A Hymn, Wild and Sweet

Church bells 4
When I was in junior high my best friend’s mom decided that a group of neighborhood girls needed to go caroling.  I remember being surprised at how much I loved Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” even though it was five long verses. If you’re old like me, you may recall that in the LDS hymnbook’s former incarnation, only the first three verses were featured. The other verses were included, sans music at the end, as sort of extraneous or bonus material. Once I figured this out I was appalled. How could you end that song with the line, “And hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth good will to men?” Several years later when the green hymnal came out, the last two verses were restored to their proper, prominent place and I love to shout/sing “the wrong shall fail the right prevail with peace on earth good will to men!” It’s a song of hope and triumph.

But in the month since the Church announced its policy change, my spirit feels like the last two verses are missing again. I cannot explain my sadness. I can’t read my scriptures anymore. It’s not that I don’t try. The verses just feel hollow. Within the walls of my home it has caused pain. Of course I ask myself, why do you stay? How can you stay? There are no simple answers.

Sometimes I think that because I am a woman, I am conditioned to fight from within. One of my daughters has been struggling mightily with the church regarding women and LBGTQ issues. She has been raised to expect a seat at the table and isn’t placated by the card table set up for her in an adjacent room. (I’m a little embarrassed at how many years I silently accepted my folding chair while my brothers sat firmly on seats carved from oak.) I have fought so hard to keep her, because I believe. I believe in the gospel and I have a deep and abiding testimony of Jesus, that He wants his daughters at the grown up table. I believe the gospel has allowed me to withstand some pretty sucky things. Every morning and night I pray/meditate and find the inner peace to keep going. To get out of bed and function and serve and build Zion as best I can. And let me be clear, I mostly kick ass at building Zion. And my ward family has sustained me when my life has gone off the rails. I am blessed to live in an area where the Church facilitates the gospel and has nurtured me and mine in countless ways.

I found a list in this child’s room with two columns, reasons to stay in the church, and reasons to leave. I cannot control her path. But I think she still has things that the gospel and Church can teach her that will help her grow. The Sunday after the policy bomb, I explained to my children that I am choosing to stay though others in our family are not. But staying does not mean I agree with everything the leaders say. I am staying in the church because it is MINE. Then I gave them a little family history lesson. Our ancestor, Lydia Knight used her money to bail Joseph Smith out of prison. Joseph borrowed Lydia’s father-in-law’s wagon to carry the plates from Hill Cumorah. Joseph Knight also paid for most of the paper the BOM was translated onto. When Lydia was to go west from Winter Quarters she had two wagons and three yoke of oxen. Her husband Newell died and Brigham told her to stay and he gave her wagons and oxen to other families, leaving her destitute. A few years later Brigham returned to her a broken wagon and one team of sick oxen. She was desperate to reach Zion so Brigham agreed to lend her money to buy new transportation and made sure she payed it back. Brigham majorly screwed her over. He was a jerk. But she did not leave. She helped build the Church, her Church, and no bully was going to push her out. And she passed this dedication on to her kids. Her son, Jesse Knight (of JKHB fame) bailed the Church out of debt in the 1890s and bought most of the land for BYU. I have other less illustrious forbearers who have busted their butts for the church; sometimes they were rewarded, sometimes not. My McFarland roots are Scottish and the family motto is: “This I’ll Defend.” And I will defend what I believe in. I will defend the family because I believe in it. But I will NOT define the family. I will defend my faith, the gospel, Zion, but I will not defend a policy that hurts people and denies people access to the gospel. This I’ll defend, not define or deny.

So here I am. My family is being pulled in diverse directions and I’m struggling to keep us together. And the Church that is supposed to support and unite us is breaking my heart. But this season, as I lay presents under the tree, I will also lay my broken heart at Christ’s feet and listen carefully for the Christmas bells. Perhaps in time I will again hear “a voice, a chime, a chant sublime, of peace on earth good will to men.” For now, I wait.


For information on the Knight family:


  1. Beautiful.

    And that song has been on my mind too, with both church things and world things. I posted the “no peace” lyrics on my fbook. Someone finished them for me, in the comments. I couldn’t do it myself, because I don’t feel it yet. Just the hope of feeling it.

  2. Hey Heather I am also directly descended from Lydia Knight. My grandmother I believe typed up her journal or wrote a good part of her history. I grew up on her story of walking across the plains pregnant and with five kids after Newell ‘ s death. I too have that stubborn streak about getting kicked out my own church and my family is feeling the same draw and quartering with the direction of current leadership. I am pretty sure Joseph would be ashamed though Brigham might be applaud.

    I can’t believe we didn’t meet when we were living in Cambridge! We will have to remedy that when I pass through next! Clearly I can learn a lot more from you about Lydia!

  3. You are an amazing person and friend, Heather. I am privileged to know you. Thank you so much for this. It’s really resonated with my soul today.

  4. This felt like a warm hug. I read it and then immediately went to play the song on my piano, but then I realized that the version in the hymn book has 3 flats, and… I’m just not that good. So I turned to a version from an old, crumpled, falling apart book of Christmas music, and played that one, and it was so sweet. I thought it was funny that the church hymn book failed me yet again, but that I could gain comfort from other sources, that are just as good and uplifting – like this blog.

  5. I’m right there with you, Heather. This is my Church too. I’m tired of planning the meal, shopping for it, cooking it, serving it and sitting on the folding chair only to have to clean up afterwards. I don’t care who tries to control my oxen and wagon– they cannot control me. It’s my perogative to whom I decide to give a ride. I will let anyone sit with me on my way to Zion, no matter what some policy states. I live a gospel of love- the gospel I learned from the example of my Savior, Jesus Christ.

  6. It is really odd how DNA works. Though we are first cousins and not siblings, you echo things that I say all the time, especially “This is MY church, and I’m not leaving.” But you also always have the capacity to say things that surprise, uplift and help me, going beyond what I can do. I really loved hearing the words “As I lay my presents under the tree I will also lay my broken heart at christ’s feet and listen for the Christmas bells.” In addition to the “chant sublime” of goodwill to men, I have been thinking about the line from “O Holy Night” that reminds us: “Chains shall He strike from the hands of our brethren/For in His name all oppression shall cease.” Not “in spite of what people do in his name” but “in his name.” This week I am clinging to D&C 11:12 which tells us to “put your trust in that spirit which leadeth to do good.” Reaching out to our LGBT folks and keeping them close is good. The spirit is leading me to do it. Your Thanksgiving analogy is another uncanny parallel: this week I told a dear gay friend that there is a rainbow-colored place card for him at the supper of the Lord, and that he should not be driven away from the table by the crazy uncles in the family. Love and deep respect from your WonderTwin

    • I tried to read this but it is so boring I don’t have the energy to go over the same old rubbish. I know what I feel when I pray and that is God loves all His children and will not exclude any because of who they are; who he made them.

    • Thank you for your article. I don’t have ancestors who were members. I have some family in the church. In Ireland members believe everything the leaders say as the word of God if they don’t accept that they usually leave the church. It is great for me to see that there are others who like me see the flaws but want to stay for the friendships I have and the family members who believe. I try not to speak out at church but sometimes I get so angry when I see people I used to feel close to accepting discrimination against mostly women and LTGB. Intelligent women say our roles are different, equality does not mean the same,we have equality in the church. I argue and then feel bad. Sometimes I think I will leave because it just makes me angry and sad,so sad for last month’s terrible policy. Then I think of my husband and my son’s family who would be heartbroken. Reading that t her e are others who feel like I do is a great help to me.

  7. Dearest Heather, you have so much love and such a powerful voice. That is your gift to everyone – any time of year. The ability to be so unbelievably strong, making positive change in whatever do (“kick ass at building Zion”), and doing it all with such warmth, humor and wisdom. Your daughters and son will carry your legacy just as you do for Lydia. You are giving them the space and support to find their own way to be true to their own beliefs. It is your example that will carry the most meaning.

    And your writing is beautiful. I could hear the sound of your voice behind the words. Music to me.

  8. Heather, this is perfectly captured. I love you’re weaving of those hymn verses into your essay. You’ve captured what our experience has felt like. I especially love you’re commitment to defend but not define the family. Where can we turn for peace? For me it’s increasingly in forums like this. I am proud to call you friend.

  9. Heather, we are distantly related by marriage! My husband is a descendant of Lydia Knight.

    Thank you for this beautiful post. It’s exactly what I need to read to help give me strength to keep going. Last Sunday I went to church wearing my rainbow pride pin. I intend to wear it every Sunday for the foreseeable future. I’m glad to know that you and others here are with me in spirit.

  10. Me too. I am not comfortable but the church is my heritage. My ancestors left England and Sweden for Salt Lake. I love our expansive theology. I have always been too opinionated and outspoken, but my ward is used to me. I am the only person to defend my gay friends and object to bullying and insulting (which is sad). For that reason, we need to stay. I try to see this current behavior as an “extinction burst” which is probably much too optimistic. I lived through pre-1978; I can do this.

  11. Beautiful post Heather! I love your thoughts about the hymn and ending it on the verse that the hymn book used to. I also hope that the church finishes the song, to push forward the work of bringing peace on earth. Your stories about your ancestry are beautiful, the diligence Lydia showed to stay and build up Zion in the face of mistreatment! Thank you for sharing this beautiful post with us.

  12. Newell and Lydia Knight also feature in my family tree. Thank you for this essay. I am considering my options carefully in the face of this new devilry that is the latest policy.

  13. The church is not the enemy. Our church is inclusive to all sinners welcoming them to come and learn the ways of godliness. It is true though that if one wants to enjoy the blessings of the gospel there are laws tgat must be employed and adhered to. Tge toughness of the situation of a family member who doesnt conform is tough but in due time our prayers will seek out and be answered in bringing back all the lost sheep into the fold. My only fear is that some may fight so hard against the gospel that it will be everlastingly too late to save their eternal souls in the end.
    I know of two such individuaks who slowly, over time gave up all their temple covenants with each other to hate and now spit upon the church, who have moved into transgendered lives, have taken up many other sins and now have utter hatred towards the church. It isnt mine to judge but I do fear they will be cast off at the last great day of judgment because of their utter hatred for godliness.

  14. Thank you Heather. Beautiful thoughts and words. I hope we all find peace and ways to reach out to each other in fellowship and love

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