I was sitting in church yesterday next to a cousin of mine that I hadn't previously known. I am quite excited to know him since he's also a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints like my mother.
As I sat there, I wondered. How did I get to this moment in time? What string of events led me to church in Wetumpka, Alabama on Sunday, December 26, 2010?
When I was eleven years old, I lived in a small northwest Florida town and went to church across the river in Blountstown. I was in an age-assigned Sunday School group called Merry Miss. My Merry Miss leader wanted us to learn a song from the Primary Songbook called "I Will Follow God's Plan for Me", but we didn't have anyone available to us in that small congregation to play the piano and help us learn that song.
I had been in band at school for almost a year by this point where I had learned about written music. Using music books I had found at our house and a keyboard my father had picked up at a yard sale, I started teaching myself to play the piano so that I could play that Primary song for my class to practice.
We moved to a slightly bigger Florida town where there were plenty of opportunities to use my developing musical talents. I enjoyed playing the keyboard but wanted to play a real piano, so I begged my parents to buy one. They found one advertised for sale for $300. That was quite a sacrifice for my parents, but they purchased the piano with the promise from myself that I would continue to teach myself to play.
I continued playing the piano for the youth meetings and set a goal to play for the congregational meeting (it helped that my grandmother had promised $100 to any grandchild who played in the congregational meeting). The first hymn I played for the entire church congregation to sing was "How Firm a Foundation".
My family moved to Southwestern Utah when I was a sophomore in high school. I continued to play for the youth meetings there.
When I was 16, I moved to a different part of town and was now attending a different ward (church congregation). A woman there, who later served as my youth leader, invited me to learn to play the organ. With her short instruction, I began playing the organ for congregational meetings.
As a young woman, I would attend the Temple regularly to perform baptisms for the dead. While I waited for my turn, I would listen to the beautiful hymns flowing quietly through the building. I assumed that the organ music was a recording. One day, while I sat in the Temple, I heard a wrong note played. It was then that I realized that the organ music was being played right then by someone in the Temple. I got really excited and wondered aloud to my friend how I could have that opportunity to play. A volunteer at the Temple came over and explained that I could volunteer as soon as I had participated in the other Temple ordinances. It is traditional for young people in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to wait until they are about to go on a mission or be married in the Temple before they participate in these other ordinances. I was close to neither at the time, but I stored that thought in my mind for when it would be applicable.
Fast forward to April 2009.
After counseling with my Bishop (my ecclesiastical leader), I decided it was a good time for me to go to the Temple and participate in the other ordinances that were available to me. As I was leaving the St. George Temple that time, I remembered that thought and my desire to play the organ in the Temple and filled out a volunteer card. I hand-wrote that I was interested most in playing the organ.
I received a phone call from a volunteer coordinator asking if I'd be willing to serve as a substitute for other organ players when they couldn't make their assigned shift. I readily took that position and prayed for an opportunity to play. I was able to play a half dozen times between April and June when I moved to Tooele.
Living in Tooele, the closest Temple was now the Salt Lake Temple. I began attending the Salt Lake Temple. After my first visit to this Temple, I filled out a volunteer card with hopes of playing the organ in the Salt Lake Temple as well.
I received a phone call from a volunteer coordinator who explained that they had more organ players than they could ever use but asked if I was willing to volunteer in other capacities. He listed a few options that were conducive to my schedule. I was intrigued by a position available at the Family File desk; however, I was hesitant, because I had little experience with Family History research. But as he described the position, it sounded like office work; I could do office work. I accepted that position and began volunteering weekly.
As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are charged with the responsibility to learn of our family history so that we can perform sacred ordinances in the Temple for those family members who didn't have access to these things on Earth. Temple patrons will bring information to the Family File desk so that they can perform these ordinances for their deceased family members.
I was filled with joy every time I printed these Temple ordinance cards for these patrons. I couldn't believe the overwhelming positive emotions when someone would tell me their connection to the names on the cards as I cut them. If I felt this way assisting someone else, how would I feel if I was printing my own Temple cards?
At this time, I gained access to a new church website that makes getting family names ready for the Temple so much easier. Within minutes of signing up for the website and after only one text sent to my mother, I had all the information I needed to take my maternal grandmother's name to the Temple.
I continued volunteering and began my own Family History research. Just before Christmas, my mother asked me if I was willing to go down South to visit her father during my winter break. I consented telling her I wanted to make it a Family History adventure.
While visiting, my grandfather took me to a cemetery where his parents, uncles, aunts, and grandparents were buried. I had been to that cemetery when I was younger since he was the caretaker and was there to mow the lawns, but I played on the toys by the church across the street not knowing the treasured family members that lay buried in that cemetery. I began snapping pictures of headstones and grew excited to begin processing this information.
Also on this same trip, my mother took me to Eclectic, Alabama where her mother had been born and raised. We contacted the cousin that we finally met up with yesterday. He and his wife were in Salt Lake serving a mission for the Church. He gave us contact information for another cousin of ours who we didn't know existed. Andy took us on a cemetery tour of the county and I was able to take hundreds of photos of headstones and to see the graves of my great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents, and countless other relatives.
I continued my own Family History research and continued volunteering at the Temple. During one volunteer shift, I was helping a gentleman who handed me a stack of cards. I read the submitter's name on the card and then asked the gentleman his name. I immediately recognized his name and told him, I'm your cousin. He talked with me briefly and shared that this was the first time he had ever been inside the Temple with a member of his family outside of his wife and children.
A couple months ago, I asked my mother if we were going down South again for my break. She said no since this would be the grandbabies' first Christmas. Fortunately in early December, my mother changed her mind. We tossed around possible itineraries and came up with a plan a couple days before we left town.
My mother contacted Cousin John about a possible visit. Needing to attend church, we decided to plan our trip so that we could go to church with John in Alabama.
And that is how I got to that moment in time.