The first time I remember receiving my own witness that Joseph Smith was the Prophet of the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ, I was about 13 years old.
I have never been very musically talented myself, but I do consider myself to have been blessed with the gift of taste. Music, the lyrics coupled with the melody, has been a means to opening my heart for as long as I can remember.
When I was 13 years old, I was with a youth group that was celebrating the 175th anniversary of the organization of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We were singing Joseph Smith’s First Prayer, a song that beautifully depicts the moment where the boy Joseph, 14 years old at the time, saw our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ descending from above. I remember being overcome with the Spirit that testified to me that the words I was singing were true. Ever since then, I have been blessed with a renewed testimony every time I hear the account of the boy Joseph as I feel the spirit yet again enter my heart. This is something that I try hard not to take for granted, recognizing that this is a gift to me to be able to have this experience renewed so many times.
Last week I was blessed with the opportunity to visit the town of Nauvoo and Carthage, Illinois. I was watching a pageant that was depicting many of the accounts of the early saints there in Nauvoo and the joy that they felt there after having been chased out of so many towns before. As I watched the actor for Prophet Joseph describe his experience on stage, I felt that same sweet spirit come into my heart.
Having grown up in the church, I was raised hearing of the many sacrifices that the early saints made and the persecution they went through. It was something special to physically be there in Nauvoo and hear so many personal accounts in the words of very real people. One of the most amazing things to me was to learn of the hope that they held onto and the joy that they were able to experience amidst the persecution. It became clear to me that in order for them to be able to hold to hope, they had to have had their own personal experiences with God through the Spirit to know that what they were standing for was good and true. Because they had their own experiences, nobody was able to tell them that it wasn’t true, they were there for it, nobody could take that away from them.
The Prophet Joseph Smith sealed his testimony with his blood, as did many others. When the Prophet was martyred, many thought the church would go away but it did not. Heavenly Father continued to lead and guide his children. The early saints must have been devastated to have to leave yet another place that they thought would be their home, yet they knew that Heavenly Father would continue to guide them and that He knew what was in store. They even wrote in a Hymn, “and if we die before our journey’s through, happy day, all is well”. They trusted in this. They allowed the martyrdom to be a testimony that this was not Joseph’s church, this was the Lord’s church. They continued to stand for their beliefs that God’s authority and mouth-piece was back on the earth, as it was in ancient Biblical times. This was important to them as it is important to me because it means that our Heavenly Father still speaks to us, He still leads us, His gospel continues, He sets us up for success in His desire to have us return to Him one day, He shows us the way to be happy in this world that’s ever changing, His priesthood authority is on the earth to baptize and seal us together for eternity with our families as one big link in God’s family.
This is my heritage. This is your heritage. The early saints withstood much, and I have to believe that they knew that what they were fighting for was beyond themselves; I have to believe that they knew that their sacrifices would bless their posterity and many many others throughout the eternities.
I grew up knowing of these accounts in my head. My time walking the streets of Nauvoo and hearing specific accounts from these early days of the restoration, I felt them move from my head to my heart. I desire to have the heart of a pioneer! I desire to live true to my testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and honor the sacrifices of those who stood strong so that I could have what I have today.
Next week, July 24, we celebrate Pioneer Day, celebrating their trek from Nauvoo to Utah where they were finally able to settle, after having lost so many. I have a feeling that this Pioneer Day is going to mean more to me than any previous Pioneer Day.