I remember my heart dropping to the pit of my stomach when I came across the news of Sister Ballard’s passing. I texted my dad and said, “I feel so awful that it had to happen right before President Ballard has to speak at General Conference this weekend.” I was no stranger to the pain of lost loved ones, and at the time of October’s conference, my scars still felt brutally raw. As it turns out, my dad’s response is only just now making sense. I can’t recall his exact wording, but he said something along these lines, “He’ll be okay. He knows where she is.” At the time, I remember thinking, "well obviously. But what does that have to do with the pain of it?"
My heart rate kicked it into high gear when President Ballard approached the pulpit for his Sunday morning address--which is something I’ve noticed throughout my life when the Spirit is trying to get my attention. The moment I heard the topic, I knew that this talk was as much for me as it was for him.
In May of last year, my grandfather’s battle with cancer took a drastic downward turn. I had only been home from the hospital with my third baby for a week when my mom called to give me the news. Aunts, uncles, and cousins from all over the country were hopping in their cars and booking last-minute flights to make it home to see Grandpop; only ten days post-op from a c-section, I was stuck 630 miles away. We lost Grandpop another week and a half later.
June and July almost felt like a blur as I observed my family adjusting to life here without him. My mother, aunts, and uncles had lost their father. My grandmother had lost her best friend and husband. More grandchildren than I can count had lost their Grandpop. But what I didn’t know then was that our adjusting had only just begun.
Two months later, on a sunny morning in late July, I felt the world stop and time stand still as I learned that my cousin, Nate was missing. He was my older cousin by nine months, exactly to the day. Hard as I try, I still can’t find the right words to convey just what he meant to me. From the day I was born, he was an older brother figure, a role model, a friend, and so much more in my life. Along with our siblings, we spent holidays, spring breaks, and weeks of summers together. We wrote, directed, and filmed our own movies and talk shows. And when we weren’t together, our sets of siblings were emailing back and forth or talking on the phone. Those have always been some of my most cherished memories.
Nate left to serve his mission at a time when I was in the early stages of slipping away from the gospel, even though I knew it was true. For the first time in my life, I was in a position where I had to learn how to truly strengthen and fortify my own testimony. He was a solid source of spiritual strength for me during that time.
That sunny July morning turned into one of the worst days of my life. Nate had been out on an overnight hike in Arizona, alone. By that evening I had gotten the message that his body had been found, but his spirit had passed on.
For the months leading up to President Ballard’s address, my heart was crumbling under the weight of grief. Simply beyond its existence, I had never given much thought to the Spirit World. I knew that the gospel was being taught there, and I knew that there were many who were waiting for their baptisms and other ordinances to be performed here on earth. But after the losses of last Summer, I had a sudden, strong desire for a deeper understanding of our pre-mortal and post-mortal existence.
These thoughts were constantly on my mind, and I experienced my first wave of peace as I was reading Alma 40:11-12 in the Book of Mormon,
“Now, concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection--Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life. And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.”
In the quiet moments that I read those verses, I felt a calm assurance from the Spirit that I knew exactly where my loved ones were.
One hundred years ago, as President Joseph F. Smith was grieving losses of his own, he studied the words of Peter from the New Testament: “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; … For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” (1 Peter 3:18-19; 4:6)
As he sat and pondered, he received the revelation contained in Section 138 of the Doctrine and Covenants, known as The Vision of the Redemption of the Dead. Among these things he saw the Savior’s visit to the Spirit World after His death on the cross:
“But behold, from among the righteous, he organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men [and women]; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead. …
“These were taught faith in God, repentance from sin, vicarious baptism for the remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands,
“And all other principles of the gospel that were necessary for them to know in order to qualify themselves that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit…”
Through the blessing of this revelation, we are able to know and gain a testimony that our loved ones who have passed on before us are learning or preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. As a result of the unexpected trials of last year, I have been able to strengthen my testimony of the importance of family history work--something that was very near and dear to my grandfather. It brings me comfort to know that while we’re separated by the veil right now, as I search the names of our ancestors and take them to the temple, I’m working right alongside these men whom I love and miss so much.
Separation from our loved ones will never be easy, but I think I’m starting to understand what my dad was trying to tell me when he said of President Ballard, “He’ll be okay. He knows where she is.” Through the growth of my testimony of the Plan of Salvation, I have been able to feel moments of peace and comfort in the midst of my grief. I’m especially grateful to know that because of family history, temple ordinances, and the preaching of the gospel in the Spirit World, families truly can be together forever.
Read President Ballard's full address here.
Faith in Action:
In his conference address, President Ballard urges us to thoughtfully and thoroughly study D&C 138. What if we took that a step further and journaled our testimony of it after we study? I can tell you from personal experience, your testimony is priceless to your posterity.
What can you do to help your sisters with their family history? Maybe they need help setting up a Family Search account! Could you index together? Maybe they have a stack of family names to take to the temple--you could go together and help!
Have a Family Home Evening honoring relatives who have passed on. Display pictures if you have them and learn about their lives! Were they members of the Church? Do they have temple ordinances that still need to be done? Incorporate their favorite hymns, primary songs, or scripture stories if applicable.
Object Lesson Idea:
I was talking to my friend, Ashley--who also provides content for this study program!--and she came up with a fantastic object lesson that would be great for any lesson centered on family history. I just knew I had to share it! To demonstrate how we are still connected to our ancestors despite our separation by the veil, take a piece of string, yarn, twine, etc. and have one or more people on each side of a door. Lay your string across the doorway and then close the door (with the string passing underneath it, half on each side.) Each person or group of people can then pick up the string and tug on it, and you’ll be able to feel the pull of your loved ones on the other side!
Lastly, if you need a reminder this week (and always) of the beautiful plan Heavenly Father has for families, download the free 5x7 printable we have below!