Kimberly Jo Smith shares her personal conversion story to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After being raised with severe prejudices against the Mormon Church, Kimberly came to know more about her ancestors and to have a greater desire to know the truth of their history. Through her searching, she gained a testimony of the restored gospel and was baptized. This article is composed of excerpts taken from a publication in Meridian Magazine entitled, “Joseph Smith’s Great, Great Granddaughter: From Animosity to Conversion.”
When I was young my mother taught me about Heavenly Father, the Savior, and the Holy Ghost. This foundation was integral throughout my childhood as I encountered many trials and traumas which could have taken me down dark and lowly paths were it not for this knowledge she gave me. It also prepared me for the introduction to my great-great grandparents Joseph and Emma Smith, two individuals I was not aware of until age twelve.
I was born August 7, 1962 in Maryville, Tennessee to Joseph Frederick Smith and Mary Sue Roberts Smith. By the time I was twelve years old we had moved nearly forty times. Yet my heart was always filled with cherished memories of the Smoky Mountains and our mountain people who lived there. My Pappaw Roberts was part Cherokee and a spiritual giant. I remember he always seemed so grand to me. He was a good man who was always searching for spiritual truths and taught my mother the same. His example of following the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all things was something that my mother relied on for strength and comfort, for she suffered much physical abuse at the hands of her mother who suffered from a depressive illness.
When I was nine years old living in Oregon, I was abused by a neighbor. After this experience I was debilitated in every way. I looked down when I walked; I would not look people in the face. My self-image suffered severely; I hated myself. I thought I was ugly and stupid. I was made fun of at school and did not have the inner strength and confidence to let the remarks roll of my back or throw a comeback comment their way and laugh it off. Every comment rang like truth within my heart and it eroded my spirit.
There is one thing I did not forget. The example of my mother’s devotion to Heavenly Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost showed me that I would always have three friends who loved me no matter what, and I leaned on that.
In 1973 I bought an album by the Osmonds called The Plan. This purchase would change my life. I can still picture pulling the album out of the sleeve and putting the record on. The music began to play. As the album cover fell open into the palms of my hands, my mind was opened to something I had never seen before. It was my first introduction to the Plan of Salvation. As I looked at the visual images of pre-mortal life, childhood, eternal marriage, and returning home, I heard the words “Let me take care of you and keep an eye on you….”
One day I was listening to the song “Are You up There?” My father walked past my room pausing beyond my bedroom door. He made a negative comment that I do not recall. I was moved to ask him that day why he didn’t like them. I will never forget the look on his face as he replied, “They are Mormons.” I had never seen such a look on his face before. His countenance changed to something cold and dark. I knew very little about spiritual matters at that point in my life, but I did recognize that the atmosphere changed, and it didn’t feel good. So from that point I never listened to the music unless I had my headphones on.
Two months after this experience we travelled to Ava, Missouri to visit my Grandma Smith. On this particular visit, I walked into the living room of the cabin, which led into a small sitting room and sat down. As I rested my head against the cushioned back of the couch, my eyes fell on two portraits hanging side by side on the wall before me.
It is hard to describe the feeling I had at that moment except to say that for a brief period it seemed as if time stood still. My hearing did not pick up audible sounds around me. I felt as if there was no one else on earth except me and those two portraits. My attention was first drawn to the man in the portrait which hung on the left; the familiarity was deep and instant.
I felt a longing to get close to this man. I was drawn to know who he was, when and where he lived, and why his portrait was in Grandma’s house. What did it have to do with me? I felt a mixture of sadness and joy, and a feeling I can only describe as gut-wrenching, as I looked upon his gentle but unsettling smile.
Tears began to stream down my face as I looked to the portrait beside the man and searched the face of a lovely woman. She seemed to convey a noble bearing, with raven black hair, eyes large and round, their color a beautiful dark brown. Again feelings of admiration and sadness rose in me, so much so that I could not bear to look any longer and went to find my Grandmother.
I asked her who the people in the portraits were and she responded, “Those are your great-great grandparents, Joseph and Emma Smith. Joseph established the ‘true’ church.” The true church? I had no idea what she meant. I only knew that these two people, the man in particular, seemed very familiar to me. I was overcome with an immediate love for them that was precious. I felt an intense yearning to learn everything I could about them both. The fourteen years which followed were filled with many interesting paths, leading me on a quest for knowledge about my ancestors. Such paths and journeys are often the target of the adversary and his fiery darts, and mine was no exception.
Not long after our visit to Grandma Smith’s we moved to Ava, Missouri and settled in her log cabin. This placed me in the heart of my father’s family, and we became very close. It was not a peaceful situation however, for among them I witnessed elements of bitterness, which had been passed down from earlier generations. Even though I had the teachings of my mother to help me recognize the signature of the adversary’s handiwork, some of the residue of the family traditions could not help but fall upon me. I learned that the church my Grandma had referred to was the Church of Christ Temple Lot, an organization my Grandpa Smith joined after leaving the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 1925.
It was in the company of my father’s family that I heard rumors that Brigham Young had my great-great grandfather Joseph killed. Their strongly-held belief that Brigham was bent on destroying Emma and the children, usurping the work for which my ancestor had died, turning it into his own corrupt organization became impressed upon my tender mind. This would be the first and only time in my life that I would hate someone, for it was not in my nature to have such feelings, but a feeling of instant hate settled in my heart toward Brigham Young.
I asked my father about Joseph Smith. The conversations started out informative, but soon I stopped asking questions altogether, because only a small amount of time was spent in speaking of the history of Joseph. Instead I was tutored in his version of the nature of Brigham Young, and his band of Brighamites who blindly followed him to the west. A feeling of unpleasantness would fill my entire being. It was clear I would have to find the information I sought elsewhere.
As I passed through my teenage years, there were precious moments that kept the desire to know more alive within me.
In 1989, I was married with a three-year-old son, Bryan, and was expecting my daughter, Leah. The fire within me concerning my family history reached an unbearable point. I only had four generations back to Joseph and Emma and little information beyond. Ava was a small town with limited access for in-depth research beyond the library; where I went one day to ask where I might go to do family history research. I was told the best place to go was a family history center. That made perfect sense. So I asked where to find one and was told it was sixty miles away in Springfield, Missouri at the LDS Church. “What is that?” I asked, eager to find this wonderful place where I might do research. “The Mormon Church,” She replied.
The woman may as well have run a knife through me. Imagine my feelings, my hopes dashed in one fell swoop. There was no way I was setting foot into that building! My father warned me about Mormons, missionaries in particular; how they are well trained, and if not careful you could be easily snookered! I left feeling defeated and almost fuming as I sat in the car. Then the spirit whispered to me it was more important to get the information no matter where it came from. So I decided I would take my tablet with my four generations and act like I knew what I was doing so I would not have to talk to anyone for fear of getting snookered.
It quickly became apparent that Kim did not know how to search for her ancestors. When the missionaries offered to help again, she accepted their help. Upon discovering Kim was related to Joseph Smith, the missionaries were very excited and asked her many questions about her family history to which she did not know the answers.
There were two things I noticed about those missionaries. They were very kind, and they had the Holy Ghost with them. I knew it because of how my mother taught me. But it contradicted everything my father had said about these people, and I was not sure how to handle the experience. I did feel comfortable enough to keep going back, and it was during those visits that I learned about a town named Nauvoo. From the time my eyes fell upon the word I knew I had to go there.
Upon entering the Homestead everything took root in my heart. As my eyes adjusted to the dimness, I looked up and breathed in sharply. It was one of those moments that people identify with déjà vu. I felt as if I had been there before. I struggled with the emotions coursing through me, realizing it was more. It was as if I was having a memory that was not my own. As I breathed, thoughts and feelings about Joseph and Emma filled my heart. Tears fell down my face and I lagged behind the others so that I might absorb as much as possible.
I dealt with similar feelings before, but not so deep and personal. This was profound, intimate, filled with sorrow, yet held together with joy; a precious gift that seemed broken. I walked out of the Homestead with an assignment that came in whispers. Like when a friend is standing beside you urging you to read a particular book or visit a certain place because it was so rewarding. Only I could not see who was whispering to my heart. I only knew that there was a host of what felt like family and friends about me and an unmistakable presence that I had felt from childhood, a familiarity that had no name until that day, Joseph. It was evident to me that I needed to visit Nauvoo often to learn for myself the true history of my people, Joseph and Emma, and why I felt so drawn to them on such a deep and personal level.
While I was making trips once a year to Nauvoo, the Osmonds established their family theater in Branson, Missouri, a mere fifty miles from our home in Ava. After six years of procrastination, I think the Lord got tired of waiting for me to go. We won tickets on a radio program to [the Osmonds’] show in Branson. Two days before the show, Merrill Osmond had a vision of Joseph Smith. In this vision Joseph showed Merrill the Smith posterity. Merrill said it was as if he was looking upon a sea of faces and they were miserable. Joseph said to him, “This is my posterity, please help them.”
Two days later while I was watching the show, Merrill came on stage and started to sing a gospel number.
His face was illuminated and the Spirit filled the theater. I knew that for some reason I was being directed to meet this man, so after the show we met and talked in depth.
By the end of the conversation I told him that I was Joseph’s great-great granddaughter. His face changed dramatically as he said, “Oh, I need to talk to you!”
Through the friendship with Merrill, and the Osmond family, I learned that Mormons were not the monsters they had been portrayed to be when I was young. I felt that I could ask them more about their church, and they would not lead me falsely. Merrill invited me to take the discussions in his home with the sister missionaries. By the third discussion, I knew I was supposed to be baptized. As any convert will tell you, that is when the flood gates of the adversary open. I was hit with all of the issues I had grown up with; Brigham Young, polygamy, baptism for the dead. All I knew for certain was that the Holy Ghost was telling me to go forward. Because of my mother’s teachings of never questioning that guidance even when it doesn’t make sense, I knew that if I did what I was prompted to do that all would be well. I was baptized June 7, 1998. For the first time my eyes were truly opened, and it felt as if I had come home.
In the years following my baptism my heart, mind, and spirit were opened to a greater knowledge of the healing power of the Savior. The strength I gained from that knowledge gave me an assurance I could be made whole again and be at peace with the traumas of my past. I forgave willingly and let go of the pain. I focused my energies on attending to my church callings and working to help pull the Smith posterity together. The desire within me to serve was magnified and the more I served the more I healed.
It took a long time, but eventually Kim was able to get over her hatred for Brigham Young which had been instilled in her as a child. She had a miraculous experience which simply washed away all the hard feelings she had towards him. When she travelled to Utah to receive her endowment in the Manti Temple, she visited Temple Square.
Part of our trip to Utah included a tour of Temple Square, including the burial place of Brigham Young. When we got to his grave I asked for a moment alone. I knelt down to pray beside the place where he rested. In that prayer I asked him to forgive me for all of the hatred I had borne against him for so many years and to forgive my family for carrying that hatred from one generation to the next. Then I forgave him for the things he had said and done because the hurt was created on both sides. In that moment I heard a heavenly choir sing “Nearer My God to Thee.” In that moment the following thoughts came to me. All of the things that our ancestors experienced, even the pain they may have caused one another, they experienced those things, not me. They are on the other side of the veil and have reconciled those things, it is wrong to carry it on.
Kim and her son were both baptized and now they travel, speaking to people about their experience and about the healing power of the atonement of Jesus Christ. Kim feels it is her responsibility to talk to people about healing and uniting, letting go of hard feelings. Kim’s mother and sister were also eventually baptized.
The fullness of the gospel is the most precious thing we can have in our lives and through it we have the capability of sharing a fullness of joy with all of those we come into contact with. The words of my great-great grandfather Joseph are deeply rooted in my heart, “Shall we not go on in so great a cause?”
Kimberly Jo Smith
Doris White is a native of Oregon and graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and a minor in Editing. She loves to talk with others about the gospel of Jesus Christ.