I wasn’t always Mormon.
Not even close. I was baptized about three different times in three different churches and I sang the songs out of almost every hymn book there is. I’ve worshiped at altars and I’ve rocked out to Christian rock (still do) and I’ve sang in gospel choirs. And along the way I took steps–vital steps–towards getting to where I am. And to where I’m going.
Each religion, each church, each sermon taught me a little more and steered me a little more and prompted all those important questions that beg to be answered. And slowly, little by little, I was converting to Christ.
And I still am, even now.
My baptism in the Mormon church didn’t stamp on my forehead a “Good to go” pass. To be honest, I knew very little except for the fact that I knew it was true, I felt the spirit like never before, and I was so IN LOVE with the light. But it was just the beginning–the very beginning trailhead–of a daily journey and a daily conversion.
Because of that, you can imagine my confusion when I learned, around the fall of 2010, that Joseph Smith had multiple wives near the end of his life. You can imagine the way I shrunk in my seat during my Book of Mormon class and hurried back to my apartment with my hood shielding me from snowflakes and frozen tears.
I was angry.
They didn’t tell me about that! I said through clenched teeth. Sure, I knew polygamy was part of our church’s history, just as it’s part of Biblical history and even pagan history. But Joseph Smith? My newest hero?
It felt like he died all over again and turned into a monster at the same time. I crumbled. I wondered if I should go home. If I should even be a member anymore. I prayed a lot, wondering why something so big hadn’t been brought to the surface until now.
Because of those feelings I turned to a mentor who I had grown close to and trusted more than anyone else.
I cried to him about my predicament, expressing how betrayed I felt.
And he said just one thing: “Do you believe he’s a prophet?”
“Yes.” I answered it without thinking. Because–well, of course I did. I’ll never forget the chills that ran through me when I read Joseph’s testimony or heard for the first time of the story when he knelt to pray in a grove of sunlit trees. I’ll never forget the peace that rushed through me when I closed the Book of Mormon after reading the last page or the way those I’d lost along the way somehow seemed to encircle my bed and sing a chorus of joy. Of course he was a prophet. I had no doubt that he was chosen to restore all that had been lost and degenerated over the years.
After I said yes my mentor nodded simply and tears filled his eyes. “Then that’s our answer.”
And with that, he encouraged me to go on a trip that was about to take place. A week long church history trip that would start in Illinois, a place where the early saints lived and worshiped and built a temple and then started a long and deadly journey to the west. Without thinking twice I went.
And it was there that I learned about it all–the good, the bad, the ugly–the reason he’d be known not only for his compassion and dedication and the way he’d play with the children and write love letters to his true love Emma, but for evil in a day and age where some deeds are misunderstood and mislabeled.
I sat here at the place where he fell to his death.
I touched every statue that paid tribute to his sacrifice.
I stood in reverence at the staircase where the herd of men stormed toward the room where Joseph hid with the others, guns in hand, ready to end it all.
And I sat at his final resting place, listening to the wind and smelling wildflower that blossoms every year beside the stones.
And I loved him more, even while knowing more.
Like Abraham, Jacob, Solomon, David–and who knows how many more–he sealed to multiple wives for reasons that seem unsettling to us today. Like prophets before, he did things that seem disturbing in modern day times all for the work of the Lord. Like prophets that came before him he put God first, even when his reputation threatened to decay and even when he’d be like a lamb to the slaughter. Like prophets before him, he spoke truth. He put God first. He had no other Savior except Christ Himself. And because of that, I sat at his tombstone over 150 years later with tears in my eyes, my heart knit to a gospel I might have never known without him.
The Savior wasn’t popular…and He still isn’t. Moses could barely speak. Abinadi burned at the stake as he spoke of the coming Messiah. And people laughed and mocked Noah as he spoke of the flood and built an ark in the glow of a dry sun. But they were God’s servants.
And I love them for it.
There will always be a shadow if you look for it–some reason to doubt, or fear or wrinkle your nose at the thought. There will always be the one thing that Satan uses to convince you it’s all a lie. All an act.
But the spirit of truth tells us to remember. The love. The truth. The doctrine. The goosebumps during that part in the song that reminds us, “Millions shall know brother Joseph again”.
So I say praise to the man who communed with Jehovah.
Praise and honor given to the man who reminded us of Christ and whose hands gently fit in all the missing puzzle pieces.
Praise to the man who taught of a loving Heavenly Father and taught of His ways, even when tar burnt his flesh the night before.
Reverence given to a mouthpiece who said first that families are forever, well past the grave. That my dad, my cousin, your mom, your brother, our friends before us–will all see God.
That’s all I need to know to love him.
Praise is given to that.