Most aspects of my testimony of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ have come to me gradually. They have involved beautifully layered experiences and witnesses of the Holy Ghost through the years. To borrow a comparison from Elder Bednar: It has been like watching the sun rise. “Gradually and steadily the intensity of the light increased and the darkness of night was replaced by the radiance of morning.” I can’t pinpoint to an exact place or time when I knew things were true.
But one portion of my testimony is different. It came to me all at once. Powerfully. Like turning on a light switch in a dark room. I felt an “immediate and intense recognition of light.”
It happened when I was 13 or 14 years old (Cal, do you remember?!?) and my family took a vacation that started in New York City and took us to various LDS church history sites from New York to Nauvoo before flying back home to Utah. I remember my Mom and Dad having a deep desire for Calvin and I to feel significant things in the places we visited. They wanted to strengthen our testimonies. In some locations I was a little distracted by their good intentions… for instance I didn’t have a particularly moving experience in the Sacred Grove because the pressure was just too great! I did however, have wonderful experiences in the Palmyra Temple, Liberty and Carthage Jail, Independence, and all of Nauvoo.
But the most memorable moment of the entire trip happened in one of the lesser visited, quieter spots of church history. In Palmyra New York you can visit Joseph Smith Sr.’s log home, location of the Angel Moroni’s miraculous appearance to Joseph Smith. No one else was visiting the morning we went making for a nice, intimate experience. I will never forget the spirit that I felt as we entered that small upper room of the log cabin. I sensed it immediately. It grew as the sweet Sister Missionary shared the story of what took place there, and it culminated when she bore simple, powerful testimony that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. Every part of myself could feel the Holy Ghost testifying to me that what she said was true. It really did happen. He really was what he claimed! We could only have been up there for 5 minutes or less but I walked out feeling different, changed. A vital piece of truth had been implanted deep in my heart in a way I knew I could never, would never deny.
I did not know the Prophet personally, but because of this experience I can echo the testimony of Lorenzo Snow, who did:
“I know that Joseph Smith was a true Prophet of the living God. I testify that he saw and spoke with God and His son Jesus Christ. The Lord gave me this living testimony and it has been burning within my soul ever since I received it.”
I love that last line. That same testimony is burning in my soul too! Ever since that moment in the upper room of a small log cabin my heart thrills to both hear and bear testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith. I don’t worship Joseph but I absolutely give Praise to the Man. The gospel he restored is the foundation of my life. And I am especially grateful when I remember that he restored it under the most impossible of conditions, his life filled with emotional and physical trauma involving personal sacrifices that I can’t even imagine. How grateful I am to him for staying true and for accomplishing the work that God gave him to do.
I hope someday I get the chance to thank him. I want to tell him that I shared his story with others. I want to tell him that I know the Book of Mormon cost the best blood of the nineteenth century, and that I treasured it and strove use it every day of my life to draw closer to God. I want to tell him that I appreciated the profound difference that his work made to my life and to my family.
If you are curious what prompted this post… In Relief Society on Sunday we had a lesson about Joseph. I hadn’t read the lesson before hand (shame on me!) but I was still blessed to again feel that same powerful spirit that seems to accompany discussion of the Prophet. My personally theory is that a testimony of Joseph Smith being a true Prophet is so absolutely vital that the spirit is particularly powerful when He testifies of it. I also think that the Spirit, Heavenly Father and Jesus loved and appreciated Joseph for being willing to serve and to continue to give despite all of his hardships so there is a sweetness that accompanies the spirit that testifies of him too… an appreciation and respect for what he endured. He was the beloved “Brother Joseph,” by the people of his time and is still that for us today. I personally can’t help but become emotional with the subject.
Anyway, the lesson was fantastic. I’ve been thinking about Joseph and reading about him for the past couple of days because of it. All of this has reminded me that I never recorded my experience as a teenager in Palmyra. (Shame on me again!) But I am happy to repent and do it now. I want posterity to know that Great, Great Grandma Ashlee knew Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God and that she loved to testify of him.
I hope that they will too!