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KENSINGTON, Md. — Elder Gerrit W. Gong and I share a connection I didn’t know about until his wife encouraged him to share a personal experience with media members during an open house tour of the recently renovated Washington D.C. Temple.

Sister Susan Gong prompted the story while the tour group sat in a sealing room in the temple. Elder Gong had just mentioned how the room had no shadows, which I wrote about in this space last week.

“My very first memory is coming with my parents and my brother to a room like this to be sealed — connected — by God’s promise to bind our family together forever,” said Elder Gong, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“I was 3 years old, so I don’t remember everything,” he said. “I remember the light. I remember the reverence. I remember the peace.”

I don’t remember anything of my first visit to a temple because I was 6 months old. But it was for the same thing, a sealing, though in my case it was to adoptive parents. Mother’s Day reminded me of the significance of that sealing again because I had the opportunity to visit with both my incredible mother and my gracious birth mother.

I went home on a Valentine’s Day with my adoptive family three days after I was born. A number of adopted children struggle with having been adopted. I have felt — I feel — fully connected to my family. I cheer for those, like the son and birth mother from a recent Deseret News story, for whom reuniting fills a gap.

When I attended the sealing of a child adopted by dear friends while in my 20s, it created a renewed sense of deep connection both to my parents and my then-recently discovered birth mother for the gracious love I’ve experienced because of their choices.

Elder Gong made some striking points to the journalists about the realities of family life.

“No one is perfect. Therefore, there are no perfect families,” he said.

The temple gives Latter-day Saints an opportunity to make family relationships whole, to heal them.

He added a couplet:

“If a relationship is unhappy, forever is too long. If a relationship is happy, forever is too short.”

“We get to choose,” he said. “If there is something we really want to keep, this is a place that makes it happen.”

Sister Gong shared her own family history story on the same tour in the temple’s baptistry.

“We research our ancestors and bring their names here,” she told the journalists. “We dress in white and we are baptized as proxies for them. It connects us to our generations.”

Then she told the story of her great-grandmother, Mary Ann Cunningham, whose mother died soon after she was born and whose father died when she was 7.

“So she was orphaned in Dickensian England, just like Oliver Twist,” Sister Gong said.

She became a servant at 8, working for, as Sister Gong put it, “somebody else’s family, and had a really difficult next 10 years.”

Her mother’s sisters joined the church and at 17 she found Latter-day Saint missionaries, joined the church herself and set off for Utah to be with her aunts. There she married Sister Gong’s great-grandfather.

But the key to the story she told in the temple was about Mary Ann’s father, James Cunningham, an Irishman who left for England during the potato famine. He got tuberculosis and left Mary Ann with family while he lived in a workhouse until he died.

“Every day until the time of his death, he came to visit her in the evening and told her stories and sang her songs,” Sister Gong said. “She told her children and her grandchildren that the thing that sustained her through her difficult childhood was knowing she was loved by a father. That love sustained her.”

It connected her to her family.

My recent stories

See which national leaders have toured the Washington D.C. Temple, from the Supreme Court to Congress (April 29)

About the church

President Russell M. Nelson pushed back on an increasingly common criticism of people of faith who offer “thoughts and prayers” to those in need. Thoughts and prayers catalyze inspiration and action, he said.

President Nelson is holding a Young Single Adult fireside on Sunday night at 6 p.m. MDT.

The First Presidency announced groundbreaking ceremonies for the Ephraim Utah and Lubumbashi Democratic Republic of the Congo temples.

Elder Gary E. Stevenson dedicated the Rio de Janeiro temple, the eighth in Brazil.

President Dallin H. Oaks and others said goodbye to Sen. Orrin Hatch at his funeral.

Two men were arrested after their shootout in the Idaho Falls Idaho Temple parking lot.

Last month I noted that our Kyle Dunphey went to Ukraine. Here’s powerful firsthand reporting he did about interfaith efforts there including Latter-day Saints.

During a 12-day ministry in Asia, Relief Society General President Jean B. Bingham and Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon visited Cambodia, Singapore and Thailand.

Elder Kevin W. Pearson is the new Utah Area president. The General Authority Seventy spoke to Sister Sheri Dew for a Church News podcast about the church in Utah, where 13% of members live and is home to 28 temples.

The Washington Post checked in on the Utah Latter-day Saint influence on “dirty sodas,” referencing “Mormon mommies.” (Paywall.)

View Comments

Journalist Daryl Austin wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal about “Under the Banner of Heaven,” a limited TV series on Hulu about the murders committed by Ron and Dan Lafferty — extremist, fundamentalist Latter-day Saints in the 1980s. “The show seemingly leans into every misguided stereotype and trope the filmmakers could find,” Austin wrote. (Paywall.)

What I’m reading

This is a cool story. A DNA kit unexpectedly reunited a man and his birth mother. It especially resonated with me, as an adoptee.

This is a fun story form with really amazing stories about women athletes who broke barriers.

A baseball player left tens of millions of dollars on the table to stay loyal to his team and city and focus on the game.

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