COLUMBIA, Mo. My mother was born in Virginia, and my father in West Virginia, just after the turn of the century. They met in 1933 at Church in Charleston, W.Va., an area when there were few prospects for marrying in the Church.
But, happily, they loved each other and were committed to marrying in the temple. At much personal expense and sacrifice, they took the train from Charleston to Salt Lake City in 1936 to be sealed in the temple.
Now, 62 years later, I am the beneficiary of their commitment to follow the prophets, of their sacrifice and of their commitment to do things the Lord's way.
My faithful parents raised my brother and me in the gospel, but in 1964, I married a non-member. Six years later I was divorced and had ceased living the gospel. During the next 25 years I was married and divorced two more times.
This, of course, caused my parents, Vern and Frances Whitman, enormous, endless heartbreak, and made me the focus of years of prayer, fasting and hope.
About six months after my father died in April 1995, I began feeling a great need to hash out my troubled feelings about the Church and the gospel, and, to the extent possible, purge myself of both once and for all. For the two months prior to Christmas that year, I was consumed with this thought.
In Utah for the Christmas holidays with my mother, I confronted several other family members. But, in a most remarkable way, each confrontation backfired.
Those who loved me, my brother, sister-in-law and nephew, all said utterly remarkable things, things that, much to my surprise, made sense to my rebellious soul. I felt little need to fight back.
After returning home to Missouri after Christmas, I began reading the Book of Mormon. It was stunning. But still, I ranted at Craig Israelsen, who, while actually my bishop, I considered a good friend from work. He and his wife endured my ranting with patience, love and enormous insight.
I began to realize that "the gospel" I had been fighting all those years wasn't really "the gospel" at all, but something I had constructed as a result of my own self-imposed distance from it. Now, I was amazed by the beauty of the principles I was reading and by the love reflected in the pleadings of the Savior.
Eventually, I knelt in prayer, and finally walked into the meetinghouse. During the summer of 1996, while in Utah visiting my mother, I partook of the sacrament for the first time in 25 years. Then, while visiting my mother for a long weekend in October 1996, I noticed tears in her eyes on the way home from sacrament meeting. "What's wrong, Mother?" I asked.
"Oh, nothing," she answered. "I'm just so glad to have lived long enough to see you take the sacrament again." Ten days later, she joined my father on the other side.
By Christmas time, just one year after it had all started, Bishop Israelsen talked with me about preparing to go to the temple. I dismissed him, saying it would be years before I was ready. The St. Louis Temple was nearing completion about this time and the spirit of temple work was on everyone's minds. I, too, was thrilled that we could have a temple in this part of the country.
In the spring of 1997, I again told Bishop Israelsen I wasn't ready. He told me I was. Following a formal temple interview with him, he sent me for an interview with the stake president.
I didn't know Pres. John Jorgensen and was somewhat nervous. "So," he said, "I understand you've been out of the Church for a long time. What made you come back?"
"I don't know," I muttered. "I guess the Holy Ghost has more power than I do."
Without hesistation, he turned to me and said, "Your father did this. You were born in the covenant, and he has a right to claim you."
I was stunned. My stake president, who barely knew me, was confirming feelings I had felt several months earlier while in fervent prayer. Only my brother knew about these feelings. I couldn't believe my ears.
I saw the stake president three days later during a Relief Society conference and asked, "Do you remember what you told me the other evening about my father?"
He remembered. "Was that just something you said because it is a doctrinal possibility, or did you
He interrupted me and answered, "I've never said that to anyone before in my life, but I felt inspired to say that to you." I was endowed in the St. Louis temple just days after it opened in June 1997.
I consider myself the most blessed person I know. I believe that my earthly father, from the other side of the veil, appealed to the powers of heaven to reclaim me while I was still in this life. And I believe that the Holy Spirit, in His most remarkable wisdom, knew exactly how to prime me for the gospel and inspire people who loved me to say what I needed to hear.
How I pray I can make up for some of the great disappointment and grief I caused the very people who have loved me most of all. The temple is a reminder to me that some things are forever real, and not subject to the whims of men or winds of change.
Jean Hamilton is a Relief Society teacher in the Columbia 1st Ward, Columbia Missouri Stake, and chairman of the stake single adult council.