PALMYRA, N.Y. — Paul and Amy Hatch decided on a whim to buy airplane tickets from Salt Lake City to travel to upstate New York with their 2-month-old baby, David. The tickets were significantly cheaper in the middle of February, so they figured it was a good opportunity to visit a place that held so much religious significance.
While Paul and Amy had anticipated cold weather, they didn’t expect the sudden blizzard that rolled through the small town of Palmyra during their weekend visit — giving them a view of the village that few visitors ever see.
The Sacred Grove, the location of Joseph Smith’s first vision in 1820, looked drastically different from movies they had seen depicting the early stages of the restoration of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Instead of vibrant green leaves glimmering in the sunlight, there were barren trees covered in snow.
As the Hatch family walked the land where Joseph Smith grew up, Amy thought about what the young farm boy must have been experiencing exactly 200 years prior.
Joseph Smith was in the dead of winter searching for answers to deep questions about his standing before God. However, he was about to experience both a literal and a spiritual spring, where warmth, light and understanding were given to him.
“In all of our lives, we’re sometimes on the brink of restoration,” Amy said. “Sometimes it just feels like a blizzard outside, and we’re not getting the answers we want. We’re right at the start of something that is going to be revelatory and will change our lives.”
Amy acknowledges how difficult it can be to wait out the blizzard-like moments in life when heaven seems to be quiet, but she is confident in the Lord’s awareness of individuals in their own personal storms.
“Answers do come,” Amy said. “This place — more than any other — testifies that God does hear us, and He does answer our prayers. I really do believe that He answers every question that we have, even if it’s not how we suspect. I don’t think Joseph expected the answer that he got.”
Just as Joseph Smith was an ordinary boy who received a life-changing answer in a seemingly insignificant location, Paul feels that each person can have their own “Sacred Grove” moments wherever they may be.
“I love that in Church history, both ancient and modern, there are places like the dusty roads of Jerusalem or a grove of trees — places that aren’t too significant,” Paul said. “But we view them as holy places because the Lord was there and walked them or visited them.”
Throughout his life, Paul has had questions that he knew could only be answered by God. He recalls how amazing it has been to receive these answers in locations that are seemingly unimportant or ordinary but have become life-altering to him now.
“I can think back on places like airport terminals or classrooms or my desk at work or my bedside that aren’t significant places but to me are holy and special because the Lord visited them,” Paul said. “I think it is important for us to realize that a visitation from the Lord’s spirit is no less personal than the Lord’s appearance to Joseph Smith in the grove.”
Paul believes that these sacred experiences with deity can happen to anyone who is willing to turn to the Lord and work diligently to find the answer — just like Joseph Smith did as a young boy in 1820.
“Two hundred years ago, he was searching and seeking. I think there are people out there who are in this similar stage of wintry confusion and seeking, and I can honestly tell them that the Lord has a ‘Sacred Grove’ experience waiting for them,” Paul said. “If they’ll just keep seeking and being patient with the Lord and pressing forward, the Lord will bring that to them.”