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December 10, 2014
Tune My Heart
Temple Class
by Marian Stoddard

My husband and I were called to teach the temple preparation class nine years ago. When he was later called as an assistant to the high priest group leader, he asked the stake high councilman if that meant that he had to be released from temple class; the high councilman said he thought it did.

The bishop said not if he thought he could still do both. That was easy, because if he had his way he would never be released.

Another bishop kept us, and with a new call two years ago as ward clerk, he gave the same answer, and we continued to teach together.

When I was called to teach the stake Relief Society Institute class, now called gospel study class, I said to the bishop that I thought I could continue temple class, and I have. We have loved this calling, together, as we have seen so many persons gain the blessings of the temple.

The lessons are much like the missionary lessons — they take whatever time they take, in order to cover the needed material according to the understanding and experience of the persons in the class. I could take on a separate, time-intensive stake calling, because we didn’t need new preparation with each group; we knew the material.

The most important preparation was to be prayerful and in tune with the places where each person began, to perceive the needs or gaps in their understanding. The bishop selected who would be in our class by the keys of his stewardship, and each class has been different because each person is different.

My husband began the first week, every time, with the instruction that if our class members had ever had a gospel question, this was the place to ask.

He would say, “If you ever heard something that went right over your head, say in Sunday school, and you wanted to ask about it — but it was obvious that everyone else knew what they were talking about, so you didn’t want to bring the group to a halt with your questions — here you can stop and ask anything.” And they did.

“Where did we get the Book of Abraham?” was the first question from the first group. Since the initial lesson is on the plan of salvation there were about to be several readings from the Book of Abraham, so that was a good starting point.

In a later group, Brother Suarez, a convert with his wife, would lean forward a tiny bit, with his slow smile, and say, “Brother Stoddard, I have a question….” and we might spend the next five minutes addressing it and finding that he wasn’t the only one.

There are only six lessons, plus one for after they’ve gone to the temple that encourages them to continue and to do family history work. That doesn’t seem like much, but they cover the plan of salvation, standards of worthiness, the blessings of the temple (which includes the history of temples through the dispensations), ordinances and covenants, learning from the Lord through symbols, and getting ready to go to the temple (interviews, scheduling, review of concepts etc.). That seems simple enough.

But that first lesson can take four weeks. That’s what it took for the first group, and they’re the only ones who were able to meet on a weeknight for a full hour, instead of the limits of Sunday School class time. It usually took three weeks, because the list of scriptures is hefty, and it’s important not to speed through it.

We’ve taught converts, reactivated members, missionaries, and one young bride. Some of them have grown up in the Church, some have come back to the Church, and some have been blessed and even rescued by finding the truth they had almost given up on. Each one has had a story.

One couple had been reactivated. She had grown up in the Church, and his family had been baptized when he was in junior high. I don’t remember how long they had been absent, but it was many years.

When the bishop reached out to them, this brother said that if came back, he “wanted it to be real. “ He accepted the invitation to return, and his testimony was rekindled. They were the first endowments and sealing that we attended from our teaching. Now that they have both retired, they’re serving a mission at the bishop’s storehouse.

Brother and Sister Suarez took out their endowments on the same session as our missionary son, and that was a sweet day; then their daughter was sealed to them. When we went back with them to do the work for his parents, the sealer performed that ordinance in Spanish for them. They later went back to Panama ready to serve there.

There are many other stories.

We haven’t had the opportunity to go with all of them. Some have gone to be with family in other places that were too far away, but we were able to go to Portland with one couple, and witness the sealing of their children after the session.

We’ve had great joy in being with our students as they go to the temple to make their covenants and receive those blessings, but I think that maybe the most indelible experiences have been those transparent and pure moments in our class when the Holy Ghost has brought a powerful witness and allowed us to share testimony and answers heart to heart, moments that penetrate our souls as we find our firm convictions “added upon.”

The lesson manual is marked with our initials by the sections we do, and I think there are a couple of those that we’ve never traded. As we fill in around each other, sometimes we’ve made one of our students chuckle a moment as we take turns with each other — I’ll put a hand on his knee to say, wait, I wasn’t done yet.

I’ve made scripture lists and instruction sheets for calling the temple and scheduling. I think I’m on my second copy of the manual and he’s on his third, and his looks more battered than mine even if it’s newer. We’ve made notes, additions, and chosen a few supplemental materials.

Alex, short, round, and Cuban, was a single dad with five kids when he showed up in the ward as a new convert. He went and did baptisms for the dead as often as he could, loving the spirit he found there, and he told us that he could hardly wait to be able to “go upstairs to the whole temple.” The day he did, he was joined by the missionaries who had baptized him and he had a rich experience.

He felt a longing for a companion to be there with him, and we promised that the time would come. Heavenly Father knew his heart and the things he had been through, and we were confident in the spirit of that holy house that He would not leave Alex alone.

Four months later, out of the natural response of a generous heart, he offered help to a friend of a friend, and thus met Greta. The gospel soaked into her like rain in a parched land, and four months later she had been baptized and they were married.

She in turn went and did baptisms at the temple and had some singular experiences. One year after that, we were with them in the temple as she took out her own endowments.

Lingering there before we went down to change out of our white clothing, he said something that humbled and touched us. He was grateful for the blessings in his life that we had been a part of, and he said, “Your job is very important. You bring people to God. Bringing them to the temple, here, is truly bringing them to God.” It changes lives.

Every Sunday Alex greets me with a quiet, “Hey, mama,” and a squeeze. Every person we have had in our temple class has become a cherished friend. That’s the outgrowth of shared spiritual experience and service. There is a kinship, and we are forever a part of each other’s lives.

Two weeks ago our ward Relief Society was reorganized, and I was called as education counselor. I still had both of my teaching callings. My husband thought I could still do everything and just be careful to be out on time, but it’s a matter of absorption and focus, not just the clock.

I need to be available to troubleshoot and prepare before Relief Society, and an obligation during Sunday School time is simply not compatible with that. At my own recommendation to the bishop this week, I was released today. (As for the stake, they are going to call a second teacher to trade off with me, and we shall see.)

They’re keeping my husband. We hadn’t started our next group yet, so I’m not leaving in the middle. Who knows, maybe he’ll get his wish and never be released — but I suspect the time will come. I have peace in knowing that my service in this calling is now complete, and my Father in Heaven wants me to serve somewhere else. I am where I’m supposed to be.

I feel totally out of my element, but that doesn’t matter. He has promised to help, and my own temple covenants direct me to serve where He calls. This is where He has called, and I trust His purposes. The blessings of temple class will stay with me forever.

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