On a Monday noon a small company of horsemen strung out along the trail from Sunk Creek to gather cattle over their allotted sweep of range. Spring was backward, and they, as they rode galloping and gathering upon the cold week’s work, cursed cheerily and occasionally sang. The Virginian was grave in bearing and of infrequent speech; but he kept a song going—a matter of some seventy-nine verses. Seventy-eight were quite unprintable, and rejoiced his brother cow-punchers monstrously. . . .
By the levels of Bear Creek that reach like inlets among the promontories of the lonely hills, they came upon the schoolhouse, roofed and ready for the first native Wyoming crop. It symbolized the dawn of a neighborhood, and it brought a change into the wilderness air. The feel of it struck cold upon the free spirits of the cow-punchers, and they told each other that, what with women and children and wire fences, this country would not long be a country for men. They stopped for a meal at an old comrade’s. They looked over his gate, and there he was pottering among garden furrows.
“Picken’ nosegays?” inquired the Virginian; and the old comrade asked if they could not recognize potatoes except in the dish. But he grinned sheepishly at them, too, because they knew that he had not always lived in a garden. Then he took them into his house, where they saw an object crawling on the floor with a handful of sulphur matches. He began to remove the matches, but stopped in alarm at the vociferous result; and his wife looked in from the kitchen to caution him about humoring little Christopher.
When she beheld the matches she was aghast; but when she saw her baby grown quiet in the arms of the Virginian, she smiled at the cow-puncher and returned to her kitchen.
Then the Virginian slowly spoke:--
“How many little stranger have yu’ got, James?”
“My! Ain’t it most three years since yu’ married? Yu’ mustn’t let time creep ahaid o’ yu’ James.”
The father once more grinned at his guests, who themselves turned sheepish and polite; for Mrs. Westfall came in, brisk and hearty, and set the meat upon the table. After that, it was she who talked. The guests ate scrupulously, muttering, “Yes, ma’am,” and “No, ma’am,” in their plates, while their hostess told them of increasing families upon Bear Creek, and the expected schoolteacher, and little Alfred’s early teething, and how it was time for all of them to become husbands like James. The bachelor of the saddle listened, always diffident, but eating heartily to the end; and soon after they rode away in a thoughtful clump. The wives of Bear Creek were few as yet, and the homes scattered; the schoolhouse was only a sprig on the vast face of a world of elk and bear and uncertain Indians; but that night, when the earth near the fire was littered with the cow-punchers’ beds, the Virginian was heard drawling to himself: ”Alfred and Christopher. Oh sugar!”
They found pleasure in the delicately chosen shade of this oath. He also recited to them a new verse about how he took his Looloo girl to the schoolhouse for to learn her A B C; and as it was quite original and unprintable, the camp laughed and swore joyfully, and rolled in its blankets to sleep under the stars.
(Excerpt from The Virginian by Owen Wister Beginning paragraphs of Chapter 9 The Spinster Meets the Unknown)
Now I don’t know if any of you are cow punchers, but I can imagine that many of us get our share of punching things: numbers, laundry, home work, or other trials the world tosses our way. But this morning let’s shake off the dust of the trail and take a new look at the meaning of “Families can be together forever”. Just in case the idea of an Eternal Family has come to mean little more than sealing ourselves into a pedigree chart, let’s pause to consider the eternal nature of the family and what that really means. Like the Virginian and his cowboys on the range, let’s take renewed pleasure in the institution of the Family.
The Lord reminds us in His proclamation, “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. . . . In the premortal realm, spirit sons and daughters knew and worshiped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan by which His children could obtain a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize his or her divine destiny as an heir of eternal life. The divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave. Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.”
We’re all familiar with that, but let’s try to recapture some of the magnitude of what those few sentences mean. The scriptures are a wonderful tool for hearing the testimony of those who are witnesses of the Savior. Those writings are invaluable for us. However, as children of a Heavenly Father who “knew and worshiped God as their Eternal Father and accepted His plan”, we, ourselves, are also witnesses. Our very presence here testifies of our role in that plan. Studying the great lives and works of our heavenly brothers and sisters testifies of their role in that plan. Amazing people like John Adams, Victor Hugo, Nehemiah, Arnold Freeburg, Emerson, Esther, Galileo, Rodin, and countless others sought to bring something of the divine to the world around them. And then it all boils down to what Moses tells us, “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” (Gen 1:27) Many of us have felt the truth of that at the birth of a baby. Can we feel it now?
Next, we are each “a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny”. Through Isaiah the Lord asks, “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.” (49:15) The parental love of our Father in Heaven exceeds any Earthly love we could experience. The very challenges we face testify of our divine connection to God, of that divine time with him in the preexistence, they foretell that glorious time when we will return to His presence. Elder Wirthlin assures us, “Oh, it is wonderful to know that our Heavenly Father loves us—even with all our flaws! His love is such that even should we give up on ourselves, He never will. We [might] see ourselves in terms of yesterday and today. Our Heavenly Father sees us in terms of forever. . . . The gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of transformation. It takes us as men and women of the earth and refines us into men and women for the eternities.” (Ensign, May 2009, p 77) The struggles we have today aren’t about providing for a better tomorrow. They are about endowing us eternal tomorrows. Consequently, our goals while in mortality should direct our focus beyond this life to our eternal progression.
So how do we “gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection” that will allow each of us to “ultimately realize his or her divine destiny as an heir of eternal life”? Lehi’s telling of his dream about the tree of life is, essentially, a story of family relationships. At the risk of profaning something sacred, I’d like to propose that while Lehi and others were partaking of that glorious fruit, I think they had a picnic. A picnic where they pursued learning and wisdom together, where together they discussed and shared insights gained through study and experience. “Yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” D&C 88:118 Family relationships enable eternal growth when we plan and organize our homes and family life like a temple. “Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God;” D&C 88:119 Taking time, where possible, to serve in other areas of the temple will help us understand how our homes might function. A few months ago Rob and I had the opportunity to serve in the Mesa Temple laundry. We enjoy an expected physical workout but also gained insight into the beautiful order behind our regular temple worship. Wet baptismal clothing is heavy and someone had to come up with a system for cleaning and organizing the huge amount of laundry that finds its way through there everyday. Similar opportunities are available in other areas of the temple. As together we work to plan, rejoice, study, struggle, fast and pray, organize, and worship within our homes, then our homes will become a temple where we serve our families as we serve God in the temple.
Homes that are built with a temple-like structure will naturally direct those within toward eternal goals, which in turn require the purifying and binding powers available only in the Lord’s temples. Temple covenants deepen and strengthen our relationships, beginning with the relationship we have with our Father in Heaven. Elder Bednar has encouraged us to “make an acceptable offering of temple worship.” Such sweet counsel has helped me to more effectively set aside my own mental meanderings to worship God while in the temple. We work so hard to figure things out ourselves, that it’s just nice to take a break and open our thoughts and hearts to God. And not just so that we can hear what He may have to say, but so that we can feel what He wants us to feel. As I have cleared the clutter from my mind in order to offer my devotions during temple worship, I have felt His healing influence, divine understandings, and His pure joy to permeate my thoughts. This, then can be taken back into our own homes as we seek to serve our spouses and children with the same attitude. Since, as Pres Hinckley told us, “much of the work that goes on within the temples is concerned with the family,” then temple worship blesses in a divine way what Pres Hinckley calls ”the treasured and satisfying relationships of mortality, the most beautiful and meaningful of which are found in the family.” (1997 Teachings of, 202) Patterning our homes after temples will help us understand the true meaning and beauty of our families.
So whatever we are punching that has left us trail worn, let’s remember the Family. And let’s open our hearts to the depth of what it means to be a part of God’s eternal family.