Where the inside of my mind leaks onto the screen.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Trying to Remember

For once, I find myself at a loss for words.  Okay, not a complete loss; there are plenty floating around, threatening to make this one of those rambling blogs I assume no one actually finishes.  But at a loss for the right words.

I'm hesitant to even use this public, blogging format as my permanent record of these words, because however I end up saying it, I'm going to be uncomfortable being so open.  But President Uchtdorf, in the April 2011 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints said:
"My dear young friends, perhaps the Lord’s encouragement to 'open [your] mouths' might today include 'use your hands' to blog and text message the gospel to all the world!"
So here it goes: my unabridged, lengthy account of the personal testimony I gained during the Hunter West Stake's pioneer trek.

When I first got the call to head the program committee for the upcoming trek and received the directions that I would need to plan everything that happened when we weren't walking or eating, I was excited.  Being the self-confident person I am, I felt I had the necessary skill set for the calling, and I thought it made sense for me to get the opportunity.  I immediately had ideas of what I would want to do: trek choir, write a trek song, devotionals, etc.  And I started to try to plan.

I pondered.  I prayed.  I procrastinated.  Not because I wanted to, but because the inspiration just wasn't coming.

I suppose I should preface this story with some information about how the spirit usually works for me.

I'm a planner.  I'm also a "prayer in my heart" kind of girl.  Inspiration, for me, usually comes after I've pondered extensively about an upcoming event.  When I find the idea the Lord wants me to go with, the planning becomes easy.  I've felt the spirit strongly on many occasions while in the planning stages of a talk or musical program, and then through preparation, I carry out what I've felt inspired to do.

I've always struggled to understand why a person would write a talk, then at the pulpit feel inspired to say something else.  I think I have subconsciously (and unfairly) assumed they simply didn't prepare enough to have received inspiration earlier.  I've heard members of our Stake Presidency indicate that they have actually been working on the ability to speak through direct inspiration from the spirit.  To help his counselors develop that ability, the stake president has occasionally withheld a speaking assignment until 5 minutes before the meeting.

While I have faith in and respect for our stake's leadership, I have to honestly say I've always kind of thought that sounds pretty pointless.  And, in honesty, I have not believed it was the Spirit which guided the resulting words.  I figured that their personal knowledge of the gospel and of the scriptures combined with extensive experience speaking to a congregation allowed great men to deliver a correct and coherent address without advance preparation.

And so I approached trek, ready to plan as I always have.  Ready to feel inspired to share certain stories or ask certain individuals to speak.  Ready to write out each detail and simply follow my written agenda once I reached the trail.

But I didn't feel inspired.  "I just need to see the trail," I told myself, frustrated in April that I hadn't yet planned Trek.  I saw the trail, and the first pieces fell into place.  I was able to form the loose agenda that the trail boss would need to schedule the day.

"I just need to hear the music," I told myself, frustrated in May that I still hadn't decided which songs the Trek Choir would sing at which points along the trail.  I was able to narrow it down to four songs and a general idea of when and where they would take place.

"I just need a committee to help me out," I told myself when I couldn't figure out how the logistics would ever be possible.  I asked for a committee member to be added, and she was approved.  But when a ma/pa needed to be replaced, she was reassigned to that capacity.

"I just need to focus solely on trek," I thought as June approached and trek loomed around the corner.  I researched and pondered and prayed, and still felt nothing.  Deadlines approached.  Trek was two weeks out, and I hadn't asked a single person to speak at the planned devotionals.  Not one single element of trek was 100% ready to go.

I got to a point where I had to move forward without personal inspiration.  In my life, the Lord has answered many prayers with, "You're a smart girl, Andrea.  Whatever you choose will work out just fine."  So I continued on with that faith and asked several individuals to speak at various points of the trek.  One of those assignments was to a member of the stake young women's presidency, who I asked to speak just prior to the women's pull and assigned her the topic of the power of the priesthood and the strength of women.

Monday of the week of trek came, and finally a detail fell into place: a "For the Mormons" sign I made to accompany a pile of treats left on the trail turned out exactly as I'd envisioned.  Tuesday came, and I was finally able to pinpoint the direction I needed to go with the flour sacks.  Wednesday passed, and I at least got my clothes and supplies packed.  I planned to stay up to plan what I'd say at the two devotionals I'd be speaking at, but still nothing came.

Our historical committee composed an incredible trail journal complete with stories, songs, scriptures, and quotes from church leaders.  I went to bed Wednesday night with the plan to read through the trek book on the bus the following morning, partly confident that everything I needed would be in there and partly terrified to do the research without access to the internet.

Thursday morning on the bus, I finally received inspiration for Saturday morning's devotional.  But the women's pull still weighed heavily on my mind.  Scheduled for Friday afternoon, there was only 30 hours left until I'd be standing in front of a group of young women without a thing planned to say.  I scoured the trek journal, but no story or quote stood out.  I continued to ponder and pray, and I still felt nothing.

We walked six miles, behind schedule because of a mishap with our buses.  (They didn't pay the fee at the port of entry, and we got sent back to the border.)  The wind was nothing short of oppressive, and the trail was difficult.  I arrived in camp and somehow found the reserve energy to set up my tent and beg the exhausted youth to attempt to enjoy the planned square dance.  Cold and uncomfortable, I didn't sleep well, but I still had to be the first person to hit the trail Friday morning.

I ate my breakfast quickly, joined by the trek master and a company captain.  The captain shared with me a story of a sixteen-year-old girl who had pulled her sick brother in a handcart by herself.  He told me he was planning to share the story with his company later that day.

"Can I have your story?" I asked him.  He looked at me, a bit confused.  "Please don't tell it," I explained.  "I'd like to share it before the women's pull."  I told him how I'd been struggling to receive inspiration of what to say, and I thought his story was the answer to my prayers.  He shared with me how he'd come upon the story a week ago completely by chance as he'd flipped through the back half of a pioneer book he'd realized he wouldn't have time to finish before trek.  I felt I finally had a least a bit of a plan for the women's pull.

Friday morning's schedule included a short devotional at the site of a few marked graves along the trail.  Getting to the graves would require the youth to backtrack, and after a challenging first day I was worried how that would affect their attitudes.  I tried to talk myself into changing the location of the devotional, but it just didn't feel right.  My bishop, one of the company captains, approached my Friday morning about possibly changing the location of the devotional.  I explained how I was feeling about it, and he supported my decision to ask the youth to walk the additional distance to the site of the graves.

We started out behind schedule yet again, a problem compounded by the presence of a different stake sharing our trail throughout the weekend.  We were scheduled to hit the trail first but - for the second day in a row - started out just in time to have them right on our heels.  Half of our companies had the opportunity to see the graves before the decision was made to have to cut that portion of the morning short and hit the trail.

I was confused, and my faith was a bit shaken.  I had felt inspired to ask the youth to walk the extra distance to the graves, and it seemed I'd asked half of them to do so for no good reason at all.  Now at the back of our 24 handcarts, I needed to catch up to the front in time for the still-unplanned women's pull devotional.

I walked the estimated 3.5 miles quickly, never stopping to rest, and caught up to the lead company just as they arrived at the lunch site.  I stopped to eat, thinking that the plan was to have the lead company head on as soon as they had eaten and rested.  But somehow, I'd misunderstood that plan and found that everyone would be resting together for a planned hour-and-a-half lunch.  I could have just walked in with the last company, headed to the front, and started out again with the lead!

I was tired, discouraged, and feeling very uncertain of my ability to receive inspiration regarding this trek.  I called Kirk and cried.  It didn't really help.  I sought out my bishop for a blessing.  Instead, he and I talked through my frustrations (okay, he talked; I cried) and I came to a point where I could again discuss issues rationally with the other trek leaders without bursting into tears.

The other stake caught up to us at lunch, and we faced the decision to push on with our women's pull somewhat unrested, or allow them to pass through us.  We also found that many of our young women were affected by dehydration, heat stroke, or sprains, and some families had as few as two women to pull their handcart.

The leadership approached me with the idea of spreading the women out evenly through the handcarts.  I pleaded with them to let the girls make that choice themselves, pointing out that the choice to serve each other would be so much more powerful than forced service.  Still concerned about the girls' health and strength, the priesthood leadership finally agreed to let them handle the trials as they came.

Five minutes before we set out for the women's pull, the trek master came to speak with me.  He explained that the member of the young women's presidency who was supposed to handle the majority of the women's pull devotional would not be able to do so; her family had an emergency at home, and she was leaving the trail.

I began to arrange our large group by company, explaining that each company would complete the women's pull separately.  This was one of the few points about which I'd felt I'd received inspiration a few weeks prior.  Even though I wanted the strength in numbers that comes from having the whole group together, I felt impressed to provide an opportunity for many individual experiences.

A pa approached me.  "Why are we doing this by company?" he asked.  "It would be so much more effective if we did it all together."  I was tired.  I was frustrated.  I had made compromises, adjustments, and just plain given in so many times already that day.  I was doubting my own inspiration and completely lacking in faith.

"I appreciate your opinion," I expressed.  Then I pleaded, "In fact, I really appreciate everyone's opinions, but right now I really need to have a chance to do this the way I've received inspiration about."  I felt horrible for saying it so directly, but this brother looked at me and nodded.  "Thank you," he said.  "I can respect that."

The first group of girls gathered.  I made it about two sentences into the story of Emily and Joseph before my voice cracked and I started to weep.  I felt inspired to tell the girls of the love the trek leadership has for them and how concerned they were about their health and strength.  I told them how I had to stop the men from taking the heaviest handcarts up to the top prior to the pull and how I had to beg them to stop trying to make this trial easier.  I sang with them, prayed with them, and sent them on up the hill.

And then I realized the why for every dumb moment that happened that day.  Every dumb moment that happened the whole time I was preparing for trek.  My Heavenly Father knows that I am so dense that He'd have to wear me out physically and emotionally before He'd ever be able to get through to me spiritually in the moment, on His terms and not on mine.

I was open and vulnerable in a way that I generally try to avoid at all costs.  And so I felt the spirit in a way I have never experienced it before.  I called Kirk that night to tell him about my experience and the lesson I'd learned.  He said, "Wow... Heavenly Father got that through to you?"

As I said in our ward's testimony meeting on Sunday, I now know that I wasn't given the calling because I'm awesome.  I was given the calling because Heavenly Father had a message for me, and this was the only way He could get me to listen.  That message, simply put, was, "Andrea - trust me."

For about one hour, I managed to.  But by Sunday when the time came to bear testimonies, I'd already decided I didn't want to share.  I knew all my feelings were still raw and unorganized, and that if I tried to talk about them, I'd end up vulnerable again.  I knew I wanted to write this blog and figure out a good way to say it all before I tried to express it out loud.  I decided to wait until next month when I'd put a bit of time between me and the experience.

But I felt compelled to stand, and I did.  I rambled just like I expected.  I took up more time than I was comfortable with.  I said things that were personal to me and were hard to share.  I sat down, and turned to Kirk and expressed frustration with myself.  "I should have blogged it first.  I should have had my thoughts more organized.  I should have..." He cut me off with a bit of a laugh.  "Honey, you did just fine.  You spoke according to the spirit."

And I realized I already forgot.  That big, huge, life-altering lesson that the Lord dragged me to Wyoming to learn and practically had to beat into me on Friday?  By Sunday I'd already forgotten it.  I believe that I am a child of God.  I believe that He loves me and has a plan for me.  I believe that we have modern prophets and that the Book of Mormon is true.  But trust?  That one's hard for me.

I'll have to keep working on it.  Maybe I'll never master it.  But I'd like to think I can continue to grow from the small foundation I built on trek.  Right now I'm just trying to remember.


Sarah said...

I, too, often go into a calling with the attitude of "they are lucky they have me...I'll turn this problem around", but am quickly humbled to realize I'm slipped into that spot to do some turning/learning of my own!