The Sistas in Zion | Hilarity Never Faileth

Last year, I had the chance to sit down and interview Tamu Smith and Zandra Vranes, creators of the website Sistas in Zion, and authors of the book Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons.

In this five minute video, the Sistas share their beliefs, talk about what kind of music Elder Holland listens to, and why they would “dress up for Jesus.” I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much during an interview (listen closely and you can actually hear me a couple of times). Seriously, my sides were hurting!

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Mormonism and a Crisis of Faith

The Prophet Joseph Smith had his own doubts.

The Prophet Joseph Smith had his own doubts.

In recent years, news headlines have trumpeted those who, for one reason or another, have criticized their Mormon faith or have abandoned it altogether. Some of these stories, filled with contentious sensationalism, have become fodder for skeptics and critics of the Church. Using either loud, bombastic language, or an alluring voice that poses as intellectual superiority, these cynics all suggest, in one way or another, that either the Mormon Church, its leadership, its teachings, or its culture—or all four—are false.

Whatever their method of communication, the overarching theme is not news. The battle between faith and doubt is one that has raged for as long as man has had the agency to choose. It is a story as old as time. In fact, the battle between faith and doubt is the story upon which Mormonism is founded.

If you’re struggling to have faith, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Most people—if not all—will struggle to know what is right and what is wrong. Furthermore, finding faith is not a one-time event, but a journey that requires us to constantly be willing to move forward—and moving forward in the absence of certainty is not the easiest thing to do.

About Faith

Before we get into Joseph Smith’s personal journey, we must first understand a few things about faith itself. In the Lectures on Faith, Joseph Smith said:

“…faith is the assurance which men have of the existence of things which they have not seen, and the principle of action in all intelligent beings. If men were duly to consider themselves, and turn their thought and reflections to the operations of their own minds, they would readily discover that it is faith, and faith only, which is the moving cause of all action in them; that without it both mind and body would be in a state of inactivity, and all their exertions would cease, both physical and mental.”

Whether you know it or not, you exercise faith every minute, of every hour, of every day. When you flip on a light switch, you exercise faith that a light will come on. When you drive a car, you exercise faith that you will not get into an accident. Eating, breathing, and moving forward in life all require some degree of faith.

To put it bluntly, faith doesn’t just precede the miracle—faith precedes LIFE! James Stephen noted that “in nearly all the important transactions in life, indeed in all transactions whatever which have relation to the future, we have to take a leap in the dark,…to act upon very imperfect evidence…I believe it to be the same with religious belief” (From The God Who Weeps, pg. 3).

But in order for faith to even exist there “must needs be…an opposition” (2 Nephi  2:11)—namely doubt. The ability to exercise faith would not be possible without an equal measure of doubt. Anyone who has lifted weights knows the value of opposition: the more you exercise your muscles against resistance, the stronger you become. And just as you can’t become strong in the absence of opposition, you cannot grow faith in the presence of overwhelming evidence. Terryl Givens put it this way:

“There must be grounds for doubt as well as belief, in order to render the choice more truly a choice, and therefore the more deliberate, and laden with personal vulnerability and investment. An overwhelming preponderance of evidence on either side would make our choice as meaningless as would a loaded gun pointed at our heads” (From The God Who Weeps, pg. 4).

Doubt—opposition to our faith—actually gives us the ability to strengthen our faith. So keep in mind that if Lehi’s formula of opposition is true, then opposition will grow in proportion to our faith. Ironically, the more we increase in faith, the more our faith will be tested and opposed. It’s a law of nature that must be observed.

Peter had the faith to walk on water, but sank as he yielded to his doubts.

Peter had the faith to walk on water, but sank as he yielded to his doubts.

Please understand that doubts are NORMAL. Faith would be meaningless without the existence of doubt. If you feel like you’re the only one that has doubts, don’t. Everyone has doubts. Even the prophets.

Abraham doubted God’s promise that he and Sarah would have children (Genesis 17:17), and questioned God’s plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:16-33). Moses doubted that God could help his “slow tongue” (Exodus 4:10-16) and Enoch had similar feelings (Moses 6:31). Mary and Martha had seen many miracles but doubted that their brother could be raised from the dead (John 11:39). Peter walked on the water, only to give in to the waves (Matthew 14:30-31). Thomas doubted the words of his fellow apostles and required evidence before he could believe (John 20:24-29). Nephi doubted God’s command to slay Laban (1 Nephi 4:10). Joseph Smith lost 116 pages of the Book of Mormon because he feared man more than God (D&C 3:7-8).

No one is exempt from doubts, questions, or even a crisis of faith. Everyone experiences moments that test their faith; moments when the reason of the world is seemingly incompatible with faith in God (The Infinite Atonement, pg. 110). But our moments of darkness and doubt are the very things that make our journey of faith all the more valuable and meaningfulWe do not truly love something unless we sacrifice for it.

Perhaps, no one knows more about the struggle of faith than Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith. His own doubts about religion led him on a spiritual journey—a journey that we all, in one way or another, must eventually confront.

I. Know the Desires of Your Heart

“I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God” (Joseph Smith History 1:15).

First and foremost, the journey of faith requires you to honestly ask yourself the desires of your heart—if you even want to believe. If you don’t want to believe, then nothing that you read from this point on will be useful to you. Your desire to disbelieve will crowd out any reasons to believe. Your skepticism will arrest anything to do with faith and interrogate it with extreme bias, searching for lies and ulterior motives. The ability to believe is often halted by the desire to disbelieve.

So ask yourself if you really want to believe. Honestly consider the value of doubt over the value of faith. Do you really want to know the truth of all things, or are you secretly hoping to prove something false for some kind of personal victory?

II. What Are You Listening To?

“In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they wrong all together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?” (Joseph Smith History 1:10)

The understandings of men - a war of words and tumult of opinions.

The understandings of men – a war of words and tumult of opinions.

Ultimately, my own struggles with faith came down to the voices I listened to; the voices to which I subscribed. While contending with my doubts, I searched for answers in both extremes of Mormonism (the far right and the far left). In one instance, I attended classes offered by a man who claimed to teach things that “the Brethren couldn’t teach because they’re too busy with other things.” With vigor and a tear-stained testimony, he denounced certain “movements” within the Church and loosely backed up all of his claims using various quotes which had been given by the Brethren under wildly different circumstances. He concluded his classes by asking for “donations” to help further his cause (that’s called “priestcraft,” by the way). These classes did not increase my faith, they doubled my doubts and increased my questions.

At another time, I listened to a group of people who “intellectually explored” the various facets of Mormonism. Using inquiry laced with cynicism, they dug up and examined many issues concerning Church history and culture, under the pretense that they wanted to hear both sides of these issues. Most of their conclusions were rooted in the idea that hopefully, the Church would start doing things the right way (which translated into “Doing things the way we think they should be done.”). Interestingly enough, this group also asked for donations.

Don’t get me wrong. When it comes to matters of faith, it’s always good to study things out and learn as much as you can from different people. Thomas Jefferson once said: “Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.”

But as you question “with boldness,” always check the voices to which you are listening. Check them for a bias, check them for an agenda, and check them for lies. Do they preach love and harmony? Or are they stirring up contention? What is their motivation? Are they trying to build Zion by building others up, or are they trying to build their own kingdom and influence by tearing others down? Do they inspire you to love God and serve him?

“…wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God” (Moroni 7:13).

In the midst of my doubt, I realized that I had been paying more attention to the loud and contentious voices of men, instead of listening for the quiet, loving voice of God.

III. The Answers Are Found in Simple Things

“While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James…It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart.” (Joseph Smith History 1:11).

For some reason, the nature of mankind is to make things more complicated (just look to government as an example of this). We think that the answers are found in seminars, discourses, lengthy books, programs, laws, scholarly studies, or in political movements. The truth is that the answers to the most complex questions can be found in very simple things: being honest, forgiving each other, spending time with family, serving our neighbor, or peacefully reading and reflecting upon the ancient wisdom of the scriptures.

When the noise of the world fades, and you find a quiet moment to yourself, read the words of Christ and honestly ask yourself if His teachings make more sense. Ask yourself if the world would be a better place if the people in it embraced the gospel of peace taught by Christ. I guarantee that an hour of sincere, scripture study will yield more answers and greater peace than an hour spent debating doctrines, quarreling over culture, or procuring problems that never were.

IV. Ask of God, Not of Google

Ask of God

Ask of God

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5).

In my interview of Al Fox (the Tattooed Mormon), she said something so simple, and yet so completely profound that I can honestly point to it as the reason my faith was reignited. She said that when problems, doubts, and questions arise, “don’t go to the internet,” she then pointed up. “Ask Him.”

It’s true. Throughout scripture, God has repeatedly requested that we ask Him—that we bring our questions and our concerns to him. Our entire religion is founded on the account of a boy that asked of God. After listening to “the war of words and tumult of opinions,” Joseph Smith went into a quiet grove and prayed to learn the truth from God. President Uchtdorf said it this way:

“What about doubts and questions? How do you find out that the gospel is true? Is it all right to have questions about the Church or its doctrine? My dear young friends, we are a question-asking people because we know that inquiry leads to truth. That is the way the Church got its start—from a young man who had questions. In fact, I’m not sure how one can discover truth without asking questions. In the scriptures you will rarely discover a revelation that didn’t come in response to a question. Whenever a question arose and Joseph Smith wasn’t sure of the answer, he approached the Lord, and the results are the wonderful revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants. Often the knowledge Joseph received extended far beyond the original question. That is because not only can the Lord answer the questions we ask but, even more importantly, He can give us answers to questions we should have asked. Let us listen to those answers” (Source: Reflection in the Water).

The most important part of our spiritual inquiry is to whom we submit our questions.  Joseph Smith learned it early on.  Ask of God.

"Ask God, not Google." My favorite Al Fox quote (she said it during our interview)!

“Ask God, not Google.” My favorite Al Fox quote (she said it during our interview)!

V. What Should We Have Faith In?

“One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Joseph Smith History 1:17)

When Joseph Smith had his First Vision he was immediately directed to the Savior to receive the answers for which he was looking. My favorite quote on faith comes from President Boyd K. Packer:

“You exercise faith by causing, or by making, your mind accept or believe as truth that which you cannot, by reason alone, prove for certainty. The first exercising of your faith should be your acceptance of Christ and His atonement” (Source: Personal Revelation: The Gift, The Test, and the Promise).

A Pillar of Light

A Pillar of Light

As Mormons, we have been taught “that the first principles and ordinances of the gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” (Articles of Faith).

That very phrase was written by the Prophet Joseph Smith. I want you to process that for a moment, because the point I want to make is very important: We are asked to have full faith and confidence in Jesus Christ, his atonement and his teachings. We are not asked to have the same level of faith in another person, cultural establishments, political movements or causes, or even parts of Church History. I have a testimony of many of the events that occurred in Church History (the First Vision, the Book of Mormon, the Restoration of the Priesthood, the Kirtland Temple, ect.) but I don’t base my faith on my personal understanding of those historical events, nor do I base my faith on others’ interpretations of those events.

Because history—or our society’s understanding of historical events—can, and often does, change. Men and women are always rewriting history to make it fit the story they want to tell (just look at how politicians can take a current event and twist it to support a cornucopia of contradictory viewpoints).

No. What I know, I know from careful, personal study and from asking God to help me understand the things I don’t know.

This aspect of our journey of faith is very similar to Lehi’s vision of the Tree of Life. In it, followers of Jesus Christ  are led to the Tree of Life (the Salvation of God) by holding fast to a rod of iron (a symbolic representation of the word of God/doctrines and principles we are to live by). True followers of Christ cannot cling to anything else for salvation; they cannot cling to Church History, political movements, social movements, or even another person. Though we may help each other along the road, the pathway to the Tree of Life is a deeply personal experience. And those who let go of the rod of iron—in order to latch on to something else—will become lost in mists of darkness.

Tree of Life Annie Henrie

A painting of the Tree of Life by Annie Henrie

VI. A Pillar of Light

Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction. But exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me…I saw a pillar of light.” (Joseph Smith 1:20).

True conversion, or enlightenment, is as a pillar of light that dispels darkness, confusion and doubt. This fact is attested to in one of the most beautiful conversion stories in all of scripture. Overcome by the spirit, the once wicked King Lamoni collapsed to the ground “as if he were dead” for three days (Alma 18:43). The missionary Ammon (who had a powerful conversion of his own) testified that:

“…the dark veil of unbelief was being cast away from [King Lamoni's] mind, and the light which did light up his mind, which was the light of the glory of God, which was a marvelous light of his goodness—yea, this light had infused such joy into his soul, the cloud of darkness having been dispelled, and that the light of everlasting life was lit up in his soul” (Alma 18:6).

King Lamoni awoke from this experience a converted man, now fully knowing the difference between darkness and light. But the illumination that he experienced is not something that is unique to Mormons.

C.S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis, the great Christian theologian, was one who also experienced this “marvelous light.” He describes his conversion as feeling as though he had “passed from dream to waking.” He later added, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else” (Source: “Is Theology Poetry?” 1945).

After the death of his mother, C. S. Lewis had become an embittered atheist and an ardent critic of Christianity, struggling with complex questions about the existence of God. With the passage of time (and with the gentle prodding of his friend, J. R. R. Tolkien), Lewis’s atheism evolved into agnosticism. One night, Lewis finally “gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”

But the real turn in his faith came during an obscure moment, while on a trip to the zoo:

“I know very well when but hardly how the final step was taken. I went with my brother to have a picnic at Whipsnade Zoo. We started in fog, but by the end of our journey the sun was shining. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and when we reached the zoo I did. I had not exactly spent the journey in thought. Nor in great emotion. It was more like when a man, after a long sleep, becomes aware that he is now awake” (Source: The Question of God).

VIII. Learning for Ourselves

“I then said to my mother, ‘I have learned for myself’ (Joseph Smith History 1:20).

So to those of you that are struggling with your crisis of faith, I commend you for having doubts and questions—it means you’ve started on the journey of faith. As with Joseph Smith, each of us must learn for ourselves. Your questions are more likely to lead you to your own “pillar of light” than is passive reliance on another’s testimony.

But like Joseph Smith, we must also learn that ultimately, the answers to our deepest questions do not come from another person, but from God. Whatever questions and doubts you may have, I invite you to learn for yourselves and do as James and Joseph Smith direct.

That is, ask of God.

Additional Resources

  • Lord, I Believe: Help Thou My Unbelief – In April 2013, Elder Holland gave a masterful sermon on holding true to what we know in the face of everything we don’t know. Absolutely beautiful.
  • Holding Fast: Dealing with Doubt in the Latter Days – This book by Robert Millet (a fantastic speaker and writer) was recommended to me by one of my best friends. It’s been very helpful.
  • Becometh As A Little Child – In April 1996, Elder Maxwell (one of my favorite authors) gave a talk on maintaining faith in a world of increasing secularism.
  • When He Stopped Believing – A woman talks about how she lovingly dealt with her husband’s loss of faith.
  • Mormons Seek the Truth of Their Faith Through Christ – In a simple and succinct blog post, Jesse Stay writes about how our faith is comparable to a seed and how we should test that seed to sample its fruits (whether they be good or bad).
  • Mormon and Modern – In a press release, the Church describes how Mormons can be faithful in the secular age. Within that article is this little gem: “All understanding, whether spiritual or rational, is worked out in constant questioning and discovery.”
  • The Reflection in the Water – In this wonderful talk, President Uchtdorf covers a lot of ground. Towards the bottom of the article are two bullet points (“Can I Remain Faithful” and “Is it True?”) that I’ve found particularly helpful.
  • I Don’t Have a Testimony of the History of the Church – The title of this article sounds controversial, but it’s really not. It makes total sense. We are not asked to have a testimony of the History of the Church—we are asked to have a testimony of the Restored Gospel. Very enlightening article.
  • To the 78 Percent – In a magnificent, authentic sermon (given at a ward in Oregon), Heidi Harris speaks directly to the likely 78% of those that are struggling with faith. Such a beautiful read.
  • If you have any more positive, LDS resources on faith and doubt, please let me know and I will add them to this list!

Interviewing Al Fox | The Tattooed Mormon

Me with Al Fox!

Me with Al Fox!

On Sunday, I interviewed Al Fox, “the Tattooed Mormon.”

It happened on a whim. I was going to Utah to attend the ANASAZI Gathering and the thought came to me: “Al lives in Utah. Send her a message and ask if she’d be willing to do an interview for Forward Walking. She probably has some really good insights about moving forward.”

So I asked.

And remarkably, she agreed.

Now, you have to understand—Al is booked, absolutely booked with speaking engagements until the end of the year. She showed me her calendar. It’s insane! She’s a dedicated soul.

The interview was great. As I said, I thought of doing the interview for Forward Walking (a spiritual, but non-denominational blog). So I was planning on making a video that spoke to a broad religious audience. But as the interview progressed, I quickly realized that her story couldn’t and shouldn’t be separated, in any way, from her faith. She has some remarkable insights concerning her conversion to Mormonism and subsequent journey.

During the interview, Al said that when questions arise (as they surely will), don’t ask of Google, ask of God. It’s good to study things out, but just like Joseph Smith’s story, the wisdom of mankind is more of a “war of words, and tumult of opinions.” But God is always willing to answer your questions—if you’re willing to ask.

Anyway, I’ll work on the video interview and should have it published (hopefully) later this week. Thanks so much, Al!

The Symbolic Dreams of Joseph Smith

By June of 1844, men like William and Wilson Law, Austin Cowles, Joseph Jackson, Sylvester Emmons, Robert and Charles Foster and Francis and Chauncy Higbee, were lifting up their heels against the Prophet, publishing false affidavits, spreading lies, and plotting against Joseph’s life.

Three Symbolic Dreams

Joseph Smith embraces his brother, Samuel Smith

In the closing weeks of the Prophet Joseph’s life, he had three highly symbolic dreams involving some of those enemies as well as the prophetic destiny of himself and two of his brothers. In one dream (History of the Church 6:461-462), Joseph was riding in a carriage near the  [Nauvoo] temple, accompanied by his guardian angel. Along the way, they encountered two large snakes so locked together that they had no power. Joseph’s guardian explained that the serpents represented Robert Foster and Chauncey Higbee.

Further out on the prairie, William and Wilson Law dragged Joseph from the carriage and threw him into a deep pit. As Joseph struggled to escape, he heard the Law brothers call to him for help. Wilson was in the grasp of a tiger, while William was blur in the face with green poison oozing from his mouth.

A huge serpent had coiled itself about william. The snake occasionally relaxed its grip long enough for William to cry out, “Oh! Brother Joseph, come and save me!” Joseph shouted in reply,  “I cannot, for you have put me into this deep pit.” The pit Joseph later found himself in was Carthage Jail.

An important part of the ministry of a prophet of God is to forewarn people of impending disaster as the result of sinful behavior. But there seems to be a point of no return. Those who willfully turn against the prophet’s counsel may find themselves, as did the Higbees and Laws, in the grasp of serpents—or worse.

Steamboats

Joseph had two dreams involving steamboats. Some steamboats had the capacity to carry large numbers of people long distances. But steamboats were dangerous; they could capsize or they could sink—their hulls could easily be penetrated by snags in the rivers, and their boilers could rupture, killing many through scalding stream and fire.

Joseph dreamed that he stood on a peninsula, facing a large harbor with a pier extending into the water. The pier was accessed by several bridges. Joseph saw a steamboat entering the harbor. A strong wind blew the boat under one of the bridges and upset the craft. I ran up to the boat,” said Joseph, “expecting the persons would all drown; and wishing to do something to assist them, I put my hand against the side of the boat, and with one surge I shoved it under the bridge and righted it up, and then told them to take care of themselves. But it was not long before I saw them starting out into the channel or main body of the water again.”

By now a storm was raging and the wind roiled the water. In the dream, Joseph turned to his friends and said regarding the ship’s passengers, “if they did not understand the signs of the times and the spirit of prophecy, they would be apt to be lost.” Seconds later, waves broke over the boat, which foundered and sank with all on board (Source: Quiet Slumber: Revelation Through Dreams)

On another occasion, Joseph dreamed that he and Hyrum boarded a large steamboat. It was anchored some distance from shore in a small bay near the ocean. The boat caught fire. Their only escape was to leap into the water. Joseph said, “[Hyrum and I] tried our faith at walking upon the water. At first we sank in the water nearly to our knees, but as we proceeded we increased in faith, and were soon able to walk upon the water.”

Looking toward the east, they watched as the steamboat drifted toward the wharf and the town engulfed in flame. There was great consternation among the officers, crew and passengers because of a magazine filled with ammunition on board. Said Joseph, “In a moment suddenly it blew up with a great noise and sank in the deep water with all on board.” The town took fire. Joseph said, “the scene of destruction and horrors of the frightened inhabitants was terrible.”

The key to survival of the first boat was, as Joseph said, “understanding the signs of the times and the spirit of prophecy.” The people on board were in peril from high winds that blew the craft against a pier and it capsized. Possessing great power and strength, Joseph was able to right the craft. He counseled the people to take care of themselves. but they foolishly returned to the ocean and a raging storm. The boat foundered and all were lost.

There are many perils in the last days that place people in great jeopardy. Through wise counsel, the living prophet can rescue them from a certain fate. But woe to them who return to the source of temptation, for they may be lost.

Ammunition & Apostasy

In the second instance, Joseph and Hyrum were onboard a ship with many others. On the ship was a source of destruction—gunpowder. Used properly, ammunition can protect and preserve people against the enemy. Improperly protected, the ammunition brings destruction and death to the people nearby.

Joseph faced opposition all throughout his life. Serious attempts were made to destroy him and the Saints. But the power of the priesthood and their personal righteousness provided protection to Joseph and the Church. But Joseph’s greatest danger came from those within the faith—people in positions of trust and leadership.

Not by choice, Joseph and Hyrum were forced from among those people. Being withdrawn brought the wrath of God upon the apostates and they and the nearby city were destroyed by fire. As Joseph and Hyrum moved away from the conflagration, Joseph looked toward the country beyond the city. He said, “Among the busy openings [I] saw William and Wilson Law endeavoring to escape from the wild beasts of the forest, but two lions rushed out of a thicket and devoured them.” Whether by large serpents or lions, the apostates faced a terrible fate. Not in this life, but in the world to come.

Samuel Smith

In both stories, Joseph was soon joined by his brother Samuel. Joseph and Hyrum were soon out of sight of land when they heard a familiar voice. They turned and saw Samuel coming to them from the east. “After a moment’s conversation he informed me that he had been lonesome back, and had made up his mind to go with me across the mighty deep.”

Samuel had ridden by horseback into Carthage to be with his brothers in prison. He was forced to flee for his life by a mob who chased him for many miles. That ride apparently brought about a hernia that led to Samuel’s death. Thus, in his quest to be with and to protect his brothers, Samuel died. He died as the third martyr.

Walking on the Water

Joseph Smith and Hyrum walking upon the water.

But what about them walking on the water? We think of the famous story of Christ walking past a boat transporting the apostles from one side of the Sea of Galilee to the other. We remember how Peter impulsively leapt out of the boat and tried to walk to Jesus, only to sink. He was mildly chastised for his lack of faith.

In the first dream, Joseph first told his friends that he could stem the waves and the storm and swim the waters more rapidly than the steamboat. They laughed and warned him that he would drown. “The waters looked clear and beautiful, though exceedingly rough,” said Joseph, “and I said I believed I could swim, and I would try it anyhow.”

Joseph swam a short distance. A towering wave threatened him, but he found himself on top, and atop a second wave. “I soon had power to swim with my head out of water, so the waves did not break over me at all.” He swam a great distance; faster, said Joseph, than a steamboat.

In the second dream, Joseph and Hyrum jumped from the burning steamboat. they sank to their knees in the water, but their faith increased and they were soon able to walk upon the water.

Water is also symbolic of many things. It is symbolic of life. Water surrounds an infant in the mother’s womb before birth. We drink water to replenish the balance in our bodies and without water, no food can be grown.

In a baptismal font, water is symbolic of redemption. In a Jewish mikveh, water cleanses a person from impurities.

When the seas heave themselves beyond their bounds, it is symbolic of the last days—of destruction and death. Walking upon the water is symbolic of having all power over this agent of life, this agent of redemption, and this agent of destruction.

As the Lord’s presiding representative in the last dispensation, Joseph Smith held the sealing key—a key with power over the elements. Hyrum was his associate president. Samuel, their brother, had likewise made the ultimate sacrifice that earned him the title of greatest honor—a martyr. They had won victory over their enemies. They had won victory over death and hell.

"Joseph Smith's Last Dream" by Jon McNaughton

“Joseph Smith’s Last Dream” by Jon McNaughton

Paradise

The three brothers walked side by side. “We all started again,” said Joseph, “in a short time were blest with the first sight of a city, whose gold and silver steeples and towers were more beautiful than any I had ever seen or heard of on earth. It stood, as it were, upon the western shore of the mighty deep we were walking on, and its order and glory seemed far beyond the wisdom of man.”

“While we were gazing upon the perfection of the city,” said Joseph, “a small boat launched off from the port, and, almost as quick as thought, came to us. In an instant they took us on board and saluted us with a welcome, and with music such as is not on earth.

“The next scene, on landing, was more than I can describe: the greeting of old friends, the music from a thousand towers, and the light of God himself at the return of three of his sons, soothed my soul into a quiet and a joy that I felt as if I was truly in heaven. I gazed upon the splendor; I greeted my friends, I awoke, and lo, it was a dream!” (Source: W.W. Phelps, 1863 Salt Lake City Almanac)

Then followed June 27, 1844, at Carthage Jail.

Joseph Smith, the Martyr

In January of 1880, the Lord told Elder Wilford Woodruff: “My servant Joseph…sealed his testimony with his own blood, which testimony has been in force upon all the world from the hour of his death…let no man be afraid to lay down his life for my sake, for he that layeth down his life for my sake shall find it again and have eternal life” (Extract from “A Revelation to Wilford Woodruff in the Wilderness, 26 Jan 1880).

Note: The preceding article was written by LDS author, Paul Thomas Smith. I have made some minor, editorial changes and have reprinted it with his permission.

Shannon’s Words

 Born with cerebral palsy, Shannon struggled her entire life with writing and speaking…until she decided to go on a mission for the Mormon Church. Listen to her remarkable story!

Shannon’s story is a deeply personal one for me and I’ve wanted to make a video of it for a very long time.

Why is this story so personal to me?

Because Shannon is my sister.

When Shannon was born she was small enough to fit entirely in my father’s open hands. When she was three and her younger sister, Stephanie, was about two, my mother started to notice big differences between the learning capabilities of the two. Stephanie was beginning to count, talk and identify many colors and shapes, yet Shannon earnestly struggled to remember and say things that she had been taught repeatedly.

When Shannon started the first grade in elementary school, many students and teachers were beginning to believe that Shannon was physically unable to talk because she had been so quiet.

In preparation for a particular spelling test, my mother worked with Shannon, for three consecutive weeks and through various teaching methods, to help her learn how to spell certain words. They would study for a few hours until bedtime and then, after Shannon had insisted to do so, they would wake up around six in the morning to practice the words again before she would go to school.

With emotion, my mother remembers the time when she then went to pick up Shannon after the spelling test. She stepped out of the car to greet Shannon but seeing her moving slowly, with her head down, my mother stooped down to see what was wrong. When their eyes met, Shannon burst into tears and said: “Mommy, I forgot the words. How come I can’t remember like the other kids?”

In the many years and many doctors which followed, Shannon was eventually diagnosed cerebral palsy. This disability has proved to be challenging for both her and the family as she has struggled with remembering and communicating. These limitations have restricted her from being able to drive or attend college as well as pursue what some would call a “normal life.”

However, to Shannon, these have not been limitations, but rather obstacles to be overcome. She graduated from high school with honors and gained a firm understanding of sign language. Shannon has used this skill in several jobs and has taught others with disabilities.

When Shannon was 25 years old she began to feel a yearning to do something more with her life. She said: “I [had] always wanted to go on a mission ever since I was very young,” but she didn’t think it was possible. “I had prayed and told the Lord exactly what I wanted to do in my prayer…of course, the Lord had other plans for me and said: “No, you’re going on a mission.”

Shannon, being amazed at such a call, can easily be likened to the prophet Enoch, who, in response to the Lord’s calling: “bowed himself to the earth, before the Lord, and spake before the Lord, saying: Why is it that I have found favor in they sight…for I am slow of speech; wherefore am I thy servant? And the Lord said unto Enoch: Go forth and do as I have commanded thee…Open thy mouth, and it shall be filled…” (Moses 6:31-32)

So Shannon, always being obedient with a “nothing wavering” attitude (James 1:6), made the arrangements and walked to her appointment with the Bishop to obtain her papers and begin her mission preparation.

Several months later, our family gathered around Shannon as she opened her mission call. We had all assumed that Shannon would be called to a quiet, country community—so when she read “New York, New York, North Mission” we couldn’t believe it.

Later Shannon laughed: “…when I read my mission call Mom said to read it again because I must have said it wrong. But I told her: Mom, the Lord needs me here. I’ll be fine. I’ll be watched over. “I just gotta go and do what the Lord says” (1 Nephi 3:7).

But as the reality of her call settled in, Shannon said: “When I got to the MTC, I thought Lord, what am I doing? And then when I got out on my mission…I thought: Lord, really, what am I doing? …Am I really ready for this? Am I really knowledgeable about going out and preaching the gospel and sharing the gospel. I mean, I’ve read the scriptures but I’m not good in understanding all that goes into the scriptures. Some missionaries say big words and know just what to say and here I was a very shy missionary. It was a bit scary going into a big city. It was like going on a foreign mission.” But Shannon continued to move forward and serve in New York City.

Then something incredible happened.

In her own words: “We had gone to a zone meeting and our mission president had asked us to pray specifically for someone that we could teach the gospel to and to really pray hard and think about someone we could teach. And so I took on the challenge and I prayed…I said “Lord, I am a very shy missionary, I am not fluent. I don’t say big words, I’m just really shy and I want to be able to be guided by the Spirit to whomever you will send to me that I can teach the gospel and that he will understand me and be receptive of the Spirit. And so I prayed that day for someone I could reach and teach the gospel to.

“… [My companion and I] got on the subway later that day. I felt that I should just sit down and open my scriptures. I didn’t know why but I felt that I should just sit down and open my scriptures and just read and not just a few minutes after I had opened my scriptures a young man sat down beside me. He turned to me and asked me what I was reading and I just told him I was reading the scriptures and didn’t realize at the time I was sharing my testimony of the gospel and telling him what the gospel meant to me by just talking to him.”

As they continued to talk the man told her: “I have been searching for this gospel and this is something that I want to hear and my girlfriend would love to hear also.” At this point the young man grew quiet and then told Shannon that they probably could not teach his girlfriend because she was deaf and only knew sign language.

Feeling the Spirit strongly she told the man that she knew sign language very well and had been taught it in high school many years ago. Now nearly ecstatic, the man said to her: “then I’m sure my friends would also love to hear about [the] gospel!”

Shannon reported: “So I got his name and number and made appointments to teach not only him but his girlfriend and his two friends that were [also] deaf and they followed through with all that we had asked them to do, they had been going to church and you name it. I am certain that that guy and his girlfriend got married and that all four of them were baptized.”

Because Shannon did not use words—but rather signed to those she taught—she was able fulfill a prophecy given by Nephi: “And in that day shall the deaf hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness.” (2 Nephi 27:29)

Shannon was honorably released from her mission in January of 2002. She went on to get her CDA (Child Development Associate) and currently has a job working with children. She continues to serve and is a blessing to everyone with whom she associates. Her mission and her life’s mission have been beautifully adorned with many hundreds of miracles as she has continued to “serve the Lord, God” (Moses 6:33) as Enoch of old, who (just like Shannon) was made strong in his weakness.

“And…powerful was the word of Enoch, and so great was the power of the language which God had given him.” (Moses 7:13)