I walk outside and take a deep breath of nippy fall air full of the rich smells of autumn. I feel refreshed and renewed. I walk through crunchy leaves, watch neighbors scrape fall’s first frost off windshields, and revel in the last hurrah of mellow autumn colors in trees still clinging to fading leaves and frozen flowers still brilliant. I think about Thanksgiving approaching and how grateful I am for new perspectives deepening my gratitude and preparing me to give special thanks this year.

For instance, I give thanks for the understanding that my eternal family consists of all who are sealed into the family of Christ. The eternal family is not a mommy and a daddy and a few little children who live together forever, but a multitude of loving, connected, caring, redeemed souls! We can know for sure that regardless of our family situation here, as long as we choose the Lord, choose His church, and choose to live by the Spirit, we have an eternal family!

When we are baptized, and each time we take the sacrament we covenant to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ and be obedient to Him. Just as a woman becomes part of her husband’s family when she takes his name, so we become part of His family when we take upon us the name of Christ!

King Benjamin’s people said “We are willing to enter into a covenant with our God to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments (Mosiah 5:5) and King Benjamin replied (reminding us of the need for the baptism of the Spirit as part of the covenant):

Ye have spoken the words that I desired; and the covenant which ye have made is a righteous covenant. And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons and his daughters; for behold this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters (Mosiah 5: 6-7).

Another covenant likewise seals us His. When we receive our endowments and are sealed in the temple, we are sealed into the family of Christ ? not just to that one individual across the altar and his extended family. No matter what that other person chooses to do, if we choose to keep our covenants with the Lord, we are still sealed into the family of Christ. The same applies to all the children born into that union. That family of Christ, all our family in heaven, loves us, cheers for us, feels great concern for our well-being.

We All Have a Cheering Section

In his article, “The Cheering Section,” Elder Paul H. Dunn said,

I’d like to bear you my solemn witness that each one of us has a cheering section, both seen and unseen. There are those pulling for us to succeed. We may sometimes doubt it, but it is true nevertheless. There are those we see ? parents, children, brothers, sisters, relatives, teachers, friends. But there are also those who are unseen who care and are rooting for us: heavenly parents, loved ones who have gone before us, those who are yet to come.  . . 

All of us have parents, friends, or other loved ones who have passed away. They too exercise faith in our behalf. Do parents stop caring because they die? Are friends no longer friends at death? Does caring stop at the grave? I want you to know it does not. Life is eternal.

And what of those yet unborn? Do they have an interest in your success? Your unborn children watch you from above with great interest and concern. They want the best for themselves and for you. You can be sure of it. Probably millions of spirits yet to be born cheer loudly for the millions of us who prepare the way for them. I believe it could be no other way.

My message to you is, hopefully, clear. Every person in this life has a cheering section. It is composed of those around us, those who have passed over to the other side, and those who are yet to come.

Above all, I bear you my witness that there is a Father in Heaven who put you here and wants you back. His support alone will do it. May we draw close to him so we can know it. May we then give it to those around us who need it, especially our own families. May the Spirit give you the same assurance that I have that our Father lives, that he loves us, and that he, together with many others, can bring us safely home (Ensign, Jun 1980, p. 4).

My Personal Witness of the Cheering Section on the Other Side

Experience has given me personal witness of that principle. One day I was pondering a particular phrase in my patriarchal blessing about doing vicarious work for those who would inspire and influence me ? loved ones who had gone before.

My father was an avid genealogist, part of a family organization that paid for professional researchers. The work was done as far back as records were then available. I had always felt there was little that I, a novice, could possibly do to add to those efforts. Consequently, that phrase from my blessing had frustrated me.

However, that day, as I pondered my blessing, the sweet voice of the Spirit told me those loved ones mentioned included my husband’s family! Perhaps because my second husband Doug and I hadn’t yet been sealed in the temple, the thought that my blessing could be referring to his family had never occurred to me. The Spirit’s powerful witness not only awakened in me a great desire to pursue family history and temple work for my husband’s ancestors, but also gave me pause.

If Doug’s family were included with those referred to in my blessing as my loved ones, could I have known before this life that I would be in this second marriage? Had I known and loved these people in the pre-existence and promised to be a “savior on Mt. Zion” in regard to their temple work just as I had my own progenitors?

I was willing to believe these tender impressions, but the task seemed especially formidable. Doug and I were barely beginning to learn about research, and so little had been done in his family. There seemed to be no information available at all in regard to one of his mother’s lines. She said she knew nothing about her grandmother Wendla’s date of birth or her parents, and wasn’t even sure how any of their names were spelled. Her brother and sister were equally clueless, and there seemed to be no other living relatives. How on earth would we proceed? How could I do vicarious work for a family that had kept no records?

Less than a week after this experience, Doug’s mother called.  She had just found an envelope that her uncle’s widow had sent her years before; inside was information she thought might interest us.

Did it ever! The envelope contained certificates that documented the dates and places of Doug’s great-grandma Wendla’s birth and death, the correct spelling of her name, Wendla Sofia Lofsund, and her parent’s names, as well – on official documents.

If that wasn’t enough of a blessing, the envelope also contained documentation for Doug’s great-uncle (Wendla’s only other child besides Doug’s Grandma Vera), and both of Wendla’s husbands (the great-grandpa who died before Doug was born, and his step-great-grandpa who he remembers.) It seemed a miracle that we suddenly had all the information necessary to do temple work for Wendla, her husbands and son, and needed only to find dates for Wendla’s parents before their work could be done. (I did feel sad that Doug, who had joined the Church just before I met him,  had not yet decided to go through the temple, so couldn’t do his male relative’s work right then.)

I also had my doubts about how Wendla might feel about temple ordinances.  I’d heard a lot of family stories about her.  For example, she had a real, live shotgun wedding; her intended husband abandoned her when he learned she was pregnant, and the sheriff caught him and forced him at gunpoint to marry her!  Word has it that she despised him for trying to run out on her, but would never give him a divorce. He died ten years after they were married.

But listen to the rest of her story:  Wendla was a bootlegger in Salt Lake City during prohibition days and ran a hotel of no small reputation. She was still a drinker when she married Doug’s step-great-grandpa years later. From all we could gather she had little use for any kind of religion until her last years, when she suffered a terminal disease and turned back to her protestant roots. To top it all off, she was anti-Mormon right up to the end. I honestly didn’t have much faith that this great-grandma would be anxious to have her work done!

My Surprise Joy

Trying to put aside my doubts, we prepared the temple ready disk and I took it to the family file desk at the Jordan River Temple. I took Wendla’s pink ordinance card with me every week when I went to the temple to play the organ in the baptistry chapel, but kept procrastinating doing her baptism. Then, one day, as I was finishing my shift, it came into my mind very plainly that it was time to do it! Feeling a sense of being carried along, I went to get my baptismal clothes. The most wonderful feeling came over me ? as if someone had just given me the happiest news in all the world.

I found myself crying ? the joyful kind of crying that is a witness of the Spirit. I was absolutely taken aback. After I changed clothes, I stepped into the water of the font and the baptizer raised his right hand and spoke Wendla’s name. Again, I couldn’t hold back the tears. I knew without any doubt that Wendla was not only accepting that baptism, she was rejoicing over it! 

It occurred to me that in the fifty years since her death, she had been very busy on the Other Side learning the gospel and applying its principles and was absolutely delighted to finally receive the ordinances of the Lord’s own priesthood.  I was greatly humbled that I had misjudged this dear woman.

A short time later when I did Wendla’s initiatory, both the worker and I were overcome with the Spirit and had to pause to get control of our emotions. The worker said she had never felt a presence so strongly. It was almost as if there were no veil between us. Again, I not only felt Wendla’s presence ? I felt her joy! I knew she had been anxiously awaiting this day, and was grateful to me for being her proxy. It was the most joyous temple experience of my entire life. A bond of love was created between Wendla and me that I can feel to this day. I rarely think of her without a swelling of the Spirit in my breast.

What Greater Witness?

The implications of that experience are enormous. I was raised in the Church, served a mission, married in the temple, had always been active, always had a testimony. But never had I received a stronger validation of the truthfulness of the gospel and of the atonement. Never had I received a more sure witness of the reality of the spirit world, of the importance of temple ordinances and family, of the bright and beautiful light of truth that was restored by Elijah to the prophet Joseph. Wendla was alive and real and cared about us and about the gospel and about the temple ordinances!

I was able to go home and share that experience with Doug, feeling the Spirit’s witness again as I spoke. The implications were not lost on him, and a few weeks later he surprised me by bringing home a temple recommend. I had waited for that day for more than a decade! He received his own endowment and soon did the work for both great grandfathers and his great uncle.

Since then we have done temple work for more of his ancestors, and we continue to find information on his various lines. We have also grown closer as a couple through years of ward and stake consultant callings, helping others with their family history work. Our weekly shift at our multi-stake family history center is still a satisfying part of our lives.

But wait! The story is not finished. Perhaps the best part is this: in September, after overcoming many obstacles, Doug and I were finally sealed in the temple. I am so thrilled to be part of his family – and officially Wendla’s great-grand-daughter!  I’m sure it was with her help on the other side and with the Spirit’s approbation, that Doug and I prepared for that special experience, and recently found the dates that were missing for Wenda’s parents.  Now they can be sealed to each other and to her! 

Because of this whole experience, I am even more certain of the connection between all of us – on both sides of the veil – as we come unto Christ and seek to be His children. Today, I can sincerely say that I know that we have a huge cheering section – a heavenly family who cares about us, loves us, cheers us on, notes our progress and believes in us. I believe that, like our heavenly parents, they love us no matter what, and that they are progressing “over there.”

I know they want what is best for us, and I suspect they see our finest qualities, recognize our divine potential, and keep our weaknesses in perspective far better than we do.

King Benjamin said, “Therefore, I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent may seal you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation, and eternal life, through the wisdom and power, and justice, and mercy of him who created all thing, in heaven and in earth, who is God above all” (Mosiah 5:15).

All who are “sealed his” are his children. Talk about extended family!  Regardless of our family situation here, that eternal family is forever ? we are never without family.

Extended Blessings

My experience with Wendla and my study of the scriptures ? especially D&C 138 ? have given me much comfort and hope in the aftermath of my son Brian’s death. I know that the “dead who repent will be redeemed.” I know that Wendla had the gospel preached to her in its purity and power after she died, and that she repented and accepted it.  And I know for sure that she accepted her temple work. I was there!  What a great tutoring precedent for the situation I faced when my son took his life!

Brian is now included in my “loved ones who have gone before,” and I sense that he is among those who are inspiring and influencing me. I’m grateful that his name was spoken in the temple of the Lord when his temple endowment was completed by proxy a year ago, and I feel deep inside that he accepted it. I am grateful for Doug’s continuing comfort and support in this situation and grateful for the blessings we now have of attending the temple together.