"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
June 12, 2013
No Servant There
by Marian Stoddard

One of our temple students was an older gentleman, in his 70s, who had been a member of the ward for many years, but he sat in the back, came alone, and we did not know him very well.

We knew that he had joined the Church alone, hoping that his wife would follow eventually, but she never did. In fact, she didn’t come with him to ward socials or any other church activities; we have met her on two, possibly three occasions over the course of many years.

Brother Carter had decided that, much as he wished for his wife to join him in the blessings of the gospel, much as he had hoped that the light and happiness he found in it would reach and draw her in, it was not likely to happen. He talked to the bishop about his desire to have the blessings of the temple in his life, even though he would have to experience them alone.

He would not be able to have the blessing of being sealed to his wife or children, though he hoped that someday that might still be possible. He did not want his life to end without receiving his own endowment. In a real sense, he desired to be “fully in” with the Saints.

We taught him the temple lessons along with teaching our own son, who was getting ready for a mission. Sometimes we take a long time with those six lessons because of individual questions, but both of these students had long experience in gospel instruction, and the lessons progressed pretty smoothly.

Our son actually had a deadline with his mission call, so we leapfrogged over one lesson to be sure that we covered the one about symbolism — an all-important concept for temple worship — and then went back with Brother Carter, finishing the last week with him alone.

When he was ready and had obtained his recommend, we suggested to him that he could prepare the names of his parents so that their ordinances could be done too. That way he could be sealed to them on the same day.

Brother Carter has a tracheostomy — a tube and valve in the front of his throat. He can only speak by covering the opening with his finger, and lifting it to breathe. Most of us can talk and breathe at the same time without worrying about what we’re doing, but he can’t. His voice is distinctive, but he does the best he can do.

After we had arrived at the temple and headed in our separate directions, I wondered how that was going to go, but I figured he would address the issue with the temple workers. It was a lovely session. Brother Carter did not physically speak at those points where his voice would have been a distraction.

After the session, I was sitting in the celestial room in a chair nearest to the spot where the brethren from our session would come into it. My husband joined me shortly, and we quietly enjoyed the serenity for a few minutes.

Then from the direction of the other room, I heard what sounded, as best I can describe, like strangled gargling. After a momentary sympathetic wince, I realized what it must be.

“That’s him, isn’t it?” I whispered to my husband.

Yes, it was Brother Carter. The member of the temple presidency giving instruction before the session had told him that at the veil he must stand forth and audibly respond. I was blinded for a moment by sudden tears.

“The keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel; and he employeth no servant there.” (2 Nephi 9:41) When we come to stand before the Lord, we present ourselves, with all our impairments, all our infirmities, and in our own language, and He will understand us perfectly.

Through His love and His atonement, He will mend what is broken and teach us what is not known. When we finally step through into His presence, none of the things that troubled us here will matter; it will all be swept away. Our Savior himself meets each of us where we are, as we are, and brings us to Him.

Brother Carter had a joyful experience, years longed for, in the temple that first day. He returned just a few days later, and then again and again. He stopped us at church in a quiet corner about two months later; he wanted us to know that his life was happy, his home was happier, and even his visiting daughter had asked what had changed.

The relationship with his wife, sometimes focused before on the negatives, had sweetened. The atmosphere was warm rather than strained, and she could feel it.

He told them all that it was the temple, and bore a simple testimony of the blessings of the gospel. That hasn’t brought any of them to church, but it has made at least some difference in their perceptions. Who knows what the future holds? Our Heavenly Father takes the long view.

“The keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel, and he employeth no servant there.” Simple words, simple truth: he knows us, he loves us, he saves us one by one, heart to heart and face to face.

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About Marian Stoddard

Marian J. Stoddard was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in its Maryland suburbs. Her father grew up in Carson City, Nevada, and her mother in Salt Lake City, so she was always partly a Westerner at heart, and she ended up raising her family in Washington State. Her family took road trips all over the United States and Canada, so there were lots of adventures.

The adventures of music, literature, and art were also valued and pursued. Playing tourist always included the local museums as well as historical sites and places of natural beauty. Discussions at home, around the dinner table or working in the kitchen, could cover politics, philosophy, or poetry, with the perspective of the gospel underlying all. Words and ideas, and testimony and service, were the family currency.

Marian graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, and attended the University of Utah as the recipient of the Ralph Hardy Memorial Scholarship, where she was graduated with honors, receiving a B.A. in English. She also met the love of her life, a law student, three weeks after her arrival; she jokes that she had to marry him because her mother always wanted a tenor in the family. (She sings second soprano.) They were married two years later and have six children and six grandchildren (so far). She treasures her family, her friends, and her opportunities to serve.

Visit Marian at her blog, greaterthansparrows.  You can contact her at bloggermarian@gmail.com. 

Marian and her husband live in Tacoma, Washington. Together they teach those who are preparing to go to the temple for the first time, and she also teaches a Stake Relief Society Institute class.

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