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Tender Mercies (Part 4)

Photo by Chirag Nayak on Unsplash

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,

My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.

The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design

Thy dross to consume, thy dross to consume,

Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

(Hymn, “How Firm a Foundation”)

Hello again, friends! I hope you are having a happy sabbath day. I have some thoughts to share that I hope you will find meaningful. They sure have helped me.

First, though, I’d like to shout a “Hallelujah!” that tomorrow is surgery. We made it people. I’m grateful for the many prayers and thoughts that have been offered in behalf of us through this ordeal. We are so blessed to know so many good people and have felt so loved and taken care of. Thank you! I don’t actually feel much nervousness about surgery or the recovery- maybe that is just because of how clear it is that this will significantly positively influence my functionality and allow me to resume life the way I want to live it. I do really trust my doctor, and feel safe in his hands. That is a huge blessing.

One other side-note, in the middle of my crisis, my sister’s family has entered a crisis of their own. My brother-in-law is in a burn center in Iowa City and they are having tough days like THEY have never known. It’s easy to go the route of pity (our poor family!), or even frustration (what the heck?!) but though my heart aches for their family (and I don’t love our situation either!), I also can see what a blessing it has been to not suffer alone- for either of us. Three weeks ago if you had told me that me and my brother-in-law would both have some scary experiences with mental health, I’m not sure I would have believed you- how unlikely! And yet within a week of my scary episode, my brother-in-law has had some very frightening experiences mentally as well as terrible pain and trauma.

I don’t say this to minimize the pain of their experience, but in the vein of tender mercies, I (and they!) are seeing SO MANY tender mercies for EVERYONE involved in the ordeal. Don’t get me wrong- my heart absolutely aches for them too, as I see the suffering and struggling and tears. But I have to share a few of the blessings I’m seeing. One is that I have felt the power of our family relationships growing to a place I never could have anticipated a month ago. My relationship with my sisters will NEVER be the same after this. I also hope to NEVER experience what I had to go through again in my life, but somehow it has become something of a blessing in the sense that I can provide some support and comfort to Otto (that’s my brother-in-law and faster to type!) that I could not have done before my experience. Another really amazing thing to see is that Heavenly Father is teaching me things and helping me see His hand in my experience as I reach out and support Otto and family. It is with them in mind that I share an experience that is tender for me and brought me peace in the middle of my storm.

We arrived in bad shape at my parent’s house on a Thursday and that weekend was really hard. I was grateful that my husband came down and stayed (rescheduled two full work days so he could be with us until I was in a better place mentally and physically) for a long weekend but he had to go back and work on that next Tuesday. I don’t remember if it was Tuesday or Wednesday that a friend of my Mom’s mentioned that Hank Smith, a well known LDS youth speaker (very entertaining!) was going to do a devotional with the teenagers that are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in this area (via zoom). She told me what time it was and told me she was looking forward to it. I thought it was a fun idea, but didn’t expect to actually watch it because my mom was teaching piano lessons during that afternoon and it seemed like just one more thing that I wasn’t up to dealing with. Those days I felt so weak and fragile and wasn’t able to do much. But while my mom fixed dinner she turned it on and it was just going while I sat nearby on the couch. It didn’t take me long to get hooked- he was so fun to listen to.

As we started eating dinner, we kept listening and he started talking about a story that I am familiar with- and even familiar with the symbolism some members of our church have talked about in regards to it. But his approach touched me so deeply, so I thought I’d retell what I remember from his story so you can enjoy it as well.

There was a building in Provo, Utah called the Provo Tabernacle. It was a really historic church building, built before the turn of the century in the late 1800’s, an all brick building. Besides being the meeting place for numerous church meets on Sundays through many decades and including many generations, it also had been a place of other neat church meetings over the years where many prominent leaders of our church had spoken. It was a sacred, special building for many members of our church and a special, historic building in the community.

In 2010, the building caught fire, and by the time the fire was put out, the damage was devastating. The entire building was charred and gutted by the fire. Interestingly there was only one picture that survived the fire- you can find out which one if you google it (another super cool detail from the story). Anyway, it was heart-wrenching for many to see this beautiful building burned to ashes. Not long after the fire, one of Hank Smith’s friends was asked by the leaders of our church if he could figure out a way to preserve the outer brick shell which was actually in decent shape, and lift the shell in order to create a stable foundation for rebuilding the structure. They preferred that to knocking the building down and starting over. The friend said it couldn’t be done- there simply wasn’t the technology in place in order to do something like that to an 1800’s brick shell. The leaders simply said, “We believe in you!” Amazingly (and you can google pictures of this too) they found a way to gradually raise the building shell up into the air, and later even higher in order to put in a basement. It was unbelievable what they were able to accomplish, and really the only explanation is that they had heavenly help.

The crews eventually poured a new foundation and it was announced in a General Conference that the old provo tabernacle would be transformed into a temple. Many members gasped. A temple? The most sacred of our buildings? We were in awe. Soon the frame was set back down and modified and eventually in the place of a scarred, burned, gutted building, there stood a magnificent temple. What an amazing transformation- really there aren’t words to describe the beauty that literally came from ashes.

At the end of this telling, Hank Smith showed two pictures on his screen side by side. I’ll see if I can find two to put up here after I finish writing this. One picture was of the charred remains of the Provo Tabernacle. The other was of the finished Provo City Center Temple. He asked us to pretend for a moment that we are that burned down building. What could our prayer sound like? What is the prayer of the burned down building? Here are some suggestions:

“How could you do this to me? I’ve tried to be good all these years. HOW could you DO THIS TO ME?! Why didn’t you stop the fire if you knew this was going to happen? Where WERE you? I feel so alone. So broken. I don’t even know if you’re really there anymore.” I could relate to this prayer so deeply and felt a sense of deep healing taking place as he then said, “Ok, now you are going to pretend for a moment that you are Heavenly Father. You can see both pictures- where the building is now, and what it is going to become. Tell the person next to you what He might say to the burned building.” Take a minute to think about what He might say.

My first thought was “Just wait” but I liked Hank Smith’s version so much better: “Hold on, you’re gonna love what comes next!” Isn’t that neat?!

And then what is the prayer of the finished temple? It’s “Thank you. Thank you.”

As I listened to all of this, my heart found great comfort. For one thing, I felt validated, realizing that it is ok to feel burned down and even wonder if we’ve been abandoned when we’re going through hard times. It doesn’t mean we should turn away from God, but it’s ok to ask those questions of “Where were you? Do you care?” Those questions help us find healing, help us reach for Him. He knows we’re hurting, and he doesn’t criticize us for that, nor does he expect us to go through it without struggling, crying, suffering…He knows exactly what we’re experiencing. But what I loved the most is that I could feel Heavenly Father and my Savior comforting MY heart as Hank said the words, “Hold on, you’re gonna love what comes next!” I felt that so deeply, and believed that was true, even though I sure couldn’t see what really that would look like. And I definitely was not in the place of saying “Thank you” for the challenges I had walked through…but even 2 weeks later, as I have felt empathy for Otto’s pain and my sister’s suffering in a different way than I would have, there is a part of me that is already starting to say “Thank you” (and thank you very much, I’d rather not do it ever again, too!). Isn’t that beautiful?

I shared with my sister today something that goes right along with that. This is something a friend told me about 2 weeks ago, before I arrived at my parent’s house. This is what I wrote to my sister:

“In the process of refining silver (I think it’s silver? Maybe she was referring to gold…either way…) there is an optimal amount of heat to put it through- too little doesn’t finish the purifying process, too much and the silver is ruined…Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ know exactly how much we need in order to become who we need to become and will ONLY allow the amount of suffering that is needed for growth- and not one second more…The atonement of Jesus Christ was accomplished the same way- not a little extra suffering for good measure or just in case- only the amount that was absolutely needed and not one more drop of blood.”

I think it is imperative to realize that “The wind and waves still know His voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.” (This is a line from “Be Still My Soul.”). To me this means that our Savior and Heavenly Father obviously have the power to step in and stop fires, literal and figurative in our lives. Sometimes they protect us from the fire, and sometimes there are purposes for allowing the fire to happen. HOWEVER- they will not let it burn any longer than ABSOLUTELY necessary- any longer than will be for our good, our transformation, or exaltation. They will never let it get beyond the optimal heat. That is comforting to me when I see Otto suffering and wonder why and how long. I don’t know the answers to either of those, but I do know that Heavenly Father, hearing each prayer, is comforting us, weeping with us, and is also sending us the gentle, hopeful message, “Hold on, you’re gonna love what comes next.”

I don’t want to breach copyright, so I’ll let you look up pictures, but if you’d like to watch a quick 7-minute video that takes you through the story of the building burning down and the temple being built, hop on this website:

https://www.ldsliving.com/Interior-Photos-Provo-City-Center-Temple/s/80971

Love,

Laura

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