Kristine's Reviews > An Elect Lady: The Illustrated Life Story Of Emma Smith

An Elect Lady by Lori E. Woodland
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Jul 03, 11

bookshelves: true-life-stories, religion-and-or-lds
Recommended to Kristine by: My Mother in Law
Recommended for: Everyone
Read from April 13 to June 27, 2011

Lucy Mack Smith said of her daughter-in-law, Emma:

“I have never seen a woman in my life, who would endure every species of fatigue and hardship, from month to month, and from year to year, with that unflinching courage, zeal, and patience, which she has ever done; for I know that which she has had to endure—she has been tossed upon the ocean of uncertainty—she has breasted the storms of persecution, and buffeted the rage of men and devils, which would have borne down almost any other woman.” (Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith)


This is a book where I wanted to take a long time reading it instead of devouring it. The reason? I always felt uplifted and renewed after reading just a chapter. You see, I have this thing in my life where I focus on all of my troubles and trials. I stress. I worry. I focus too much on myself and my own problems instead of looking outwards on helping others.

Here are some of my pity parties over the last several years: unable to have children, workaholic husband with a 10-20 hour per week church calling AND going to school 6 credits per semester at night, financial troubles, feeling out of control of my life, not knowing what job we'll have or where we'll be living in a month, lots of housework in addition to four or five part-time jobs, mysterious health problems, difficulties in my calling in presidency at church, etc. etc. I bet if I kept on thinking about it I could keep finding things to feel sorry for myself - but that's a good place to stop. So I feel like I have a kinship with Emma Smith. Mostly because I think she gets it, but also because she had my trials x 1000. So it gives me a little perspective. Here's a little peek of what I mean. Let's see:

1. Unable to have children . Let's see, I think I read that she had trouble getting pregnant, hen she was able to become pregnant half of them died. She went on to have 11 children (two of them adopted) and 6 of whom died in infancy. Her first child died hours after birth, followed three years later by premature twins that died soon after birth. A neighbor had died that day giving birth to twins - the father gave Julie and Joseph to Emma and Joseph to raise. One of her twins died from catching the flu when an angry mob stormed their home during winter and tarred and feathered Joseph right outside the front door. So did she live with 4 years of childlessness? Yes, but with so much more tragedy! She went on to have three healthy boys followed by Don Carlos, who died at age one of sickness. Then she delivered a stillborn child a year later. Two years later her husband was murdered while she was pregnant. She gave birth to a boy as a widow.

2. Husband never home. At one point in the book it mentions one year Joseph was only home with his family (alone, no one else there) one day - Christmas day. He left again the next day. I think that was while they were in Kirtland. Often he rushed home for when Emma was to deliver a baby only to leave the next day.

3. Financial troubles. Lots of housework in addition to jobs. Um, let's see lost $30k in a joint bank venture in Kirtland during the time there were banks failing everywhere - some sort of recession I guess. Do you know how much money that would be today? And overwhelming, depressing amount. Near the end in Nauvoo their assets of the store and hotel became co-mingled with the church's assets and financially they were pretty secure. But once they were in Nauvoo so many people stopped by and stayed with the family they had to put a sign up outside their front door that said so many people and stay and all are welcome, but to do so they changed their home into a hotel so they could afford it. So Emma was a working woman. Not one day off from running a hotel and feeding and cleaning up after guests. And her hotel was never empty and she hosted large dinner parties constantly. And still being pregnant and taking care of the littles? Seriously, it exhausts me just to read about everything she did.

You know, I could go on . . . but the point is that every little trial or problem I've had in my life Emma had it magnified by 1000. And more. So that is the reason I believe this book could change my life. I think I'd like to own a copy of it and to constantly be reading and reminding myself and giving myself perspective.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~But enough about me - let's move on to the actual review of the book.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I worked at Ricks College when sports were disbanded in the transition to BYUI. And let me tell you there were A LOT of people not happy about it. These people could make a choice to complain and fight or follow in faith. Lori Woodland was the successful basketball coach and she transitioned into teaching religion and as an administrator in the Activities Program. She is now retired. This book includes exhaustive research, including pages and pages and pages of endnotes at the back of the book. I feel the content is presented quite objectively. Emma is shown as an incredible woman who overcomes more than anyone should be able to bear. But she also had flaws, and they weren't glossed over. The author tries to tell the story of her life not with suppositions and filling in the gaps, but by telling stories based on first-hand accounts. There are many things Emma did and said that we don't know why. The author doesn't try to convince you why one way or the other - but to present what others had said. Kind of a 'maybe this is why she did this, or maybe this is why; we will never know' sort of approach. She even brings up the incident about Eliza R. Snow. She was one of Joseph's polygamous wives who apparently was pregnant and living in their home. She lost her baby in a fall down the stairs. It is rumored that Emma pushed her. This information is presented as being a part of her story, but also with the same, 'we will never know the truth about really happened, but it belongs in her story' approach.

And so I come to polygamy, the nitty gritty. And I will tell you now, knowing myself as I do - I just couldn't. I couldn't. And in the church we don't really talk about it very much, especially the details of it all. And Emma had to live it. The author provides a wealth of information on Emma's response and a lot of detail about the goings on back and forth between Emma and Joseph that I had never heard. In fact there is so much information in here I'd never heard before that Darik very quickly got tired of, "Guess what else I read . . . "

The other part that I am so glad I read is the details surrounding what happened after Joseph's death and how she came to stay in Nauvoo instead of going with the saints to Utah. I think she may have been persuaded to go - but this time of upheaval was filled with many miscommunications and hurt feelings between her and Brigham Young, especially for a grieving widow with a newborn. And ultimately what I think it came down to is that she was staunchly opposed to polygamy. A very vocal opponent. And here in Nauvoo the church deeded all of Joseph's property and business to her after his death. She had a home and a way to provide for her family. This was VERY rare in those days where women can't vote or own property. She was secure, as a single mother with many young children. I think she supposed leaving everything and going to Utah would probably require her to marry again - and chances were she'd be pushed into a polygamous marriage again and she just couldn't bring herself to that. There is A LOT more in this book about the time from Nauvoo to her death. The book ends with discussion and documentation of things said and thought about Emma - perfect heroine or fallen heretic? You need to read the book and decide for yourself!!

I feel like instead of telling you in the book I just need to tell you to read it. If you have ever had any desire to learn more about Emma, you must. This is the best source I've found. I've been studying and trying to learn more about her ever since I lived in Iowa and my temple district was Nauvoo. It was such a blessing to have that temple be my home temple and have the experiences of learning the things I did there.

The last thing I want to say is that my favorite song of all time, Emma by The Nashville Tribute, says it all even more beautifully. Here are the lyrics.

Never had an ordinary day
Never lived your life in an ordinary way
For everything you loved you paid a price
But you couldn't let the world see you cry

Never had a moment of peace
Never felt the sunlight when the worries set you free
Every time your life turned a page
It seemed like your heart might break

With the world on your shoulders
When the nights had grown colder
You seemed to weather every storm with a queen's grace
When you lost your husband, when you buried your children
I'm sure the angels stood in reverence as you prayed
How much can one heart take
How much can one heart take

Never had a day to call your own
When so many needed your warm heart as a home
Whispering a a mother's lullaby
As you sat alone by the fire

With the world on your shoulders
When the nights had grown colder
You seemed to weather every storm with a queen's grace
When you lost your husband, when you buried your children
I'm sure the angels stood in reverence as you prayed
How much can one heart take
How much can one heart take

With the world on your shoulders
When the nights had grown colder
You seemed to weather every storm with a queen's grace
When you lost your husband, when you buried your children
I'm sure the angels stood in reverence as you prayed

And I'm sure your heart breaks
When some people still say
Somewhere down the line you lost your faith

How much can one heart take?
How much can one heart take?

Also - go listen to this song, and then BUY this song on iTunes!! This group produces my favorite church music EVER. No cheesy sub-par quality LDS stuff. These are all Nashville veterans who are members of the church who collaborate to produce actual quality LDS music. Their 3rd album comes out in August. Go check it out.

http://www.nashvilletribute.com/wp-co...
http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/emma...
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