Fast forward approximately one year and eight months to April 2017. I had just shy of 1200 temple cards printed that needed ordinance work done. One day I happened to find myself on FamilySearch (my go-to genealogy research site), where I found this happy little notification:
First and foremost: Why do Mormons do this?
The principle that first attracted me to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the Plan of Happiness and the measure of fairness for all God's children therein. Although I loved my Catholic faith, I was increasingly bothered throughout my life that in order to be saved, you had to be born in the right place, at the right time, to the right family who would have the foresight get you baptized as soon as possible. The God I knew through personal prayer and religious observance simply wasn't like that. Why would He create us in His likeness and image, knowing that by no fault of their own, most of his children wouldn't make it to paradise. That seemed cruel or at best, indifferent, and my God simply wasn't like that.
Thanks to the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and through Priesthood keys, however, we have the ability to bring all of God's children back to our Father's presence, regardless of their circumstances in life! Although you need a physical body to receive saving ordinances, these ordinances can be performed vicariously on behalf of the dead. These departed spirits then have the choice to accept the work that has been done for them on earth, and hopefully achieve exhalation with the Father. We also believe in something called the Spirit of Elijah (which I'll talk about later) from Malachi 4:5-6: "And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” Elder David A. Bednar described the Spirit of Elijah best as a "distinctive influence of the Holy Ghost (that) draws people to identify, document, and cherish their ancestors and family members – both past and present.” If you'd like to read more, click here for an AMAZING talk by Elder Bednar and click here for an equally incredible talk by President Eyring.
My Catholic heritage is what made all this possible
As a convert, family history feels a lot more like data entry. As a Catholic convert, it's a lot of data entry for two main reasons. First, Catholics and Latter-day Saints share a common love for family, which is translated into having many, many children. It isn't uncommon to find a family in my tree with children in the double-digits that lived to adulthood and had equally large families of their own. Knowing how much these individuals must have loved their family members and how much they would want to be together in the eternities, I feel honored to complete their temple ordinances here on earth. Second, Catholics are notoriously good at keeping really, really good records. Some baptismal documents will not only contain the birth and christening date for the chid, but the same information for the parents, grandparents, and even the godparents (who are more often than not close family members).
Important Side Rant: I've noticed, oftentimes, that members of our church will get after other faiths for performing infant baptisms. As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have the privilege of knowing that infant baptisms are not necessary, and young disciples of Christ should wait until at least the age of 8 to be baptized. Other faiths rely simply on the doctrine that an individual cannot be saved without first being baptized in life, and with the high rate of infant mortality throughout all history, infants should be baptized as soon as possible (I was first baptized less than a month after my birth). In other words, they're working with the best they've got. Even though this isn't patterned after Heavenly Father's wishes explicitly, He has a way of making the best out of our earthly understandings. Hence, the meticulously kept parish records, family bibles, and-- you guessed it-- infant baptismal records with a WEALTH of knowledge that makes vicarious ordinance work possible. *drop mic*
The blessings of the temple are REAL
Naturally my goal was to get as many temple ordinances done as possible, which meant I needed to spend as much time at the temple as possible. Leading up to this point, I routinely balanced 18 credit hours, extracurricular leadership activities, a 20-hour work week, and then I had a new marriage to nurture and build. But when it came time to get all these ordinances done, my schedule miraculously opened up. It was like Moses stepped into my life and instead of parting the Red Sea, he parted my day planner (an equally momentous feat). I only had to take 9 credits my last semester, I was training my replacement at work so I didn't have to be in the office as much, and Grant was working in Salt Lake at the time. All of a sudden I had all this free time and hundreds of ancestors calling my name to do their ordinances. Did they have a hand in this? Most likely.
In the next several weeks, Tuesday through Friday, I performed between 15-30 initiatories or 2-3 endowment sessions per day. For my friends who are yet to be endowed, that adds up to about 3-6 hours in the temple, four days a week. I don't share that to puff myself up. The insecure part of me rewrote that sentence at least a dozen times, afraid you'd all think I was bragging, but I'm simply illustrating that I was in the temple a lot. And the blessings were profound.
Almost instantly, I felt at peace. My grades improved, I was having a much easier time at work with my remaining clients, and I enjoyed the most amazing clarity of mind. As a woman in business, we're constantly told to find a mentor and to find a role model to pattern your life after. While these things are important, I realized that more than anything else, I wanted to be like the women who served in the temple-- kind and patient and fun who love the Lord so much they'd devote several hours of their week to serve in the house of the Lord. I also discovered that people are willing to serve if you're willing to ask. Naturally I couldn't do all 582 ordinances on my own, and I had to ask many of the men in my life to help me complete the male ordinances. Despite their busy schedules and other worthy commitments, all of the people I asked to help enthusiastically agreed and even asked for more once they were done. It was truly a touching and edifying experience that I'll carry with me for a long time.
The Spirit of Elijah is REAL
This experience I had is probably one that I'll always hold dear. One day throughout all this madness, I came across my second-great grandmother, Ellen Harrington. You can see her and her family here in their family photo. If you lost count, those are her nine sons. Nine healthy, strong boys that she raised in faith with her husband, James Keating. But more remarkable than that was something I found years after I had entered their data. Before she could raise any children past infancy, she lost two daughters, and lost another baby girl and a baby boy in her child-bearing years.
In a tender moment of realization, the Spirit of Elijah touched my heart. I was looking at Ellen while I was at work (I work for a family history company, it's kosher) and I was overcome with empathy and I began to weep at my desk. I had looked at the census records and birth certificates of this entire family and entered them into FamilySearch myself, but in my haste I hadn't taken a moment to appreciate Ellen's life. Our Heavenly Father knew the desires of her heart just as well as he knows the desires of mine, and for just a moment I was able to feel her the loss and heartache of losing four babies-- including her only daughters. She must have ached for those children, of whom she probably thought were lost to her forever. My resolve to have them sealed together strengthened, because if anyone should experience the joys of raising three little girls, it would be a woman who had survived raising nine boys.
The Spirit of Elijah is a powerful force that not only encourages us to hasten the work, but also to be edified by the work. It is vitally important that we remember our ancestors as we would like to be remembered: as individual children of God. As the only member in my family, I often feel overwhelmed by the responsibility to help my family members return to their Father. It can be really frustrating, and full disclosure: the biggest fight I ever got into with my husband was about him having the audacity to do his Mom's temple names instead of mine.
BUT. THEY. ARE. NOT. JUST. NAMES. They are not just cards. They are family members, who have children, and parents, and spouses, and siblings that they want to be sealed to just as much as I hope to be one day. Probably the most important thing I learned throughout this experience is just that: we don't do this to keep ourselves busy or to load up our spiritual plates with one more thing to it. It's to gather in the eternal family of God.