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Seven years ago I was nervous about having my third and final baby. This weekend I was nervous because I was asked to speak in church on that baby’s birthday. 

Normally I love speaking in church or teaching lessons. This time I was nervous because it was so personal. It’s one thing to type something really personal and have Heath announce he hit the publish button. I don’t know who reads things besides family. Not knowing makes it much easier to not care what anyone thinks. Be personal and post away. It’s those personal posts that tend to get the most traction. So in the end I guess it all works out.

But this time I wasn’t posting anything online. I was reading it all in front of a chapel full of people. Some of them know my story, or at least parts of it. Most did not. That’s scary! I was brave. I did it. The response was very positive.

Here it is. And yes, the beginning did come from a blog post I wrote a couple years ago. Actually, this post has been the conscious beginning of a lot of wonderful things. The post was inspired by a talk given by President Thomas S. Monson in his book titled Pathways to Perfection. He wrote about hands and I loved it so I wrote about hands. The post wrote itself and I watched myself type the paragraph about my Grandma Clarke. That was when I decided I was ready to do temple work for my family. It was slow going since I had nothing. I couldn’t even remember enough names to get started. The rest of the story is more or less in my talk.

Of the whole human body, hands are the most interesting feature. Hands are capable of so much. Think of the service and the love hands are responsible for. The hard work and tender caresses. Healing and nourishment.

Hands have always held a certain fascination for me. As a result, people’s hands have been burned into my memory. It’s comforting to recall the details of many of those hands that have blessed my life.

Gnarled and twisted, my grandmother’s hands remind me of paws. With the limitation of painful arthritis, those hands have blessed so many lives. Her hands are quick to comfort the sick and the weary. I will never forget the image of my grandma sitting in a dirty gutter wearing her Sunday best, talking and comforting a man who had bounced into the gutter after being struck by a car. She was probably carefully stroking his hair as she spoke calmly to him.

Her knobby hands held the steering wheel at a perfect ten and two as she drove my sister and me to and from school the year our parents divorced. That car driven by her capable hands was the means of so much service in the church.

Some of my earliest memories of my grandma’s hands include her passion for handiwork. Seldom is she found sitting without a bag of yarn by her side, her hands deftly clicking knitting needles or guiding a crochet hook through an intricate dance to reveal a beautiful afghan. She made a gorgeous white afghan for my oldest when he was born. It has been used for every baby blessing of my children. She has made blankets for each of my other children as well. My heart swells to think her love made such a wonderful gift for her great grandchildren.

And her baking … oh my grandma is famous for her baking! She wasn’t the best cook but her baking rivaled all. I think neighbors prayed for illness in the hopes that she might bake them a loaf of bread! Her German bread was my favorite, although the name of it escapes me now.

My grandfather’s hands were a weathered leathery brown. They were large but never clumsy. He has delighted many a child with his elegant make believe sewing. I can still imagine him carefully threading an imaginary needle with his fingers flexed in a proper tea party way.

His hands have taught countless men and women to drive large semi-trucks. When I first bought my car he would take me out driving every day. We would drive a big circle up Parley’s Canyon, around Heber City, through Provo Canyon, and up 1-15 back home. I remember his gentle hands softly taking my left hand off the wheel while he instructed me to loosely rest my elbow on the arm rest. He also told me to relax my right hand and slide it down the wheel a little. Such a subtle lesson on how not to drive so tensely but it has made a lasting impression.

His capable hands have been placed on the heads of many a faithful person in the act of precious priesthood blessings, including countless patriarchal blessings. His hands have performed many acts of service like shoveling walks, home improvement, and auto mechanics, just to name a few. His hands have safely held onto many a novice water skier, and wildly gestured to punctuate great stories and jokes.

I remember a picture of my grandpa holding a tiny infant in his arms. His huge hands were wrapped awkwardly around the tiny sleeping body. His sturdy arms were an envelope of safety while a goofy smile couldn’t help but spread across his face. I have never felt comfortable holding an infant. I love recalling how happy and secure he appeared in the task.

My Grandma Clarke was missing a thumb on one hand. The result of a heroic act of love as one of her sons tried to take his life with a gun. He was missing his arm but his life was spared due to her determined love.

A large crescent shaped scar on my husband’s finger reminds me of his commitment to his family. He cut his finger while making dinner. He was out of work and I was the only one insured at the time. Chances are I wouldn’t have been able to talk him into getting stitches even if it was feasible. His hands toil tirelessly for those he loves, with no thought of himself.

One day as I was cutting my second son’s fingernails I realized his hands looked familiar. He has his daddy’s hands. Short, stubby fingers full of love. The other two have my hands with long, graceful fingers. Not my hands as much as my mother’s hands.

When I was a child I was fascinated with my mom’s hands. They truly are elegant and beautiful. Long, slender fingers capable of the most intricate of crafts as well as the roughest home improvement or gardening projects. My mom’s hands do it all.

Her hands taught my brother and me to play the piano. Our stubborn minds refused to learn much beyond the basics! I love watching her hands perform a ballet across the piano keyboard while the most soothing sounds fill the house.

My mom’s hands are now wrapped in thinner skin exposing more veins and bones hidden in younger hands. They may be a lot more chapped from her years of nursing service, but they are still the most beautiful sight to me – her hands. Her hands that have always been at the end of every hug, at the heart of every meal, and the pride of all her creations.

I think of his hands pierced and bleeding to pay the debt.
Such mercy, such love and devotion can I forget?
No no I will praise and adore at the mercy seat
Until at the glorified throne I kneel at his feet.
(I Stand All Amazed Hymn #193)

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf told a story about the bombing of a city in World War II. A large statue of Jesus Christ was severely damaged. When the townspeople found the statue among the rubble, they mourned because it had been a beloved symbol of their faith and of God’s presence in their lives.

Experts were able to repair most of the statue, but its hands had been damaged so severely that they could not be restored. Some suggested that they hire a sculptor to make new hands, but others wanted to leave it as it was—a permanent reminder of the tragedy of war. Ultimately, the statue remained without hands. However, the people of the city added on the base of the statue a sign with the words: “You are my hands.” (You Are My Hands Dieter F. Uchtdorf April 2010 General Conference)

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are instruments in His hands. He relies on us to do the work He would do if He were here. Our hands are paramount in this task. Imagine what your hands can do for your ancestors as well as your descendants. Through family history, our hands are capable of binding hearts together for eternity.

Our hands are an integral part of the service we can provide our ancestors in the temple. I know that Heavenly Father loves all His children. Which is why He has provided a way for everyone to learn of the gospel and have the opportunity to choose whether or not to accept it. Even for those who have passed from this life without those opportunities. It is up to us to do this work for them.

In Obadiah 1:21 we read, And saviours shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.

The Prophet Joseph Smith gave clarity to this scripture when he said, “But how are they to become saviors on Mount Zion? By building their temples … and going forth and receiving all the ordinances … in behalf of their progenitors who are dead … and herein is the chain that binds the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers.”

Several years ago Elder Howard W. Hunter said: “Does it seem reasonable that persons who have lived upon the earth and died without the opportunity of baptism should be deprived throughout eternity? Is there anything unreasonable about the living performing the baptisms for the dead? Perhaps the greatest example of vicarious work for the dead is the Master himself. He gave his life as a vicarious atonement, that all who die shall live again and have life everlasting. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. In a similar way we can perform ordinances for those who did not have the opportunity to do them in lifetime.”

Elder Hunter added: “Not only may baptisms be performed for the dead, but endowments; also sealings, by which wives become eternal companions to husbands and their children sealed to them as a family. The sealing of family units can be continued until the family of God is made perfect. This is the great work of the dispensation of the fulness of times. … The uniting and redemption of the family of God was the divine plan before the foundations of the earth were laid.”

What a beautiful thought. I will be honest. The spirit of Elijah has only recently touched my heart. Genealogy may as well have been a four letter word when I was a kid. I heard that word and immediately fell asleep snoring.

Although when I think back on my life experiences I realize the spirit of Elijah has slowly penetrated my soul. My favorite Primary song was always Families Can Be Together Forever. My favorite family activities were listening to family stories. I mentioned earlier that my grandpa was a storyteller. My dad was also a great storyteller. My mom is a closet writer. I don’t think she realizes her talent for writing. Maybe my passion for storytelling is genetic. I love writing. And I hoard stories.

Most of you know I am an avid blogger. Come on, I couldn’t give a talk without mentioning my blog! I started out as a scrapbooker, which I still enjoy, but I found blogging to be a much faster way for me to record stories. Typing is very cathartic for me too. Heath likes to tease me because I have a tendency to rub the letters off the keyboard from my excessive typing. My blog posts are my way of recording family history for future generations. Preserving my family’s everyday life has become my obsession since getting married.

Recently Heath and I have videotaped our grandparents in order to capture their stories. Just a few months after we filmed my grandparents, my grandpa was called home from this life. The footage was already very special to us. It became that much more important. Heath worked hard to edit and produce as many of the stories as he could into a DVD for my family as a Christmas gift that year.

We decided to do the same thing for Heath’s family. They were so excited to participate. My mother in law is the only member of the church in her family. Her siblings all belong to different faiths. They don’t always agree and family discussions can get heated. No one was sure what to expect but they were all so anxious to participate.

It was the most incredible experience. We were impressed that we got over an hour of footage of my grandparents. Heath’s family talked for at least four hours. They would have talked all night if we let them. Two wives planned to meet at the cabana where we were filming and then go shopping together. They stayed for a minute to watch and got sucked in. They sat and watched the entire time. An ex-wife even showed up and found herself unable to leave. She was crying and said, “Is this what it’s like in families without divorce?” It was a bonding experience for that family that no one could have anticipated.

I have had my own family miracle recently. My childhood was not ideal. I have had a complicated relationship with my dad and his family. My parents divorced over 20 years ago when my mom had had enough of the abuse and she found the courage to leave. Not too many years after that my dad mutually parted ways with his children. He stopped reaching out to us and we didn’t feel a need to reach out to him. He suffered a heart attack in June that took his life. It has been the hardest experience I have ever had to go through.

The amazing thing was the Lord may have taken my dad home but he put the family back together. I really believe that He looked at this broken, shattered, and stubborn family and knew if He didn’t intervene we would never come back together. Over the years I have wanted to learn my Clarke family history. I thought that if I could learn their stories maybe I could appreciate why they made the choices they did. Maybe I would feel a connection to them. After all, they were my family. I am who I am because I am a Clarke and a Swain and married into the Westover family. Families aren’t perfect but they are very important. Even with my strained relationship with my Clarke roots, I have always understood that family is important.

After my dad passed I was terrified to see my aunts and uncles. There was no telling how they might react to my siblings and me after all these years of estrangement. All my aunts and uncles were so welcoming. It sounds weird to say it was like going home because I did go home. I don’t know how to describe the immediate love we all felt for one another. It was a beautiful experience. I looked into my uncle’s eyes and saw my dad. Those eyes were so apologetic and it was as if my dad also accepted my forgiveness.

At the graveside service my aunt Cathy had a large white binder. She tried to give it to my sister in law. She said it was Clarke family history and since my brother was the oldest his family should have the binder. Deanna told her no. “Give it to Tristan,” she said. “She’s the one that wants that!” Cathy said she hoped I wasn’t disappointed since all the temple work had already been done. Deanna said it didn’t matter. She knew I wanted it anyway.

It’s a three inch binder completely full of pedigree charts, family trees, photographs, and family stories. I wish there were more stories with more detail because I hoard stories and I just want more. What I have is precious to me. I have to read between the lines a little but I am starting to understand my family a little more.

I finally have everything I needed when I first decided I was ready to do temple work for my family. Even though I can’t do the temple work I can still put the names into my fan chart. For years my fan was completely lopsided. My dad’s name wasn’t even connected to me until he passed away! Which is strange since my parents are still sealed together.

There was an article in this month’s Ensign about finding cousins. I look forward to searching out if any other family members need ordinance work done for them. I am so grateful to my distant cousin, a grandson of my great grandparents, for using his hands to put the Clarke family history together. He wrote that he did it so the newer members of the ever growing family would be able to love and appreciate their roots, even if it was only through the pages in that history. My Grandpa Clarke was number 14 of 14 children. The history begins with my great grandparents and follows each child in order with all their descendants. I have a wealth of information about my family. All because of the hands that compiled the information into one place.

Hands are truly amazing instruments. They provide service, they preserve family history, they search out ancestors and bless the lives of descendants yet to come. Elder Bednar talks about the youth’s hands. “It is no coincidence that FamilySearch and other tools have come forth at a time when young people are so familiar with a wide range of information and communication technologies. Your fingers have been trained to text and tweet to accelerate and advance the work of the Lord—not just to communicate quickly with your friends. The skills and aptitude evident among many young people today are a preparation to contribute to the work of salvation.”

In Moses chapter 1 verses 37 and 39 we read And the Lord God spake unto Moses, saying: The heavens, they are many, and they cannot be numbered unto man; but they are numbered unto me, for they are mine.
For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

He relies on us to be His hands. I testify that the gospel is true. Jesus Christ is our Savior. His infinite atonement provides the means for family relationships to perpetuate beyond the grave. The plan of salvation is truly a plan of happiness. Our hands are the means for sacred ordinances, not only for ourselves but for those who have passed on from this life without the opportunity to participate in these saving ordinances. It is my hope and prayer that we use our hands to become saviors on Mount Zion.

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