Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, part 2 of 2

In 1831, the Rollins family moved to Jackson County, Missouri. For a time, things were going well for the saints there, but soon persecution arose. She witnessed tar and featherings, and her own home was damaged by the mobs. But Mary stayed true to her faith (even, in an interesting twist of fate, turning down an offer from Lilburn Boggs to come and stay with his family and receive a good education in exchange for giving up Mormonism).

In July of 1833, a mob set on William Phelps' print shop, where the Book of Commandments were being prepared for binding. 15-year-old Mary and her 13-year-old sister Caroline were hiding nearby and watched as the Phelps were driven out of their home, their possessions ransacked, and the printing press shoved out a window and onto the street. Then, someone said "so much for the Mormon commandments," and dumped the manuscripts into a trash pile in the street. Mary, having had her own confirmation of the truth of these commandments, was determined to do her part to save them. Knowing full well what the mobs could and had already done to those that angered them, Mary and Caroline ran into the street, grabbed as many pages of the manuscript as they could hold, and took off running. The mob spotted them, and two men came running after the girls. Mary and Caroline climbed through a fence and hid in a thick cornfield. They laid the sheets on the ground and covered them with their own bodies. Mary states that although the men came close, they never did locate the girls and eventually gave up the hunt. The girls gave the manuscripts to Sister Phelps, and Mary eventually received a bound copy, which she "prized highly."

The portion that Mary and Caroline preserved cover (more or less) the beginning of our current Doctrine and Covenants to partway through chapter 64. They were "eagerly" quoted by missionaries, and were cited by church officials.

I'm grateful for Mary and Caroline's incredible courage and faithfulness. At age 15, Mary had received confirmation that the Book of Commandments was a sacred document, and put her life on the line to preserve what she could. She had a remarkable influence for good. On a personal level, I'm grateful that largely through her actions, I have access to these revelations. So many revelations that have strengthened my faith and given me encouragement are found in these chapters: guidance for receiving personal revelation; Emma being called to expound scriptures; confirmation of the Lord's love of the individual and the worth of souls; additional understanding about the atonement; the list goes on and on. While I know that no principle essential to our salvation would have been lost, I am grateful that Mary and Caroline risked so much so that we could have these words, and I cherish them all the more because I know their story.

Autobiography of Mary E. Lightner, Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, UG&HM 17 (1926).
Saving the Book of Commandments, Gospel Art Kit.
The Story of the Doctrine and Covenants, Robert Woodford

Monday, May 12, 2008

Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, part 1 of 2

I work with the young women in my ward, so I'm especially drawn to accounts of brave, spiritual, and intelligent teenagers girls that have a profound influence for good.

A few weeks back, I had a discussion with my husband about influential Mormons, and he brought up Mary Rollins and her sister, Caroline (isn't he great?). Mary was one of those women that I learned a little about in primary and promptly forgot about, so it was good to be reacquainted with her, and learn more about the rest of her story. I could probably spend a month on Mary, but I'm just going to focus on the teenage Mary in these two posts.

When Mary was ten, she moved to Kirtland, Ohio with her widowed mother and two siblings. After living there for two years, they heard Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer, and Ziba Peterson teach about the restoration, and twelve-year-old Mary and her mother were baptized in 1830. A little later, John Whitmer brought a copy of the Book of Mormon to Kirtland. Mary found out that Brother Morley had it, and sought him out. She managed to talk him into giving her the book for the night, even though he hadn't yet opened it himself.

When she took it home, she was chastised by her family for her precociousness, but everyone took turns reading it. Mary loved it. When she returned the copy to Brother Morley the next morning, he commented that she couldn't have read or remembered much of it; she responded by repeating a verse she had memorized and outlined the history of Nephi. She states that he was shocked, and told her "child, take this book home and finish it, I can wait." Around the time she finished the book, Joseph Smith arrived in Kirtland. Joseph visited Mary's home, and when he found out that Mary was the reason the copy of the Book of Mormon on their bookshelf, he immediately gave her a blessing, as well as giving her Brother Morley's copy permanently.

Mary heard Oliver Cowdery, John Whitmer, and Thomas Marsh speaking in tongues at Sunday meetings, and "made it a subject of prayer" to understand tongues. One day when the three men came to her family's home with unfolded sheets from the Book of Commandments, they began speaking in tongues and called on Mary to interpret it, and she did. She states that as she did so, she felt the spirit of the revelations "in a moment." Her testimony of the value of these revelations was very powerful, and she would take great risks in the future to preserve them.

Autobiography of Mary E. Lightner, Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine, UG&HM 17 (1926).

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Harriet Ann Griffin Shaw

A few weeks back, our stake relief society organized a fabulous celebration of LDS women, past and present. Several historical women were featured prominently, and today's post comes from one of these presentations.

When Harriet joined the LDS church in England on February 1, 1837, her father was not pleased. He was a prominent businessman in Staffordshire, and was worried his family would be disgraced. Harriet stayed faithful and bravely moved forward. She married Charles Shaw, and when they left for Utah in 1865, they had three children, aged 4, 2, and 9 months. The journey was difficult. They had prepared well, and had even paid in gold for first-class passage to the United States, but conditions on the ship were still poor, and their carefully-packed bags were stolen. However, the family pressed forward. At Emigration headquarters, they were given a team of oxen and a wagon to head West. Charles had never seen an ox before, so there were many humorous moments on their trip to Winter Quarters.

At Winter Quarters, Harriet's faith was tested. Her two-year old son died of measles due to the poor conditions; they had no coffin, so he was buried in a too-small box with his feet dangling out the end. When her baby daughter came down with canker, other women told her she was cruel for insisting the elders bless her daughter, when it was so clear she would not make it. But Harriet would not back down, stating "I know she has a work to do." Harriet was right - her daughter lived. Harriet's trek west was filled with even more challenges and difficulties, even more poor conditions and sicknesses, but Harriet made it to Utah.

From there, I was intrigued, so I did a little research. Harriet's story is less dramatic once she arrived in Utah. However, we know that she stayed faithful, and that she was actively engaged in building the kingdom. She settled in Cache County. She sent in Relief Society reports to the Woman's Exponent (in her humble way - one particular entry ended with "Hoping you will pardon me for trespassing on your valuable space"), and she was listed as an "agent" of the publication on several occasions. She was involved with the Primary program, and she served as a counselor in a Relief Society Presidency, emphasizing in her messages the importance of educating and raising children.

Harriet is one of those women that is rarely heralded, but absolutely essential to the work of the church. Harriet trusted in the Lord, despite her trials. I'm not a mother yet, and sometimes the onslaught of accounts of children that died on the trail can be easy to block out and not fully appreciate. But for some reason, reading Harriet's account reminded me of the personal cost she paid for her faith, a cost that so many have paid. Harriet had faith in the importance of women's contributions to the Lord, and a belief in the importance of the contributions her daughter would make. She worked diligently at serving her ward and strengthening her community. While she was not a particularly prominent figure, she served faithfully, and generation after generation of her descendants have been doing the same thing - doing what they can to serve the Lord and their communities.

Stake Enrichment Presentation
William S. S. Willes Company, Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel, Church History Library and Archives
Woman's Exponent: generally, and June 1, 1864; April 1, 1883 specifically.