Sunday, April 10, 2016

Lessons from Tabernacle to Temple

"Growth doesn't happen in the comfort zone and 
the comfort zone doesn't exist when you're growing."

I often find myself thinking about growth, change and progress. I reflect back on who I've been, who I am and who I want to become. At times, it's a seemingly evasive journey. While I've come so far, there is always farther to go. There are many factors that contribute to the progress made on the journey of life. I recently had an experience that reminded me of an essential aspect of the journey, the enabling part of the journey, what gets me from who I currently am to who I want to become. 

Provo has always held a special place in my heart. It's the place of my ancestors. I grew up visiting there on a regular basis. My grandparents, great grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins on all sides of the family lived in or around Provo. And as a terrified and excited 18 year-old, I moved there to attend university.

When I heard the Provo Tabernacle had burned, my heart was so sad. I had the memory of attending Stake Conference there on multiple occasions, singing in the choir and listening to President Uctdorf. I had the memory of driving past it on the way to visit the deer with my grandparents almost every Sunday for 3 years. My grandmother would often remark about how beautiful that building was. Although, her Alzheimer's kept her from remembering what it was, she recognized it as a place of beauty, a place of heritage and a place of history.

After it burned, I wondered what the future held for this once sacred, dedicated space. Would it would be rebuilt or be torn down? Why did it happen? What plans did the Lord have? It seemed that the building had been spared no degree of vengeance from the flames that utterly destroyed it. Fire seems so relentless, so demeaning, so engulfing and yet, so purifying, so cleansing and so mesmerizing. It's incredible just how quickly something can go from present to absent, from standing to vanishing and from whole to broken. Anyone who has been near a forest fire can speak to the all encompassing nature of a fire as it seamlessly and viciously destroys anything it touches and spreads with even the smallest of breeze. The sound of crackling and the thickness of the smoke inhibits the ability to see far off and the ability to freely breath as fire pours in every sense of the body. The charred earth and remnants of a "once forest" left lifeless by the heat of the destructive flames. However, upon returning to this same space at a later time, the blackened remnants slowly unveil specks of a color, where life once more returns. And eventually, it comes back better and more lush than before. New life is born. And out of the ashes, life is born and a new day breaks forth.

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the open house of the Provo City Center Temple. This temple has come to exist because of something awful and terrible that happened, the tabernacle burned down. This newly rebuilt/converted tabernacle to temple is a transformation that occurred as a direct result of a tragedy. Tragedy paved the way for something better. What I always knew as the Provo Tabernacle has become the Provo City Center Temple.

As I wandered through this sacred building, my heart was deeply impressed by what the tabernacle had become. While it was great before in its acoustics, its old school character and its reflection of the time in which it was built; the Lord has turned something good into something much better. It now served a higher purpose, order and calling. It invited and soon would allow patrons to make and keep covenants with God in His house. It had become a House of the Lord. In order for this place to fulfill the full measure of its creation, it required refinement. That refinement occurred in the process of something that started as a tragedy and turned into a temple. It has now become a sacred edifice, truly "Holiness to the Lord, the House of the Lord." It had been refined and re-defined. It has become better than before.

How is this kind of transformation possible? How could anyone have known that tragedy would indeed pave the way for something better?Why did God achieve destiny through tragedy? How were we to know when it burned that God had other plans for it? How could anyone have guessed that something so holy could rise out of ashes of devastation and despair?

As I stood outside, I marveled on how the outside structure had been preserved, how it was much the same as it was before. However, the inside had become so different. My mind was taken to the Savior, to His life and ultimately to His Atonement. I love how Preach My Gospel talks of the Atonement as encompassing three events, Jesus' suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, His crucifixion on the cross and His Resurrection three days later. In process of the Atonement he went from the highest of highs, to the lowest of lows. He trod the loneliest path that will ever be taken.  He truly descended below all things in every sense of the meaning.

"And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sickness of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffering according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance...." (Alma 7:11-13)

And because he suffered every pain, affliction and temptation that we will ever encounter, endure or experience, he has provided a way whereby we too can overcome the suffering of the flesh and ultimately be delivered to our heavenly home. Through the great tragedy of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we too can reach our ultimate destiny. Through the Atonement, we too can become better than before. We can be cleansed of sin so we are worthy of blessings, and ultimately become pure, even spotless, becoming worthy of living in the presence of God and inheriting eternal life.

This cleansing process is often more intensive than we might think. I often think my heart just needs a little renovation. You know, polish some things up, fix a leak, maybe a broken pipe, refinish the patio, change the kitchen around, maybe update some fixtures, patch the roof,  just some touch ups with simple tools and household cleaners. But God expects more and therefore, more is required. Clean enough isn't clean. It requires intense work and effort in order for true purification to occur. Tough abrasives, scrubbing, scratching and even stretching and stinging. It involves a lot of time and diligence. It requires at some points, the element of heat, be it through friction or fire to be ultimately cleansed. This occurs in our souls.

Our Heavenly Father has a vision of potential for his children that is truly divine because he knows that divinity is in us. He intends for us to use the Atonement of his Son to become refined, prepared and pure in order to dwell with Him. That transformation takes the shape of a rebuild/conversion that is much more like what is described in this CS Lewis passage from Mere Christianity.

“Imagine yourself as a living house. 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 any 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 being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

And so, what God did with the temple, he is trying to do with us. It is the same pattern, a foreshadow if you will of what could and should happen to us. As I thought about the significance of the temples in my life, I thought of how I go there to make and keep covenants with God. These covenants are intended to eventually allow me to return to live with God. It's the course I'm putting myself on, its the path I want to walk.

I thought the tabernacle had reached its potential but it was through the cleansing fire of adversity and affliction (which really at the time we called tragedy and terror) that it has risen from the ashes to become something more incredible and more beautiful than could have been imagined.

And so it can be for us. Happiness and joy were not ever intended to be experienced in full measure in mortality, this life is only a time for us to prepare to meet God (see Alma 34:32).  Happiness and joy are the eternal gains. We knew that mortality would entail a lot of uncomfortable moments, lots of stretching, lots of growing. Growing isn't comfortable. But there isn't growth in the comfort zone and there isn't comfort in the growth zone. The fire of refinement is hard and at times, heartbreaking. Tragedy can pave the way for something better. We may wonder what good can come of it, if any at all. We wonder if growth and change are possible. We search for understanding and we look to God to understand what he is doing. But all the while, don't forget that he is always at the helm.

"You know...that a very large ship is benefited very much by a very small held in the time of a storm, by being kept workways with the wind and the waves. Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed." (Doctrine and Covenants 123:16-17)

I don't usually use this as a platform to outrightly share my testimony although it is inherent in a lot of what I post. But, I want to share in a few simple statements. I know that we are children of a loving Heavenly Father who loves us and I love Him. He gave his Son, our Savior Jesus Christ to tell the world of love, sacrifice and death. He sent his son to die for us and rise with living breath. (He Sent His Son, Primary Songbook) Jesus is the Living Christ, the light of the world. "His way is the path to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come."  (The Living Christ)

Let us choose to follow Him.

Week 14: "As thy days may demand, so thy succor shall be."

Tonight I'm sitting on my deck watching the sun set over the Great Salt Lake. I hear so many birds happily singing with car sounds in the distance and maybe a blower? I see airplanes flying in, freeway traffic rolling along and some quail running through the backyard.  The sun will be down in 5 minutes but its about to break out from behind a cloud before hiding away behind the mountains for the night.

This week has been yet another week but its different than the ones before. In ways I cannot describe it feels as though "my chains are gone and I've been set free." This week has been a week of determination and decisions. There is something about General Conference and the opening of doors which had previously seemed closed. I'm not sure how it happens exactly but I am so grateful for the blessings of so many talks which has infinitely blessed my life. I have loved General Conference for a long time. At time I struggle when it seems my heart is reminded by each talk that I do not yet have the blessings I so desire; however, this time, the thought honestly never even crossed my mind. I felt buoyed up, assured and humbled. I so appreciated the acknowledgement by Elder Holland at the end of conference that the real world hits the day after conference has ended and we all struggle. With that in mind, I more diligently determined to fortify myself with the good word of God and a good night of sleep. I reminded myself that if tomorrow didn't go perfectly, it was okay. It was okay to not be perfect and perfectly be implementing all I had learned at conference.

"First of all, if in the days ahead you not only see limitations in those around you but also find elements in your own life that don’t yet measure up to the messages you have heard this weekend, please don’t be cast down in spirit and don’t give up. The gospel, the Church, and these wonderful semiannual gatherings are intended to give hope and inspiration. They are not intended to discourage you. Only the adversary, the enemy of us all, would try to convince us that the ideals outlined in general conference are depressing and unrealistic, that people don’t really improve, that no one really progresses. And why does Lucifer give that speech? Because he knows he can’t improve,he can’t progress, that worlds without end he will never have a bright tomorrow. He is a miserable man bound by eternal limitations, and he wants you to be miserable too. Well, don’t fall for that. With the gift of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the strength of heaven to help us, we can improve, and the great thing about the gospel is we get credit for trying, even if we don’t always succeed."
-Elder Jeffery R. Holland
April 2016 General Conference

I realized that if I let myself only be discourage, I was playing into the adversaries trap and I was not willing to do that. I decided instead to actually listen and try to heed what Elder Holland said and trust that the Lord would give me credit for what little progress I did make, even if that was a few steps forward and a couple steps back. I decided that if the Lord was going to give me credit...why would I try to do anything any different?

I just have to share and really testify that that changed the week for me. I tried diligently to keep a reasonable amount of commitments I made including going to ward temple night (even though I'd been feeling guilty for every time I went to the temple without having done Grandma's work). I woke up early and actually got ready for work. I prayed better in the morning and I listened to a conference talk everyday. It changed my week! Instead of feeling overwhelmed and grumpy, I felt happy and that with Christ, I could do all things. I felt inspired with answers to prayers (the 3B's) and I felt the sincere love of the Lord.

I also determined that Grandma's temple work had to be done that week! And so, on Friday, I had the incredible privilege of doing her work in the Ogden temple. I wrote a post about the experience that maybe one day I'll post but until then, I'll treasure it in my heart. As I sat in the dressing room and cried at one point, my heart was so overwhelmed with the Lord our Heavenly Father has for all his children and that its never too early and its never too late. The Lord works on a different timetable and for that...I am so grateful.

The Lord is truly intent in our personal growth. He is intent on leading his children home. He is intent on families. And as our days demand, he will support us and help us along the way.