Friday, July 8, 2011

The Nauvoo Willow Tree

As I was getting ready for Emma Smith's birthday celebration I stumbled onto the story of Kimberly Jo Smith, a great- great granddaughter of Joseph an Emma Smith, and her conversion to the LDS church. I was so incredibly touched by what she wrote, especially when she wrote of seeing the portraits of Joseph and Emma Smith for the first time when she was 14 years-old. She wrote:

It is hard to describe the feeling I had at that moment except to say that for a brief period it seemed as if time stood still. My hearing did not pick up audible sounds around me. I felt as if there was no one else on earth except me and those two portraits. My attention was first drawn to the man in the portrait which hung on the left; the familiarity was deep and instant. The gentle, fair complexioned face housed eyes that seemed to hold stories in their backdrop hues of gray and piercing blue; knowledge in a face so fair, a history that spoke volumes which reached out and embraced me in unknown depths.

I felt a longing to get close to this man. I was drawn to know who he was, when and where he lived, and why his portrait was in Grandma’s house. What did it have to do with me? I felt a mixture of sadness and joy, and a feeling I can only describe as gut-wrenching, as I looked upon his gentle but unsettling smile.

Tears began to stream down my face as I looked to the portrait beside the man and searched the face of a lovely woman. She seemed to convey a noble bearing, with raven black hair, eyes large and round, their color a beautiful dark brown. Again feelings of admiration and sadness rose in me, so much so that I could not bear to look any longer and went to find my Grandmother.

I asked her who the people in the portraits were and she responded, “Those are your great-great grandparents, Joseph and Emma Smith. Joseph established the ‘true’ church.” The true church? I had no idea what she meant. I only knew that these two people, the man in particular, seemed very familiar to me. I was overcome with an immediate love for them that was precious. I felt an intense yearning to learn everything I could about them both. The fourteen years which followed were filled with many interesting paths, leading me on a quest for knowledge about my ancestors. Such paths and journeys are often the target of the adversary and his fiery darts, and mine was no exception.

Later in her life she would visit Nauvoo and had some intensely personal experiences there. Here is what she wrote about that experience:

In the summer of 1989 some family members and I traveled to Nauvoo, Illinois. It was the first visit for us all, which perplexed me. As I walked along on the guided tours and glimpsed the scenes before me, the beauty of the grounds, the solitude of the graves of my ancestors, I could not understand why it had all been kept from us.

Upon entering the Homestead everything took root in my heart. As my eyes adjusted to the dimness, I looked up and breathed in sharply. It was one of those moments that people identify with déjà vu. I felt as if I had been there before. I struggled with the emotions coursing through me, realizing it was more. It was as if I was having a memory that was not my own. As I breathed, thoughts and feelings about Joseph and Emma filled my heart. Tears fell down my face and I lagged behind the others so that I might absorb as much as possible.

I dealt with similar feelings before, but not so deep and personal. This was profound, intimate, filled with sorrow, yet held together with joy; a precious gift that seemed broken. I walked out of the Homestead with an assignment that came in whispers. Like when a friend is standing beside you urging you to read a particular book or visit a certain place because it was so rewarding. Only I could not see who was whispering to my heart. I only knew that there was a host of what felt like family and friends about me and an unmistakable presence that I had felt from childhood, a familiarity that had no name until that day, Joseph. It was evident to me that I needed to visit Nauvoo often to learn for myself the true history of my people, Joseph and Emma, and why I felt so drawn to them on such a deep and personal level.

She also said that while visiting Nauvoo she had an experience once by an old willow tree which sits directly behind the Nauvoo House, where Emma Smith spent her remaining years on this earth. She said that as she stood beneath that tree she had an experience that caused her to feel as if Emma had spent much time in mourning by that tree. As a result she wrote this beautiful song and tribute to Emma, her great-great grandmother.

I'd never heard this song before and it touched me deeply. The more I learn about Emma Smith the more I stand in awe of what she accomplished in her lifetime. She was truly an elect lady of God.

Thank you to the Adam Seth Smith blog for pulling all these links together.

Don't forget about the present for Emma this Sunday, July 1oth!

1 comment:

  1. I know this post was posted along time ago, but I absolutely loved the celebration you did for Emma. She deserves it. I was curious if you know of any good books are resources about her.