Here is a talk I gave in our Orem Stonewood 4th Ward on Pioneer Day, 24 July 2011
Pioneer Day–Sacrifice and Service
I was born and raised on a farm in a small town in central California. My family converted to the Church when I was a young girl. My mother died 12 years ago here in this ward. It wasn’t until after her death, when I was back at BYU studying Family History that I was given assignments to uncover the lives of my family members. She was not an active Mormon when my father met her, so she joined his Mennonite Church when they married. For the first time, a few years ago, I discovered I have Pioneer blood flowing through me. In fact, all 8 of my mother’s great grandparents joined the Church and came to Zion. As I began to discover these family members, a whole new world was opened to me.
All week, I’ve been gathering fascinating tidbits from the stories of my ancestors to share with you today, and as the pages of stories multiplied, I realized that there was no place to draw the line–every life I’ve researched has been filled with sacrifice and service and has been particularly interesting and instructive to me. I finally put my stories aside and I have decided to tell you about the process that led me to gather those ancestral stories, in the hopes that you might find the same joy I have found in that journey.
I think many of you are aware that my life is surrounded by my Dead People. I live for them because they lived for me. As I began this quest, one night a few years ago, after I had gone to bed, I had a strong prompting to get out of bed, take my scriptures to the bathroom where I wouldn’t disturb John, and open them to D&C 128. I sat on the edge of the cold tub and began to read. I was curious about what Heavenly Father wanted me to discover there. As I read through the section, the burning began with these familiar words:
In vs. 17 Malachi is quoted, saying:
17 . . . I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
I have long loved this doctrine–that of the Turning. My heart has been turned many times to my ancestors, and to those who will come after me.
I was not prepared for the commentary Joseph Smith adds in vs. 18 (even though I had once carefully underlined it). What jumped off the page and burned into my heart was the part in bold below:
18 I might have rendered a plainer translation to this, but it is sufficiently plain to suit my purpose as it stands. It is sufficient to know, in this case, that the earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children, upon some subject or other—and behold what is that subject? It is the baptism for the dead. For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect. Neither can they nor we be made perfect without those who have died in the gospel also; for it is necessary in the ushering in of the dispensation of the fulness of times, which dispensation is now beginning to usher in, that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place, and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time. . . .
That was the lesson I needed to learn that night. It became clear to me that I cannot be made perfect without knowing my Dead People. (They don’t really like being called that, but that’s what my kids call them.) These verses explain that it’s not just those who have died without the gospel, (meaning they need ordinances) it’s equally as important for those who have died in the gospel also (meaning those who’s temple work is complete). I’ve wondered long and hard about why this would be. Isn’t the whole purpose of redeeming the dead to provide ordinances? Apparently not. I set out on a quest to discover why.
To learn to understand this amazing doctrine, I began to gather the stories of the lives of my People who died in the gospel. I spent hours and hours in the library at BYU, in Special Collections, studying old digitized newspapers and obituaries, reading local histories and personal histories in the collections in Salt Lake and other libraries, I went to towns where my family members lived, I wandered through cemeteries and museums, I found compiled histories, records and photographs, and I have been on the phone with 100s of newly-found family members. It has changed my life. I am beginning to understand how their lives have the power to save mine and the lives of my children.
Something magical happens when a name has a story added to it. A name becomes a person. That person becomes a friend. We discover things we have in common, or not. We learn how they served and sacrificed. We learn how they did hard things. We have the advantage of seeing their lives from a perspective even they did not have–we can see beginnings to endings and learn how choices determined consequences and outcomes. We can see, from our perspective, how they worked out their salvation.
As we become acquainted with our kindred dead, we find our hearts turn towards them, as Malachi prophesied. I’ve been suffering this month with a lung infection like pneumonia. My mother suffered terribly from asthma. Her grandmother, Grace Honor Bushman Lundquist died at age 38 of respiratory problems like pneumonia, leaving 8 young children. Her mother, Charlotte Turley Bushman (my 2nd Great-grandma) died of pneumonia. Has my heart been turned towards theirs? Yes. Do I understand their suffering a bit more this month? Yes. Do they know who I am? I suspect they are each aware of the many hours I’ve spent researching their lives. Is it odd to think that they are near me in my infirmities? No. I suspect they know me much better than I know them.
Joseph Fielding Smith, as quoted in Life Everlasting, pp. 83-84:
I believe we move and have our being in the presence of heavenly messengers and of heavenly beings. We are not separate from them. We begin to realize more and more fully, as we become acquainted with the principles of the Gospel, as they have been revealed anew in this dispensation, that we are closely related to our kindred, to our ancestors, to our friends and associates and co-laborers who have preceded us into the spirit world . . .
. . . And therefore, I claim that we live in their presence, they see us, they are solicitous for our welfare, they love us now more than ever. For now they see the dangers that beset us; they can comprehend better than ever before, the weakness that are liable to mislead us into dark and forbidden paths. They see the temptations and the evils that beset us in life and the proneness of mortal beings to yield to temptation and to wrong doing; hence their solicitude for us and their love for us and their desire for our well being must be greater than that which we feel for ourselves.
In other words, their hearts are turned toward ours.
So now, they, from their perspective, can see how we are working out our salvation. I like knowing that they are aware of me and my family. I like feeling surrounded.
In 1910, Joseph F. Smith, Hyrum’s son, addressed the need we each have to become involved in the lives of our kindred dead. He said:
“The temple in Salt Lake City has for many months been so crowded with anxious, earnest workers, that it has been necessary many times to turn large numbers away because there was not sufficient room. This is a good sign, showing the willingness and activity of the Saints. But this condition does not relieve the inactive, dilatory members [those who dilly dally, are slow to act], who are doing nothing for their dead. These persons cannot expect to receive credit for what others may be doing, the responsibility rests with equal force on all according to our individual ability and opportunities. It matters not what else we have been called to do, or what position we may occupy, or how faithfully in other ways we have labored in the Church, none are exempt from this great obligation. It is required of the apostle as well as the humblest elder.
“Place or distinction, or long service in the cause of Zion in the mission field, the stakes of Zion, or where or how else it may have been, will not entitle one to disregard the salvation of one’s dead.
He continues, “Some may feel that if they pay their tithing, attend their regular meetings and other duties, give of their substance to the poor, perchance spend one, two or more years preaching in the world, that they are absolved from further duty. But the greatest and grandest duty of all is to labor for the dead. We may and should do all these other things, for which reward will be given, but if we neglect the weightier privilege and commandment, notwithstanding all other good works, we shall find ourselves under severe condemnation. And why such condemnation? Because [here he quotes Joseph Smith] “the greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us, is to seek after our dead.” Because we cannot be saved without them, “It is necessary that those who have gone before and those who come after us should have salvation in common with us, and thus hath God made it obligatory to man,”
(Salvation Universal. by Joseph F. Smith, Jr., Assistant Church Historian., Improvement Era, 1910, Vol. Xiii. February, 1910. No 4.)
Interestingly, Joseph does not differentiate between the dead needing ordinances, or the dead who died in the gospel.
There is one more thing that has been made very clear to me as I have taken this journey with my ancestors. I cannot expect to find fabulous journals or histories or records of my People, if I am not sacrificing a bit of time here and now to leave the kinds of records I wish they had left for me to find.
It has been said, “No life is ever truly lost, but we are the poorer who have no record of it.”
100 or 200 years from now, when I am in another place, my children’s children will wonder about an old grandma named Ann who lived in the days before Christ came again, before Satan was bound. They will wonder what it was like to live in a world with opposition and sickness and natural disasters. They will wonder how I felt in 2011 about earthquakes and giant Tsunamis and floods that destroyed crops. They will probably find it curious to read first hand accounts of moral dilemmas in my world. It will interest them how I prayed that my children would be protected from evil influences. They will wonder how I knew that Jesus was the Christ without having seen him. I want my descendants to know those things. I want them to know without question that my life was centered in Jesus Christ, that any service or sacrifice I made was because I loved Him.
In that day, when they read these things in my journals, I can imagine that I will be watching them, perhaps arm-in-arm with one of my great great great grandmothers from Switzerland named Elizabeth Degen Bushman, who was one of my first life-changing discoveries. [I’d like to say that our daughter, Claire Elizabeth, was named after her, but unfortunately, I didn’t even know she existed when Claire was born.] Elizabeth and her family were taught the gospel by Mormon Missionaries in Lancaster County in the spring of 1840. They joined with the Saints in Nauvoo, and were driven from their home in the cold and tragic winter of 1846 with six sick children in one wagon. Two of her little girls died and were buried in shallow graves along the roadside, unprotected from the wolves who came as soon as they moved on. Her son Jacob, who became my great great grandpa later wrote, “we done the best we could” as he describes burying his little sisters and nearly freezing to death on that grueling exodus trip.
In her later life Elizabeth Degen Bushman became the good Samaritan of every village they lived in. She was an exceptionally gifted nurse and was renowned as the loving, successful midwife of the town of Lehi. Because of her reputation and kindness, it was said she served as midwife at the birth of almost every baby born in Lehi during her life there. Nearly every family in Lehi had an Elizabeth named in memory of her.
Elizabeth had the gift of tongues. Her dear friend, Mary Ann Davis had the gift to interpret. In 1878, on her death bed, Elizabeth offered a prayer in tongues that ended with these words to her family and to me:
“Oh my children and friends, be true to God and His work and He will take you through the gates of death and there will be a light in the valley for you. . . . Be faithful to the truth and all shall be well with you. We shall only be separated for a little season. God bless you all. Oh Lord, grant that my name may not pass into oblivion, but that it may be from generation to generation, because I have tried to keep Thy commandments. Amen.”
It is my prayer that I will be true to God and His work and that my name and the names of those I love (both living and Dead) will not pass into oblivion, but that our testimonies will live on from generation to generation because we have tried to keep the commandments, as Elizabeth and so many others before us did.
I know that my ancestors served and sacrificed things beyond my comprehension. I know now, the importance of finding their stories. I know that understanding their service and sacrifices will strengthen my testimony, perhaps even save me in times when I may falter on my own. I know that I want to be worthy to stand arm in arm with them and some day be in a position to look down on my posterity with love.