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So, that Emma Smith was something huh?

Mo Mommy - November 9, 2008

Every now and then I see a surge in people talking about Emma and her life, groups of women connecting with the Church’s past by connecting with the prophet’s wife. But for the most part she’s supporting cast, a footnote in the life of Joseph. I’ve wondered how she sat to the side and watched her husband leave their family so often during the founding and growth of the church. He was often traveling to spread the Gospel, and he was repeatedly jailed. Yet there she was, birthing children, raising children, and grieving over the loss of children, alone. On top of that she probably had people knocking on the door all the time, wondering when, exactly, was the prophet going to return?

Though my circumstances are altogether different, they are still very similar. My husband is far away and unable to return home. I was pregnant during a previous deployment, and I am now attempting to raise my children by myself. I have bouts of immense loneliness, and trials that must be uniquely designed to be of the utmost difficulty to me alone. I sometimes wonder where I stand in the pecking order of my husband’s priorities, and I will even confess to a little bitterness now and again. Communication is often sparse and there is a constant underlying fear for his safety, the elephant in the room that everyone avoids. As a soldier’s wife I am frequently reminded that his mission is not a popular one. His motives and intelligence have been questioned, which is frustrating for the spouse of a man so filled with honor, integrity, and principle.

Every Sunday I struggle through church. I absolutely hate it. I never feel as alone as I do walking through the halls battling my children. Forget trying not to lose my mind, I just want to make it through without shedding tears. I go because I know I should, and because I have to believe there is some comfort and guidance to be found there if I can ever manage to rise above the frustrations of my situation. I know my isolation is partly self-imposed, and if I allow myself to skip church the odds are slim that I will go back any time in the next 10 months. Like anything, I have to just suck it up and drive one, because the hardest part is, well, the hardest part.

Our lesson in Relief Society today was about Joseph Smith’s letters to his family as he traveled and was incarcerated. It was a shock to my system, and an enlightening experience. I have been so wrapped up in my own difficulties that I have rarely taken a moment to see the bigger picture. I have so adamantly believed that I am alone in every way that I forgot about the other half of the equation, my husband’s loneliness and worry. In my desire to make life easier for him I avoid discussing the more emotionally strenuous challenges I face, and I don’t know exactly who I thought I was fooling. Joseph wrote to Emma, “I feel for you, for I know your state and that others do not, but you must comfort yourself knowing that God is your friend in heaven and that you have one true and living friend on earth, your husband”. My husband has said the same thing from time to time, that he is saddened by my struggles, as only the best of friends can be for one another. “Tell them Father says they must be good children and mind their mother. My dear Emma, there is great responsibility resting upon you in preserving yourself in honor and sobriety before them and teaching them right things” and also, “It will be a long and lonesome time during my absence from you. … Be patient until I come, and do the best you can”. How often has my husband tried to calm me, to help me, to remind me that I have to keep my cool, even when I am supremely discouraged? His irritation at being unable to step in and lighten my burden must be at least equal to the irritation I have in dealing with the day to day business of parenting. He always tells me to do my best, and that he knows I’m doing a good job, always acknowledging my efforts.

In letters from 1838, 1839, and 1840, Joseph wrote: “To press them to my bosom and kiss their lovely cheeks would fill my heart with unspeakable gratitude. Tell the children that I am alive and trust I shall come and see them before long. Comfort their hearts all you can, and try to be comforted yourself all you can…I would gladly walk from here to you barefoot and bareheaded and half-naked to see you and think it great pleasure, and never count it toil…I am filled with constant anxiety and shall be until I get home. I pray God to spare you all until I get home. My dear Emma, my heart is entwined around you and those little ones. I want you to remember me. Tell all the children that I love them and will come home as soon as I can. Yours in the bonds of love, your husband”. Many of these things are almost verbatim statements made by my own husband. His loneliness and physical ache to see his family is the same as our desire to see him. Though he can’t be here because of his commitment to his country and his fellow soldiers, we are always his most important cause, much as Emma must have been for Joseph. Through the difficulty and the distance, their love and support for one another flowed.

Today I remember why we do what we do. I remember that above all we cling to each other, and that together we cling to the Lord. Outside of our sadness and our disappointment and our desire to sometimes call the other person a big jerk face or run away and join the circus, we have the same eternal goals. We work, we struggle, we suffer, and we celebrate. Together.

So Joseph was, with Emma by his side. Leading the way for those of us who would follow. Just a man who wanted to be with his family and serve the Lord, guided to do difficult and unpopular things. It speaks to me of the Lord’s guidance in restoring this Gospel, and to Joseph and Emma’s commitment to that immense cause. And I have the feeling that maybe, just maybe, Emma is watching my plight from her mansion on high, and she’s pulling for me to hang in there. Because she knows it’s worth it.


  1. Awesome, mo mommy. Just awesome.

    We had this lesson a few weeks ago, and I was moved by the fact that Emma and Joseph truly loved each other. I often think that their love for each other must have grown stronger and stronger as the years went by because of their immense trials. I know that when my husband and I face our most difficult trials, we grow closer –and each time it’s almost exponentially.

    I love what you said about your husband being gone and not really enjoying himself –when my husband travels (and I know it’s nothing like what you are enduring with him being overseas in the military, etc.), I have to remind myself that yes, he’s in exotic places, but he’s working. He’s working 10 hour days with nearly 4 hours extra to get presentations together, answer emails from back home, and make sure everything is up to date. Maybe he’ll have a day to sight-see, but he’s alone. And even though he thinks it’s great to see these places, he wishes his family was with him. When I remember this, it makes me love him all the more.
    I mean, you know, misery loves company. Ha! ;)

    Anyway, great post, mo mommy. Perspective rocks.

    Comment by cheryl — November 9, 2008 @ 7:03 pm

  2. A number of people have talked about this lesson, wondering why it was in the book, saying it was all historical and no doctrine, or, like me, they hated the lesson because of the way it was presented locally (our teacher passed out paper and pens and instructed us to use the lesson time to write love letters to our husbands — never mind that a third or more in the room were widowed or never married).

    Your post, though, turns everything I’ve heard or thought about this lesson on its head, and I suddenly understand why it was in the manual. What an inspired choice on the part of the writers.

    Beautiful post, mo mommy. Thank you. I know this perspective won’t suddenly make everything idyllic in your husband’s absence, but I hope it does give you a lift now and then. You’ve certainly given me a lift tonight.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — November 9, 2008 @ 8:03 pm

  3. I could just say “ditto” to Ardis’ last paragraph…

    Sometimes–like right now–I get so caught up in what *I* am feeling, how tough life is on *me*, that I forget that my husband is having a tough time, too. And that the more we hang together, the better it will be. Thank you so much for reminding me of this.

    Good luck to you, Mo Mommy. I love your blog and your posts here have been great.

    Comment by Keryn — November 9, 2008 @ 8:22 pm

  4. I liked this lesson when we had it last week in PH. However I thought knowing some of the historic issues going on was important and not conveyed well in the manual. (i.e. was he as optimistic as he appeared in some of the letters given D&C 121?)

    Comment by Clark — November 9, 2008 @ 9:03 pm

  5. Beautiful. You are doing a marvelous job.

    Comment by tracy m — November 9, 2008 @ 9:31 pm

  6. A man in my quorum shared his experience of boot camp and then training for five months while his wife carried the even heavier load of caring for their children without him. He said the letters, the only connection they could share, did fortify their bond as two people who trusted and counted on one another to each do his/her part for the family.

    Also, we didn’t limit the concept to communication between spouses. The most important missionary letters these days are between parents and their children.

    Comment by John Mansfield — November 10, 2008 @ 6:41 am

  7. Great post Mo. Really wonderful.

    One of my favorite talks I’ve ever heard given in SM was one on Emma Smith.

    Comment by Susan M — November 10, 2008 @ 1:54 pm

  8. I’m so glad to hear this lesson was so much help to people who need it:) I had to teach this lesson a couple weeks ago to a bunch of YSA guys and it was hard to come up with a theme to center around like the other lessons have. I think we had a good discussion, however.

    Anyway, this gives it focus and meaning beyond what I saw and probably won’t see till I’m married and separated from my dearest friend. Thank you:)

    Comment by Bret — November 10, 2008 @ 5:15 pm

  9. Our class brought that up too John (the statements by Joseph to his children)

    Actually I think that lesson ended up being one of the better ones this year.

    Comment by Clark — November 10, 2008 @ 5:17 pm

  10. Hi there, Mo Mommy,

    Wow, can I relate. I’m a military wife, too, with seven children. It is a difficult, but oh so important, task that we face. Our soldiers are only as strong as the family who supports him and I know he recognizes that you are his strength, his inspiration, his reason for commitment. You’re both doing God’s work, and that’s an important thing to remember when it gets hard, many people don’t understand that aspect of it at all.

    Just a couple of thoughts for you, though. Are you connected with your local FRG? Do you have a support network and people to turn to when you are feeling most alone? Having been through my share of this myself, and now being an FRG leader, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t make sure you’re getting what you need. If you need any help connecting with others in your area, who are going through what you’re going through, please let me know.

    You are NOT alone and there are many of us who know just what you’re going through. I was sharing with someone earlier today that, sometimes when it’s most stressful to be parenting alone, it helps to call a fellow military spouse, to share your stress. More than likely, she’s just as stressed as you are, but sharing it with each other somehow makes it easier to bear.

    Hang in there, sister, he’s coming home a hero.

    Comment by Kate — November 10, 2008 @ 7:33 pm

  11. Mo Mommy: Just my 2 cents. Please don’t be bashful about calling upon various support groups who have already pledged help, and who mostly stand willing to help the families of deployed soldiers:

    1. The part of your husband’s local organization that remains, whether Nat Guard, Reserve, or regular Army/whatever. Most have an office whose duty is to assist the wives and families, or at least coordinate those who are willing to be of assistance.

    2. Local veterans groups often adopt a deployed unit, pledging support to the wives/children of the overseas soldiers. Often they work through the support office of #1. I used to volunteer at a local Vietnam Veterans group, and they helped put on picnics and activity days for the families of deployed Nat Guard soldiers. DVD’s were made and sent to the dads overseas.

    3. Your husband’s local priesthood quorum, whether elders or high priests. Don’t be afraid to buttonhole the home-teacher or the EQ-pres or HP-group-leader.

    4. The Bishop. Don’t be afraid to go in his office and bang your fist on his desk if #3 falls through.

    Comment by Bookslinger — November 10, 2008 @ 8:26 pm

  12. Wow, thanks guys, you’re all great. Kind words are ALWAYS appreciated.
    Bret- I’m so glad you mentioned that because this lesson is for so much more than just spouses. Many women in our ward likened the distance to how they felt when their kids left home and went out into the world, like John mentioned, so I think all our relationships can use a little understanding and strengthening.
    Kate- Oh honey, our FRG is so jacked up you wouldn’t believe it! Our car was stolen and I called the key spouse to try and get contact info for my husband…she STILL hasn’t called me back! I’ve got spouses calling me asking for Rear D phone #’s and I’m flying blind. Why can’t YOU be my key spouse?!
    Bookslinger- Those are great suggestions. If there’s one thing I learned during the last deployment, it’s that I have NO time for pride. I will ask for whatever I need help with in a minute and I have no problem with standing on desks to get it! Hey, sometimes waiting on the system to work just takes too darn long…
    Thankfully, though we’re currently a Guard family, we have a decade of active duty under our belts so I’m pretty well used to the routine. We’re in a unique situation since his unit is based 5 hours away and I’m the only spouse in the area, but we’re right next to a military base and the ward that we previously attended. I have a decent system set up, and I’m definitely lucky, though sometimes trying to talk to the Air Force with Army lingo gets frustrating! It’s kind of nice not to be around other spouses in the same unit…I get a lot more sympathy that way ;)

    Comment by mo mommy — November 10, 2008 @ 11:04 pm

  13. Dude, Ardis likes me, that’s instant street cred. I’m giddy as a schoolgirl!
    Clark- I had the same thought(comment 4). I suppose it’s part of the human condition to get pissed off at life’s unfairness now and then, even if you’re called of God!

    Comment by mo mommy — November 10, 2008 @ 11:16 pm

  14. My RS teacher did a really good job with this lesson. She handed out papers and pencils and asked us to look through the letters for examples of traits that would help us build our relationships with others She specifically talked about how many women in the room did not have husbands (or ideal marriages), but we still all have relationships that these traits can apply to, and we should apply them to ourselves, because we can only change ourselves.

    I liked the letters a lot, I have never doubted that Joseph love Emma (even when he was putting her through hell). I would have liked to have seen some letters from Emma to Joseph to though. And I felt a little weird about discussing marriage, specifically Joseph and Emma’s marriage, and never once mentioning polygamy. At the very least, it seemed intensely unfair to all those other wives, to be disappeared that way. But then again, I’m not sure how that conversation would have added to our discussion as it relates to our modern lives.

    Comment by fmhLisa — November 11, 2008 @ 12:14 am

  15. I agree that ignoring the issue of polygamy when discussing the relationship between Joseph and Emma is strange, at best. It adds to our understanding of their relationship and helps us understand Emma much better when we include the other wives in the story. This was an intensely difficult and complex relationship and we do ourselves no favors when we ignore one of its greatest challenges. We also do a disservice to the other wives, who were wonderful women that deserve respect and admiration.

    Comment by MCQ — November 11, 2008 @ 1:29 am

  16. Remember that virtually all of the letters in the lesson were written before there were any plural wivees, and that NONE of the other wives were ever dependent upon Joseph for financial or emotional support as Emma was. None of the other wives had Joseph’s children to raise, either. The contents of these letters reflect the marriages of church members today in a way that an anachronistic discussion of polygamy never could.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — November 11, 2008 @ 6:44 am

  17. Ardis, you say none of the other wives had Joseph’s children to raise. That’s actually highly speculative. I know of at least one other who did. At the time, the other children were not openly raised as Smith’s because Polygamy was still more-or-less “under wraps.”

    Also, downplaying the significance of the other wives is a disfavor to Joseph’s actual family. Eliza R. Snow Smith Young was one of the most brilliant and most contributive women in the early Church, remained faithful and never apostatized (unlike Emma), and deserves mention based on these merits. Lucinda Pendleton Morgan Harris Smith, another who remained by Joseph’s side, is also someone I would consider a preeminent historical figure of her era, if not for her own accomplishments, at least for her centrality to such significant historical events.

    Comment by Jeff Day — November 11, 2008 @ 7:28 am

  18. Ardis, I’m not sure about the dates of the letters, but are you sure that they predate Joseph’s polygamy? That would be somewhat surprising and, even if true, still intentionally excludes a healthy chunk of their relationship.

    You can call discussion of polygamy anachronistic if you like, but the fact is that it was a big part of this couple’s life and presented an enormous challenge which they had to overcome. I would suggest that such things are not really anachronistic in a general sense, since we all have challenges of various kinds in our relationships.

    Jeff, I agree that Joseph may have had children by his plural wives, and that these children if they existed were raised as the children of other men, but I do not believe that it has ever been proved with certainty that such children existed. I would like to know who you think you “know” of that was raising Joseph’s children. Please tell us if you have that information, and what its source is.

    Comment by MCQ — November 11, 2008 @ 12:20 pm

  19. At the risk of a total derail, before reading the OP I thought the title of this post meant “Wow, Emma Smith was hot!”

    Going by that one painting of her, I’d have to agree. But if you look at (I believe) the only extant photograph of her, after Joseph’s death, she looked so sad and tired. The years must have been so hard on her. :(

    Comment by Bro. Jones — November 11, 2008 @ 1:15 pm

  20. MCQ,
    While I totally agree with your reasoning, I can see why that part of their relationship was left out of this lesson. I imagine the brethren knew how easily we members of the church get derailed in our lessons and wanted to keep the focus as Ardis pointed out; to make comparisons and draw from a relationship most members of the church today can relate to(or in my case and other YSAs, aspire to).

    Comment by Bret — November 11, 2008 @ 9:54 pm

  21. I’m all for trying to relate to their relationship, Bret, but in order to relate, it seems important to understand it, which requires having the full context, not just the edited version.

    Comment by MCQ — November 13, 2008 @ 12:25 am

  22. Oh I agree. I didn’t mean to sound like you weren’t trying to relate. Obviously, that’s your point and I agree. I’m just not surprised the brethren left it out as it could lead to tangent discussions, pseudo-doctrine and whatever else and you know how we avoid stuff like that in our general lessons:)

    Comment by Bret — November 13, 2008 @ 3:01 pm

  23. Remember that virtually all of the letters in the lesson were written before there were any plural wivees,

    Although the Fanny Algers situation had already occurred before most of them.

    Comment by Clark — November 13, 2008 @ 8:36 pm

  24. Lets get real. Of course Joseph Smith had children with his other wives. His earliest relationship was with Fanny Algers, his nanny as early as 1937 (Rough Stone Rolling).
    The fact that the church refuses to acknowledge these relationships is an insult to our and Emma’s integrity. And why don’t we have more of her letters to Joseph? Because she was fuming mad at him almost all the time. Please, lets get real.

    Comment by Vanessa — November 15, 2008 @ 11:48 pm

  25. Bro. Jones—Actually, there are several surviving photographs of Emma Smith. The one with her holding baby David is the earliest known one and the one most people are familiar with. But there are a number of photos of her in her final years.

    Comment by Phoenix — November 16, 2008 @ 5:55 am

  26. Vanessa, feel free to get as real as you want, starting with real evidence of Joseph’s real children by other women (as opposed to just your real feelings on the matter).

    There are a lot of really smart real people with real DNA tests who have been really trying to prove the existence of such children for a very real number of years. So far, as far as I’m aware, real evidence has never been found of any real children. Really.

    This is really quite astounding when you consider that Joseph is supposed to have married well over thirty women. Many critics charge that these relationships were all about Joseph’s gratifying sexual lust through abuse of power. If that were the case, though, why not more children? Really, shouldn’t there be a lot of them? Or at least some obvious, provable offspring? And yet, there are none. Hmmm.

    The Church has, in fact, acknowledged the polygamous relationships that Joseph had, as can be seen by doing a search of the subject on the church website.

    This paragraph appears under the heading of “Polygamy” in the Gospel Topics section:

    After God revealed the doctrine of plural marriage to Joseph Smith in 1831 and commanded him to live it, the Prophet, over a period of years, cautiously taught the doctrine to some close associates. Eventually, he and a small number of Church leaders entered into plural marriages in the early years of the Church. Those who practiced plural marriage at that time, both male and female, experienced a significant trial of their faith. The practice was so foreign to them that they needed and received personal inspiration from God to help them obey the commandment.

    Emphasis mine.

    The evidence on Emma’s feelings about these marriages is a very mixed bag, as you should know if you have read Rough Stone Rolling. There is no question that Emma was angry at times, and there is no question that the Church could do more to dispell misinformation on this subject (such as discussing it in the chapter concerning his relationship with Emma), but in general, your comment contains more misinformation than anything I’ve seen from the Church on this subject. So, definitely, let’s get real. Starting with you.

    Comment by MCQ — November 16, 2008 @ 11:34 pm

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