I want to share a story from the life of Elizabeth Staheli Walker, my great-great-grandmother. This was written just months before her death in December 1939. When I found it recently and used it in a talk, I felt once more how very much her story applies to me, right now, today:
It is now April 3, 1939. On March 17, 1939, Grandma Knight had been laid to rest that afternoon, and I was restless at night and did not sleep well. I was thinking about her, and the thought came to me as plain as if someone had said to me–it seemed someone did say to me–“Do not bury your testimony in the ground.” It clung to me.
(She talks about her life as a young mother with small children. Her home was in the middle of nowhere, a way station for travelers between Utah and Nevada.)
Our home here was a stopping place for [travelers]; we had four rooms, our tiny bedroom, the dining room, with a small kitchen, and a storeroom where we sold traveling supplies, horseshoes, canned goods, and so on. And all day and all night we would have to be ready to cook and set on meals for travelers. And the greater part of them were rough and tough men, who were looking for adventure and easy money. We saw no rest, I was not strong and the constant work was hard.
But the one thing that was of great concern to me was caused by the type of people among whom we lived. Up to this time I had always taken it for granted that the Book of Mormon was true and that the Prophet Joseph Smith had been authorized of God and His servants to do what he had done, and that the message he had given to the world was the plan of life and salvation. But the life I saw there was anything but what would strengthen such a belief. Among the men who came, some were well-read and educated, smart men, and always the talk of the crowd around my table was that Joseph was a sly fraud, who had written the Book of Mormon and made up the story about its coming and had written them both and put them out for money, to think anything else was absurd.
I felt so bad; I could not read English; there was no one to talk to, no time to even say my prayers; I did it as I worked around. I was too frightened to say a word to them as they ridiculed my religion. I did not know but what they were telling the truth, and yet their talk made me feel so bad. I could not have defended my belief if I had tried.
All the Mormons going to and from California came our way, and they were a tough lot, swearing, profaning, drinking, gambling, and so on. Those days were very trying days. When we had been there 18 months, the stage route changed and the station was called Modena, so we left and came home to Spring Valley in December, 1877. Here at home, I had more time to think. I was not so distracted all the time. We had a cellar where we had a stove, and there was generally a little fire to keep the milk from freezing; and down there in that cellar, I would go very often and say my prayers and ask about what was troubling me–about the stories those smart men had told down there in Desert Springs about the Gospel being the bunk and the stories about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.
One night in my dreams something happened: It seemed I was standing by a narrow wagon road, which led around by the foot of a low rolling hill. Half way up the hill, I saw a man looking down and speaking, or seemed to be speaking, to a young man who was kneeling and leaning over a hole in the earth. His arms were stretched out and it looked as if he was reaching for something in the hole. I could see the lid of stone that seemed to have been taken off from the hold over which the boy was bending. On the road were many people, but none of them seemed to be at all interested in the two men on the hillside. There was something that came along with the dream that impressed me so strangely that I woke right up; but I could not tell my dream to anyone, but I seemed to be satisfied that it meant the Angel Moroni instructed the boy Joseph at the time he got the plates. It satisfied me.
The other night when I heard something say, “Don’t bury your testimony in the ground,” I was determined I would not put off getting this down on paper, so my children and grandchildren can read it after I am gone.
What impresses me about my great-great-grandmother’s testimony is not just the words themselves, which she took the time to write with great difficulty when she was very old, but how well this story applies to my own day, how it teaches me what I need to know. She writes about how hard it was to be constantly busy tending and caring for the men in the way station, when she had three little ones too. She kept hearing negative things about the Church, and because she was so busy she did not have the time to stop and meditate and pray. Finally she was able to leave that station, and find herself a quiet place, a cellar, where she would not be distracted, and in peaceful moments take some time and pray about her worries.
I am impressed that she did not give up; it seemed to me that she went back over and over again, until she was blessed with the dream that showed her the Hill Cumorah, the dream that answered her concerns and gave her peace.
I feel like her story was written for me, to tell me to slow down, to not get too busy, to remove myself from situations where stories and ideas that would not build my faith are taught as truth. It is not just the story of how she gained a witness, it is also the story of what I need to do to build and strengthen my own testimony. For that I am profoundly grateful.
How have you been strengthened by family stories? I don’t mean just pioneer stories, I mean any story from your parents or grandparents or siblings that has brought you extra strength when you need it.