July 4, 2013

Family Trek 2013

I'm going to steer away from book talk for this entry and spend some time sharing my experiences on family trek last week. Trek? What's that? Utah has an inspiring legacy of pioneers who sacrificed everything to cross the United States in search for a location void of religious persecution. Most of these pioneers traveled either by covered wagons or handcarts. The handcart companies had an especially difficult time, many people giving their lives to ensure the survival of their friends and families. Nowadays, groups can participate in a multi-day excursion of pulling handcarts out in the hot desert sun, all in remembrance of those handcart companies. In Utah, large youth groups (ages 14-18) often organize treks together. I've participated in youth trek before, but the trek I went on last week was organized by my wife's extended family. As you can probably imagine, pulling a handcart with your own young family provides an entirely different experience than pulling with a handful of teenage youth. You might think it sounds miserable, and you're absolutely right, but it was also one of the most fulfilling experiences I've ever had. My wife comes from a great family and I'm eternally grateful for their efforts with this trek. I'm not joking when I say I'll refer back to my experiences last week for the rest of my life. I'm a changed man. An improved man.

I believe that inside each of us dwells a spirit created by our Heavenly Father. This spirit is what gives our mortal bodies life and direction. Unfortunately, we often ignore the promptings of our spirits and give in to the carnal desires of mortality. This is why I love religious fasting (going without food or drink for extended periods of time). When fasting with a purpose, we force our bodies into such a weakened state that spiritual promptings finally break through. Once I bypass that barrier, no longer agonizing over my physical hunger or thirst, I can commune with my Heavenly Father on a very intimate level. Revelation and inspiration flow. I like setting goals during this time because I know that, for once in my life, I have my head screwed on straight. Such is the case with trek. Exposure to heat, wind, dehydration, hunger, physical pain and exhaustion... all of these work together to strengthen our spirituality, IF we approach it with the right perspective. Few things drive the spirit away as effectively as a bad attitude and murmuring.

Trek can be organized in many different ways and in various locations, but if you're lucky enough, someday you'll get to participate in a trek along actual pioneer trails. Last week, we trekked in Wyoming at Martin's Cove. I won't bother you with a ton of historical information, but you should know that this specific area contains a lot of emotional history for the Willie and Martin handcart companies of 1856.

When we arrived at our base camp, my wife's family handed out packets to everybody. Each of these packets contained names of actual pioneers and their history with the handcart companies. We were each assigned a specific person, which made the experience extra special as we pulled our own handcart along the trails. When we stopped to discuss the history of a certain location, it was easy for me to identify who among us held the names of those significant to that location. Their eyes would brighten and they'd look around  like, "That's me!" It was a great idea. It made the experience more real for many of us.

A particularly emotional story came from two names assigned to my 8-year-old and 3-year-old sons. By the time the handcart companies had reached the Martin's Cove, WY area on their way to Salt Lake City, UT, their resources had completely depleted. In the middle of a terrible snowstorm that prevented travel, the companies waited to die. Gratefully, the next day brought rescuers who had rushed from Salt Lake City to help, yet there was only so much those men could do. They were only an advance rescue team, many days ahead of the supply wagons that followed. The handcart companies were grateful for the help, but they knew that if they stayed there waiting, they would not live to see the supply wagons. They had to continue forward to close the gap between them. The next step of their journey was Rocky Ridge, a 12-mile ascent up a mountain over rugged terrain. This journey would be difficult for anyone, but to those companies, starved, exhausted, on the edge of death, it was nearly impossible. An 11-year-old boy, James Kirkwood, was put in charge of his 4-year old brother. "Get him to the top of Rocky Ridge," was his mother's request, and James took the request very seriously. For 27 hours, James coaxed, carried, dragged, pushed, and pulled his little brother up the trail through knee-deep snow. He accomplished his mother's wish, delivering his little brother safely into the arms of the rest of his company, then James laid down and died. As the company continued on the next day, James's mother saw packs of wolves closing in on the burial ground where her son and 14 others were buried, but their was nothing they could do. So many stories of sacrifice.

I learned two very important lessons while on trek, lessons that I'll remember for the rest of my life.

With four boys of my own, ranging in age from one to eight, it isn't my lot in life to get much out of spiritual meetings. Instead, I usually spend that time trying to keep my children quiet so others can receive inspiration. Sometimes I find myself wondering why I even bother at all. Why not just stay home? I'd feel less frazzled and others would be guaranteed peace and quiet. It seems logical, and I admit that I've even given in to this logic a few times. Trek taught me differently. It's not about doing what we believe is logical, but about doing what's right. Perfect obedience without complaints, especially when it requires sacrifice. God has a bigger perspective than us. Many of my pioneer ancestors questioned the call to move west so late in the season. Seems logical, especially since they knew they'd be caught in winter storms with few provisions. Some even chose not to go. The important thing to remember is this. Those who chose to go, with the right attitude, developed an unshakable relationship with their Heavenly Father. Their faith never wavered. God has promised us that sacrifice brings blessings. It's absolutely true, but sometimes those blessings aren't tangible or readily visible. Sometimes, as with the case of the pioneers, it does nothing more for us than strengthen our character and resolve. But step back and look at the bigger picture. I keep talking about the legacy left behind by the handcart companies. I doubt many of them, if any, were thinking about that while trudging across the plains and through the snow. They didn't know that 143 years later, their experiences would still inspire the hearts of millions. My family got home late on Saturday night, exhausted, sunburned, and seriously lacking in sleep. Yet, I can't remember ever feeling so motivated to wake up and go to 9 AM church the next morning. And we did, on time and everything!

This lesson is a little more complex. I've tried explaining it to a couple people, but without much success. Perhaps my sweet author skills will do the trick. As I already explained, I didn't get much out of the meetings, devotionals, and stories on trek. Even my assigned pioneer name did little for me. My four boys are a handful, and as my dad kindly pointed out to me during trek, it's all my fault. I sat around watching my wife's siblings and their children, all calm, reverent, and respectful. Then I turned my attention to my own children. *sigh* Why is it my fault they're so out of control? It's in my genes. Excess energy, imagination, excitability... did I mention energy? Yeah, I was just as bad growing up, if not worse. Maybe it's that mother's curse coming back to bite me in the butt, "I hope your children grow up to be exactly like you!" Not sounding very lesson-y, is it? Stay with me. While on trek, we walked 12 miles in two days. It sounds pathetic in comparison to what the pioneers accomplished, but let's be honest. They were used to a much more rigorous and physically demanding life than us. For crying out loud, we can't get our boys to walk 1.5 miles at home for a free lunch without oodles of complaining. Yet, my 6-year-old son, the lazier, stubborn, like-his-father type of our four boys, walked the entire 12 miles of trek without a single complaint. What's more, he spent most of the time helping pull the handcart. My 8-year-old had the same attitude. No complaining whatsoever, when whining seems like his knee-jerk reaction to every challenging circumstance at home. I felt my fatherly love growing for my family with every passing minute, and my desire to help and protect them increased accordingly. As I toiled, sweated, hungered, pained, and altogether struggled alongside my wife and boys, I briefly identified with those pioneer men who gave their lives to preserve their families. Those men who waded waist deep into freezing water to carry others across a frozen river, knowing the effort would take their own lives. Those men who slipped their own rations of flour into the bowls of their starving offspring. Those men who died trying to dig graves for the deceased, just to offer closure and comfort to the living. The list goes on and on, and not just from men, but from women and children. My lesson then?

In the Bible, specifically the New Testament in 1 John 3:2, we receive the following insight: "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." A similar reference can be found in the Book of Mormon in Moroni 7:48. My experiences on trek brought this scripture to a new light. Our goal in life should be to become a better person, thinking of others, serving, sacrificing. We should be adopting the characteristics of our Heavenly Father. We don't fully comprehend the kind of people we can become ("it doth not yet appear what we shall be"), but when we stand before God, having fulfilled our calling in life and received the eternal reward of dwelling in His presence, we'll realize that we have become like Him. We will understand that we are truly sons and daughters of God. We shall see him as he is, that he is our Father, that he loves us even more than we love our own children. How can we ensure that we receive this reward? It all goes back to my second lesson, which I'll finally share with you. We can do hard things. We must do hard things. I could spend the next 5489847 hours, more or less, writing about the satisfaction of hard work, but let me sum it up this way. Think back to the most satisfying times of your life and I'm certain that it was probably one of the busiest times of your life. On the flipside, the most difficult times of your life are filled with laggardism and laziness. I'm right, aren't I? Ha! I knew it, because it's the same with me. Try not to forget that, either. If we want true satisfaction and joy in life, we must do hard things! Stop looking for the easy way out and welcome those challenges with gritted teeth and a tightened buttocks. Shout a little, "Bring it!" if that helps, too.

Trail out of Martin's Cove

Good thing he had that hat...

...because he was COVERED in sand!

My dad came along, too, and was a hardworkin' Godsend!

We tried various techniques, but he just wouldn't wear a hat!

Women's Pull


stangerfam@gmail.com said...

Thanks, Terron, it WAS worth it!

Grandmama and Gramps said...

I love hearing your thoughts about your experiences. We don't get a lot of time to quietly visit :)