Fasting With a Purpose

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Today we had Fast Sunday instead of the first Sunday of April because of General Conference. While I always fast with a purpose and with prayer, today I had a special reason for fasting. While I am always hungry while fasting, I only occasionally feel acutely hungry. Each time I had a hunger pang and pain, I took that opportunity to consecrate my sacrifice unto the Lord on behalf of the individual for whom I was fasting. That was something new for me – instead of just looking at the aggregate of the fast, I used the acute difficulties of fasting as reminders of the reason for which I was fasting and as reminders to say a prayer.

I have fasted with intensity, desire, and dedication before but this was the first time I really latched onto each pang as purposeful. I know I’m probably just slow in my realization but I felt this was a more meaningful method of consecration of my sacrifice. That is what fasting is all about – fasting is not about starvation, it is about consecration. We consecrate ourselves and some of our means to God. I always feel closer to the Spirit when I fast, today was particularly meaningful because of the circumstances.

Reverence for the Lord’s House

LDS Orlando Temple
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Yesterday we were at the temple. While my children and I were waiting outside for my wife to come out, I asked my children if they wanted to peak inside. There is a little waiting room just inside the entrance; a person does not have to have a temple recommend to sit in the waiting room or stand just inside the front entrance. My oldest daughter shook her head, “No, I do not want to go in.” I quickly realized it was because she did not feel comfortable entering the temple wearing her play clothes. I asked if she would go in if she was wearing church clothes and she nodded and said, “Yes.”LDS Orlando Temple

I was touched by her sensitivity, her discomfort at the idea of going in the front (even at my suggestion) in her play clothes. This reminded me of a story from Joseph F. Smith’s life. Quoting Pres. Hinckley’s rendition of the story:

“While serving [in Hawaii Joseph F. Smith] experienced a remarkable dream. I quote from his narrative concerning this. Said he:

‘I was very much oppressed [when I was] on a mission. I was almost naked and entirely friendless, except [for] the friendship of a poor, benighted … people. I felt as if I was so debased in my condition of poverty, lack of intelligence and knowledge, just a boy, that I hardly dared look a … man in the face.

‘While in that condition I dreamed [one night] that I was on a journey, and I was impressed that I ought to hurry—hurry with all my might, for fear I might be too late. I rushed on my way as fast as I possibly could, and I was only conscious of having just a little bundle, a handkerchief with a small bundle wrapped in it. I did not realize … what it was, when I was hurrying as fast as I could; but finally I came to a wonderful mansion. … I thought I knew that was my destination. As I passed towards it, as fast as I could, I saw a notice [which read B-A-T-H], ‘Bath.’ I turned aside quickly and went into the bath and washed myself clean. I opened up this little bundle that I had, and there was [some] white, clean [clothing], a thing I had not seen for a long time, because the people I was with did not think very much of making things exceedingly clean. But my [clothing was] clean, and I put [it] on. Then I rushed to what appeared to be a great opening, or door. I knocked and the door opened, and the man who stood there was the Prophet Joseph Smith. He looked at me a little reprovingly, and the first words he said: ‘Joseph, you are late.’ Yet I took confidence and [replied]:

“‘Yes, but I am clean—I am clean!’

“He clasped my hand and drew me in, then closed the great door.” (April 2007 General Conference).

Joseph F. Smith in his dream came upon a mansion. Before entering it, he prepared himself – even though he was in a hurry – by bathing and changing into clean white clothing. He took the time to be prepared to enter the mansion. Joseph Smith softly chided his nephew Joseph F. for being late but Joseph F. was there and clean. Just as Joseph F. Smith felt in his dream that he needed to take a bath first and become clean, my daughter recognized that she would only feel prepared and ready to enter the temple if she was dressed more appropriately. I learned a lot about reverence from my daughter’s example.

Facing Adversity with Faith

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How do you face adversity in your life? Do you allow it to become a crippling experience or do you use it to grow and progress. Do you face it with fear do you attack it with faith? Do you turn inwards, curled up in a fetal ball of bitterness, or do you reach outwards to others in love and service? Do you curse God and hope for death or do you trust the Lord and embrace whatever life you have?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently released a brief video of a young woman named Brittany who literally faces a paralyzing condition but who, instead of allowing it to paralyze her whole life, turns outward in love and service to others. I hope that we can all learn something from Brittany’s faith and service. I certainly can.

The Reality of Evil

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While I was a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints my missionary companion and I were out knocking on doors in a suburb of Seattle on a Thursday morning in June. At one home a man talked with us through a kitchen window, which was right by the pathway to the front door. We talked with him for a few minutes. He told us that he had seen Christ in a vision and that he had had a badly burned hand completely healed through that vision. During our conversation in which he was trying to tell us of the error of our ways, I kept getting a progressively worse feeling inside. It is difficult to explain what it was like other than it was a really bad feeling (cue the Star Wars quote: “I’ve got a bad feeling about this…”). I had never talked with anyone who had such a evil spirit about him; it was almost terrifying. The feeling went way beyond creepiness. At one point, I felt that my legs were almost held in place as he talked with us. I was just thankful that we were separated by a sturdy house wall instead of talking with him without a barrier. He was not interested in what we had to say so we quickly left, thanking him for his time, and went on knocking on other doors. As we left his presence, the evil feeling went away. I hoped and prayed that one day he would understand and accept the truth of the gospel.

On a Monday just a few weeks later, my companion and I were out looking for a family who had just moved into our ward boundaries (their membership records had been moved into the ward but they had not shown up at church). As we were looking for their address we passed a house a few times. Inside that house there was a man who just stood inside and stared out at us. We found the address we were searching for but no one was home so I decided to go talk with the man who had been staring at us. I pulled out a Book of Mormon and we approached his home. He saw us coming (he was still staring at us) and opened the door saying, “Hello Elders!” I asked if he was a member of the Church. He replied, “If I was born a member and never not became one, I guess you could say that I was.” He invited us in and we talked for a few minutes. He had stopped going to church when he was 14. He started telling us many of the standard anti-Mormon lines and some not-so-common lines (e.g., The LDS Church owned Pepsi-Cola [but was hypocritical because they prohibited church members from drinking Pepsi]; it had been discovered that Moroni was the name of one of the Devil’s main messengers, etc.). The only thing I could do, because he was not really interested in talking with us, he just wanted to talk at us, was bear my testimony to him. My companion and I both had a creeping, hollow, bad feeling growing inside while in his presence. It was a really bad feeling, similar to what I had felt a few weeks previously. He quickly became very angry with us (mainly with me because I was the one responding to him) because I would not try to argue with him about the claims he was making against the LDS Church. He asked us to leave, which we gladly did, thanking him for his time as we went on our merry way. Like the previous man, I hope and prayed that he would be able to accept the truth some day.

Those are two of the most memorable times that I have been in the presence of people who have exuded such feelings of emptiness and evil that being in their presence was nearly unbearable for me. Those two different men were both witnesses to me of the reality of evil. The experiences might seem minor in light of all the evil that goes on in the world but the evil spirit is the same. There are people in whom the Spirit of the Lord resides, there are people in whom the Spirit does not reside, and there are some people in whom an evil spirit resides. These two men were filled with an evil spirit. I have not met any people like those two since that time.

The example of a 7-year-old

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With the start of a new year, the year in which my daughter turns eight and is eligible to be baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, my wife and I talked about how we could help her prepare for this wonderful ordinance. My wife thought it would be great for our daughter to read the Book of Mormon before she turns eight. We both felt this was a good goal but did not say anything to her because we wanted her to set her own goal, whatever it might be.

Then out of the blue a couple Sundays ago our daughter was sitting in church when she told my wife that she thought she should read the Book of Mormon this year before she turns eight! My wife acknowledged to our daughter that that was a prompting from the Holy Ghost. We were both pleased to see our daughter listening to the promptings of the Holy Ghost.

Because of my daughter’s example, I decided that I should re-read the Book of Mormon this year as well. A number of years ago I had switched from serial readings of the scriptures to topical readings (in part to have posts for this website). It’s been a while since I’ve read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover; I’ve read it in its entirety countless times in the past, including 10+ times as a missionary but I’ve become so ensconced in my topical studies that I have neglected the larger picture that comes from reading the whole book with consistency.

My daughter is already in 2 Nephi; I’m not quite that far along yet. I’m always struck by 1 Nephi. It’s a remarkable book; Nephi was a remarkable individual. I have a post or two I want to write about what struck me this time through 1 Nephi so look for those in the coming days.

I’m grateful to my daughter for serving as a good example to me and inspiring me to return to serial reading of the scriptures in addition to topical reading of them.

Remembering Allison

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With the strike of an automobile, one year ago today tragedy struck our family. My niece was riding her bicycle with her father and her sister when she was hit by an automobile. She died instantly. A young man’s failure to brake resulted in a broken body and many broken hearts. It has been a tough year for my sister and her family. It has been a difficult year for all of us. But who we are as people is defined by how we respond in the face of tragedy. Do we respond with faith or do we answer with bitterness? I believe tragedy is a time to turn towards others, particularly our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. As I wrote in a past post: “The healing waters of Christ have a hard time washing away our hurt and grief if we keep it locked up within the stony tables of our hearts.” Christ’s suffering – His Atonement – not only helps us overcome sin and death, it helps us overcome sorrow and suffering and pain. His bruised and broken body can help us overcome the pains in our lives. The sorrow, suffering, and pain are not removed from our lives but their effects can be lessened in this life. We can even find joy amidst the hardship. Then one day, we have been promised that “every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude” (Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, Nov. 2008 Ensign).

I urge you to read what I wrote last year in response to Allison’s death. During that time our family was surrounded by so much love. The love removed some of the hurt. I also have a series of posts on lessons I have learned from death. These posts were written in 2009, before Allison’s death.

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2
  3. Part 3
  4. Part 4
  5. Part 5
  6. Part 6
  7. Part 7
  8. Part 8
  9. Part 9
  10. Part 10
We still sorrow for Allison; the separation still hurts. We miss her but we know that she is surrounded by family and peace. We know that through the sealing power of the Priesthood of God she is part of my sister’s family forever. Allison is not forever lost, we will see her again in a glorious and joyful reunion.

Remembering 9/11

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Ten years ago on a bright Utah morning, the weather was cooling down as Fall approached. I woke up early to get ready for a class. It was my first semester back at Brigham Young University after my mission. I had spent the summer working and enjoying time with friends. It was a busy summer; many recently returned missionaries find that they feel like they have to be constantly doing something. This stems from the 60-80 hour work weeks most missionaries have. All this work, 6+ days a week, then we come home and have so little to do, comparatively. In this mindset I had a busy summer and was excited to be back in school in order to continue my education and figure out what I wanted to do in life.

I had two classes on Tuesdays – Introduction to Psychology and History of Civilization. My first class was at 8 AM so I was up early, getting ready for the day. I turned on the television to watch the morning news while I finished preparing for school. CNN had some shocking news. Something – a plane or a missile (reports were unclear at that time) – had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. The smoke pouring from the building was shocking. Everyone was in shock. Then, as I was watching, a plane hit the second tower. Shortly later, the towers collapsed. We know the rest of the story.

I attended both of my classes that day. I think one of my classes was cancelled after we got there but I have notes from my psychology class. I watched the news coverage. Everyone was in shock. I read news stories online and saw additional photos and videos of the events of that tragic day. But I do not have a lot of specific memories other than that. I had never been to New York City. I did not know anyone from New York or who had a personal connection with someone who lost a life in the attacks. I was only weeks into a new semester after a two year break from school. I was living in a new place with new roommates. There was so much going on that I do not remember a lot from that time. I say this not as an excuse or to lessen the events of the day; I say this because there are so many more people who were affected much more than I was. My country had been attacked; my fellow Americans had been attacked but many people lost loved ones in the attacks. Many people were there to see the devastation in person. The effects on me were circumstantial but still vivid. It’s difficult to imagine what it would have been like – and what it still is like – for those directly affected by the attacks.

What I do remember is how our nation – the United States of America – came together; we united as people, we united as states, we united as a nation under the banner of stripes and stars and under to banner of freedom. We united across faiths and ethnicities. We united as one. This has been the foundation of our nation for many years – e pluribus unum – out of many, one. We stand united, we fall divided. Unity is something desired by the followers of God. Jesus prayed in His great intercessory prayer (see John 17) that He and we might be one with His Father.

It was as a united people that we banded together in prayer and service. Many people answered that horrific act of hate and violence at the hands of wicked men with acts of love and compassion. There were firm responses – tyranny does not understand love and does not respond to charity. But as a nation, our love for one another burned brighter and with more clarity in the days and weeks following the tragedies of September 11, 2001. Our hearts turned to family and friends. Our hearts turned to strangers. Good Samaritans shared of their oil of life, their means, and of their love with those in need.

Shortly after the events of 9/11, Pres. Gordon B. Hinckley talked at General Conference. I’ll quote from his address.

“You are acutely aware of the events of September 11, less than a month ago. Out of that vicious and ugly attack we are plunged into a state of war. It is the first war of the 21st century. The last century has been described as the most war-torn in human history. Now we are off on another dangerous undertaking, the unfolding of which and the end thereof we do not know. For the first time since we became a nation, the United States has been seriously attacked on its mainland soil. But this was not an attack on the United States alone. It was an attack on men and nations of goodwill everywhere. It was well planned, boldly executed, and the results were disastrous. It is estimated that more than 5,000 innocent people died. Among these were many from other nations. It was cruel and cunning, an act of consummate evil.

Recently, in company with a few national religious leaders, I was invited to the White House to meet with the president. In talking to us he was frank and straightforward.

That same evening he spoke to the Congress and the nation in unmistakable language concerning the resolve of America and its friends to hunt down the terrorists who were responsible for the planning of this terrible thing and any who harbored such.

Those of us who are American citizens stand solidly with the president of our nation. The terrible forces of evil must be confronted and held accountable for their actions. This is not a matter of Christian against Muslim. I am pleased that food is being dropped to the hungry people of a targeted nation. We value our Muslim neighbors across the world and hope that those who live by the tenets of their faith will not suffer. I ask particularly that our own people do not become a party in any way to the persecution of the innocent. Rather, let us be friendly and helpful, protective and supportive. It is the terrorist organizations that must be ferreted out and brought down.

We of this Church know something of such groups. The Book of Mormon speaks of the Gadianton robbers, a vicious, oath-bound, and secret organization bent on evil and destruction. In their day they did all in their power, by whatever means available, to bring down the Church, to woo the people with sophistry, and to take control of the society. We see the same thing in the present situation.

We are people of peace. We are followers of the Christ who was and is the Prince of Peace. But there are times when we must stand up for right and decency, for freedom and civilization, just as Moroni rallied his people in his day to the defense of their wives, their children, and the cause of liberty (see Alma 48:10).

Great are the promises concerning this land of America. We are told unequivocally that it “is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ” (Ether 2:12). This is the crux of the entire matter—obedience to the commandments of God.

The Constitution under which we live, and which has not only blessed us but has become a model for other constitutions, is our God-inspired national safeguard ensuring freedom and liberty, justice and equality before the law.

I do not know what the future holds. I do not wish to sound negative, but I wish to remind you of the warnings of scripture and the teachings of the prophets which we have had constantly before us.

From the day of Cain to the present, the adversary has been the great mastermind of the terrible conflicts that have brought so much suffering.

Treachery and terrorism began with him. And they will continue until the Son of God returns to rule and reign with peace and righteousness among the sons and daughters of God.

Are these perilous times? They are. But there is no need to fear. We can have peace in our hearts and peace in our homes. We can be an influence for good in this world, every one of us.

May the God of heaven, the Almighty, bless us, help us, as we walk our various ways in the uncertain days that lie ahead. May we look to Him with unfailing faith. May we worthily place our reliance on His Beloved Son who is our great Redeemer, whether it be in life or in death, is my prayer in His holy name, even the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”

Ten years have passed since that fateful day. Some people have turned to God. Others have cursed God and turned away from Him. The unity and love was short-lived. We are once again a nation that is divided. Lasting love and peace will not be obtained separately from God. He is the source of goodness and love. He is our solace and our song in the fearful night. May we as a nation and a world turn towards God. We must build our foundations upon Him and His Beloved Son Jesus Christ:

“Remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.” (Helaman 5:12).

We live in a tumultuous time. As we turn toward God and Christ, we will find peace amidst the storms of life. That is one of the great miracles in life – that we can find solace when our world is crashing down around us. Christ’s Atonement does not prevent the hurt or heartache but it does provide the help and healing. The Atonement of Christ is where we as a nation and a world will find peace over the events of that tragic day ten years ago.

Behold Thy Mother

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Yesterday I picked up 7 dozen roses that we (the young men and leaders) distributed today to the women in the ward after Sacrament Meeting. The cashier, when I brought up all those roses asked, “How many mothers do you have?” I replied, “A lot.” I also overheard the woman in line behind me make a comment about the lucky mom getting all those roses. While it would have been great to give my mother 7 dozen roses, most of the women and mothers in our ward only got a single rose.

After the question yesterday – “How many mothers do you have?” – I started wondering, “How many mothers do I have?” The correct answer is “a lot.” Not only do I have my own wonderful mother, I have a mother-in-law, I have older sisters who have been like mothers to me in their own ways, I have generations of mothers on back for thousands of years (see this post for some of my mothers back a few generations).

In addition to specific mothers, there are general and stereotypical mothers. In 1973, then Elder Thomas S. Monson gave an address in General Conference entitled Behold Thy Mother. He tells of four such general mothers:

  1. Mother forgotten
  2. Mother remembered
  3. Mother blessed
  4. Mother loved

He said, “‘Mother forgotten’ is observed all too frequently. The nursing homes are crowded, the hospital beds are full, the days come and go—often the weeks and months pass—but mother is not visited. Can we not appreciate the pangs of loneliness, the yearnings of mother’s heart when hour after hour, alone in her age, she gazes out the window for the loved one who does not visit, the letter the postman does not bring. She listens for the knock that does not sound, the telephone that does not ring, the voice she does not hear. How does such a mother feel when her neighbor welcomes gladly the smile of a son, the hug of a daughter, the glad exclamation of a child, ‘Hello, Grandmother.’

“There are yet other ways we forget mother. Whenever we fall, whenever we do less than we ought, in a very real way we forget mother.”

May we have no forgotten mothers in our lives! Maybe we don’t forget our own mothers or our grandmothers but do we forget our great-grandmothers on back through the generations? Are there mothers waiting for us to remember them or to find them? Do we have mothers waiting for us to perform the necessary gospel ordinances in the temple? Or, are there mothers around us – neighbors, friends, church members, strangers – who have been forgotten. Do we reach out of our comfort zones and seek out the lonely? Do we seek to remember these forgotten mothers?

Of mother remembered Elder Monson said,

“As a boy, I well remember Sunday School on Mother’s Day. We would hand to each mother present a small potted plant and sit in silent reverie as Melvin Watson, a blind member, would stand by the piano and sing, ‘That Wonderful Mother of Mine.’ This was the first time I saw a blind man cry. Even today, in memory, I can see the moist tears move from those sightless eyes, then form tiny rivulets and course down his cheeks, falling finally upon the lapel of the suit he had never seen. In boyhood puzzlement I wondered why all of the grown men were silent, why so many handkerchiefs came forth. Now I know. You see, mother was remembered. Each boy, every girl, all fathers and husbands seemed to make a silent pledge: ‘I will remember that wonderful mother of mine.'”

Remembering our mothers can bring solace and peace. In dark moments or in times of temptation or in the good and happy times of our lives, remembering our mothers can bring us comfort. There are mothers who are absent, there are mothers who are abusive, there are mothers who might even best be forgotten, but I think most mothers are best remembered. Mothers are not perfect, mothers do make mistakes, but motherhood is a divine calling and blessing that comes with the blessings of the Lord. The Lord can make up for shortcomings. There are hard days and sleepless nights; there are rings around rosies and rings under eyes; there are baths and diapers and vomit and tears; there are hugs and kisses and giggles and tickles; there are songs and swings and dances and strings; there are little hands clasped in steadying mother’s hands; there are skips and jumps and laughs and loves. These are things that build memories in both mother and child. It is that foundation that gives such strength and comfort to those who have their own mother remembered.

I’ll quote at length for the next mother – mother blessed.

Now that we have considered ‘mother remembered,’ let us turn to ‘mother blessed.’ For one of the most beautiful and reverent examples, I refer to the holy scriptures.

In the New Testament of our Lord, perhaps we have no more moving account of ‘mother blessed’ than the tender regard of the Master for the grieving widow at Nain.

‘And it came to pass … that he went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people.

‘Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her.

‘And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.

‘And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.

‘And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother.’ (Luke 7:11–15.)

What power, what tenderness, what compassion did our Master and exemplar thus demonstrate. We, too, can bless if we will but follow his noble example. Opportunities are everywhere. Needed are eyes to see the pitiable plight, ears to hear the silent pleadings of a broken heart. Yes, and a soul filled with compassion that we might communicate not only eye to eye or voice to ear, but in the majestic style of the Savior, even heart to heart. Then every mother everywhere will be ‘mother blessed.’

We have great opportunities to bless the lives of mothers everywhere. We can do it by honoring our own mothers. We can bless others by blessing as mothers would. We can go out of our way to do good to all around us, particularly mothers and particularly widowed mothers. There have been few people I think, who have cared about widows as much as Pres. Monson does.

Now for the final of then Elder Monson’s mothers – mother loved.

The holy scriptures, the pages of history are replete with tender, moving, convincing accounts of ‘mother loved.’ One, however, stands out supreme, above and beyond any other. The place is Jerusalem, the period known as the Meridian of Time. Assembled is a throng of Roman soldiers. Their helmets signify their loyalty to Caesar, their shields bear his emblem, their spears are crowned by Roman eagles. Assembled also are natives to the land of Jerusalem. Faded into the still night, and gone forever are the militant and rowdy cries, ‘Crucify him, crucify him.’

The hour has come. The personal earthly ministry of the Son of God moves swiftly to its dramatic conclusion. A certain loneliness is here. Nowhere to be found are the lame beggars who, because of this man, walk; the deaf who, because of this man, hear; the blind who, because of this man, see; the dead who, because of this man, live.

There remained yet a few faithful followers. From his tortured position on the cruel cross, he sees his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing by. He speaks: ‘… woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! …’ (John 19:26–27.)

From that awful night when time stood still, when the earth did quake and great mountains were brought down—yes, through the annals of history, over the centuries of years and beyond the span of time, there echoes his simple yet divine words, ‘Behold thy mother!’

I echo Elder Monson’s words as he echos the Savior: “Behold thy mother!” Whether our mothers are living or deceased, may we take more time to behold, to remember, bless, and love our mothers. May we never forget our mothers and may we remember the mothers who have been forgotten. I’m grateful for my own wonderful mother. She is a woman strengthened by her faith in God, a faith she helped pass on to me. This is a legacy of faith that I am striving to pass on to my own children with the help of my beautiful wife, the mother of our children.

Temple Open House

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We travelled to the Atlanta, Georgia temple in order to attend its open house. We had a lovely time. It was a fitting way to spend part of Easter weekend. Christ’s Atonement and resurrection are essential to the temple; the temple is founded upon Christ. It is His house, a place a holiness. It is the culmination of all His work, for in the temple we receive ordinances necessary for our salvation. We can draw nearer to God in the temple than in any other place (except maybe our homes when they are filled with love and with the Spirit). The unity with God that comes through the Atonement is given power in the ordinances of the temple. The temple truly is the house of God. You can learn more about the temple open house (it’s all done now – yesterday was the last day) here. You can learn more about temples here or here.