From the Dust: My Susa Young Gates Experience

By Nicole Marie Hilton, September 28th, 2016

On the 21st of September, 2016, I found myself leaning up against the face of a granite headstone, reading an old book whose spine was so broken and cracked with age I had been surprised to find it. But there it had been—nestled on a common shelf in the Americana Collection of the Harold B. Lee Library. The book was a first edition of a pioneer novel, entitled John Steven’s Courtship: A Story of the Echo Canyon War. The modest headstone on which my back rested against was tucked away in an obscure corner of the Provo Cemetery, and it bore the name of GATES. Below her eternal companion’s name was the name of Susa Young, 1856-1933.

I had approached Susa Young Gates’ grave—the author of the novel in hand—that overcast day with mixed reverence and curiosity. And I would leave my graveside meeting with her almost overcome with respect for her artistry and her testimony of God. Despite life’s worst oppositions, hers is a voice which, “crying from the dust,” still has the power to teach and to instill courage in the beating hearts of today.

Susa’s life was rife with golden achievements. Better pens than mine have shed illumination on her successes and triumphs as a women’s advocate and suffragist, an educator, leader, missionary, and pioneer at the turn of the century. She has been described as “the most versatile and prolific LDS writer ever to take up the pen in defense of her religion”.

But, even more compelling to me in my studies, was the anguish of heart that she carried with her throughout her life, and the concrete resolve—cemented by her unwavering faith in Jesus Christ—which lent bravery to her words and actions, despite this ever-present anguish. She lived her life with vision—her actions wouldn’t make sense to one who hasn’t gazed through an expanded Gospel lens.

Months before, I had first seen her face on a poster. I couldn’t shake the feeling, despite being completely unqualified, that I needed to learn and write about her. I had the feeling that I knew this woman, a feeling inexplicable.

I learned, to my shock, that I share many experiences—and even an ancestry—with her. It is common knowledge among the BYU community that she lost eight children to divorce, accident, and illness—facts which haunted her during life. But she also endured six miscarriages—a pain I have also felt. Like me, against her parent’s wishes, she married as a teenager and suffered a heartbreaking divorce five years later. And, like me, she suffered an emotional and physical breakdown, which halted her life—and her mission—for a time. In all her behavior, she was a walking contradiction—a “study in contrasts”: she could be compliant, yet inflexible, sweet yet saucy, unorthodox yet traditional, impatient—yet kindhearted. In my own struggles with bipolar disorder, being a struggling writer, and living a life full of my own contradictions, I saw myself in Susa Young Gates. I felt that if I shared similar sorrows and traits with such a woman, perhaps this meant I could also have the courage to continue and to endure amongst my own trails.

Her father, Brigham Young, commented that reading a novel—let alone writing one—was akin to “swallowing poisonous herbs”. Susa delighted in adhering to his counsel—that is, unless her integrity demanded otherwise. True to form, Susa wrote two glorious novels—novels full of romance and action, words replete with substance and life lessons learned the hard way.

Leaning against her gravestone, I looked over the top of the book, which was falling apart. In contrast, with each new page and passing hour, her noble character fell together a little more for me. I imagined her figure—always so upright and stately in photographs—stooped over one of the small, weathered markers before me, weeping over yet another beloved child, laid to rest in the same ground I sat upon. A line from her book applies to her, and to all of us—the many Latter-day Saint women struggling with illness and loss: she grieved as deeply as she loved. Despite being shattered again and again, Susa still saw the beauty in life and lived it to the full with love.

She lived her life with conviction, too. Her life and her novel testified to me that even though we experience guilt and heartache, broken promises and even death, the power of God is manifested in His ability to take our broken lives of sorrow and make them extraordinary, even joyful.

I realized that the bones crumbling into dust beneath me were much less of Susa Young Gates than the strong presence I felt beside me. Her words were a comfort to me, a fellow traveler going through parallel life experiences. Generations separated us, and yet we were as close as two friends could be.

It was then that I decided to finally try my hand at writing, and trust God to turn my paltry efforts into words that could, perhaps, influence some girl far in the future who might need them. Who knows? Words have a strange way of resurrecting, speaking as voices from the dust. Turning the last page, I sighed and looked about me, the sky darkening. I decided to arise. I would arise a better woman, with a more fervent faith in God and a resolved courage to face whatever life would bring me.

Susa Young Gates, my first cousin, five times removed, said it best through one of her characters, “I have proved that God will help even the weakest of us to improve and get strong, if we will continually seek Him for help and light.”

She did, and I will too.

Nicole Marie Hilton, 27, is an aspiring writer who has been attempting to graduate from BYU from 2007 until this year. She has struggled with bipolar and panic disorder, a broken back, divorce, homelessness, and has been in and out of many hospitals, padded cells, and jails throughout her struggle. Each of these has become a Temple Prison for her. She considers the current health of her brain as her greatest success, one which has been gained through continually seeking the face of her Savior, Jesus Christ. The talk, “Like a Broken Vessel,” was inspired, in part, by her story. She will finally graduate as a BGS student, English Emphasis, Spring 2017, ten years after her journey began. Her current favorite scripture is Isaiah 52:2.

Published by Nicole Marie Hilton

Hi, I'm Nicole. I suffer from amnesia and multiple personalities caused by childhood trauma and a gauntlet of spiritual Satanic abuse. Professionals refer to this as Dissociative Identity Disorder and Satanic Ritual Abuse (DID/SRA). The wounds and evil programming from DID/SRA create a continuing cycle of spiritual, emotional, mental, and social destruction for the victim and their loved ones. Most professional therapists misdiagnose or misunderstand it and do more harm than good. Healing requires plunging the very depths of Christ's atonement for the victims and their loved ones. The process exposes Satan's methods and Christ's power, and this knowledge is essential to anyone seeking to ascend above this mortality. This is the story of my wounding and my ongoing healing with my Savior Jesus Christ.

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