But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
Growing up, I had heard of a courage pioneer woman named Mary Elizabeth Rollins, who along with her sister, managed to save several pages later published as the Doctrine and Covenants from a burning building in Independence, Missouri.
However, it wasn’t until recently, I learned a missing part of the story.
Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner
Mary Elizabeth Rollins was born in 1818 Lima, New York. He father died when she was a child, so their family moved to Kirtland Ohio to live with her uncle.
Joining the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
There she learned about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. At 11 years old, she was lent a Book of Mormon by Isaac Morley for one night. She and her family stayed up late reading it, and she had memorized the first verse by morning. When she went to give the book back to Morley, he was impressed at how much she had read, and he let her keep it until she finished. She was baptized into the church in October 1830.
In the fall of 1831, she and her family left Kirtland for Independence, Missouri where she witnessed the tarring and feathering of Edward Partridge. Mary also witnessed the tearing down of the printing press in Independence in 1833. She watched as an angry mob tore down the building and hurled pages of the Book of Commandments into the streets. She and her sister clutched armfuls of the paper, regardless of the mob pursuing them. They concealed themselves in a cornfield until the mob passed. These are what were later published as part of the Doctrine and Covenants.
Though during her lifetime she was sealed to both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, she was married to Adam Lightner. They were Adam were married in 1835 when Elizabeth was 17 and went on to have 10 children.
Adam and their baby became very sick While living in Wisconsin. At one point, Mary’s leg swelled, and she almost had her leg amputated. She pleaded with God to spare her limb.
Getting Poisoned with a Twist
While there, a man stopped by her house and offered her a medicine that would allegedly heal anything.
Wanting the man to leave them alone, she, her husband and her aunt took of the medicine. She also gave some to her children. Soon after, all became ill. Two of her children even died from the “medicine.” The family found out the man had given them poison. He was caught by authorities, but Mary begged them not to hang him.
She begged authorities not to hang the man who killed two of her children.
She died at age 95 in Minersville, UT with a firm testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Lessons I Learned from this Woman of Faith
In her lifetime she was driven place to place, she had possessions left or stolen, she mourned failed businesses, she watched some of her children die, and suffered many physical ailments.
Her story reminds me of the great treasure the Book of Mormon is. I can’t imagine reading it all through the night, let alone at age 11.
In the face of danger, she was courage in rescuing manuscripts for the Doctrine and Covenants.
In a moment more Christlike than I can imagine, she watched a senseless act of another result in the death of her two children before her very eyes. If I had suffered such a plight, I’m not sure I would have the mercy to demand much less than a cruel fate for that man.
Changing an Eye for an Eye to Turn the Other Cheek
The following lyrics come to mind in the Broadway play and movie Les Miserable, when the priest who has just been stolen from says,
But my friend you left so early
Surely something slipped your mind
You forgot I gave these also
Would you leave the best behind?
Monsieur, release him
This man has spoken true
I commend you for your duty
And God’s blessing go with you
But remember this, my brother
See in this some high plan
You must use this precious silver
To become an honest man.
Jean Valjean, the perpetrator then sings soon after,
Yet why did I allow that man
To touch my soul and teach me love?
He treated me like any other
He gave me his trust
He called me brother
My life he claims for God above
Can such things be?
For I had come to hate the world
This world that always hated me
Take an eye for an eye!
Turn your heart into stone!
This is all I have lived for!
This is all I have known!
One word from him and I’d be back
Beneath the lash, upon the rack
Instead he offers me my freedom
I feel my shame inside me like a knife
He told me that I had a soul,
How does he know?
What spirit comes to move my life?
Is there another way to go?
I have always loved this scene. How absurd that the priest would treat a criminal with compassion. One the priest had let into his home, just to get robbed by him. Where is the justice? Where is the righteous indignation? Yet, the priest doesn’t do that all. He returns cruelty with kindness. This kindness in turn changes Valjean’s heart, and course of life.
This story is absurd because I never thought it happened in real life. How baffling someone would in reality, consciously, decide to give mercy for one who has hurt them so deeply. I can only hope this courageous act from Elizabeth was felt deeply by the man with the poison.
Elizabeth’s reliance on Heavenly Father during trials and difficulties inspires me to hold onto my faith and reflect on what I am doing with the blessings and gifts I have been given. I have unending blessings, I haven’t had nearly the struggles of this dear pioneer woman. To the best of my efforts, I hope to use my blessings to help those without, and to show mercy to all of God’s children.