Why I believe

I’m a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’ve been a member since I was baptized at eight. I grew up in Utah and currently live in Arizona. I’ve experienced Mormon culture as I’ve participated in church. I want to talk about the  challenges and benefits I’ve experienced as a member.

Jesus Christ and Thomas
Jesus Christ and Thomas

Being a Mormon is challenging. There are plenty of doctrines and commandments to try to follow. I believe God expects me to continually improve. I not only do my best, I also acknowledge that my own efforts will never be enough. Only Jesus Christ has the power to overcome my human nature, so I must develop a relationship with him and learn how to connect with his limitless power. Sometimes I get bogged down in my “to-do’s” and feel distanced from God. Maybe I don’t know if what I’m accomplishing is really enough to qualify as my best effort and I wonder if I’ll still be good enough. I keep finding pride in myself and sometimes despair of my ability to be fixed. Some of the hardest times are challenges that seem to occur for no reason. I struggle to get through periods where I feel less enlightened, less connected to God, and less inspired. It’s hard to keep up the effort when my reasons to continue are based on trust and past experiences.

I may seem like a faithful Mormon, but I still struggle with the basics in the life I’ve chosen. I have a beautiful family of five children and a loving husband, which is my life’s dream. Despite this, I regularly feel overwhelmed, unable to keep up with the demands of caring for my family, including housework. Part of me still puts too much emphasis on outward appearances of success. If I seem to be accomplishing what I am asked I get asked to do more. I want to be able to accomplish more, but maybe I still struggle with doing what I’m working on now. I don’t feel like I regularly receive answers to my prayers, more often I go along and feel okay about my direction and once in awhile (if I pay attention) notice blessings along the way. I do feel the spirit of God in my home regularly, which is my most tangible connection to God. I would love to experience the peace and joy the gospel promises, but often I find myself reminding myself that life is mostly enduring.

One challenge of church membership I want to talk about is interacting with other members. The Mormon church welcomes anyone to follow the steps of faith, repentance, and baptism. Because all are invited, inevitably the members are anywhere on the road of discipleship. In the church, I’ve met some of the nicest people of my life. I see people that I admire and would like to emulate. But most of the members are regular people, sometimes shallow, easily caught up in appearances, with a tendency to gossip. Most members are so busy living our lives that actual deep friendships are rare. I tend to keep my own barriers to prevent a relationship being able to hurt me, which means if someone says or does something that hurts my feelings, I can brush it off. If I serve and expect something in return, I will probably be disappointed. When I am struggling, I wish there were more people out there to help lift me. Yet, the road of discipleship has always been lonely. It is not the yellow brick road with friends by your side. Since everyone is at a different place along their own narrow path, your challenges are usually yours to face alone.

So far, when my faith has ebbed and I feel unable to go on, there is still a conviction underneath that swells up again and carries me forward. I may not understand everything about my life direction, but any alternative I pursue doesn’t bring me the peace I seek.

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is unique. It claims things like being the only authorized church representing Jesus Christ on the earth, Divine inspiration and revelations, living prophets, angelic reception of priesthood authority, the imminent return of Jesus Christ, etc. The doctrines of the church are both fantastic and incredible, unbelievable to some and inspiring to others. For example, the church teaches that families are eternal. Our very concept of God is different, because we believe God is our literal Father and that we can someday live with God and be fathers and mothers in His extended family. Essentially, we believe in a God who is part of a relationship that connects Him eternally with us.

The demands and fantastic doctrines of the Mormon church can be hard to accept, yet they are the element that draws me in. Who would be so audacious as to say they were the only ones with authority to administer a church in Jesus’ name? Only a church who had been told so by God. Why would a church demand so much? Jesus said, “be ye therefore perfect.” Only God would. We struggle to realize happy family relationships, yet cling to the promise that happy families and healed relationships are one of the rewards of heaven. The unique ordinances of baptism and temples, as well as the doctrine of eternal families isn’t offered anywhere else. I don’t want to get into apologetics, and obviously there are lots of opinions about Mormon beliefs from inside and outside of the church. Still, I feel the spirit when I talk about these things, so for me they are true. The scriptures command baptism, and only baptism under proper authority will count. Despite the challenging nature of my beliefs, I believe that the rewards of this lifestyle more than surpass the demands. My own personal spiritual experiences have been positive, even sometimes overwhelming. To me, that is real.

Today I had a prayer answered. I have been praying to see how miracles still occur in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At our stake conference, Elder Gay shared his testimony that Jesus Christ lives and really directs this church. He shared an experience where he gave a blessing to a young man who had been in a motocross accident and was paralyzed from the waist down. Three weeks after the blessing, the young man was able to walk. He shared a few other experiences, all of which felt powerful to me and directly answered my recent request. No, I didn’t see a miracle. I may not be worthy of that. I hope to be someday. But I know that the leaders of the church are good enough to ask for miracles and see them happen.

One obvious benefit I see from living the gospel is happy children. the strictness of living a life according to the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ help me provide my children a happy childhood and values that lead to success. while I don’t personally feel happy every day, I have a two year old who daily says, “I love you mommy. You are the best mommy.” My 13 month old still thinks his world revolves around me. I can pick him up and hold him close and just soak in his sweetness. My other children are cute and obnoxious by turns, as children usually are, so sometimes I enjoy being with them and other times I can’t stand them any more and ask my husband to take over. My own parents were able to give me a happy childhood despite their own shortcomings, which I treasure. So while I don’t feel happy all the time, when I look back over the past, my life has been happy. I don’t have regrets and there are lots of positive memories. Following the gospel has allowed me to experience that happiness.

I love that God knows me better than I know myself, that He sees where I am, and plans for my success despite my imperfections. I love the principles that have changed the direction of my life. I love the bridge between the divine and the messy reality of human existence. I love Jesus Christ, whose message is eternally of hope. Hope for all mankind. Hope for those who are lost, or struggling, or trying and failing. Or seem good outside but still need so much help inside. I love the church despite all of the imperfections of the real people I worship with on Sunday. I believe The Church of Jesus Christ is what it claims: the only church directed by Jesus Christ and representing Him on the earth.

I’ve been inspired by Nikki’s thoughts at LDS Woman at the Well. Her words describing God’s love resonate with me (and evidently with thousands of others). I like her honesty. She shared this, which describes why I am a Mormon even though I find it challenging to live my religion:

“Living the Gospel demands a lot, but living “in the world” I found demands a lot more and it gives a lot less. It has an insatiable appetite with standards that are impossible to meet. Unlike finding completeness in Christ, who came in the fullness of Truth and Grace, the world offers us nothing.”

I am Mormon even though my faith has caused me to do the things I find hardest in my life. And I plan to continue on, working to overcome those things that challenge me with the help of Jesus Christ.

Phoenix Temple Photo

Hi! Just wanted to share a few photos I snapped the other day of my favorite temple.

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Phoenix Temple with storm clouds, north side.

It had been threatening rain, but here in Phoenix I don’t believe a forecast for rain unless it is at least 50%. The clouds looked beautiful and the rain actually materialized. According to a radio announcer it was the first time Phoenix has had rain during the month of June in six years!

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Phoenix Temple and fountain
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Detail from front of Phoenix Temple “Holiness to the Lord, the House of the Lord.”

Mormon culture vs gospel culture

A unique culture exists among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Each person lives their life based on their core beliefs. Each member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or “Mormon”) applies what they believe to choices they make, and over time a common culture has emerged. Anyone who has visited Utah will notice differences between the culture there an other places in the country. Some may be good, others not so good. For example, Utahns take good care of their yards, but Utahns aren’t very courteous drivers.

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Welcome to Utah sign. From the Monroe family blog. https://themonroefamily.wordpress.com

I’d like to talk about the difference between Mormon culture and Gospel culture. Mormon culture is the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group, in this case a group of Mormons. Gospel culture is the behaviors and beliefs taught in the gospel of Jesus Christ, as contained in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They are different because Mormon culture may emerge from practices not founded in the gospel, for example eating green Jell-O with carrots. A person trying to live the gospel will inevitably do it imperfectly. So as Mormons live and practice their beliefs a Mormon culture emerges. Occasionally people get Mormon culture and the gospel mixed up. They think that the gospel teaches that you have to drive a big van, have lots of kids, and volunteer a lot. Or perhaps they had an experience where a Mormon said or did something less than Christlike and think the gospel condones such behavior. Neither is true. The gospel of Jesus Christ is perfect because it is based on eternal truth. Mormon culture is imperfect because it is the expression of imperfect people.

“There is a unique gospel culture, a set of values and expectations and practices common to all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This gospel culture, or way of life, comes from the plan of salvation, the commandments of God, and the teachings of living prophets. It is given expression in the way we raise our families and live our individual lives.” L. Tom Perry, October 2012 General Conference

Latter-day Saints around the world may not all live the same flavor of Mormon culture, but all of them are trying to live the gospel culture. Gospel culture includes choices like valuing marriage and family, keeping the Sabbath day holy, and studying the scriptures. I enjoy meeting other members in the church and finding out how they live the gospel, what they are working on right now, and hearing their testimonies about the happiness they have found. Here are a few examples:

I have also noticed that church leaders have tried to adapt teaching the gospel to all cultures. They are willing to discard cultural practices that are simply Mormon culture, while not changing the culture of the gospel. “While we treasure appropriate cultural diversities, our goal is to be united in the culture, customs, and traditions of the gospel of Jesus Christ in every respect.” (Elder Cook). Last time I flew on an airline, I sat next to a man who is married to an inactive returned missionary. He was raised a good Christian and they are raising a happy family based on Christian values. He knew a lot about Mormons and we had an interesting discussion about Mormon culture. I do not know why his wife decided to leave the church, but I imagine it’s probable someone could have offended her.

In some way and at some time, someone in this Church will do or say something that could be considered offensive. Such an event will surely happen to each and every one of us—and it certainly will occur more than once. Though people may not intend to injure or offend us, they nonetheless can be inconsiderate and tactless. Elder Bednar

I think if we realize the difference between the cultural practices of people who are Mormons and teachings of the gospel, it is easier to see that a Mormon may do something contrary to their beliefs even though the gospel itself is true. Also realize that living the gospel will look as unique as each person trying to do so.

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A Mormon girl
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A Mormon from India.
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A Mormon from Guatemala.
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A Mormon from Canada.
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A Mormon grandpa.

As a mom, I have to be careful to not get a perfection complex. I call it Martha Stewart complex when someone tries to have a perfect home, fabulous meals, manicured appearance, well-dressed children, etc. Those things are nice, but in the end they are not important. What is important? The gospel. Because it is the key to happiness. I hope we can see past the imperfections of Mormon culture to unlock our potential through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Payson Utah Temple Open House

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Payson Utah Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Last week I attended the public open house for the Payson Utah Temple. Streams of people surrounded the temple and flowed through the building. I enjoyed joining them for a glimpse of the beautiful building. I won’t go into as much detail as my last experience at the Phoenix Temple open house. The basic tour followed the same format. The flower beds overflowed with perfect spring bulbs. The warm weather made it a great day to walk around the grounds.

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A riot of spring color on the temple grounds

I got to hold a charming, squirmy baby through the tour; a tangible reminder of the connection between temples and eternal families. Im-P1out-X72wn39gsdeiThe members in this area will love having a beautiful temple in their community. The exterior reminded me of a courthouse plus a spire. Lots of columns and embellishments. Layered corners. The stained glass gives a lovely splash of color. On the west side of the temple are the words “Holiness to the Lord – The House of the Lord”. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I am trying to build my life like the temple–into the most beautiful thing it can be. With God’s help, it is possible. Payson-Utah-House-of-the-Lord

A Phoenix Temple testimony

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Bountiful Utah temple in winter by Jason Carlton

I am impressed by Jason’s blog over at Temples and Testimonies. I enjoyed reading the inspiring messages there. His photos inspire too!

Here is my testimony of the temple. Thanks Jason for providing the impetus to write it.

When I first moved to Phoenix I immediately felt dismay over the distance to the temple. While not impossible, the 90 minute drive meant a visit lasted 6 hours, too long for me to attend if I had a nursing baby at home. The difficulty taught me to appreciate the temple more.

I felt ecstatic at the Church’s plan to build a temple in Phoenix. Then I had to find extraordinary patience as the planning and building phases took six years to complete.

This past fall, I had the privilege of attending the Phoenix Temple open house with my entire family. Many of my friends volunteered in the open house and shared their inspiring experiences with me. I’ve felt longing for this House of God, and now joy at being able to go inside and worship there.

I know The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints offers saving ordinances restored from ancient times. Through these ordinances, available in temples, my family has a chance to be together eternally. I have never found a more beautiful piece of truth; one that inspires me to keep trying even when life is hard. My husband and children bring so much happiness to my life. And the gospel teaches us the principles needed to achieve that happiness. It’s amazing!

-Holly

Hymn Quotes

I love our hymns. singing-hymns
They tell the messages of the gospel in touching ways. I love the simple music, the heartfelt poetry. I love that many hymns we sing were composed with messages unique to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, such as preparing for the Second Coming. There are hymns to comfort during life’s trials and hymns to spur us to greater obedience. There is almost a hymn for any situation.

I have noticed when I listen to music that hymns bring the most powerful spirit. Most popular music is distracting and drives away the Spirit. Most classical music seems neutral, neither bringing nor repelling the Spirit. The hymns, on the other hand, help bring the Spirit. That is one reason why we sing them so much during our worship services.

Some of the greatest sermons are preached by the singing of hymns. Hymns move us to repentance and good works, build testimony and faith, comfort the weary, console the mourning, and inspire us to endure to the end….Hymns can lift our spirits, give us courage, and move us to righteous action. They can fill our souls with heavenly thoughts and bring us a spirit of peace.” (from the First Presidency preface to the LDS hymnbook)

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Here are some of my favorite hymn quotes: (Hymn numbers are those found in the LDS Hymnal)

“And let the sweet longing for thy holy place bring hope to my desolate heart.” (Hymn 6)

“No toil nor labor fear, but with joy wend your way” (Hymn 30)

“We are watchers of a beacon whose light must never die” (Hymn 35)

“There is my home, the spot I love so well” (Hymn 37)

“Dear Lord, prepare my heart to stand with Thee on Zion’s mount and never more to part” (Hymn 41)

“Dear Mother Earth, who day by day unfoldest blessings on our way” (Hymn 60)

“When the earth begins to tremble, bid our fearful thoughts be still; When thy judgments spread destruction, keep us safe on Zion’s hill” (Hymn 83)

“When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation, and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart!” (Hymn 86)

“Come to God’s own temple, come” (Hymn 94)

“Dearest children, holy angels watch your actions night and day” (Hymn 96)

“The night is dark, and I am far from home; Lead thou me on! Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see the distant scene–one step enough for me.” (Hymn 97)the-second-coming

“And when the tempest rages high I feel no arm around me thrust, but every storm goes rolling by when I repose in Him my trust” (Hymn 114)

“Earth has no sorrow that heav’n cannot heal” (Hymn 115)

“In Me thy pain shall cease, in Me is thy release, in Me thou shalt have peace eternally” (Hymn 120)

“Be still, my soul: Thy God doth undertake to guide the future as he has the past” (Hymn 124)

“So look upward in joy and take hold of his hand; He will lead you to heights that are new” (Hymn 127)

“He answers privately, reaches my reaching in my Gethsemane” (Hymn 129)

“More purity give me, more strength to overcome, more freedom from earth-stains, more longing for home.” (Hymn 131)

“And while I strive through grief and pain, His voice is heard: ‘Ye shall obtain.'” (Hymn 134)

“I need thy presence every passing hour. What but thy grace can foil the tempter’s power?” (Hymn 166)

“Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask thee to stay close by me forever, and love me, I pray.” (Hymn 206)

“How silently the wondrous gift is given!…Where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.” (Hymn 208)

“In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can’t see.” (Hymn 220)

“Then wake up and do something more than dream of your mansion above” (Hymn 223)

“There is sunshine in my soul today” (Hymn 227)

“the world wants daily little kindly deeds” (Hymn 230)

“Eyes that are wet now, ere long will be tearless.” (Hymn 237)

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I loved it when this member of the Tabernacle choir sang “Does the Journey Seem Long” during general conference

“Do your duty with a heart full of song” (Hymn 252)

“I’ll be what you want me to be” (Hymn 270)

“I felt that I had wandered from a more exalted sphere” (Hymn 292)

“What greater goodness can we know than Christlike friends?” (Hymn 293)

“Roses bloom beneath our feet, All the earth’s a garden sweet,… when there’s love at home” (Hymn 294)

One way I have found to listen to the hymns is to download the music from general conference and then compile a playlist of my favorites. The files are free to download.

I’d love for you to comment with your favorite hymn quote.

Phoenix Temple Tour

The Phoenix Arizona Temple (aka Phoenix Mormon Temple) is the newest temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and also the closest temple to my home. I got to tour it in October and wanted to share my experience.

Our family had a reservation on a Monday morning. The weather was perfect, with lots of sun and promising to be a hot day. We followed the volunteers who directed us to park in the lot of Wet-N-Wild water park. They were all super friendly. We saw one person we knew and got a 30 second update on how she was doing. I loved the helpful feeling exuded by everyone, they made me feel like they were so happy to be together and helping out.

My kids loved riding the tour bus the quarter mile over to the temple. They had never been on one before and we had to remind them to stay seated while the bus was driving.

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Photo Courtesy of Dave & Audrey Simonson from http://www.ldschurchtemples.com/phoenix

At the temple, we went into the church next door where we watched a brief video explaining temples and their purpose. I like the quote by Elder Holland, who says he can’t picture heaven without his wife and family–it just wouldn’t be heaven without them. I agree. I can’t picture heaven without being surrounded by the people who make me happy.

Our tour guides were also very friendly. They explained it would be a silent tour and encouraged us to enjoy the quiet feeling in the temple and save our questions for afterwards.

After our introduction, we walked over to the temple entrance. I like the desert landscaping around the building. As we approached the door, helpful volunteers put shoe coverings on for us to protect the carpet in the building. They were all talking and laughing and enjoying themselves.

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Courtesy of Dave & Audrey Simonson. From http://www.ldschurchtemples.com/phoenix/ November 14, 2014
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Photo by Matthew Reier. From lds.org news page 12 Oct 2014.
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Photo by Matthew Reier.

Inside the temple, we got to walk slowly through the entryway, with its beautiful door handles, mosaic floor, and sitting areas. Most of the walls are a pale sand color, but in the entryway there is a painting of Christ on a wall with dark paneling and art glass.

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Door detail. From mormontemples.org.

Next we went downstairs. The marble floor and marble stairs are shades of brown with swirls of pink. Very pretty.

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Stair detail. Photo by Matthew Reier.

The desert agave blossom motif on the anodized gold railing repeats throughout the building. I like how everything is very symmetrical and orderly and also uses themes from nature and neutral colors. To me, the interior design combines the best elements of a church, spa, and high-class hotel. Beautiful surroundings, peaceful, focusing on the experience of the individual. Only in the temple, the experience isn’t created to generate revenue for a corporation, instead the experience brings one closer to God.

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Baptistry in the Phoenix Arizona Temple. Photo by Matthew Reier. Photo from lds.org news page.

Downstairs we walked past many more paintings depicting Jesus Christ. Scenes from his mortal ministry remind each of us that this home belongs to Him. More marble covers the floors and walls. Everything seemed exquisite to the last detail, yet not ornate enough to draw attention to itself. I also enjoyed the way the sitting areas were arranged to encourage contemplation. I could picture myself returning and enjoying the atmosphere. The focal point of the lower level in the temple is the baptismal font, with its teal and coral highlights. The mural behind makes it appear to be a continuation of the river.

The next room we entered had a beautiful mural painted on two walls depicting the Sonoran desert near Lake Pleasant.

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Desert mural in Phoenix Temple. Photo by Matthew Reier.

My neighbor had told me a story about this mural, how this particular spot had a special meaning to one man who felt an answer to prayer there. He didn’t know that the mural would be painted at the same location where he liked to go for solitude. When he saw the mural for the first time, he felt surprised to see his “special” place depicted in the temple–another special place.

I enjoy the feeling of being outdoors while in the mural room. I love spending time in nature. It lends itself to contemplation. The murals of the desert feel like being outside here in Arizona, highlighting how “home” is always the most beautiful place, even in a desert.

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Photo from http://mormontemples.org/

The next room has beautiful columns that repeat the same agave blossom detail. Near the ceiling are geometric shapes that look like sunflowers and interlocking ovals. This room is brighter and lighter than the preceding room.

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Column detail. Photo by Matthew Reier. From lds.org news page.

The next room was the Celestial room, which is the most beautiful room in the temple. It had a gorgeous stained glass oval window in the center of the ceiling. The window is underneath the exterior spire, so during the day, sunlight illuminates it. At night there are lights in the spire that illuminate the window.

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Stained glass window detail. Photo by Matthew Reier. From lds.org news page.

Again, the rooms in the building are serenely beautiful with exquisite craftsmanship. Unlike the Gilbert Arizona Temple, which features a large crystal chandelier, this room has the oval window as a focal point with four smaller rectangular chandeliers. Stained glass windows surround the upper walls, repeating geometric themes found in the room.

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Photo by Matthew Reier. From lds.org news page.
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Interior room in Phoenix Arizona Temple. from mormontemples.org.

The final room of the tour is the room where marriages are performed. One of the core beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is “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.” (from The Family: a Proclamation to the World)

After walking through the entire temple, we exited through the main entry. We were able to enjoy walking across the grounds where there is a fountain that also acts as a reflecting pond. One nice gentlemen there offered to snap a photo of our family for us. He took a couple photos and was generally helpful.

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Reflection of temple. From http://www.ldschurchtemples.com.

As we exited the temple grounds, there was a covered tent with more information, water, places to sit, and a photo booth for picture taking. The booth was convenient because with the crowds and heat, our photos outside didn’t turn out great. Here’s our family photo.

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Our family at the Phoenix Temple photo booth

We hopped on the tour bus and returned to our car.

I was so impressed by how friendly everyone was. I loved the building and the beauty inside. I wanted to return again when it would not be busy so I could enjoy the serenity here. I also thought although this may be one of the most beautiful building in the state of Arizona, it probably doesn’t compare to what buildings are like in heaven. So why would God care about this building? He cares because when it has been dedicated, it belongs to Him. He also wants us to remember the beauty of everything He wants to share with us. He wants to give us everything He has.

So I got to tour this amazing temple, but unlike a construction worker who builds it and has to move on to the next project, I get to enjoy the beauty of this building for years to come. I also came away feeling inspired to keep my own home more organized and peaceful, to be more like the temple.

I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour, especially if you are not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and wonder what a Mormon temple tour is like.