As a little bit of background to put the article in context: the sacred experiences associated with attending the temple are some of the most important, beautiful, opportunities available to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and are an important goal for members of the church to work toward. While ward councils (which are made up of members who have accepted assignments to serve in various responsibilities in the local congregation) serve many functions, one of them is of course trying to help members of the church progress spiritually, including preparing to attend the temple. I love the Church's council system and am grateful for the opportunities I have had to be involved with it over the years: the ward councils I have worked with have inevitably been filled with sincere, kind, people, who, despite all the other demands of life, are anxious to find ways to love and serve those around them however they can. This article highlights just one of the many wonderful experiences I had associating with the ward council while responsible for the children's Primary organization in the ward here.
I'm also including a link to the published version at the bottom of this post, as well as links for a couple of other random essays I've had appear in LDS magazines over the years. (You know... in case you're feeling really really desperate for some reading material... ;-)
Wasp Attacks and Ward Councils
“We have a temple trip coming up in a few weeks.” Our Bishop glanced around the room as ward council agendas were passed from person to person. “Especially with ward conference scheduled that same week, it would be great to have as many members attend as possible.”
“There will be a baptism session that evening too,” the High Priest Group leader chimed in, flipping through pages in a large three-ring binder. “What can we do to help some of the new members be involved?” While the High Priest Group Leader began listing who he hoped might participate, I reached for my notebook. As I shifted things in my bag, I found myself staring at the edge of a photograph I’d hastily shoved in a folder while taking down a Primary bulletin board a few weeks earlier.
Quietly I shuffled talk assignments, presidency meeting notes, and sharing time outlines until I could see the whole picture—an 8 ½ by 11 shot of 28 Primary children sitting on the steps of the Palmyra temple. While the colors had faded slightly after spending more than a year hanging in the Primary room, the memories of that day remained vivid enough that I still wasn’t sure whether to smile or grimace as I stared at the children’s faces.
With the recent mention in General Conference by President Monson that even children could sense the sacredness of the temple as they visit the grounds and touch the temples, we had enthusiastically planned a trip for the Primary children and their families to visit the Palmyra temple about an hour away from where we live. After getting the Bishop’s permission and coordinating with the temple, we had planned what we were sure was going to be a memorable morning, including a message from a member of the temple presidency.
Even though it was still early September, a fine drizzle made the day seem damp and chilly as we arrived in Palmyra. While Primary children and their families clambered out of cars in the parking lot I offered a quick prayer of gratitude: at least the actual rain seemed to be holding off. It wasn’t the sunshine-filled morning I had imagined, but the overcast grayness did make the bright red and yellow flowers on the grounds seem even more vibrant.
Soon the hustle of spreading blankets on a promising patch of grass near the temple and the craziness of corralling children together settled down and we began singing, “I Love to See the Temple.” One of the Valiant girls came forward to offer an opening prayer, but just as I bowed my head there was a flurry of movement off to the side.
“Wasps!” someone shouted. An angry cloud of yellow jackets suddenly swirled up from around the edges of one of the blankets. We had unwittingly set up right on top of a nest!
All at once, peaceful silence was replaced with the whir of outraged insects and cries of panic from the Primary. Parents raced to grab children, furiously trying to outpace the swarm of angry insects. In some cases shirts and other clothing were wrestled off in an attempt to free yellow jackets that had become trapped underneath. Scriptures, bags, and blankets were abandoned as the persistent insects kept pace with our group nearly to the parking lot.
In shock, we regrouped near one of the member’s vehicles. Almost everyone seemed to be sporting at least one scarlet sting; some children were peppered with an alarming number of them.
Before long a temple worker joined us to help evaluate the children with the worst stings and to provide soothing creams for everyone. The temple president also came over and we began tackling the question “what now?” Some of the families were already packing up, ready to go home. Did we still want to try and have the children hear a message and touch the temple?
Sitting safely on the curb, far from flowers and grass, most of the children were happy to listen to the temple president as he spoke about the sacred nature of temples and the blessing of forever families. However, when the President invited the children to come touch the temple, they balked. What if there were still wasps? What if they were attacked again? When gentle coaxing coupled with explanations that we would go on a different side of the temple from the yellow jackets failed to calm the children’s fears, someone came up with a new idea. What if parents and leaders lined the way back up to the temple, each promising to stand guard watching for any sign of wasps? After a moment of consideration the children agreed and the adults quickly took position along the path, each watching carefully for anything that might deter the children on their short journey; each a loving and familiar face offering encouragement as the children trustingly made their way to the temple.
The photograph now sitting sandwiched between all my other Primary paperwork was taken shortly after the children finished touching the temple, hopefully sensing the strength found within its walls. I remember at the time holding the camera and marveling at the experience the children had just had of being so tenderly protected and shepherded on their way to touch the temple. If only there were a way for everyone to be surrounded by such vigilant, loving friends and leaders as they progressed towards the temple, a journey often fraught with challenges significantly more perilous than pesky yellow jackets.
With a sigh and one last peek at the picture, I closed the folder, turning my attention back to the conversation going on around me.
“She wasn’t at church last Sunday. I’ll make sure her visiting teachers let her know about the upcoming temple trip…”
“I know they’ve got some really hard things going on right now. I’ll follow-up with their home teacher and see if there’s anything we can do…”
“What if we arranged some sort of childcare during the session so they didn’t need to worry about that...?”
“Is there any way the Young Women could help with babysitting…?”
Looking around at the other members of the ward council, each anxiously discussing different struggles and possible solutions, I was struck by the expressions of genuine affection and concern. Suddenly I stopped, a smile spreading across my face.
The Lord had prepared ways for each of His children to be protected and loved as they wended towards the temple, and I was participating in one of them right now: the wonderful watch-care of an effective ward council.
Ward Councils at Work (Version published in April 2012 Ensign. Since it's a larger article about ward councils, this story is kind of buried in the middle somewhere. If you read the whole thing, though, it's actually a great overview of how effective ward councils can be!)
Firm in the Fire (Winner of the George H. Brimhall Essay Homecoming Contest and published in the Fall 2005 BYU Magazine. Homecoming that year will always be special for me: not because of the essay but because that weekend I met Bryan. :)
Ordinary Forks and Ordinary Folks (Bizarrely enough, I don't remember this one. I went looking for the Firm in Fire article and was surprised to pull this one up in the BYU Magazine archives. It's definitely mine, but I don't have any memories of writing/submitting it. Apparently it won 2nd place in the student essay contest that year though. Huh.)
Out of Power (First Place Article, 1998 New Era Contest. I actually kind of cringe when I read this one: it's interesting to get back inside my teenage brain and try to remember what was so consuming back them. Things that felt incredibly overwhelming as a youth look a little different with a couple decades of perspective. Still, despite seeming slightly over-dramatic at points, the article's message is one that continues to resonate in my life as an adult.)