Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Born Brave {CD Review & Giveaway}

Sometimes I think God's timing is simply inspired.

I had been feeling prompted for months to contact Katherine Nelson to write something for Emma Smith's Birthday celebration. When I finally got up the nerve to email her I was first, thrilled that she said she would, and second excited that her manager asked me if I'd like to review and help promote her new CD, Born Brave-- which just happens to be all about strengthening women and finding your inner power.

Perfect match?

I sure thought so.

I have been listening to Born Brave for the last week or two as I've been driving my kids around in the car. I must have listened to it more than I thought because yesterday when I looked back at Rose  she was singing her little heart out to "Born." She didn't really know any of the words but she would sing "Born" really loud, which made up for not knowing the rest.

As I sat down to write this review I realized that if there were any songs that I don't mind my daughter singing at the top of her lungs it was these ones.  Katherine has put together a beautiful mix of songs that are really empowering to women, of all ages. I LOVED the message on the inside of the CD cover, and even though you can read it on the picture below I want to type her message out so that you don't miss it. I couldn't explain what the message of this CD is any better than she does here:

Women of the world... The odds are stacked against us. There is an adversary who knows all too well that the annihilation of the spirits of the Daughters of God will destroy families, communities, and even nations. Women have been born with the ability to reach inside for that instinct of survival, both physical and spiritual. Whether being passed down in our hearts by the countless women and mothers who came before us, or born out of our darkest hours of struggles. 

There is a deep well of strength that lies within us, that fuels our capacity to exercise courage, to face the unfaceable, and to rise above every circumstance. We carry the banner of faith, love, perseverance, and HOPE to all those within our circles of outreach in life. 

I truly believe that when we strengthen women, we strengthen the world.

We are all born brave.

Let me just share a little bit more of what Katherine shared on her blog:
"Truth is, I want so desperately to take a super-sized glittering spotlight and shower it over every woman in the world with this music until they feel they are valued. Loved. Needed. Admired. Followed. Looked up to by their daughters and other growing young women in their lives. I want it to get into their veins and bones and heart and soul so they know they matter. They offer a kind of love that is uniquely theirs to give. It must be that I’ve seen too many women not come home at the end of the day. And I get it. I’ve been there. I’ve wanted to pull out of the driveway and not come back when truth may be too hard to face and too uncomfortable to talk through, even live through.

... I’ve learned that personally it actually takes an ENORMOUS amount of guts to make it from day to day, year to year. I think this is why I love the Born Brave woman. Looking back through my life and where I am now I have been blessed to know so many of them. You know them too. You probably are one if you think about it. Typically they are the women that will never make history, media or even a blog-post of any kind, although their effect on the world is immeasurable. Their names are often forgettable and accomplishments unrecognizable to the passerby. But they are strong. They are battling the toughest battles. They win, they lose, they keep going."

I really love female vocalists but I am so often disappointed by the messages of their songs. Often they are either idealistic, angry, or advocate for the world's type of feminism-- which doesn't really jive well with my soul. It was so refreshing to listen to Katherine's album and to hear her sing about strong and empowered women, who change the world through developing their talents, bearing children, loving men, creating a home, caring for those around them, and following the Lord-- even when it is really hard.  After listening to her songs I felt a little bit more like there wasn't anything I couldn't do with the Lord's help. She reminded me that I have a  legacy of strong women who came before me and that I am here to lead and teach the next  generation of strong women.

And that is really hard-- and really brave.

In addition to having a great message I really love Katherine's voice. To me her style of singing is somewhere in between Alanis Morissette' s expression and the twang of Martina McBride. She has a wonderful blend of styles and I really like listening to her sing. She definitely  has  country to her (she did record in Nashville!) but I think that no matter what your music taste you will like her sound (unless of course you only like  rap or polka, then you might be disappointed).

I also thought it was really neat to hear her sing "Emma", especially after reading what she wrote about her experience portraying her. That was just icing on the top of the cake.

Really, I loved so many of her songs. Though, I think that this is one CD that I will have to be in the right mood to listen to. There are certain songs that are really up beat and fun, but to listen to the whole thing all the way through makes me a bit emotional. This is one of those CDs that I will turn on those hard days, the days when I feel discourage and like nothing I do makes a bit difference. It is a good "pick me-up and remind me it is worth it" CD, which I really need some days.

I just wanted to share with you a few of my favorite songs from the CD and my favorite lines, if you click on this link it will take you to a preview of the song on Katherine's website


"I was born to feel heartbreak and heal again
Born to open up my heart
Raise my hands and sing
I was born to fill the measure of my wings"

"Good For Me" (my very favorite!)

"You say I'm doing life all wrong
Like I"ve never heard that before
Well don't go asking me to clip my wings
Or say I've won a loosing fight
Cause my babies kiss me every morning
And I love my  husband every night."

and "Home Sweet Home"

"When I was a little girl
I sent my wishes up to Heaven
Prayed someday they'd all come true
They stirred aroun up in the starlight
They fell down as became you, you, you, you, and you, yes."

I think I naturally liked the songs about motherhood the most, because that is the stage of life I am in, but there are songs here for all women. No matter what your situation I am pretty sure that there is a song on this CD that will speak to you and remind you that because you are a Daughter of God you were Born Brave.

Thank you Katherine for making such a beautiful album! I wish I could go around with you and "take a super-sized glittering spotlight and shower it over every woman in the world with this music until they feel they are valued." I know it made me feel that way. 

I have two copies of Born Brave to give away to my readers! If you would like to win one please leave me a comment telling me:
  1. The story of a time when you have had to be brave OR
  2. The story of the bravest woman you know
  3. Visit Katherine's  website and preview her songs. Leave a comment telling me which on you liked the best.
  4. Share this post on Facebook, Twitter, or on your own blog.
For each one you do you will get an entry to win, and just so you know  if leave me two stories you will get two entries!

The giveaway will end Monday August 6th!

Best wishes!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Five Things for Friday, 44th Edition


My motivation to blog has been really low lately and so this Five Things might be scraping the bottom of the barrel today. But hey, it happens to us all.  I did write this post for The Gift of Giving Life blog this week though. Here is snippet, and a cute picture of my little nursling. 

The other thing that I have been thinking a lot about is something Robyn quoted me as saying in her essay  in our book about how breastfeeding is symbolic of the relationship with our Savior, Jesus Christ.  In her essay I said:
It has always really impressed me that a baby has to work pretty hard to get its milk. It has to learn how to latch on and then they have to suck and suck for a while before anything gets flowing. It can be frustrating and slow at the start. Yet the more they suck the more milk their mother produces. If they were to stop sucking, the milk would go away, but when they ask for more, it comes in abundance.
I think that is just like our Father in Heaven. He has told us “ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened unto you.” He has living water for us, but we have to be willing to ask Him for it, over and over again. Sometimes we even have to work, and it takes a while before anything comes.
If we give up and scream and cry because what we want isn’t coming fast enough, then we miss out. We have to keep working and asking, and soon His living water begins to flow—like a river. It amazes me that this is one of the very first lessons that we are taught when we come to this earth. God could have made breastfeeding a much different process, but I think He knew that His children needed to learn this right away.
I have been wrestling and pondering some spiritual questions lately and have been feeling so frustrated that I don’t understand. I want, so badly, to see and understand more than I do right now. Yet it seems like there are some things that just don’t make sense to me. I lack understanding, and I hate it. Really, hate it.
Then as I was watching my little boy tug at my breast I was reminded that the Lord does not always teach us everything we need, or want to know, all at once. Learning in this life comes line upon line, precept upon precept and we can’t rush it or demand more until we are ready for it. If we want more understanding, if we want to see the glories that God has prepared for us, we need to come to His breast– several times a day– and ask for His precious milk.  It is just waiting there, sweet and nourishing, and He is  yearning to take us in His arms. We just have to  ask for it.
And ask.
And ask.
And Ask.
Read the rest


Last week (or was it the week before?) we got a few days of glorious rain, which in this dry, dry, dry, hot Utah summer was such a blessing. Jon rode his bike home from the bus stop and was sopping wet by the time he got home. He opened the door, gave me a big wet kiss, and then asked if he could steal the kids for a little bit. He told them to get their swim suits on (Rose already had hers on because she wears it most days) and he had a mischievous grin on his face that made the kids so excited. I was in the process of making dinner and so they ran out in the rain with their dad. When I looked out the window this is what I saw. 

We live on a hill and it is amazing the amount of water that comes roaring down our gutters when it rains. Jon and the kids played out there for about a half hour, thoroughly enjoying themselves. Some of the neighbors even came out to watch. It was one of those moments that just makes you so happy to be alive. 

Life is sweet.


My  sister-in-law is getting married tomorrow! 

I love weddings and seeing her and her fiance so in love  makes my heart so happy. They just have so many wonderful years ahead of them. It is so funny to think that when I married Jon I thought I loved him but compared to how much I love him now, it seems like nothing.  Marriage is hard work, but so wonderful. I am just so excited for them to discover that.


Can I just brag for a moment? 

Yes? No? 

Okay,  I am going to anyway. 

Last summer I put Asher into swimming lessons for a few weeks and he loved it. It was a really great situation because the lessons were inside and then afterwards they would let you stay and swim in the outdoor pool. It worked great because then Rose could swim too. I wanted to put him in again this year but Rose doesn't turn three until the end of the summer and none of the pools take kids for lessons until they turn three. I knew that she would just die if she had to go watch Asher swim everyday and she didn't get to get in. I guess we could have done the mom and baby class but I had no idea how I could have pulled that off with her and Abe. Yikes!

So instead we have just been going up to Jon's grandma's swimming pool (she lives in a condo) a lot.

A whole lot... like almost every day.
We have turned into "pool rats" (which is what-- when I was teaching swim lessons and life guarding-- we affectionately called the kids who came to  pool every day) and it is wonderful. 

I have been so impressed with what great swimmers they are getting to be. We went swimming  last night and Asher swam across the pool by himself. Granted it was mostly doggy paddling, but it was swimming!  And Rose can jump in the pool and kick her way out to someone standing in the middle of the pool! I was so proud and really impressed, because Jon and I didn't really teach them how to do it.

The only downside is that now that they know they can swim (sort of) they are almost too daring in the pool. Last night Rose wanted to come to where Asher and I were and she just jumped in the pool all by herself. Luckily Jon, who was putting Abe in his clothes, heard the splash and saw a little blonde head bobbing just below the water. He hurried and pulled her up and while she was a little dazed she was still smiling. We tried to drill it into her that she can only jump in when mom or dad is looking at her, and so hopefully she understands. I guess now the next step will be to teach her how to tread water so that we don't have to worry too much about her. 

But oh, they make my little swimming instructor heart proud!


Abe is a crawling machine!   He has got his rhythm down and he has  just taken off. I think the most repeated phrase in our house (besides, "Stop that"!) is "Where's Abe?" He is really adventurous and sometimes he disappears so fast. The other  day I couldn't find him and I found that he had backed himself all the way under the couch, just his little head was sticking out. 

The little crawling machine with his great-grandma

It  has also been amazing to me how he seems to know which objects are the most dangerous and goes for those first. I have been working on sewing my dress for my sister-in-laws wedding and without fail Abe always seems to go  for my box of pins and my scissors! There can be 100 other baby toys lying around on the floor but he will crawl all the way across the room and pick up the sharp pointy objects.

Sometimes it is just amazing to me that kids survive their toddler years. 
Have a wonderful weekend! 
If you want to link to your own "Five Things for Friday" post you can use the tool below to add your link. 1) Please link to the URL of your blog post and not your main blog and 2) Please include a link back here

Saturday, July 21, 2012

2060 Sons of Helaman March in the Bountiful Handcart Days Parade

Utah is gearing up for its 24th of July festivities. July 24th is the day when the first Mormon pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley and celebrating it is a really big deal in Utah. Salt Lake will have their big "Days of '47" festivities on Tuesday but Bountiful, which is the city just to the north of SLC, had their celebration on Friday. The best part was the Handcart Days parade because the very last entry was incredible.

One of the men that Jon works with has been trying for 12 years to convince the parade committee to let him have 2060 young men dress up like the stripling warriors (aka. Sons of Helaman) from the Book of Mormon. This year they finally said yes and so after much work 2060 young men from the Bountiful Stakes dressed in matching costumes (that their moms made :) and carried staffs with nails in the bottoms so that they would make a strong sound when they were pounded on the pavement. They were led by a man (Jon's co-worker's brother) who was dressed as Captain Moroni and the sight was incredible.

We had been hearing about this for a few months, and some of the boys in our ward were marching, and so I was really looking forward to it. But when I looked down the street and saw them coming in a mass my heart nearly skipped a beat. They looked amazing and I felt a wave of the spirit as they went past. They were marching in lines (mostly) and pounded their staffs on the pavement in unison. There were boys in the middle of the lines holding high staffs with ribbons on them so that everyone could see when they needed to pound their staff and some carried banners and titles of liberty. They stopped several times and Helaman lead them in a chant of "We Did Not Doubt" (which you can see in the video). I could tell that lots of the boys were really feeling the power and the spirit of what they were portraying. It was really powerful. 

The shear number of young men was overwhelming. I think you can get a bit of a feel for it in the video, but seeing it in real life was awesome. They stretched for about 6 or 7 city blocks and it took them about 3 minutes to all pass by. I knew 2060 was a big number but I never realized just how many young men that was. It just made the miracle of their story-- the fact that NOT A SINGLE ONE of them died in battle-- more amazing to me than ever before.

At the very end of the last video you can see that there are missionaries who have their white shirts on under their costumes. My mother-in-law got really emotional as they went by because she was thinking of her son who is serving a mission in Taiwan. How awesome it is that we still have women today who are willing to send their sons off to fight (spiritual) battles. This was really so incredible and I hope they do it again some day-- and maybe next time they could have 2000 moms walk behind them ;)

I apologize that my videos are broken up into segments, Rose dropped her water bottle in the storm gutter and when I went to try to get it my camera turned off. But I think it gives you an idea. I didn't get my camera on to get the beginning but if you go to this video you can see Captain Helaman leading them.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Five Things for Friday, Bat Catcher Edition


I caught a bat.

Well, three bats to be exact.

The week after the 4th of July we went up to Idaho to my family's cabin. We invited Jon's cousin and her family along as well. They have four little children under the age of six and we have three little children under the age of five. So between us we had four adults and 7 children under six. It was wild, but so much fun.

My grandma had warned me that, since the roof on the cabin is getting old, that there may be bats getting into the cabin. I wasn't too worried and figured we would just handle things when we got there. The first night we didn't hear or see any bats but the second night it was really rainy and cold and so we built a fire in the fireplace. Apparently the heat from the fire must have made the attic really hot because that night we had four bats!

Asher was the first one to spot one. Jon was putting the three little boys to bed when Ash said, "Dad, something is moving up there." Jon looked but thought it was just the shadow from the ceiling fan and told him to go back to sleep. "No, Dad it is living!" and so Jon turned on the light and saw that there was indeed a live bat crawling on the fireplace.

When Jon turned the light on it began flying around the room and the boys (Jon included) started shrieking. I went up and promptly freaked out. Until I realized that me freaking out scared the boys and made them cry. After that I tried to just freak out inside. The bat was flying crazily all over the room and so I ran and got a fishing net and started sweeping wildly at the bat. On the first sweep I managed to hit it and send it tottering through the air and but on the fourth sweep I got it in the net. Jon put it inside a pillow case (which is what I am holding in the picture) and then he took it outside to let it go.

The little boys thought it was awesome.

Which was good because we had to do it two more times that night.

And once more the next afternoon. Rose was awake for that one and she was thrilled. She loves bats (remember what she was for Halloween) and she actually reached up and pulled the net out of Jon's hands when he was trying to catch the bat because she wanted to do it. She wasn't scared a bit. Which is more than I can say!

All that day the boys played Bat Catchers and ran around the cabin with flashlights, nets, pillowcases, and arm chair covers on their heads hoping to find bats.

My Dad came up the next day and sealed up the holes where we think the bats were getting in. After he did it Asher came to me with a heartbroken face and said, "Grandpa hurt my feelings." Worried, I asked why. "Because he sealed up all the bat holes, now I can't catch anymore bats."

Needless to say, my feelings weren't hurt a bit!


I just pre-ordered my copy of this book.

I am so excited about it. I had heard that this was in the works several years ago when I went to the Church History Library to look at the minute book for my the re-enactment of the first Relief Society meeting. This book is a transcription of the minute book from the Nauvoo Relief Society with essays to help understand the context in which they were given. You can read a preliminary review here. I am so excited that this is coming out! I posted that I had ordered this book on my Facebook page and one of my readers told me that, thanks to the Joseph Smith Papers project, the full transcription (and images of the original pages) of the minute book is available online. I had no idea that this was out there. What a treasure. I am so excited to study these records in more depth. I know that just studying the first meeting has had a huge impact on my understanding of the Relief Society and what God has prepared for His daughters. Can't wait to have this in my hands!


My sister-in-law is getting married at the end of the month (to an awesome guy) and Rose has been really excited about the wedding. She talks constantly about wearing her "wedding dress" ( she is going to be a flower girl) and about going to the temple. Whenever we see or talk about a temple she always chimes in with, "When I am big I am going to get married in the temple in my dancing dress." So far whenever we ask her who she is going to get married to she says, "No one, just my dancing dress." So, apparently the dress is the most important thing... just in case you wondered :)

We got the invitation for my sister-in-laws wedding and Rose carried it around all afternoon. I got this really cute video of her "reading" me the invitation. I can't understand half of what she says but her expressions are so cute, it just about says it all.


Here are just a few snap shots of our summer. So far it has involved a lot of Popsicles, swimming and sand!

I just love this last one. Walking hand in hand with cousins. Oh, I hope they stay this way forever.


I upgraded to a new linky for my blog! This one allows you to add pictures and so it should make linking up to your Five Things for Friday posts more interesting. I know that I like clicking on links with pictures much better than text ones. I hope that this will encourage more blog hopping between my readers. The real joy of blogging is getting to know other people and I know that I have made some of my best "blog buddies" through blog hops. I sure hope that this one works for you Tristan! She has faithfully linked up but for some reason my other linky didn't like her at all. I'll keep my fingers crossed that this one works! If not, then you must be jinxed ;)

If you want to link to your own "Five Things for Friday" post you can use the tool below to add your link. 1) Please link to the URL of your blog post and not your main blog and 2) Please include a link back here

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Importance of Keeping a Personal History

This is my last post for Emma Smith's Birthday Celebration and I just wanted to thank everyone who has participated by sharing their testimonies of Emma and The Book of Mormon. I have loved reading them and I hope that the posts last week have given you a new appreciation and understanding of Emma Smith and her role in the restoration of the gospel. I am planning on doing this celebration again next year so if you have any thing you'd like to know about Emma or see on my blog please let me know.

As I've studied the life of Emma Smith the last few years the one thing that keeps coming back to me is how important it is to keep a journal and write a personal history. As far as we know Emma Smith didn't keep a journal, which as Katherine Nelson pointed out in her post, was a bit usual for a 19th century woman. Keeping a journal was sort of the equivalent of posting on Facebook , and many women kept a chronicle of their lives in some form. It is exciting to me to think that perhaps Emma did in fact keep a journal and that it could be siting in someone's attic right now. It is possible that in the the future her writings will be discovered, and what a treasure that would be.

In the meantime what we have of Emma's writings, and things said in her own words, are very sparse. As a result Emma's story has been pieced together and told and re-told by those who loved her, those who knew her, those who hated her, and those who misunderstood her. Satan has been great at attacking Emma's reputation and treading her name through the mud. And as Mark Staker pointed out she wasn't able to respond to most of the accusations brought against her, because they have come after her death.

It is interesting to me that Emma has been criticized for her choice not to go West with the Saints when Joseph Smith's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, did not go West either. Lucy chose to stay behind in Nauvoo and actually lived with Emma until she died. I think that one of the reasons that history and critics may have been so kind to Lucy, and not Emma, is because Lucy left behind her story. In 1853 she published "The History of Joseph Smith by His Mother" which gives her beautiful perspective on Joseph and his work. We have her testimony and her experiences-- in her own words-- and so we don't doubt about Lucy.

We don't have anything like that for Emma and so... we doubt.

It is sad that we have to rely on what others tell us about her. Yet, the same is true of most of the women in the scriptures. We have very little of their words (but probably more than you think) and so what we get about them has been told and retold through the centuries. I've found that sometime it is nearly impossible to understand a woman's story without the guidance of the Holy Ghost. How wonderful it would be to have their stories, told in their own words. Sometimes I fantasize that one day a treasure trove of women's history will be found. That women-- like Sarah, Deborah, Bathsheba, Nephi's wife, and Mary Magdalene-- wrote down their thoughts and experiences and that they are just hiding out in a cave somewhere waiting to be discovered. Or that the sealed portions of the Gold plates contain all the domestic details and spiritual experiences of the Nephite women :) What a treasure that would be (even though I am pretty certain whatever is in the sealed portion is pretty fantastic)! The best I can do now is encourage women today to keep their own personal histories.

I can't begin to stress how important it is for women to keep a written history of their lives. I know that your life might not seem very exciting but to your great- great granddaughters who read your story it will be a treasure... every little detail. They will drink in the daily details of your life, thrill at the people you knew and the places you live, rejoice in your happiness, sorrow at your disappointments, and marvel at your spiritual experiences. You will become a treasure to them and will be able to teach them, hundreds of years after you are gone, and bear testimony of the things you learned and experienced. I know the though can be overwhelming but I remember that when I read "A Midwives Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard" by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich I was amazed that even though the woman just wrote a few lines every day about her life, how when you read them all together it painted a beautiful picture of who she was and what her life was like.

So please ladies, keep a journal, make a scrapbook, write an autobiography, write a blog, print off your Facebook statuses ... do anything but leave a record of you life behind. You never know whose life you will be blessing or who will treasure the little details of your life.

Besides, if you don't tell your story someone else will... and they might just get it wrong.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Emma's Dream

In the final days of Emma's life her son Alexander recorded that she had a remarkable dream. In Gracia N. Jone's article, "My Great-Great Grandmother, Emma Hale Smith" she wrote:

"A granddaughter, Emma Belle Smith Kennedy, remembers Emma: “Her eyes were brown and sad. She would smile with her lips but to me, as small as I was, I never saw the brown eyes smile. I asked my mother one day, why don’t Grandma laugh with her eyes like you do and my mother said because she has a deep sorrow in her heart.”

A woman who served as a maid in Emma’s home during Emma’s later years related the fact that each evening after the chores were done, Emma would climb the stairs to her room, sit in her low rocker, and gaze out the window at the western sunset over the Mississippi River. No one dared approach to offer comfort, because they did not know how to touch the depth of sorrow evidenced by the tears that coursed down her cheeks. 

We can ask, “Why did she cry?” Was it the awful loss of her beloved Joseph? Was it the memory of her babies laid in graves in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois? Was it the tragedy of seeing her precious youngest son hopelessly ill? Was it regret for past mistakes? Was it sorrow for disappointments lived through? Was it haunting uncertainties regarding the course she had taken, as well as thoughts about what might have been had tragedy and persecution not dogged her life? Having lived a long life, as the Lord had promised in her patriarchal blessing, and now seemingly humbled and refined, Emma must have pondered questions about the hereafter. Her son Alexander later reported that a few days before her death, Emma had a vision that disclosed her acceptance by the Lord."
You can hear and see Emma's dream in this lovely video made by Kimberly Jo Smith, a direct descendant of Emma and Joseph

Or here if you can't (or don't want to) want to watch the video here is the rest of what Gracia Jones wrote in her article:

Emma lived almost thirty-five years after the martyrdom of her Prophet-husband. She died 30 April 1879 in her seventy-fifth year. In her last years she was greatly loved, and in the last hours of her life she was attended by her family: Louis Bidamon, Julia, Joseph III, 26 and Alexander. According to Alexander, Emma seemed to sink away, but then she raised up and stretched out her hand, calling, “Joseph! Joseph!” Falling back on Alexander’s arm, she clasped her hands on her bosom, and her spirit was gone. Both Alexander and Joseph thought she was calling for her son Joseph, but later, Alexander learned more about the incident. Sister Elizabeth Revel, Emma’s nurse, explained that a few days earlier Emma had told her that Joseph came to her in a vision and said, “Emma, come with me, it is time for you to come with me.” “As Emma related it, she said, ‘I put on my bonnet and my shawl and went with him; I did not think that it was anything unusual. I went with him into a mansion, and he showed me through the different apartments of that beautiful mansion.’ And one room was the nursery. In that nursery was a babe in the cradle. She said, ‘I knew my babe, my Don Carlos that was taken from me.’ She sprang forward, caught the child up in her arms, and wept with joy over the child. When Emma recovered herself sufficient she turned to Joseph and said, ‘Joseph, where are the rest of my children.’ He said to her, ‘Emma, be patient and you shall have all of your children.’ Then she saw standing by his side a personage of light, even the Lord Jesus Christ.” 
If you would like to link to your own post about Emma Smith or share your testimony of the Book of Mormon for Emma's birthday gift you can link up to it below. Or share it on Facebook, Twitter or anywhere!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Emma Smith's Patriarchal Blessing

When I was about 10-years-old I went with my Grandmother to the Church Office Building where she was working as a missionary. I waited in the lobby for her while she did some work and I picked up an old issue of the Ensign magazine. I flipped through it and landed on an article entitled "My Great-Great Grandmother , Emma Hale Smith" by Gracia N. Jones. I devoured the article and when my grandmother came to get me I asked her if she would make me a photocopy of it. I lied to her (sorry Grandma) and told her I was doing a project at school on Emma and that I needed it for that. Honestly, I was just fascinated by Emma and, even at that young age, I'd heard so many confusing things about her. I didn't want to loose track of this beautiful information and testimony of a woman I wanted to know more about.

Time went by and I eventually lost that photocopied article, in fact, I'd almost forgotten all about it until I was doing research for Emma's Birthday Celebration and I came across it again. Granted, the online version doesn't have the beautiful pictures like the original had, but reading it reminded me of how my 10-year-old self drank in those beautiful truths about Emma. It was even funny for me to realize that in my questions to Mark Staker from the Church History Library I'd said that, "I remember once reading a remark by someone who said that Emma Smith's picture didn't deserve to be hung up in the Relief Society room " and that where I'd read that (all those years ago) was in this article. So I guess my subconscious hadn't forgotten about it. One of the most beautiful parts of the article is hearing Emma's patriarchal blessing. It reveals so much about her and makes it absolutely clear, that no matter what others may write or say about her, the Lord has accepted her offering and her blessings are secure.

Emma's blessing was given to her by her father-in-law Joseph Smith, Sr. on December 9, 1834. It reads:

“Emma … thou art blessed of the Lord, for thy faithfulness and truth, thou shalt be blessed with thy husband, and rejoice in the glory which shall come upon him. Thy soul has been afflicted because of the wickedness of men in seeking the destruction of thy companion, and thy whole soul has been drawn out in prayer for his deliverance; rejoice, for the Lord thy God has heard thy supplication. Thou hast grieved for the hardness of the hearts of thy father’s house, and thou hast longed for their salvation. The Lord will have respect to thy cries, and by his judgments he will cause some of them to see their folly and repent of their sins; but it will be by affliction that they will be saved. Thou shalt see many days, yea, the Lord will spare thee till thou art satisfied, for thou shalt see thy Redeemer. Thy heart shall rejoice in the great work of the Lord, and no one shall take thy rejoicing from thee. Thou shalt ever remember the great condescension of thy God in permitting thee to accompany my son [Joseph] when the angel delivered the record of the Nephites to his care. … Thou shalt be blessed with understanding, and have power to instruct thy sex, teach thy family righteousness, and thy little ones the way of life, and the holy angels shall watch over thee and thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God, even so, Amen.”
The two parts of this blessing that really stand out to me are how much Emma missed and worried about her family. After leaving to go to Kirtland, Ohio Emma never saw her family again and they never accepted the gospel that she had given so much for. That sorrow must have weighted hard upon her heart and the Lord knew it. Yet He promises her, "Thy heart shall rejoice... and no one shall take thy rejoicing from thee." What a beautiful promise and from what I am coming to learn about Emma I can see that though she suffered much in her life she also chose to rejoice much. She had a firm understanding of what she was a part of and of the importance of the work Joseph was doing.

She truly was God's chosen and "elect lady".

If you would like to link to your own post about Emma Smith or share your testimony of the Book of Mormon for Emma's birthday gift you can link up to it below. Or share it on Facebook, Twitter or anywhere!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Coming to Know Emma by Katherine Nelson

I am so excited to share this beautiful post by Katherine Nelson for Emma Smith's Birthday Celebration. Katherine had the opportunity to portray Emma Smith in the LDS Church's production of "Joseph Smith, Prophet of the Restoration", which is shown in the Legacy Theater on Temple Square and in "Emma Smith: My Story." I saw "Emma Smith: My Story" for the first time about a year ago and I was deeply touched by Katherine's portrayal of Emma. As I watched her I had an overwhelming feeling that the she had a deep and abiding love for Emma and knew her heart in a special way. I contacted Katherine a few weeks ago to see if she'd write something for this celebration and I was thrilled when she said she would. I loved hearing hearing about her experiences coming to know and love Emma and I can't wait to go back and watch the movie again now that I've heard her experiences. Thank you Katherine!

To say that I felt worthy, prepared, or even adequate to portray the life of Emma Smith, no matter how large or small the production, was as far from the truth as possible. All I could say that I knew about her at the time of auditions is that she must have been very tired. The Lord would be kind to open my heart to know many more emotions, thoughts, and guiding insights than this over the course of filming both “Joseph Smith, Prophet of the Restoration” and “Emma Smith, My Story.”

I had a pretty good idea of what my life would entail just 6 months prior to receiving the call to audition for this role. Not to sound hokey, but I had had a few glimpses of what I would do in my life at an earlier age, and acting was NEVER one of them. I was at the time pursuing songwriting and had been a studio vocalist for quite some time leading up to that point, and thought that was a good road for me. When things suddenly started to feel wrong, when the dreams I had regarding music quickly started to plummet like I’d just lost all control of the motion I was in was when everything changed for me, eventually for the better. I found myself at the temple, a lot. On my knees praying to know what in the world the Lord wanted to use me for because I felt really strongly there was something I should be doing, but at that time music was not it. There were lots of tears, confusion, asking, and I’ll go so far as to say depression.

I’ll never forget the day it all started to happen. I was sitting on the sofa with my little girl watching a movie with her when the thought ran through my mind, “What if you were in the next Legacy Theater film?” I think I just laughed at the idea and pushed it as far from my mind as possible, not knowing where that crazy thought came from. The very idea of acting made me nervous. About an hour later the phone rang and one of my friends I knew through music who was coincidentally part of casting for the church’s new film asked me “Would you come audition for the role of Emma Smith in the next Legacy Theater film?”

It was as though the world stopped. Standing there at my kitchen sink, where almost everything happens in my day, I felt the strongest, total overwhelming rush of the sweetest, purest form of love from the top of my head to the tips of my toes, as if Heavenly Father was clearly saying, “I love you.” That moment alone, that vivid recollection of God’s love, was an answer to a longstanding prayer and would serve as a center-point of faith for me through every rigorous audition, every hour of worry over whether or not I could handle the role, and eventually carried me through to the very last phone call, months later, from a loving director who seemed just as confused as I was that he was giving me this role to play. I was to learn, amongst many things, that that was how God needed me to be, and that that’s where I would always want to be. Feeling like I fit in the palm of His hand, trusting and relying upon Him completely.

Why do I tell you this?

Because I want you to understand that there was so much more involved than people wanting to create a nice depiction of a Prophet’s life. Because I knew so little in acting I tried to compensate with hours and hours and books and notes of study, pondering, preparing, caring over every word and turn- It was not taken lightly. While I had the task to make calculated emotional equations from her timeline, the overwhelming blessing of serving under the direction of President Hinckley in bringing to pass this epic story fell heavily upon the shoulders of those who were responsible to tell it. The heavens were open. My heart throbbed with pains unrecognizable to my mind and limited life experience.

Sometimes the Lord teaches us a hundred lessons at once. This for me was one such time when there was a lot I had to learn about myself, faith, and my relationship with my Heavenly Father and Savior Jesus Christ. The knowledge of Emma’s whole life story, what she had endured, what she gave, and the closeness I felt to her would stay with me long after the filming; it would hold my hand during some very hard things I had ahead of me to endure. I was blessed to be taught so much spiritually and found myself coming to know Emma, her life story, and what a rock of faith she was. In just the smallest part I learned what it meant for Emma to lose everything she loved for love itself and for the kingdom of God.

Initially, as books lay open on my table and I was able to soak in Emma’s life, I was surprised at a few different things. First of all, she had no journal? I would have given anything to read entries from her hand. Where were they? In a time when so many kept personal records, she had none. This was upsetting. Everything written on her was written by someone else, and if I couldn’t get my hands on a first-hand account I had to sift through the second hand accounts (but often times 3rd hand, 4th hand, or more) to try to determine motive, reasoning, everything that shaped her decisions in her life story. Reading letters was as close as I could get to getting inside her head. There seemed to be a deep & wide canyon between what happened and what was recorded, between what she thought and felt and what the world saw. I often thought if ever there was a journal, she may have disposed of it. I want to believe someday some records of hers will be discovered and we’ll get a first-hand account where we have had almost none whatsoever.

Another surprising note I reflect on to-this-day is that in all of her letters she never played herself a victim of her life. For all of her losses and hardships, this is a woman who never seemed to dwell on them. The closest we get to it is when after Joseph is killed and the saints are in a state of upheaval, she says “I have no friend left but God and no place left to go but home.” Granted there are tones of discouragement and concern in her letters to Joseph and her children over the years, but never beyond that does she make herself out to be a victim.

Another surprise during my studies came from learning what the women of the 1800’s were made of. These were hard working, God fearing, strong women whose days began long before sunrise and ended long after nightfall just to accomplish the very basics of everyday living. I remember how that seemed to fuel me, and still does. In studying the life of Emma I read the book written by Lucy Mack. What an absolute spitfire Lucy was. She had to be. I think we live in a time now where we have to be just as passionate about what we believe and muster the same kind of faith to make it through.

Gaining an understanding and testimony of Emma seemed to come quickly. After the first phone call about the audition I packed up my kids and headed to the library where I found several black and white photos (daguerreotypes) of Emma and her children as well as a few good books I could add upon over time to use as a reference. Photos meant a lot to me. I made copies and kept them in my binder with my script and notes. I looked into those eyes as much as possible to become acquainted with her and her family. You can learn a lot by a photo. And as I found myself pouring into good books on Emma my heart would swell with gratitude and love for her. Reading what she lived through would sometimes leave me on my floor in tears, trying to reconcile all the emotion and her experience. It always felt like more than anyone could bear. A quote that helped me thru our filming from Shakespeare I kept in with my portraits and script I’d read before shooting tough scenes says,

“The weight of this sad time we must obey. Speak what we feel. Not what we ought to say.”

The Director, Gary Cook, gave me solid advice the day he called to tell me I had the role. As I nervously asked how best to continue preparing to portray Emma he calmly said “Just love her.” That came easy. Loving Emma. And I think it’s that love that really spoke on screen. You’ll never hear me brag about my ability to act, but I can confidently say I love her.

Because Emma faced so many devastating losses throughout her life, and a film is only so long, we had to cut many of them out of the script. The ones we filmed we shot with absolute reverence. I found myself on my knees praying before I’d go out to set to portray the more difficult scenes. It was in these moments answers to questions I had would freely come, or emotion beyond my experience surged through my heart. All I wanted was to take these pains from her. I know it sounds silly, but I wanted so badly to be able to live some of those scenes for her so she wouldn’t have to; after all she had experienced. Like I said before, so many lessons to learn in coming to know Emma. One of the greatest of these was real compassion. I learned to mourn with those that mourned and comfort those that stood in need of it. My heart tore wide open so many times for her, with her. As I stood off set before we shot her last scene with Joseph I couldn’t help but whisper “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” For me, it was a lesson on the love of my Savior. Putting a centuries’ worth of unkind, crude, and most times unfounded opinions of Emma aside, going deep into the heart of her life and what she experienced, and truly just allowing myself to love her; through it all that lesson was the greatest gift God gave to me. Learning that kind of love.

There is so much more to be shared on the topic of Emma. Just Emma. Books have been written. Now Movies have been made. We are better educated on her and who she was and what she contributed more than ever before. She was humble. She was moldable. She was willing. She went into the deep; time and time again. Her faith was seasoned. Her intentions were good. I am so grateful to be alive at a time when judgments are being thrown down and the love of Christ reigns. When we can recognize good and call it just that. But she was more than just good. She was great. There’s a reason she was appointed as the first Relief Society President in this dispensation. She knew, she absolutely knew and understood the pains and needs of the sisters she was called to serve. She knew loss, hunger, heartache. And the life she lived and faith she had still leads us today. It carries me when I want to give up. And some part of me wants to believe she stands by me when times get hard, and helps push me through. She is the kind of woman I strive to be. I love Emma Hale Smith.

There is a soul-stirring passion that rises in the human heart when Katherine Nelson sings or performs. An accomplished artist with more than a decade of professional accomplishments including albums, movie soundtracks and solo projects, Nelson is also known for her starring role as Emma in the film Emma Smith, My Story. Her melodic voice and instinctive big-screen acting are captivating audiences everywhere. 

Nelson’s musical story began as a toddler in Southern California, where she sang and performed with her family of 10 throughout the West traveling from city to city in a motor home. Raised on Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, Nelson boldly told her mother while in grade school she would record an album one day. With the launch of her new album, Born Brave, on the R Legacy Entertainment label, her singing and songwriting artistry is rocketing to new realms.

Throughout her career Nelson has performed with many accomplished artists and musicians and is a Pearl Award winner. She tours with the Nashville Tribute Band and has partnered with platinum award-winning NTB singer-songwriter Jason Deere in his Nashville studio to deliver songs with breathtaking freshness and insight.

Some of Nelson’s early music reflected deeply personal feelings about family, relationships, faith, redemption and love. And while those themes are still important to this gifted artist, in Born Brave, she delivers a tour de force about the power within a woman’s reach to heal, find great strength, and overcome hurt and hidden sorrows.

Please visit Katherine Nelson’s new website @ katherinenelson.com. Listen to her new world-class album and learn what it means to be a Born Brave woman. Find inspiration, submit Born Brave stories, and follow her online as she releases this latest project for women.

“When we strengthen women, we strengthen the world.”™

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Happy Birthday Emma-- My Testimony of The Book of Mormon

Today is Emma Smith's 208th birthday. When I thought about what she might most appreciate as a gift the thought came powerfully to me that what she would want  is to hear people bear testimony of The Book of Mormon. Emma literally sacrificed everything she had, her family, her home, her children, her physical comfort, her health and even her husband, to help bring forth the Book of Mormon and The Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints (LDS). I can't imagine that anything would bring her more joy than to know that her sacrifices weren't in vain and that the Book of Mormon has been one of the most powerful forces on the earth for bringing millions of people to their Savior Jesus Christ.

So this is for you Emma. 

 When I was in the 9th grade my English class read the book Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. I don't remember especially liking the book very much, but I do remember the assignment our teacher gave us after we read it. Part of the story is that in the future all  books have been burned but certain people take it upon themselves to memorize whole books so that they can preserve them, therefore "becoming" the book. The assignment that my teacher gave us was to choose a book that we thought was important enough to memorize, and then present to the class the book that we would "become".  I stewed over this assignment for a long time, because the only book I could think of important enough to memorize was the Book of Mormon. This is the book that has done more to change and shape my life than any other book. It has taught me the nature of God and I owe my sense of purpose in life to the knowledge that it has given me. It means everything to me.  Yet as a ninth grader I was so hesitant to choose to "become" the Book of Mormon because 1) my teacher wasn't a member of the LDS church and 2) because I was afraid that the other members of the church in my class (which was nearly everyone, except for one boy who was Jewish) would think I was being "self-righteous" by picking to memorize the scriptures. I was afraid they would think I was preaching to them. I stewed over it for weeks and in the end I chose to ignore the prompting of the Holy Ghost and chose  to "become" The Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingles Wilder. This was the first book that I ever read all by myself. It was the book that first opened to me the beautiful world of words and got me hooked on reading. If I remember correctly, which I do, my presentation was very poorly done and kind of pathetic.

After all the presentations were finished our teacher got up and with a surprised look on her face told us that we were the first class she had EVER had in all her years of teaching (which let me tell you were many) where no one had chosen to "become" the Bible or the Book of Mormon. She didn't say anything else about it and moved on with her lesson, but that remark has stung me to my soul ever since. It has haunted me that in our class of 20+ Christian teenagers, not one of us had the courage or strength to bear testimony of our faith. Perhaps others had different reasons for not speaking out, but I realize now that I let fear and insecurity stop me from bearing witness of Jesus Christ and of the importance of the scriptures in my life. After this experience in 9th grade I promised myself that I wouldn't ever let an opportunity to bear my testimony, whether it was to people of my same faith or not, go by without acting upon it.

I am so grateful for The Book of Mormon and for the beautiful truths it contains. Reading it has enhanced my understanding and appreciation for the Bible and opened my heart to the idea that God speaks to, and loves, all the people on the earth. The Book of Mormon contains an ancient account of God's workings and teachings with the people who lived on the American continent and of Christ's visitation to them. It bears a powerful testimony that God loves all His children-- male, female, black, white, Jew, Gentile, righteous, wicked-- the same. His love is all encompassing and every time I read The Book of Mormon I feel that. Because of this book I better understand the nature of God and why I am here on the earth. I treasure that knowledge above all else.

I am so grateful for the many men and women who sacrificed so much to bring it forth into the light. They deserve my unending gratitude. Especially, thank you Emma for all you gave so that I could have this book in my hands today.

If you would like your own free copy of The Book of Mormon please email me at heatherlady@gmail.com and I will send you one!

If you would like to share your own testimony of The Book of Mormon or a post about Emma for her birthday present please link to it below or share it on Facebook or Twitter. I will have the linky list up all week so if you can't do it now do it later-- and even if you can't do it this week I am sure she would appreciate it anytime you can do it.

Don't be afraid to share your testimony. The world needs this book.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Understanding Emma Smith's Life by Mark Staker

This is the first post for Emma Smith's Birthday Celebration this week.  I am excited to share the interview I had with Mark Staker who is a Senior Researcher at in the Historic Sites Division of the Church History Library . For the last eight years he has done in-depth research on the life of Emma Smith and her family, and has been involved in the acquisition and restoration of her childhood home in Harmony, Pennsylvania. He is also in the process of writing a biography of Emma Smith's life, which I can't wait to read! When I contacted the Church History Library about having "the expert" on Emma Smith do a post for this celebration I was told that he was the person to talk to. After interviewing him I can see why. His answers reflect a deep understanding of the time period, culture, and place of where Emma lived. I so appreciated his insights into her life and was especially grateful that he was willing to answer my "hard" questions about polygamy and the foundation of the Relief Society. Also, don't forget about the present for Emma Smith this week, I will have a link up at the bottom of all my posts this week so you can share your own posts about Emma Smith or your testimony of The Book of Mormon!

1- How long have you been studying Emma Smith and how did your interest in her get started?

I’ve worked as a curator for the LDS Church for just under twenty years now. But it was not until about eight years ago that I began to look seriously and intently at Emma’s childhood home in Harmony, Pennsylvania, and tried to understand Emma’s life as fully as possible. I’ve spent much of my time in the past eight years trying to understand Emma and her family.

2- What was Emma's early life like before she met Joseph? What sort of young woman was she? What were some of her greatest strengths?

Emma’s family were some of the first white settlers in the Susquehanna Valley, and they lived initially in fairly remote circumstances. There was still an Indian village in their valley when Emma’s parents first arrived. Emma’s father was a “Leatherstocking” and made a living hunting animals in the forest then shipping the meat downriver to the major markets in Philadelphia and Baltimore. Her brothers took lumber downriver. When she was young the family moved from their log home into a nice frame home described as a “mansion” by one visitor. (Homes were all much smaller then and it would not be considered a very large home by today’s standards.) The ceramics and other artifacts recovered in archaeological excavations confirm what we find in tax records and in accounts by their neighbors—the Hale family was well-off by local standards and was one of the wealthy families of the county. Several of her brothers served in local political offices and they provided a respectable voice in the community. There is circumstantial evidence that Emma attended a girl’s finishing school about a mile or so west of her home where a Swedish schoolmaster (who claimed to be a descendant of royalty) taught the girls academic subjects in addition to the traditional subjects taught at other schools such as sampler making, textile production, and homemaking skills. Emma likely learned some Latin, European literature, advanced math, and perhaps philosophy.

Other young women in her valley described in their journals an interest in young men and they spent much of their time courting and socializing. This included long walks to hear piano concerts at neighbors homes, visits to the local taverns where lions and other exotic animals were brought for exhibition. A traveling art exhibit was also enjoyed by those who could afford the steep admission price of $1.00. In short, Emma grew up in a life of refinement, relative ease, and high status. She was, nevertheless, religiously devout and considered of high character and morals. Her family adored her and her neighbors admired her. Two of her sisters named a daughter after her, Roxy Emma Wasson and Emma Diantha Morse.

Perhaps one of Emma’s greatest strengths was her ability to give up the material comforts for what she believed was right. When Emma married Joseph Smith she married someone who had few of the things she enjoyed. He lacked her education. He grew up without life’s comforts. His family did not enjoy the high status and political influence her family held. The girls Emma’s age filled their diaries with discussions of wedding plans with fine cakes covered in sugar plums, ornate ceremonies in their parent’s parlor, and lots of wedding guests from the community. Emma gave all that up to marry the man of her choice. Emma also left all of her extra clothing behind and an assemblage of furniture, cows, and other possessions she had collected before she married Joseph. She did not know if she would ever get those things back.

3- I've always wanted to know more about Emma and Joseph's courtship. How did they meet? Do we know much about how they fell in love or what their early relationship was? Why did Emma's dad not like Joseph so much?

Joseph lived a long day’s ride northeast of Emma when they courted and he would have needed to stay overnight in her valley when he visited. It is likely Emma’s parents provided a place for him to stay, probably the log home where Emma was born which remained standing at least until 1829. He would likely have gone over the back roads across Ocquago Mountain to court Emma so he could avoid paying the toll road expenses to use the turnpike. Most of Emma’s neighbors took that back road north to Colesville when they traveled. It was customary for young men in the region to bring nuts, raisins, and other treats to the young women they courted and every young man wrote letters to a young woman. Because Emma could later say Joseph did not know how to write a well-worded letter at that point, it is clear he wrote her letters as well. The stagecoach came through South Bainbridge and Colesville twice a week heading south to Harmony and so Joseph could well have sent a few letters each week to Emma. Emma’s brothers and sisters married locals and moved within sight of their parents. Emma’s father listed as the first reason he was opposed to Joseph the fact he was “a stranger.” After Emma married her family made great effort to encourage her to live in their valley. This seems to support a concern about Joseph living elsewhere. Isaac also was apparently concerned about Joseph’s religious experiences. Emma’s mother was a Shouting Methodist and would have heard stories of similar religious experiences in her own congregation, but Emma’s father was more skeptical and had some involvement with Methodists as well as Quakers but was generally a Deist—denying the miraculous aspects of religion. These seem to be the major concerns he had with Joseph. He was not particularly concerned about Joseph’s involvement with the Josiah Stowell search for an abandoned silver mine because he had been heavily involved in the enterprise himself.

4- I have always been so impressed with Emma's relationship with her mother-in-law Lucy Mack Smith and the obvious love and respect that they had for each other. How did their love and relationship develop? Did they have a special connection right from the start or was it something that grew over time? What made their relationship unique?

When Emma first married Joseph, her mother-in-law welcomed her into the Smith family. Emma, nevertheless, still struggled initially. The Smith family worked very hard and it was an adjustment for Emma. Neighbors said she would come over and cry, noting she was in a “hard place.” It was not easy. At the same time, Lucy was a confidant, forceful woman who directed her own household and it was difficult for Emma to adjust to living under another roof. It appears she had been in charge of the kitchen in her parent’s household and was used to managing affairs at home. It was an adjustment for her to fit into the Smith family. Lucy was patient and loving. Emma returned that love and as circumstances changed over the years she sought to care for her mother-in-law’s needs. Caring for each other perhaps contributed to their relationship, but they also shared trials and difficulties together and these may have strengthened their bond. Because Emma always stood by Joseph in trying times, Lucy would naturally appreciate the devotion to her son.

I don’t know if their relationship was unique. It was certainly uncommon in some respects. That Emma would be drawn to her husband’s family was typical of the period. Today men are usually more involved in the families of their wives that was the standard in the early 19th century. Women were typically (but not always) drawn into their husband’s family in what is called a “patrilocal” pattern. Joseph’s move away from his family so that Emma could return home to hers not long after their marriage was not typical and reflects both the love Joseph had for Emma and the initial difficulty she had leaving the valley where she was born and raised. Lucy reflects great admiration for Emma in her later years. The two women had shared homes from time to time and lived in very close quarters with each other for many decades. Undoubtedly that close interaction helped foster a close relationship. Sadly, Emma did not have the same relationship with her own mother. She wrote a very tender letter to her mother shortly before Joseph died that indicated she had not heard from her parents since she left the Susquehanna Valley. She gives the names and ages of each of her children. One would think that her mother would have at least been interested in her grandchildren, and perhaps Emma thought she might still be since her father had recently died when she wrote the letter. She may have hoped to reconnect with her mother at that point.

5- In D&C 25: 11 the Lord tells Emma to "... to make a selection of sacred hymns, as it shall be given thee, which is pleasing unto me, to be had in my church." This commandment was given in July of 1830, not long after the church was organized.  How did Emma-- whose life was anything but calm and slow-- actually compiled this hymn book. How many years did it take her to do it? How did she collect and choose the songs she included? Did she face any challenges in getting it published? 

The valley where Emma grew up was intently interested in hymns and hymn writing. The local newspaper regularly published hymns written for its pages. These hymns were typically published anonymously and I have not been able to tie any of them to Emma. One hymn was written by a female identified as E. H. but it appears from the introduction that she came from another village in the county. Although it is not clear if Emma ever wrote any of her own hymns, her calling was not to write hymns but to select them. She grew up as a Shouting Methodist where the hymn tradition was very important to worship service. Her family later recalled she had a beautiful singing voice and there is some suggestion she had a particular gift for singing. Joseph may have done pretty well himself. His father taught singing and it was an important trait emphasized during the first decades of the nineteenth century. We usually emphasize the first hymnal published in Kirtland. But it is clear that hymns were sung in the early Church before that hymnal was published, and it is likely that Emma played a role in directing the development of those hymns first sung.

Since the emphasis was on her selecting hymns rather than writing them, it is likely the earliest hymns sung were well known to most of the members and were selected from popular hymns of the day. By the time the Saints moved to first publish Joseph’s revelations in 1833 there may have been some discussion of making hymns available in a published format as well but nothing was done toward that goal until the Doctrine and Covenants was available in 1835. W.W. Phelps began writing hymns and publishing them in the newspaper as perhaps an indication that Emma (or Joseph) had recommended developing their own hymn tradition to reflect distinctive Latter-day Saint doctrines. Because Phelps and other members wrote early hymns and no known hymns by Emma are found, scholars have often emphasized the role others played in developing the first hymnal. Since Emma was charged with making a selection of hymns, I think she may well have played the final selecting role in that first hymnal. She later went on to develop another hymnal for the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in her later years and clearly played a central role in developing that volume. There is no information of which I am aware that sheds light on how Emma went about selecting songs. Did she collect a large number of possibilities and then winnow down from there? Did she recommend songs that were particularly meaningful to her? I don’t know.

6- As I've read and studied about Emma Smith's life I have discovered that there is a lot of confusion, speculation and gossip about her life in Nauvoo and her and Joseph's practice of polygamy. I was wondering if you might be willing to help me understand a bit more about what she went through, the choices she made, and the consequences of them. I'd especially be interested if you might be able to lend a little bit more light about D&C 132: 51-56 and what would have been going on in Joseph's and Emma's lives at this time. It is a passage of scripture that has always confused me, mostly I think because I don't understand the history of the context in which it was given.

Polygamy is a fascinating subject, and one that played a significant role in Emma’s spiritual life during the Nauvoo period and perhaps earlier. Much more is written on the subject than is really known about it, however. Many members in Nauvoo knew very little of the doctrine, even many of the inner circle of Church leaders later acknowledged knowing nothing on the subject until 1841-1842, and even fewer knew actual details of practice. Such basic facts as Joseph’s marriages to other women were often recorded in shorthand, cryptic wording, or not at all. Complicating this lack of data were some genuine disagreements about what occurred. One of Emma’s sons would later write a “Last Will and Testament” just after Emma died where he stated she claimed Joseph never practiced polygamy. Emma is often hit hard because of this and accused of lying. Others accused Emma of lying long before her son published that statement. When Brigham Young said the harsh things he did about Emma almost twenty years before her death, it was right after Emma’s sons had visited Salt Lake City and were attempting to attract converts in part by condemning polygamy and claiming Joseph never taught it. It was in this context that Brigham Young accused Emma of being one of “the damndest liars that ever lived on this earth.” Since when Emma’s oldest son published a Last Will and Testament right after her death claiming she had never spoken on the subject earlier but finally indicated Joseph had never practiced plural marriage, Emma could not have lied to her sons about polygamy when they claimed Joseph never taught it during their 1860s mission. It appears that at some point, either earlier, later, or both, Emma was misrepresented and unfairly credited with saying things she had not said. This was also true immediately after her husband Joseph was killed when the national newspapers came out claiming Emma had acknowledged Mormonism was all a sham. She countered that claim by writing a letter indicating she had never said any such thing and someone was crediting her with something she had not said. She was not able to do the same thing about marriage claims because she was likely never aware such claims were made.

 In short, because what few details we know about polygamy in Nauvoo were sharply disputed by the very individuals who knew most about the subject, it is unlikely we’ll ever get a good picture of what really occurred. Only new, significant sources will help us resolve the picture. This is particularly the case with the verses in D&C 132 that you’ve asked about. Emma did not comment on the revelation. Neither did Joseph ever explain what was meant. His nephew Joseph F. Smith later said that Section 132 was written in a specific context to address specific issues and if it had been written for the entire Church it would have been a very different revelation than we currently have. What we know about the context is that the revelation was specifically directed to Emma and the information in that revelation was specifically focused on her.

6- I have always been fascinated about the organization of the first Relief Society and Emma's role as it's first president. It must have been an incredible time to be a woman in the gospel. What were some of Emma's roles and responsibilities as the first Relief Society president and what type of work were the early Relief Society sisters engaged in?

When the Latter-day Saints were still in Kirtland, Ohio, and the Kirtland Safety Society had recently collapsed—ending their hopes of using the financial institution to create a Zion society in which there were no poor—a group of members got together and formed what they called a “Relief Society.” It appears this organization was an attempt to consecrate properties for the common good of the members of the organization. Among the interesting details of this organization is the fact that men and women were included on the list of members when at the time men were the only ones acknowledged by the law as the owners of property. (There were exceptions for widows, etc., of course.) I know a lot has been written about female benevolent societies and the relationship between the Nauvoo Female Relief Society organization and those benevolent societies, but I get the sense that the NFRS organization was intended to accomplish much more than its name may suggest. Of course the first Female Relief Society members were involved in such things as providing textiles and other things for those working to build the kingdom (such as temple builders), but the sources suggest they were expected to accomplish much more than this. Others have done much more research on the origins of the Nauvoo Female Relief Society than I have and so I would recommend going to those sources for additional insight. I know that in the next year or two several significant books that shed more insight into the organization of the Relief Society are scheduled for publication.

7- The other part of Emma's life that has always confused me was why the Relief Society was eventually disbanded. Did that happen before or after Joseph Smith's death? Do we know the reasons? Do we have any idea about how Emma felt about that?

My understanding is that the Relief Society was never really disbanded. After Joseph died meetings were no longer held because of other pressing issues and the eventual flight of most of the members. Emma never expressed her thoughts about the organization or its demise. When the Reorganized Church was established, however, she never pressed to reinstate the organization, apparently believing it had already accomplished its original purpose.

7- I remember once reading a remark by someone who said that Emma Smith's picture didn't deserve to be hung up in the Relief Society room because she hadn't been faithful enough and didn't cross the plains with the Saints. It has surprised me to see that even today, with all that we know about Emma and her life, that there is still a lot of hostility towards her and confusion about her life and her role in the gospel. If you had been standing next to this woman when she made this remark about Emma what would you have told her?

It is hard for me to evaluate “faithful enough” and what is necessary for someone’s picture to be placed on a wall or not. Emma’s portrait currently hangs in the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City as one of the presidents of the Relief Society. Certainly each of the presidents of the Relief Society have contributed significantly to the organization and deserve to have their portraits hung somewhere. Emma fills a unique role among women in the Church. She was there at the Hill Cumorah when Joseph Smith retrieved the plates. She served as his first scribe and taught him how to pronounce the names as he first read them, explained the intricacies of Jerusalem’s walls as Joseph surprisingly asked about it as he translated, felt the plates rustle underneath her tablecloth while cleaning the house but did not look underneath the cloth because she was asked not to, walked through the snow during a Missouri winter with her children and no husband, and provided solace for Joseph while he languished in prison.

The evidence is overwhelming that if there had been no Emma to support Joseph Smith along the way, he could not have accomplished what he did. We owe to Emma, in part, the foundation of our Church. When Joseph Smith was killed, his brother Hyrum died as well. Samuel died a few days later. But I get a sense that Emma died on some level at the same time. She became a martyr to the cause as well. Today we can diagnose things such as post-traumatic stress disorder that were never even thought of in Emma’s day. Because we are not in a position to judge the trials that others experience and how well they weather through those trials, I don’t think we are in a position to determine whether Emma was “faithful enough” or not. Does Emma’s portrait deserve to be hung in the Relief Society room when Belle Spafford’s portrait is not hung despite the latter’s many decades of service to that organization? I don’t know. Perhaps Emma’s portrait is more deserving of a place in the foyer besides that of Joseph Smith as his associate in founding The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She played a fundamental role in providing the place, means, and some of the tutoring for the translation of the Book of Mormon; she played a central role in establishing our hymnal which is also considered scripture; all the temple endowments for women trace their lineage back to Emma as the one who first provided that saving ordinance for women; and she endured countless hardships so that Joseph would have more time to produce revelations, direct affairs of the Church, and preach to the Saints.

9- I understand that you have been working to help restore Emma's early childhood home and a few other historical sites that were important places in Emma's life. Could you tell us a bit more about those projects and what visitors might expect to see and experience when they go?

I have spent a number of years trying to understand the nature of the log home where Emma was born in 1804 and the frame home that her family built less than a decade later in the same area. It has been an interesting process and I’ve learned a great deal about the Hale farm and the Isaac and Elizabeth Hale family in the process. I’ve also worked to understand the Joseph and Emma Smith home that once stood nearby. In the not distant future all of this research may help us better celebrate the events of Church history in Pennsylvania more fully.

10- Is there anything else you would like to share about Emma or your work?

Sometimes when Joseph Smith dictated his history he talked about events in which he was involved as “I” did this, or “I” did that without mentioning the significant role Emma played in these same events. This was a common way of responding in the early nineteenth century. It did not mean that Joseph felt Emma had not contributed to an event—such as Book of Mormon translation—but that Emma was considered an extension of Joseph. Sometimes the identity of women was so subsumed in that of their husband in the nineteenth century that they go unnoticed. The author Mrs. Schuyler van Rensselaer, for example, is really Mariana Griswold van Rensselaer. But her identity was tied into that of her husband as was typical of the period. For Emma this was much more the case. Joseph came to recognize in Nauvoo that even his exaltation was tied to that of his wife. He could not return to live with God again without being sealed to his wife. We naturally focus on Joseph because he was the source of revelation from God, but Emma was so much a part of Joseph that she shared in much of what he accomplished. According to one of his associates, Joseph was told by Moroni that he could not recover the plates unless he married Emma and brought her to the hill with him. After Joseph married Emma he was able to receive the plates at his next visit with her accompanying him along the way. Thankfully she agreed to leave behind family, friends, all her possessions, and any dreams of a life of ease she may have fostered to join Joseph on the journey. We are all blessed because of it.

Thank you Mark for the privledge of intervieiwing you. I learned so many new things about Emma and you have given me some beautiful ideas to think about. I look forward to reading your book when it is finished! 

Also, if you would like to link to your own post about Emma Smith or share your testimony of the Book of Mormon for Emma's birthday gift you can link up to it below. The blog hop will be on all of my posts this week so you are welcome to join in any time.