

At one time, the Prophet Joseph spoke of the words of the Savior from the book of Matthew when he said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect”. The Prophet related that the word “perfect” is better translated as “complete”.

“Be ye therefore complete, even as your Father in Heaven is complete”.

That changes things a bit, doesn’t it? Would it not apply as well if we think of the phrase as “they without us cannot be made complete, neither can we without our dead be made complete”.

Indeed, it makes more sense. The thought condenses the grand scope of it all and makes it easier to comprehend – at least for me.

Brigham Young taught —

“Where is the spirit world? It is right here. Do the good and evil spirits go together? Yes, they do. Do they both inhabit one kingdom? Yes, they do. Do they go to the sun? No. Do they go beyond the boundaries of the organized earth? No, they do not. It no doubt appears a singular idea to you that both Saint and sinner go to the same place and dwell together in the same world. You can see the same variety in this world. You see the Latter-day Saints, who have come into these valleys,—they are by themselves as a community, yet they are in the same world with other communities. When they are in the world of spirits, there is the Prophet and the Patriarch; all righteous men are there, and all wicked men also are there.”

What happens then when either the righteous or the wicked arrive in the afterlife? In other words, where is Grandma?

“The great misery of departed spirits in the world of spirits, where they go after death, is to know that they come short of the glory that others enjoy and that they might have enjoyed themselves, and they are their own accusers” (Joseph Smith)

In other words, they will see those who have a knowledge of the truth and who are free through the Atonement of Jesus Christ in that they are happy – and they will want that for themselves.

Jedidiah M. Grant was a member of the First Presidency, and still quite a young man, when he got very sick. If you recall he was the leading figure of the Mormon Reformation of 1856, a time when members of our own family took to rebaptism in elevating their commitment to the faith. Just days before he passed away, he had this experience of the “other side” as related by another member of the First Presidency from the time, Elder Heber C. Kimball:

“[Brother Grant] said to me, [Brother] Heber, I have been into the spirit world two nights in succession, and, of all the dreads that ever came across me, the worst was to have to again return to my body, though I had to do it. But O, says he, the order and government that were there! When in the spirit world, I saw the order of righteous men and women; beheld them organized in their several grades, and there appeared to be no obstruction to my vision; I could see every man and woman in their grade and order. I looked to see whether there was any disorder there, but there was none; neither could I see any death nor any darkness, disorder or confusion. He said that the people he there saw were organized in family capacities; and when he looked at them he saw grade after grade, and all were organized and in perfect harmony.”

That order that President Grant described is very similar to the order we see in the temple.

But if Grandma is there and part of this ordered effort to teach the Gospel, does she accept it?

This question was answered by several presidents of the Church, including Lorenzo Snow, who said:

“The great bulk of those who are in the spirit world for whom the work has been done will receive the truth. The conditions for the spirits of the dead receiving the testimony of Jesus in the spirit world are a thousand times more favorable than they are here in this life.”

Why? Because they lived here and live still. Perspective has changed. Circumstances have advanced.

In other words, yes, Grandma knows.

Interestingly, I found this story of the Logan temple that is now more than 70 years old:

“Elder Ballard sat at our baptismal font [in the Logan Utah Temple] one Saturday while nearly a thousand baptisms were performed for the dead. As he sat there, he contemplated on how great the temple ceremonies were, and how we are bringing special blessings to the living and the dead. His thoughts turned to the spirit world, and he wondered if the people there would accept the work we were doing for them.

“Brother Ballard said: ‘All at once a vision opened to me, and I beheld a great congregation of people gathered in the east end of the font room. One by one, as each name was baptized for, one of these people climbed a stairway over the font to the west end of the room. Not one soul was missing, but there was a person for every one of the thousand names done that day.’
“Brother Ballard said that he had never seen such happy people in all his life, and the whole congregation rejoiced at what was [being] done for them” – Nolan Porter Olsen, from the book, Logan Temple: The First 100 Years

It is interesting to note that President Brigham Young said that in the spirit world there exists both “the Prophet and the Patriarch”. By that he means the organization of the Priesthood and the organization of the Family.

The many things I have experienced in working on Family History so intently these past five years have taught me that our family is organized on the other side.

I have long told my wife how much I wish she had known and had met my Grandma Westover, and that they both would have enjoyed each other immensely. When Sandy’s grandmother died six years ago, I mused whether or not these two beloved grandmothers would meet on the other side.

I do not know that they have. But it would not surprise me in the least. That’s how connected our families are within the spirit world.

Sandy’s Mom this week had a dream of her mother. Due to its sacred nature I will only touch on it in passing here other than to say this is the first time since Grandma passed that my mother-in-law has seen her mother since she died.

I don’t consider that a coincidence or a game of the mind. I consider that a sacred reality of the family and a testimony of this great work.

Included in the names we did work for this week were several from my mother’s family. I knew none of them and I possess very little information about their lives.

But I left the temple feeling my Mom was aware this work was now done – and that a greater effort lies in the days ahead to further free her family there still in “spirit prison”.

This is how we are made complete or “made perfect”. This is how our dead help us.

Join us in the month of December in going to the Temple for our family.

We are challenging all members of the family, no matter where they live, to audit the temple work recorded at Family Search for any and all family members. Find a name a take it to the temple.

If you cannot find a name, then contact another family member you know who might hold names in reserve. I have dozens ready to go right now.

We are targeting December 3rd as our Westover Family Temple Day. But really it can happen at any time in December at any temple of your choosing.

Let’s end this year with a rush of names that we complete in the temple. Let’s give our family on the other side something to cheer. Then we can set fresh goals for the year ahead.

A Family Temple Day

We are looking to engage family in the work of family history through organizing a Family Temple Day in December 2016.

The purpose of this day would be to advance the completion of family ordinance work. Wherever you are and whatever temple closest to you that you can attend would be all you would need if we coordinate the family names needing work.

For example, I presently have about 148 family ordinances in my possession that need to be completed. All ordinance work must be done in order. In November, we are going to complete the baptisms, confirmations and initiatory work for those names. This is being done by just a few of us.

Where the work gets bogged down will be with the endowments. 30+ names will take my wife and I months and months to complete endowments. But a concentrated, coast-to-coast family temple day in December could mean we can complete the work for these family members by the end of the year.

We are proposing a day such as this for Saturday, December 3rd, 2016. Please contact me if you can participate and take a family name or two to the temple on that day. Additionally, if you have a stockpile of names that need work done, please share so that we can spread out the work.

Family History through the Lens of the Temple

Well, it finally happened: I received a call to be a Family History Consultant.

It will be my responsibility now to help my neighbors work with Family Search and learn the art of family history.

While that doesn’t come packaged with any fear for me I am concerned about doing it right.

I felt a little panicked as I thought about it a little bit when I considered that I myself have really just plowed my way through working on family history – I haven’t really been trained.

So I was relieved to almost immediately receive an email from the Church inviting me to a website to receive some training not only on my new responsibilities but also with resources for doing family history. I have been working that training through this week.

Also on my mind had been the prodding from my Dad about preparing more names for the temple. On my mother’s birthday this year he challenged us to work her lines to prepare more names and make them temple ready. I was able to score about 20 names to give to him.

Last night I figured the best way to put all my new training to work was to put more effort into that. After all, Mother found better than 20,000 names and how hard could it be for me to get them ready?

So I sat down and started at the very beginning – auditing individuals, couples and families for all their ordinance work.

This finely focused temple-view of family history surprised me a little bit. In fact, it kind of changed the way I was looking at these names. Through the lens of the temple you see your family quite differently.

Normally as we focus on family lines we are naturally interested in the linear succession of names – child, parent, grandparent, etc. But through the lens of the temple you see those names as couples with children – and you are concerned with each one of them and for them as a unit.

For example, I was working the family of my 3rd-great-grandparents on my Mother’s side – Egbert and Susan Groom. I don’t have any information on their story but I know they had five children and I recognized their names as among the temple sealings Mother had performed in Nauvoo in 2007.

It pleased me to see my Mom’s Family Search username next to some of the data that has been input over time in Family Search. But I immediately saw that while Egbert and Susan had been sealed to each other none of their children were sealed to them.

That meant I needed to go through each child and attach as many sources to their names as I could to prove they belonged to Egbert and Susan.

The world of Family Search has changed a lot since mom last worked on these names. Right within the frame of this family listing I could link to source information that had been indexed by someone making their records viewable online to me.

One by one I looked them up, attaching census and marriage license records and seeing the flow of their lives. The children of Egbert and Susan lived as we all do – they grew up, married, moved away, had children and then had grandchildren.

Within a couple of hours I connected proof of their existence to Egbert and Susan sufficiently where all the names were temple ready – their work could be done.

I almost thought it was too easy. I felt “Gee, I did that without a problem. Will it be this easy for everyone?”

What happens if I work with someone who cannot uncover all that as quickly as I just did? Would I know what I needed to do if that happened?

But then I noticed something.

I was working on their last child, whose name was Francis and whose birth information was verified by the 1870 Federal Census. Francis, according to what mother had input on Family Search years ago and had verified in the 1870 census – was a girl.

But in validating another child – William – I had to go to the 1880 census. In that census everything matched except one thing: in the family there was no Francis but only Frank, who was most definitely NOT female.

So, I had a problem.

I began an intense search to find the life path of my Great, Great, Great Uncle Frank Groom.

Sure enough, every record going forward confirmed that Francis was Frank – all boy and all wrong in Family Search.

My first instinct was to just go to where it listed gender and just change it.

It wouldn’t let me do that because the original submitter of the information – my Mother – had documented proof, the 1870 census, that Francis was a girl.

So I was stuck. How could I make Francis-the-girl into Frank-the-boy so that this family could be sealed?

I almost felt panicked about it. I HAD to figure it out. This wasn’t a question of what data was right or wrong – this was a question of how to get it all right in Family Search so the children of Egbert and Susan could be sealed to them.

I knew I could ask for help. But I didn’t want to do that. This couldn’t be the first time a gender was mixed in 19th century records.

I wanted to solve it on my own and sure enough, within minutes, I found my answer. I had to add a new child with all the subsequent records I found on his life…and then I had to delete baby Francis and the record with my Mother’s name attached to it.

I’m not going to lie – that bothered me a little bit. But as I thought of Mom and remembered her that day in Nauvoo I recalled her joy at doing the work. I was overwhelmed almost immediately with my Mother’s presence as I sat at my computer. Odd as it sounds, I could feel her approval.

I felt so much better knowing that when we take these children of Ebert and Susan to the temple to be sealed to their parents they will be a complete family, just as they were growing up.

It took me a couple more hours to get this all straightened out. But within minutes of completing this task I had their names all reserved for completing their ordinance work.

It was maybe three in the morning when I got it all done. I was spent — both from the effort of doing this and from my emotion tied to it all. It was, as they promise, a joyous thing filled with love and revelation. There’s nothing like that in the world, at least to me. It only comes from working on family history.

As I contemplated it all I marveled at my change in emotions in doing this kind of work.

I had questions, as I always do, about who these people were and what they did and where did their travels take them. I probably will never learn that part of their story. But in a greater sense I felt I knew them and that I loved them – and that I was doing what was right for them.

Besides, imagine how embarrassing it would have been to get to the other side and have my Uncle Frank tell me, “Dude, I’m a guy.”