Monday, December 23, 2013

The White Wedding Dress

This past week our granddaughter wore her grandmother's wedding dress. Ashley Bayles was a beautiful bride, as she and Tyler Johns solemnized their wedding vows in the Mt. Timpanogos Temple. I hadn't seen that dress in forty-four years, and the mere sight of it brought with it an unexpected rush of emotions and memories.

Ashley Johns, Dianne Bayles, Patsy Goates, Peggy Weight
Patsy and her mother picked the dress in an exclusive shop in Melbourne, Australia, where she was living with her parents while her father was serving as a mission president. They brought the dress home and we were sealed on a warm sunny day, December 19th, 1969. And now here we were together with our granddaughter and her husband on December 21st, 2013! Time had collapsed around us. Four generations of faithful women stood together shoulder to shoulder.

The dress had been carefully tucked away for many years but was in need of cleaning. A careful and thorough dry-cleaning and a few nips and tucks here and there restored it to its once former radiant glory. On a dreary cold and snowy Saturday December day it was luminous and dazzlingly white. As she and Tyler exited the temple to greet friends and family waiting on the grounds outside for pictures, there was a catch in my throat and tears began to flow. Could it be possible that my bride had worn this same dress forty-four years ago?

Ashley and Tyler Johns
As we walked around to the front of the temple I was bombarded with memories of that day and all the days that followed. I reflected on how much I loved the woman who had worn it first so long ago. I remembered and relived the emotions of our wedding day. We had embarked on our eternal marriage journey full of hope in an uncertain future that awaited us, like all newlyweds. What would the future hold? Were we prepared for what life would bring us?

And now instead of looking forward with all those uncertain feelings, I found myself looking back over the path we had walked together with a sense of gratitude, calm and sweet serenity. I found I had forgotten everything that seemed fearful, uncertain or foreboding. In its place my memories were sweet and fulfilling, the culmination of forty-four years together with the same bride I cherished then. The love I felt then which seemed so all-consuming was merely a foretaste of the love I now feel. Patsy's white hair had replaced the white dress, an enduring testament to her constant purity and goodness. Her life had become the embodiment of what her white wedding dress had only symbolized so many years ago. The promise of what it once suggested had been delivered.

I wish I had words to express to young people what it means to live a life of virtue and selfless service. To know Patsy is to understand it without words. Ashley has expressed it beautifully in her tribute to her Grandma Patsy in this blog post of her own.
Ashley Johns and Grandma Patsy

I find there is only one way to communicate what it means to embrace the covenant relationship with God. It is to obey, sacrifice, walk the daily gospel path, remain chaste and to consecrate one's self to the task of building up the kingdom of God on the earth. It is to cleave to one another and to none others, and it is to cleave unto God and no other gods. It is to walk on a straight and narrow path that leads to eternal life in a very far distant day. It is to believe and to trust God. It is to embrace God's ways, His attributes and His Son. It is to come to know Them through all the twists and turns of mortality. It is to lean into the fierce winds and the howling voices of opposition that assail us in an increasingly hostile world and to remain true and faithful through it all.

Together Patsy and I have come down that path of mortality a very great distance. We now have more to look back upon than to look forward to. We have sown our seeds in fertile gospel soil, we have nurtured the seedlings, and we are now harvesting the mature crop. It is a rich harvest as we survey our vast fields. As we harvest the good memories, we also see before us many little blades of new green shoots popping up, assuring us the future will continue to produce nothing but good fruit.

When we stand in a mirrored chamber within sacred precincts, we now find ourselves in the unique position of understanding even better today than we did forty-four years ago what it is to see into eternity in both directions. In so many ways the symbols of the temple have found fulfillment in our lives. We know what it is to accept the torch of faithfulness from our ancestors, carry that torch for two or three generations, then pass it along for future generations.

As we witnessed Ashley and Tyler's sealing ceremony, I came closer to understanding what my Grandfather must have experienced that day, emotions spilling over as he uttered the words, "Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth." In that room on Saturday sat the fulfillment of what had once only been the hope that posterity would eventually come to us. We had lived long enough to be surrounded by the embodiment of goodness and purity and joy. There is nothing to compare with the peace and serenity of a righteous posterity. Nothing. No other compensation can suffice.

The temple symbol of a white dress had become a reality in the lives of our children and grandchildren.

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