We’ve had another busy, beautiful week at AOA. The time is passing much too quickly. Darrel and I finished up our assignment to lead the study of D&C 42 this week. We celebrated with homemade spudnuts! Elder and Sister Schwitzer were here Monday and Tuesday. Our normal GA schedule was replaced by a morning side, a trip to Kansas City Temple, and eating out together at a local restaurant.
Sister Schwitzer’s father was a Canadian Mountie with a thick shell, whose world never varied from black and white world. She on the other hand has a sensitive, tender, open heart. Yet, she learned much from their almost polar approaches to life. She shared a time when she took her nursing state boards and didn’t pass one section. In fear, she called her father to report the failure. She sobbed as the news spilled from her lips. He simply hung up on her. She called again and this time he simply said, “JoAnn Elizabeth, you come from good stock, and you can do hard things. Call me back when you pass that test.” A click sounded on the other end of the line. That is exactly what she did! She dove in and did what was needed to pass the test.
Many years later when they received a call at 2:00 a.m. that their missionary son serving in Germany had experienced a brain aneurysm and was not expected to life, her father’s words provided the basis her surviving all that followed. When life looked too hard to bear, she heard her father’s words and did as President Hinckley suggested. “I pick up my wagon everyday and I head West!” I found her story empowering. FYI: (Their son, Josh, lived but endured months of recovery, and still deals with lingering limitations. He is a plumber, with a family and was recently called to serve in the bishopric of their ward. 😊)
Elder Schwitzer spent 90% of his time as a GA serving in missionary work. His mission stories rival Elder Walker’s temple stories. Yet this visit, he chose to speak about the symbolism found in the temple. In a nutshell, he taught that what we experience in the temple takes us from our pre-mortal state to a state where we can work out our salvation through conversion, which begins with baptism. (See D&C 20: 37) The distance between testimony and conversion is measured by our depth of repentance and intentional change.
He referenced Peter who was admonished, “When thou art converted, strengthen they brethren.” When we consider all Peter had witnessed and experienced by then, it is hard to imagine that he was not “converted.” Yet before the rooster crowed, Peter had denied the Savior three times rather than bore testimony of Him. He wept bitterly as the process of real repentance and covenant commitment began. By the events in Acts 2, the converted Peter healed a man on the steps of the temple and bore such powerful witness of Christ that 1000’s joined the Church.
After the Fall, Adam and Eve must have felt that all was lost. What a relief it was them to know that repentance was possible because of the Savior. Hope was restored! As we come to feel as they felt in some way, we understand that repentance is the force that facilitates change, and we begin our journey from conversion towards exaltation. That journey leads us to sacred ordinances, that when honored invite sanctification. This sanctification is not complete without eternal marriage, one built on the foundation of the covenants made in the temple.
Our trip to the temple following their messages was glorious. Just being back in the temple without a mask on meant so much to me. The seven couples in our endowment session were those we came out in March 2021 with us. Those who came in 2020 did a sealing session. Darrel and I were privileged to be the witness couple and it was a humbling, sweet experience. The family file name I took along had been born in Missouri. It was more than a coincidence that she had come home to be endowed. Those who had done sealings were waiting for us as we came through the veil. We felt loved and welcomed beyond words. It felt like a preview of reunions anticipated when we leave this life.
The rest of the week Darrel spent 2 ½ days mowing. In 90 plus degree muggy weather, it was not easy duty. He also helped open the canopy on the East Overlook, began the process of thinning the Pecan trees in the grove near Preacher’s rock, and watered some new trees planted this year. We also got a “Billion Graves” account and began gathering photos from the many cemeteries here. We are working through the Prairie Valley Cemetery near Gallatin currently.
Our adventures this week took us to Liberty Jail, the bank believed to have been robbed of $60,000 by the James Gang, and Independence, the revealed center of Zion. We visited Liberty Jail and Independence in 2016 with some of our family. After our study this year and being here at AOA, I got so much more out of those experiences. I feel I know some who played key roles in the restoration and their stories in those settings touch me on a deeply personal level.
A bit of history: Joseph Smith and five others spent four months and five days in Liberty Jail. Lyman Wight, who was the first saint to settle at AOA and who built the ferry crossing the Grand River was with him. As a military man of honor from the War of 1812, Lyman was offered his freedom and any position in the military he desired if he who denounce the prophet. He refused! As I consider why he would suffer as he did when freedom was handed to him, my faith and testimony are strengthened.
Emma visited Joseph three times at Liberty Jail. On her last visit she brought Mary Fielding Smith, Hyrum’s wife, who had given birth to their son, Joseph F. Smith, while the men were incarcerated. Tiny Joseph F. was only three months old, and this was Hyrum’s first time to see him. In that dark, deplorable, filthy jail, Hyrum gave his son a name and a blessing. That baby became the sixth prophet of this dispensation. His son, Joseph Fielding Smith became the 10th prophet. It was his privilege to return and dedicate the historical site as it stands today.
Although the men endured the coldest winter on record in Missouri at that time, confined in what was later condemned as unsafe and used as an icehouse, the men survived. Samuel and Olive Kinsley, who lived across the street from the jail passed pastries to them through small grates in the 4-foot walls under the cover of night. Other visitors brought blankets and food from time to time as well. This is where Joseph received D&C sections 121, 122, and 123. From this immensely trying time Elder Holland suggested… “Every experience can become a redemptive experience if we remain bonded to our Father in Heaven… for man’s extremity is God’s opportunity. Let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still… to see the salvation of God, and for His arm to be revealed.” (D&C 123:17)
- One of the missionaries serving at AOA is from the line of Judah, the rest come through Ephraim.
- The stars in the rotunda in the North Visitor’s Center at temple square where the Christus has been displayed, were designed to replicate how the sky looked in the Northern Hemisphere at midnight April 6, 1830 — the date The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized. I’m grateful for the memories I have of that center knowing it will soon be taken down.
Never have we felt more sure that we are a part of the Lord’s Latter-day work. We know He lives. Studying the restoration through in-depth study of Church History this year has helped us know and understand Him in a wonderful way. We hope all of you have experienced the same. We love and miss you, but feel grateful every day to be here, immersed in the Spirit and surrounded by the places our early saints lived.