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Visiting the Sacred Grove and finding a sacred place

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Editor's note: Part 5 in a series of essays on visiting sites significant to the history of The Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints.

After completing an internship in New York City in 2011, I always wanted to return and revisit all of my old favorite places. Last year, five friends and I bought tickets to the city on a whim and left on a cold day in the middle of February.

Prior to leaving, we tentatively decided to rent a car and drive to the Sacred Grove, which is about three hours away from where we were staying. But not all of us were sold on the extra expense.

While in the city, we finalized our decision to visit the Sacred Grove, but the drive there was awful. None of us was experienced driving in a large city, and I was the lucky girl who got to try and keep us alive on the roads. It was also in the middle of February, so we encountered snow and the aftermath of the famous Winter Storm Nemo. We arrived at the Palmyra Inn in grim spirits and planned on waking up early and visiting the Sacred Grove the next morning.

At first, the Sacred Grove just looked like a large, beautiful forest, but the second we left the car and started to walk on the path, my feelings changed. I cannot describe the almost palpable feelings of peace and hope that entered my heart as I contemplated the events that transpired in such a small town in the 1800s. I knew before that Joseph Smith had seen God the Father and his son Jesus Christ, who answered his questions about which church to join. But this experience, actually seeing and walking the grounds, made it so much more real. I felt the Spirit confirming to me that this was the sacred place where those events transpired. I was in awe, as were my friends. We separated and took time on our own to experience the very personal feelings we all were enjoying.

I remember writing in my journal over and over the words "I cannot deny." I can never ignore the feelings that I had there in that special place. These feelings made me ever more dedicated and devoted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I read Joseph Smith's account of the first vision while in the Sacred Grove, and I remember having the words "full confidence" stand out to me. I knew there that I had full confidence that the account was true.

We visited the rest of the sites, including the Hill Cumorah and the family homes. The drive back was incredible. All of the tumult and animosity we'd felt on the way was gone, and the Spirit lingered as we discussed our feelings and testimony of that sacred place.

And despite all of the other incredible places we visited in New York City, the Sacred Grove and a little town called Palmyra stand out as the most impactful and memorable of all.

Email: toriackerman@gmail.com