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Spiritual leaven

A couple looked forward to returning home after a short time away. Through years of saving and spending wisely, they had bought furniture and decorations to make their house cozy and welcoming. They enjoyed their house and took great pleasure inviting extended family and friends to visit, sharing meals and conversation. Their children, all married and living on their own, loved to come back with their children.

Driving down the highway, the couple saw a glow on the horizon. The nearer they approached it, the greater grew their fear. Finally, they faced a harsh fact: their house was on fire. By the time they arrived, fire fighters were hard at work but flames won that battle. Except for the car they drove, the clothes they had on and the jewelry they wore — watches and wedding bands — all their earthly possessions were gone. Fire consumed the clothing in their closets, photographs in albums and frames, journals and books on shelves, and various records in files, disks, notebooks and boxes. What took years to accumulate turned to ashes within minutes.

"We lost all our things, but we have each other and our family. We are truly blessed," they said.

How many times have we heard of someone who has lost all their possessions say that having each other is what really matters most?

Much of the world watched with sympathetic hearts as people struggled to find loved ones in the aftermath of the tsunami that struck southeastern Asia last December. And now eyes and hearts are turned toward those affected by Hurricane Katrina. A television news report of victims of the hurricane featured a man who described his and his wife's efforts to flee floodwaters. He told of how the flood swept her from his grasp and she drowned. "That was all I had," he exclaimed in an emotion-filled voice. "That was all I had."

Thousands of people still search for loved ones. Husbands and wives, parents and children, siblings, and extended family members were separated. As of Sept. 19, some 2,000 children were still missing.

One the great ironies is that many people spend a lifetime acquiring things when, ultimately, possessions don't matter. Everything is left behind when death comes. Some people focus so intently on acquiring physical possessions that they give family relationships second priority, yet it is only those relationships that can be taken from this life into the next realm.

The relocation of evacuees from areas devastated by Katrina has been described as the largest mass exodus in U.S. history. Another exodus, although involving a smaller number of people, was dramatic. In recent gospel doctrine classes, Latter-day Saints have discussed the exodus from Nauvoo, Ill., to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake.

When officials gave warnings that Katrina was expected to make landfall, many residents in her path prepared to leave. They gathered food, clothing and emergency supplies. Similarly, when Brigham Young told the saints of Nauvoo of their impending exodus, they made physical preparations, which included the construction of wagons and procurement of teams. Flour, beans, meal and other foodstuffs were gathered. Bedding and clothing were piled into wagons, along with bits of furniture. Some personal treasures filled available space.

However, those making the exodus from Nauvoo made other preparations. More than 5,600 members received their blessings in the Nauvoo Temple, giving what President James E. Faust described as "spiritual leaven" for what lay ahead.

In his address during the April 1997 general conference, President Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency, said: "(Those) of the multitude who waited in the bitter cold to enter the majestic Nauvoo Temple received within its walls the greatest blessings offered by the Lord in this life. They endured much, but their suffering was just beginning. Their temple blessings helped strengthen them for what lay ahead. Separated by death in Winter Quarters, they were able to endure all things because of their faith and the blessings received that cold February night in 1846."

While we might have general knowledge of coming events, we can never know with certainty the challenges we might have to face. Some might be subtle, others monumental. Some might cause only minor inconveniences while others might be life-changing. There might be times when we can surmount challenges using our wits or a little help from a friend or stranger, or there might come times when we must call upon all our spiritual strength and accept help from many people.

Along with our "grab and go" emergency kits, let us keep our spiritual reservoirs filled so that we will be better prepared to endure what might come our way.