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It’s hard to piece together, with any certainty, exactly how many (if any) plural wives Joseph Smith had before 1841. He had learned the doctrine of plural marriage as early as 1831, see, e.g., the heading to D&C 132, but  he was very reluctant to practice it, and may have even hoped that it would be a principle he could “restore” as an ancient truth without having to actually practice it.

The most credible probability is, in my opinion, that Joseph took only one plural wife (Fanny Alger), before 1841. And the experience seems to have confirmed all of his worst fears about plural marriage. His reputation was tarnished, Emma was incensed, close friends apostatized, and the marriage itself was apparently an abject failure: Instead of going to Jackson County, Missouri with her uncle as Joseph hoped, Fanny left Kirtland with her parents, and in Indiana, she met and married Solomon Frank Custer. To this day, Fanny Alger does not appear on the records of the church as one of the dozens of women sealed to the prophet Joseph Smith (interestingly, she has since been sealed by proxy to Mr. Custer). Even more curiously, the family did not leave Kirtland on bad terms with Joseph Smith. Fanny’s parents moved on to Nauvoo, and eventually followed Brigham Young to Utah.

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The Alger family joined the church in 1830. Their daughter Fanny was 14 at the time. In 1836, the Algers left Kirtland. Joseph asked Fanny’s uncle, Levi Hancock, to take her to Missouri with the Saints, but Fanny chose to follow her parents instead. She soon married a grocer named Solomon Custer in Indiana and bore nine children. That is what we know reliably about the Alger family. What happened between 1830 and 1836 is, unfortunately, shrouded in mystery and innuendo. See Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling at 323 — 7  (Vintage Books, 2007).

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Continuing on from the theme of my previous post, a natural question is what led Joseph Smith to the idea of plural marriage in the first place?

This question is kind of hard to answer because Joseph did not, to my knowledge, record any personal reflections on the topic. He was singularly reticent on this difficult topic. So we are left to speculate.

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The Supreme Court decisions on DOMA and Proposition 8 have gotten me thinking about marriage, and a recent phenomenon I’ve noticed. Many people are “Googlging themselves out of the church.” The story usually goes that John Doe is bothered by something he heard at General Conference, or something a friend told him, or something somebody said or did at church, or he’s been having a problem with pornography, or he encounters some other challenge. Then he gets curious. He starts to wonder, “Is this church I’ve belonged to my entire life really true?” So he goes out on the internet and puts “Joseph Smith” into Google and starts reading.

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“To accomplish something you have not accomplished before, you must do something you have not done before.”

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Silly Yellow Beads

This past weekend we had General Conference, and I had a very interesting experience. I went into it with a very specific question I was hoping to hear an answer to (or more precisely, I was hoping I would hear a speaker say something, and the Spirit would impress me powerfully with an answer, as it has done many times before). And in fact, because of something my patriarchal blessing said (along the lines that I should listen closely to the words of the prophet), I had specifically prayed that President Monson would say something that would help me know what I needed to do.

Neither his Priesthood talk nor his Sunday morning talk said anything about what I was hoping to hear. Elder Oaks’ talk yesterday, however, strongly impressed me that I must never put my own selfish needs above the needs of my children. It wasn’t a direct answer to anything, but it was a strong impression about priorities. Then today, I was deeply touched by Pres. Eyring’s talk, and especially the story about his daughter-in-law who prayed for years to have another child. And only when she prayed instead, “Lord, give me an errand,” did He respond with a feeling of peace. Then she had two more children, which is exactly what she was hoping for. Again, it wasn’t the direct answer I was hoping for, but I felt that perhaps I was asking the wrong question. I was asking for the Lord to tell me something I wanted to know (for what I felt were very good reasons), instead of what He needed me to know.

Then I started feeling like, “Maybe this is a silly thing to stress over so much. Maybe the answer is the Lord just doesn’t care. It’s not important.” President Monson’s talk did not give me the direct answer I sought, but I was powerfully impressed with his statement, “The Lord is in the details of your life.” It made me think about my own little son. He was so frustrated the other day by a balance game on the Wii. He was crying because he could never get the giant yellow bead with his face on it in the yellow bucket. It wasn’t a serious problem in the scheme of life. But I was so happy to help him do it because it mattered to him. It pained me to see him so distressed—even over something I knew didn’t matter—and it truly lifted my heart to see him get so excited when that silly yellow bead went in the yellow bucket.

In the eternal scheme, my distress over this question is about as important as getting a yellow bead in the right bucket. But I realized it was important to God because it’s important to me. He chose not to directly give me the answer I was seeking, but I think He gave me enough to know that there is an answer I can find, and that He really does care that I find it. It’s important to Him because it’s important to me, even if I look to him like a 5-year-old crying tears of frustration over a yellow bead.

I attended a Priesthood Leadership Meeting this evening, and one of the speakers was our Area Authority Seventy.  He shared an insight about the miracle recorded in Mark 4:36 — 41, where Jesus calmed the stormy seas.

This miracle has always been immensely meaningful for me, hopefully for obvious reasons.  There are many times when I have felt tossed by stormy seas, and in those times, I have had to rely on the Master, who has power over the storms.  But our Area Seventy pointed out something about this story I’d never thought of before.

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