January 14, 1984 – The greatest day of our 30 year marriage and the beginning of eternity!
I can still see in my minds eye what the Atlanta Temple looked like when we stepped out of the van on January 14, 1984. It was a marvelous site, but more than the beauty that it holds, is the symbolism of what we did there. In an effort to clarify what I mean about the symbolism and the spirituality, I need to go through some history.
First, some interesting background history on “our” Temple in Atlanta. The Temple was announced on 2 April 1980 at General Conference. It would be the first Temple in the Southeast United States. There was a ceremonial groundbreaking on 7 March 1981. construction was completed in April 1983 and an open house was held on the 4th through 21 May 1983. In the LDS faith, one can only enter the Temple with a “Temple recommend” that one can obtain after faithfully keeping the commandments. But at the completion of the construction of each Temple, an open house is held wherein the general public can take a tour of the Temple and they are explained the purposes of the Temple and what occurs inside the various rooms of the Temple. Over 60,000 individuals would tour the Temple in the three weeks of the open house including clergy and members of other faiths and local and state dignitaries. Pres. Gordon B Hinckley, then the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints, dedicated the Temple by prayer in several dedicatory sessions on June 1-4, 1983. This was the first Temple that Pres. Hinckley dedicated. He would go on to dedicate or rededicate 89 more temples.
The Temple is located on 9.6 acres on the north side of the Atlanta metro area. The Temple is 32,400 ft.² on the interior with four endowment rooms, one baptistery, one celestial room, four sealing rooms, one chapel, and several offices, restrooms, and other meeting rooms.
Now, a few words about our history leading up to this most spectacular day. Tawnya and I met in the fall of 1982. Unbeknownst to me, she was a senior in high school ( that’s why I can honestly refer to her as my “high school sweetheart”) and I had just returned from a LDS mission in Colombia, South America. We dated regularly through her senior year and decided that we would be married in August 1983. Because neither of our families belonged to the LDS church, and, therefore, could not attend a marriage sealing in an LDS Temple and, also, Tawnya had only been baptized the previous January, she was only a member of the LDS church for less than a year. This is important because one has to be, as an adult, a member of the LDS church for at least one year before they can enter the Temple. For these two reasons, and because we were anxious to be married before college started back up in the fall, we chose to be married on August 5, 1983 in a Methodist Chapel in Willow Springs, Missouri. We were married by a local Methodist preacher in conjunction with a local LDS branch president. There’s plenty more to be said about the day of our marriage and the days leading up to the marriage which are best left for another post.
Neither of us had any savings, per se, and probably just had enough to get through a month or two of a very low budget household expenses. We both enrolled in the University of Missouri at Rolla. By the end of September, we were ecstatic with the news that Tawnya was pregnant. If it were not for our small apartment being furnished, we would not have had any furniture. We did not have a telephone, nor did we have a car. We lived several blocks from the University, so when both of us needed to go to the University we rode together on an old 10 speed bike that we had somehow acquired. I worked as often as I could in a graveyard shift at Zeno’s Motel and Steak House. Sometimes, we would ride the bike together and Tawnya would spend the night on the couch in the motel lobby as I performed my various work duties.
We had talked many times about some “future” date when we could go to the Temple and to be sealed. This is a process wherein faithful LDS married couples make additional covenants and promises with each other that act to “seal” their marriage for not only time on this earth, but also for the eternities. Great prominence is placed upon this rite of passage for all LDS couples. We were excited about the possibility that we could one day go to the temple together to be sealed. There were only a couple of challenges that stood in our way. One was that we did not have “two nickels to rub together”, much less the needed funds for a trip to the closest temple, which by then was the Atlanta Temple some 18 hours driving distance away. The other challenge we faced was that we did not have a vehicle to travel this distance and I cannot stand the thought of Tawnya writing that long-distance on the handlebars of our bicycle!
In December 1983, a young couple in our Ward announced that there Temple sealing in the upcoming January. January 14 to be exact. The couples family plan to attend the sealing. They also planned to drive their deluxe passenger van to the ceremony. Not really knowing much about our situation, the family felt like they had extra room in the van and asked us if we would like to go. It was truly an answer to prayers and faith! We had never expected to be able to go to the Temple so soon. We scheduled our interviews and began to make preparations to go. I don’t remember what we had for that Christmas, but I doubt that it was much, except for our gratitude which was full.
The process of getting our recommendations and paperwork prepared to go seem to be going smoothly, despite the intervention of the holidays. But then when we went for our interview with the Stake President, he noticed that we had planned to go to the Temple on January 14 which was one day before Tawnya’s one-year anniversary of her baptism, which was on January 15 of 1983. At that time, we did not know that there was such a rule, nor apparently did many others as they were shocked as well. We Asked the Stake President what we should do and his reply was that only the President of the Church, Pres. Kimball could make allowances for our particular situation. It seems to me that total church membership at that time would have been somewhere between eight and 10 million members. We were definitely a worldwide church and Pres. Kimball was one of the first Church Presidents to travel the world tirelessly in an effort to encourage and uplift the Saints world wide. Neither of us, nor our state president had met him nor knew him personally. Still, we expect that our state president to call Pres. Kimball on behalf of our petition. This was not the case though. He quietly slipped as a piece of paper with a telephone number on it to the church Gen. office building and said that it would be best if we made the call. At this point, we had less than a week before we were to leave to Atlanta. I don’t remember, but I’m not even sure that we had our own telephone line at the time.
I made a call to the number that was given us and after several transfers, the phone call arrived at the church presidents office. For some naïve reason, I believed that the president himself would just pick up the phone. Not so! A secretary answered the phone and took our message and said that someone would be getting back to us within the next day or two. I think that we literally put our lives on hold as we awaited that phone call. It came on a Friday, just six days before we were to go to Atlanta. The person on the other end of the line introduced himself as Brother Arthur Haycock, the personal secretary to Pres. Kimball. I seem to remember that we held the phone receiver between the two of us so that we both could hear. Brother Haycock asked us a few general questions having to do with our intention to be sealed and our particular situation which went to have put as at the Temple on a Saturday with the other family planning to leave on Sunday morning for the long drive back. As we were explaining our circumstance, we could hear tapping in the background, like the tapping on a computer keyboard. I asked Brother Haycock what the tapping was and he explained to me that he was recording the information in the computer for the agenda on Monday morning were in our situation would be discussed and decided upon by Pres. Kimball. At this point in time, I didn’t know a soul who had their own personal computer. In fact, there were no desktops at the University at all only a mainframe computer run by punchcards.
We then asked Brother Haycock if he would get back to us and let us know the outcome. He chuckled and said that he would not and that we should have faith and go to the Temple. Pres. Kimball would call the Temple President who would then meet as at the front door and let us know the decision. You can imagine how many hours we spent praying that weekend. This is not to forget that at this point Tawnya was some 16+ weeks pregnant. Although the pregnancy was advancing quite normally, it seemed to us that Tawnya was sick frequently. This concern was also on our minds and in our prayers that Tawnya could be spared sickness over the long trip to Atlanta and back.
So, not knowing if we would be able to enter the temple are not, we set off for Atlanta with the other family on either Thursday the 12th or Friday the 13th, I don’t remember which. On Saturday morning, we went along with the other family up to temple. I personally don’t remember the weather of that day, but in my mind, it looked just like the picture you saw above.
True to the word of Brother Haycock, we were met at the front door by the Temple president and his wife. He invited us into his office and there gave us perhaps some of the best news we have ever received – Pres. Kimball had approved our request and we would be allowed to be sealed that day. Oh, what joy filled our hearts. The family with which we had traveled had already gone ahead to prepare for their own temple sealing. We had no one to accompany us which is not usually the case. There is a wonderful and beautiful, I understand, dressing room and dressing process for the brides who are normally accompanied by their mother and future mother-in-law. Likewise, the groom is accompanied by his father and future father-in-law. As mentioned previously, none of these were members of the church and therefore could not attend with us the temple sealing. That left us alone, but not for long. The Temple president and his wife, known as the Temple matron took us each to our separate dressing rooms and accompanied us through the whole process. Under the direction of the Temple president, we made eternal covenants and promises to each other in a room similar to the one below.
Our Temple sealing of 30 years ago today set in place a firm and solid foundation upon which we have built a loving marriage and wonderful family. Sure, as within any marriage, ours has faced the inevitable arguments and challenges. But when the times have become tough, we remember the faith, prayers, and blessings we received from the very beginning so that we could be sealed in the Temple before the birth of our first child.
“By small means are great things brought to pass.” “By faith even a small as this mustard seed, you will move mountains if that’s what is required.” Surely and gladly we did not have to move any mountains to go to the Temple, but I believe that our faith measured up for us to make that trip to Atlanta. And it was like that choice, faith, and blessing that we have endured the trials and found joy in the small and simple things that build an eternal marriage.