Paradox loves the Prophet Joseph Smith

" 1 To seal the testimony of this book and the Book of Mormon, we announce the martyrdom of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and Hyrum Smith the Patriarch. They were shot in Carthage jail, on the 27th of June, 1844, about five o’clock p.m., by an armed mob—painted black—of from 150 to 200 persons. Hyrum was shot first and fell calmly, exclaiming: I am a dead man! Joseph leaped from the window, and was shot dead in the attempt, exclaiming: O Lord my God! They were both shot after they were dead, in a brutal manner, and both received four balls.

2 John Taylor and Willard Richards, two of the Twelve, were the only persons in the room at the time; the former was wounded in a savage manner with four balls, but has since recovered; the latter, through the providence of God, escaped, without even a hole in his robe.

3 Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. In the short space of twenty years, he has brought forth the Book of Mormon, which he translated by the gift and power of God, and has been the means of publishing it on two continents; has sent the fulness of the everlasting gospel, which it contained, to the four quarters of the earth; has brought forth the revelations and commandments which compose this book of Doctrine and Covenants, and many other wise documents and instructions for the benefit of the children of men; gathered many thousands of the Latter-day Saints, founded a great city, and left a fame and name that cannot be slain. He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood; and so has his brother Hyrum. In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated!

4 When Joseph went to Carthage to deliver himself up to the pretended requirements of the law, two or three days previous to his assassination, he said: “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer’s morning; I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men. I SHALL DIE INNOCENT, AND IT SHALL YET BE SAID OF ME—HE WAS MURDERED IN COLD BLOOD.”—The same morning, after Hyrum had made ready to go—shall it be said to the slaughter? yes, for so it was—he read the following paragraph, near the close of the twelfth chapter of Ether, in the Book of Mormon, and turned down the leaf upon it:

5 And it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord that he would give unto the Gentiles grace, that they might have charity. And it came to pass that the Lord said unto me: If they have not charity it mattereth not unto thee, thou hast been faithful; wherefore thy garments shall be made clean. And because thou hast seen thy weakness, thou shalt be made strong, even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father. And now I . . . bid farewell unto the Gentiles; yea, and also unto my brethren whom I love, until we shall meet before the judgment-seat of Christ, where all men shall know that my garments are not spotted with your blood. The testators are now dead, and their testament is in force.

6 Hyrum Smith was forty-four years old in February, 1844, and Joseph Smith was thirty-eight in December, 1843; and henceforward their names will be classed among the martyrs of religion; and the reader in every nation will be reminded that the Book of Mormon, and this book of Doctrine and Covenants of the church, cost the best blood of the nineteenth century to bring them forth for the salvation of a ruined world; and that if the fire can scathe a green tree for the glory of God, how easy it will burn up the dry trees to purify the vineyard of corruption. They lived for glory; they died for glory; and glory is their eternal reward. From age to age shall their names go down to posterity as gems for the sanctified.

7 They were innocent of any crime, as they had often been proved before, and were only confined in jail by the conspiracy of traitors and wicked men; and their innocent blood on the floor of Carthage jail is a broad seal affixed to “Mormonism” that cannot be rejected by any court on earth, and their innocent blood on the escutcheon of the State of Illinois, with the broken faith of the State as pledged by the governor, is a witness to the truth of the everlasting gospel that all the world cannot impeach; and their innocent blood on the banner of liberty, and on the
magna charta of the United States, is an ambassador for the religion of Jesus Christ, that will touch the hearts of honest men among all nations; and their innocent blood, with the innocent blood of all the martyrs under the altar that John saw, will cry unto the Lord of Hosts till he avenges that blood on the earth. Amen."

Doctrine and Covenants 135

I wanted to highlight one verse that captures the essense of what this day has meant for me, but how can any faithful Saint complain of reading the entire section when it means so much? (Translated: I couldn't keep myself from putting the whole thing here!)

The Prophet Joseph Smith is one of the most important figures in my life. I have studied his life in great detail, and to say that I admire him is trite and insufficient. To say that I mourn on this anniversary of his martyrdom; doubly so.

I have been blessed with an understanding of his life. As a young teenager, I too have questioned my God on eternal truths. I have asked the question, "Which church should I join?" and was instructed to join none of them. The confusion he must have felt; I have felt it. The ridicule he endured for us all, in order to establish this Church; I would not be enduring it today if he hadn't taken the full force of those first and mighty blows. I love and respect the Prophet Joseph Smith for all that he taught, all that he shared, and for the remarkable example and legacy he left behind. He left behind a hope for all of Heavenly Father's children who have ever been 17 years old and envisioned something more from life. Up until the very end, he was faithful to Our Heavenly Father, crying out to Him with his last breath. A truer Saint will probably never walk the Earth, especially not in my shoes, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to bear his burdens; to rise to the occasion I so willingly inherit.

Here's to you, Brother and Prophet Joseph Smith, for being the best that mankind can ever hope to be. Even though you weren't perfect, you did what you knew was right, even when people said you were going to Hell for it. You did the best you could do, and your vision moved an entire people across a continent in search of something better. Something more than what the world had to offer. And because of that same dream, Brother Joseph Smith, I undertake that same quest in less than a year. The world can and will say what it wants about your history. I prefer to know the man behind it.

I wish to bear my testimony, in case there is any doubt, that I know the Prophet Joseph Smith worked a true and mighty miracle from the time of his first vision onward. I will never again doubt the sacred and powerful potential of my dreams because of his life, and I can only hope and pray that:
"Millions shall know Brother Jospeh again." Hymn 27

Sustaining Faith

I present you with the talk I gave yesterday on Sustaining Faith. After I troll around the internet, get some more reading done, and finish all of the poems I've been thinking about and working on, I shall make another post.

Until then...

Kim Allgood and his wife, Linda, entered my life at a time when I was returning to a crossroads, the place where crucial and irreversible changes are made. At the time, I was confident that joining the Church was what I needed to do, and had no doubts. Because of my confidence, and my faith in the witness I had already received on the truth of this church, I viewed my pre-baptism lessons as a formality, a way to pass the summer until the date of my baptism. Make no mistake; I do not regret my decision. I do wonder, however, if I underestimated the value of those lessons, and the truth they contained. I recall that, to close one of my lessons, Brother Allgood said, “And all we need to do is endure to the end.” At the time, I didn’t understand what that was supposed to mean. As far as I was concerned, my life was only going to get better once I stepped out of that baptismal font at the end of August. But within days, I quickly learned that Enduring to the End is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, and continue to do; which brings me to my topic: Sustaining Faith.

Sustaining my faith has been challenging and exhausting at times. Like so many converts before me, my faith was tested when I was forced to make decisions I never wanted to make, to answer questions I never wanted asked of me. Imagine what you would do if commanded to:

1. Choose between your family and your future in the Church
2. Choose between your friends as you know them for the people they really are.
3. Choose between the habits and knowledge you have always trusted for a new way of life.
4. Choose God over EVERYthing else.

Many of us do not need to imagine such choices. We’ve faced these trials and more; we’ve said our prayers for the easy answers that we know will never come. We’ve grappled with ourselves over the counsel we’ve received; grieved because of what our Father’s counsel has meant for us. But it is my prayer that we meet this adversity with humble hearts and trusting spirits as we return to him in honest faith, saying, “Thy will be done.” I pray that we all know that Our Father has NEVER, and will never abandon us. Even when His plan, His way seems unfair, we must always remember that He has our millions of possibilities in mind as he tries to lead us to the path back to Him. “Enduring to the End” is something we will never have to do alone. Remembering our bond with our Heavenly parents and our Savior is essential to our lives as Latter-day Saints. Without a testimony of this undeniable truth, there is no faith to sustain. If you find yourself in such a place spiritually that you cannot testify of your place within the loving arms of our Savior, it is my suggestion that you start here. I promise you that your search will not be an empty one.

Faith in this Church is like a puzzle. Heavenly Father and Christ are the central pieces. Once this piece is in place, I know from personal experience that the others will follow in their own time. We cannot expect these pieces to be given to us all at once, or in our time. Even if we decide to be proactive, to pursue the truth of this gospel fervently; to expect ourselves to come to a perfect understanding of all things is unrealistic. How often have our unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others been a source of discomfort to us? Understanding is a precious unification of knowledge and experience that will bless us if we strive for it. If we’re going to Endure to the End, we can only do it through understanding. Brother John Bytheway said it best when he recommended that we come to a place spiritually where we may have questions about the Church, but we have no doubts about fundamental gospel truths. Sustaining faith is when we eliminate doubt, and spend our energy answering our questions. Then we’ll be able to find and assemble the rest of the pieces of our testimony puzzle. For me, the pieces are:

1. Testimony of the Scriptures (The Bible and the Book of Mormon)
2. Belief in Joseph Smith’s First Vision, and his teachings and revelations as a Prophet of God.
3. Belief that we, as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have a modern-day Prophet, our beloved Gordon B. Hinckley, who is at the head of this church by the will and authority of God.
4. A knowledge of the Temple, its place in our lives and in the plan of salvation

I’ve come to appreciate how much like a puzzle the Church really is. All of the pieces must come together. Without any one of the pieces, the entire testimony falls apart. Do not assume for a second that the Adversary doesn’t know how testimonies are assembled. He has slowly DISassembled enough of them to know which pieces we struggle with, and how to coerce us to pull the pieces out ourselves, one by one; which is the only way he will ever have power over us. To fight his influence, we must be searching for and piecing together our testimony, and standing against anything that would impede us, even when it hurts. Even when it’s difficult. Even when we don’t feel like it. Even when we may feel like we’d rather do ANYTHING else. We must stand, Brothers and Sisters, for the truth that has shaped our lives as Latter-day Saints. How do we do that? A few suggestions:

Become skilled with the tools within the standard answer.
The standard answer is what we, in Sister Mlodoch’s class, have labeled the conclusion that we reach for enough of our lessons that we’ve shortened the response to “Standard Answer.” The tools of the standard answer, as I like to call them, are:

1. Prayer
2. Fasting
3. Tithing
4. Reading the Scriptures
5. Sharing your testimony
6. Coming to Church

Each tool serves its own purpose for the person wielding it. A screwdriver is a hammer in the hands of anyone other than me, I’m sure. The tools within the standard answer serve different purposes depending on the person wielding them as well. Prayer, for me, is a source of peace. But when I need to break a bad habit, I fast. Tithing and sharing my testimony increase my appreciation and gratitude for the blessings I’ve been given, but sharing my testimony also helps me to use the talents I’ve been given to share the gospel. Reading the scriptures is what I do when I have a crisis of questions about my life and my place in it. Each tool serves a different purpose for me, and some of them aren’t interchangeable. For me, trying to break a bad habit with prayer alone, instead of fasting, is like showing up with a Phillips when you need a Flathead.

Learning when to use what tool is an important aspect of sustaining faith because these are the tools our Heavenly Father has given us to draw closer to Him, and to keep His Spirit. People try to get around using these tools because they work by a force that, if it came up in Physics, I would have gotten a better grade. That force is Faith. With these tools, you’re using a hammer to strike a nail you can’t see with your eyes. You’re trying to power a drill with a different kind of battery. It takes a lot of practice, and much trial and error before you figure out how to make it work for yourself. But the longer you wait to begin, the longer you keep yourself from our Father in Heaven and His Spirit.

Coming to Church is a tool in its own way, because it’s by coming to Church that we learn ways to use the other tools. But more importantly, coming to Church, taking the Sacrament; they are the means by which we complete an essential task that was illustrated perfectly by a lesson that Sister Wheeler gave to our Young Women’s class a few Sundays ago. She placed a chair in front of us, and asked for a volunteer. I finally sat down, and she pulled out a bright yellow rope and began to tie me to the chair. The rope was sin, Brothers and Sisters, and with each additional layer, it was harder and harder for me to move. Soon, I couldn’t have moved even if I had wanted to. We come to Church because it’s hard, if possible at all, to get out of a chair by yourself when you’re tied to it; especially when bound by the strongest ropes of iniquity. By coming to Church, we are able to take the Sacrament, receive blessings from the Brethren, and use our spiritual tools to help our friends and neighbors, our brothers and sisters, to be released from their chairs; that they may be able to stand in holier places, to stand for truth and righteousness again.

I fear that sometimes we may become trapped, like I sometimes am, by the idea that I must get through my trials alone; that there is some inherent weakness in asking for help, by relying on anyone else’s tools but my own. However, we do ourselves a great disservice by feeding ourselves such self-centered thoughts. We deny ourselves the freedom that Our Father is trying to bless us with through the hands of others. We hinder our own spiritual growth by removing from our character the Christ-like quality of Humility. Christ taught us to love one another, which is why complete self-sufficiency, although celebrated in our culture, is not how we ought to be. Attuning ourselves to the Spirit in order to serve others, and through them, Our God. Obeying the commandments we’ve been given, and enduring to the end so that we might leave the world in better condition than when we inherited it. Now THAT’S something worth celebrating.

How will we know if we’re becoming attuned to the Spirit?

Keep a Journal–Journals are a powerful means of attuning yourself with the Spirit. I have found that some of my most meaningful council that I’ve received from the Spirit has come when I was writing with my journal. A journal is a place to gather ongoing and personalized revelations, which then serves as spiritual food storage for tough times ahead that are sure to come. And like food storage, they can also aid your posterity, if stored and preserved with the future in mind. A journal is also a wonderful tool for self-improvement. It allows you to put your thoughts, goals, and essentially to put yourself on paper. Then, you’ll be able to judge what you see for yourself, make changes where you see fit, and monitor your progress as you seek to establish and maintain your faith.

We’ve discussed HOW to endure to the end, but I also want to reiterate on WHY we sustain our faith. First of all, to endure to the end is a covenant we made at our baptism. We promised to be faithful to Him in word and deed, and we will be held accountable for our actions if we decide to disregard that promise. Secondly, we sustain our faith because, to do so effectively, we must have personal goals that provide an End for which to endure. Our goals are individual, allowing us to decide for ourselves what we will make of the precious time on Earth that our Father has given us. But we must be careful, because our goals (or lack thereof) determine the quality of our time, which can be either a blessing or a curse.

My mother has only given me one piece of advice in the seventeen years I’ve been living with her. “Life is what you make it,” is the simple statement she offered me at a particularly chaotic period in my life. That simple statement altered the way I perceived my place within my existence from then on. I realized I had the power and the responsibility to change the direction and the destination of my life, to take a past full of anguish and disappointment and construct something remarkable, and worthy of dignity. And as I sustain my faith, I leave the darkest time of my life further and further behind me, and I’m willing to promise that you can achieve the same thing. It all depends on your goals, and how much you dedicate yourself to achieving them.

Setting goals effectively, therefore, is one of the most important skills for a worthy Saint to develop. In order to be of any use to us, our goals must require something specific and tangible, so that we will know when we come closer to completion, or deviate from our course. We should be on the lookout for examples of what we’d like to achieve with our lives. Examples are all around us: people we admire, people in the scriptures, family members, friends, neighbors, ancestors, leaders in the Church. My goals are often based on what I find in books. The most complete image I’ve ever seen of how I envision my future is from The Grapes of Wrath. I’d like to share it with you to illustrate another point. The following passage is a description of Ma Joad, the mother in John Steinbeck’s novel about the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression:

“Ma was heavy, but not fat; thick with childbearing and work. She wore a loose Mother Hubbard of gray cloth in which there had once been colored flowers, but the color was washed out now, so that the small flowered pattern was only a little lighter gray than the background. The dress came down to her ankles, and her strong, broad, bare feet moved quickly and deftly over the floor. Her thin, steel-gray hair was gathered in a sparse wispy knot at the back of her head. Strong, freckled arms were bare to the elbow, and her hands were chubby and delicate, like those of a plump little girl. She looked out into the sunshine. Her full face was not soft; it was controlled, kindly. Her hazel eyes seemed to have experienced all possible tragedy and to have mounted pain and suffering like steps into a high calm and superhuman understanding. She seemed to know, to accept, to welcome her position, the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken. And since old Tom and the children could not know hurt or fear unless she acknowledged hurt and fear, she had practiced denying them in herself. And since, when a joyful thing happened, they looked to see whether joy was on her, it was her habit to build up laughter out of inadequate materials. But better than joy was calm. Imperturbability could be depended upon. And from her great and humble position in the family she had taken dignity and a clean calm beauty. From her position as healer, her hands had grown sure and cool and quiet; from her position as arbiter she had become as remote and faultless in judgment as a goddess. She seemed to know that if she swayed the family shook, and if she ever really deeply wavered or despaired the family would fall, the family will to function would be gone.”

Within this goal are several smaller goals that are all qualities of a Christ-like character. By developing Ma Joad’s characteristics of patience, kindness, charity, humility, discipline, courage, and loyalty, I will achieve my goal of becoming the kind of mother I’ve always wanted to be, and becoming more like my Savior, which is the larger goal of all of our lives. We have a divine responsibility to be worthy of a celestial inheritance. By becoming more like our Brother and Savior, we will be prepared for when we must make use of what we learned in these days of preparation. Our righteous living will be a blessing to us and is WORTH THE TRIALS THAT WE FACE IN ORDER TO BE RIGHTEOUS.

The goals we make together as a Church on sustaining faith are just as important as the goals we make for ourselves. Our Church has endured the countless trials it has faced for over a century because of the Saints’ willingness to work together. Last week, Brother Angerbauer challenged all of us to imagine and see the circumstances where we could boldly share our faith with our friends and neighbors. I want to add to that image by asking all of us to imagine our congregation where the people who are already here have no doubts about the truth of this Church. I know for a fact that there are those among us that do more than question the truth at times. They doubt quietly to themselves about the gospel, allowing their doubts to fester because they don’t know how to ask for help, or have tried to ask for help so many time already, they are weary from the strain and disappointment that comes when the questions go unanswered, and continue to fester.

I challenge all of us, Brothers and Sisters, to remember that we are BROTHERS and SISTERS in Christ. We were not put on this Earth to give up on each other. We are here to learn and to grow, and to help others grow as well. We sustain each other in our callings with the uplifted hand. Let us always be willing to sustain one another OUTSIDE of our callings, to be sources of truth at ALL times. Let us strive to be guides for others who may be losing their way, to the already lost, and even to those trying desperately to return to the fold. Why? Because we’re a family, and that is what families do.

I want to close by sharing my testimony that I know this Church is true. I know that Heavenly Father is a loving Father that endowed us with our precious agency; the greatest asset in overcoming Satan’s influence. I know that our Father in Heaven has provided us with tools that will bless our lives if we dedicate ourselves to learning how to use them. I know, without a doubt in my mind, that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God, and that because of his First Vision, we have this Church today. I know that Gordon B. Hinckley is a modern-day Prophet, and if we heed his inspired council, we will be better Saints for it. I know that the temple is the sacred house where we do provide a real and important service to the Saints who came before us, and need us to give them their second chance.

Even in time of my personal struggle, during my crises of questions, my foundation in the gospel has been firm, and I no longer have to question if I’m going to make it through the next one. I no longer feel as if I’m living on a day-to-day basis with something missing from my life. My life is complete now because of the gospel, and I refuse to have it any other way, and I pray that all of you have the same resolve. Know that you are special people in my life, and I appreciate everything you have done for me, and I leave these thoughts and my best wishes with you in the name of our Beloved Jesus Christ. AMEN


On the last day of school, I sat in the cafeteria waiting for the first bell to ring. The tables were the emptiest I had ever seen them at that time in the morning, including my own, where I sat alone. As I entertained myself with thoughts about nothing in particular, I noticed the two Muslim girls at our school enter the cafeteria and take their usual places across from one another. I had seen them around the school, but had never seen them speak. I assumed they mostly kept to themselves and didn't speak to them, and they never spoke to me.

I had noticed that the scarves they wore were usually colorful, with flowers or splashes of bright pastels. I was curious about them, and perused them that morning more than I ever had before. The girl who was facing my direction saw me staring and gave a trace of a polite smile. I smiled back in my usual manner--my full lips spread in a wide, dimpled smile, but showing no teeth.

I thought I might like to say hello openly, to try and get to know them better, even if just for a day. I wondered what we would talk about, what their interests were, where they came from, how they felt about living in America. I wanted to ask them about their ideas, their hopes for the future. With my talk about Sustaining Faith in mind, I wondered how they felt about being the only Muslims (that I know of) in our small, almost-Southern high school. I wondered if they found it as tiring as I did to be a representative of my religion AT ALL TIMES, even when having a bad day. I admired their public profession of their faith that stands out even more than mine.

I was curious about their lives, their stories; but not enough to boldly speak to them. The first bell rang, and I left for my first period French class without another thought about them-- until now.

The video above comes from Dr. Wafa Sultan, an ex-Muslim woman from Syria, and a devout Muslim family. She practiced the faith until 1979, when a Muslim terrorist group called the Muslim Brotherhood, broke into the University of Aleppo where she was taking a class. They shot and killed her professor in front of her, screaming, "God is great." Sultan reflects upon the incident as a breaking point between her and the Muslim faith. "At that point," she states, "I lost my trust in their god and began to question all our teachings. It was the turning point of my life, and it has led me to this present point. I had to leave. I had to look for another god."

Her journey has led her on a dangerous journey. The above video was broadcasted on Al Jazeera in February 2006, and ever since then, she has received countless threats from Muslim extremists threatening to kill her. Her mother no longer speaks to her directly, and will only speak to her through her sister in Qatar. And still, she has not faltered away from the cause she has claimed as her own.

"I have no fear. I believe in my message. It is like a million-mile journey, and I believe I have walked the first and hardest 10 miles," she states.

After witnessing this woman's struggle, it puts the lives of these two girls into perspective for me. What has their family seen? Have they too watched a human being die in front of them? Are their colorful scarves a mark of their faith, or of their capture? Either way, it's not my place to judge them, and certainly not my place to hate them for something I know nothing about. There's obviously enough animosity in the world without us adding to it. I believe we are Sisters, and we have more to learn from each other than we have to hate.

Truth Eternal Tells Me I've a Mother There

Without further ado, let's do a scriptural deep-dive on Heavenly Mother. I've put a lot of thought into the best way to create a lon...