1. The temple is a most sacred and holy place
When I wasn't thinking about how happy I was as I walked through the temple, I was thinking to myself what junior-high Sarah would think if she knew where she'd be in a little over five years. I'll never forget the day I found out I wouldn't be able to attend my friends' weddings because I non-members couldn't enter the temple. To say I was angry would be a gross understatement-- I was furious. I was astounded by how unfair it sounded-- how could someone hold a place like the temple so close to their heart and NOT want to let EVERYONE know, regardless of their faith? Well, I'd show them.
From there I went out on a quest. I decided that if my friends wouldn't tell me what was up, the internet would. At first, most of what I found was pretty general information, but I was looking for the juicy stuff-- the secret stuff. Finally, though, I found it. A forty minute video in the depths of youtube that promised to detail all of the temple rites. I was stoked to say the least. I watched the first five minutes, enough for the guy to get to the locker room, and then I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Without thinking, I closed the video and walked away. I didn't know what I was, but I just knew that I shouldn't be watching what I was watching.
The same thing happened four more times over the next three years. I would find the video again, watch the first five minutes, and then close the video. I told myself throughout those years it was because I wasn't patient enough to sit through a forty minute video, but I know now that the spirit was playing a special role in my life even then. He knew how important it was for me to save that information for later, and was able to convince my stubborn pre-teen self to knock it off.
The temple is a sacred, holy place and requires serious preparation. Knowing what I know now, I'm certain I never would have found Christ had I watched that video and "experienced" the temple out of context. Even at a point in my life when I was arguably very anti-Mormon, Heavenly Father was still protecting my divine inheritance and, more importantly, me.
2. Being raised Catholic actually helped me prepare more than anything else
I have this really bad habit of forgetting that I am, in fact, not the only person who has ever converted. My biggest concern as I was preparing for the temple was that I might be at a disadvantage because I hadn't spent my whole life with "my tent turned toward the temple" (Mosiah 2:5-6) I mean, I didn't even know the words to the primary song "I Love to See the Temple"-- how could I possibly be qualified? [Insert sarcasm here] But in all seriousness, I was afraid that temple worthiness was contingent upon having always had a goal of attending the temple one day. Even the day of, I was flipping through the pamphlet one more time, making sure I hadn't missed anything that would lead to me messing up and being the first person ever kicked out of the temple within the first five minutes.
The advice I received the most was not being freaked out by all the symbolism. Traditional LDS Sunday services are very straightforward, but the temple is much more traditional. One institute teacher even recommended everyone "put on their Jewish-thinking-cap" before entering the temple for the first time. So naturally, I was worried that because I hadn't been preparing from the cradle, I'd be spooked by something and fall into some crippling faith-crisis (again...).
As it would turn out, though, I was much more prepared than I thought. In fact, throughout the whole day I couldn't help but notice a lot of similarities between the temple ceremonies and Catholic Masses I attended growing up. Nothing exact, but many of the words spoken and the ordinances performed reminded me of services I had participated in where I was a kid. I was able to accept the more symbolic elements of the temple and look for deeper meaning. More than anything, though, it helped remind me that Heavenly Father has a very specific plan for me that started at conception. I may not have been born in a tent facing the temple, but Heavenly Father placed it close enough so that when I was ready, I'd be able to find my way home.
3. The Temple is for EVERYONE
At times, it is really, really easy to assume that everyone is perfect and you're the only one who ever gets their hand caught in the Nutella jar. For me, the temple was no exception. The night before I was tossing and turning, wondering "Am I really worthy? Am I really prepared?" As far as I was concerned, I had just pulled off the greatest heist of a recommend in the church's history without even knowing it. Finally, in desperation, I got on my knees to pray, desperately needing to confirm that Heavenly Father wanted me in his Holy Temple the next afternoon.
As always, my prayers were answered in a way I never would have expected. I went through the endowment process with another girl and her mother. This girl's name was Kelsey, and was getting married the same day I was, July 17th, to her sweetheart. We got to talking to her and her escort, her mother, and found out what an INCREDIBLE story they had. Kelsey's family had been largely inactive for much of her life, but when she started college she started going back and immediately started seeing all the blessings unfolding. Eventually she was able to get a large portion of her family to attend church again as well and her mother was able to get her temple recommend back in time to go with her daughter. The day of Kelsey's endowment was her mother's first time attending a session in over 30 years. Seeing her learn in tandem with her daughter was an experience I will never forget.
Heavenly Father wants all of his children to return to Him. More than that, He wants all of His children to know Him. Receiving instruction in the temple was unlike any other experience I had ever had. The prophets and apostles of the church advise members to always have an eternal perspective, but it wasn't until I entered the temple that I found out just how valuable that counsel is. As I left the temple, I could't help but think the whole experience was like finally going home after a long, hard journey. I certainly didn't understand everything that was happening, but that was okay-- all the more reason to go back again and again and again. I'm so grateful for the knowledge Heavenly Father trusts his children with, and I'm astounded still by how much He must love His children-- all his children.