The parable of the protesting preschooler (or, when God drags us kicking and screaming)

He was sleeping happily on the couch when we hoisting him upright and informed him, “It’s time to go. Get up!”

If you’ve never roused a four-year-old from a late-afternoon nap, you have no idea of the battle which ensues.

He did not want to go, and he demonstrated that by shouting and flailing. Hiding under his blanket didn’t help (he was amazed that we could find him so easily), and when he started kicking, I decided he didn’t need to wear shoes anyway.

“I don’t want to go!” he wailed, but his 16-year-old brother took that as a challenge and flung him over his shoulder like a sack of flour.

Pummeling his big brother’s back, my littlest boy bellowed all the way to the van where he was dropped, shoved into his seat, and belted in before he could escape.

The shouting and protesting continued as we drove for twenty minutes to our destination, all of us trying to ignore his yelling as well as someone can ignore a horde of stinging wasps.

His shouts continued as we piled out of the van, and we received many looks of curiosity and amusement—and probably some disapproval—as we hauled out our protesting son and got in line behind the two hundred or so already ahead of us.

“I . . . do . . . not . . . want . . . to . . . do . . . this!” He was nearly dry-heaving now, and I ignored everyone’s stares around us as I held my objecting preschooler.

Not soon enough, the gates opened, the crowd before us piled in, and we followed, with angry boy still held tightly in my arms.

He quieted as he saw the scene before him, remembering that we did this last year, remembering that it wasn’t as awful as he thought.

He saw the piles of free pizzas—his favorite.

He saw the swimming pools—reserved for all of us who participated in the summer reading program set up by our local library.

He saw the water slides—and I could feel his rigid body go soft.

He wanted this.

But he wasn’t about to show that. Not yet. After all of his protestations, his pride couldn’t let him surrender so quickly.

So we sat down at a picnic table as the other kids and parents rushed into the water. He watched with both longing and resentment in his eyes.

My husband leaned over to me and whispered, “Go wade in the kiddie pool. I bet he’ll follow.”

So I announced my intentions to our son, then strode over to the pool. My feet had barely touched the water when he was by my side, dancing in excitement.

“So you want to go in?” I queried.

“YES!” he cried. Forgotten was his early protests, maybe forgotten was his twenty-minute temper tantrum, certainly forgotten was his pride as he began to strip, right there, to get out of his pants and underwear.

Discreetly I brought him back to our table where we covered him with a towel and put on his swimsuit. Then he ran—even though we shouted to only walk—back to the kiddie pool.

No amount of water could have wiped the smile off his face as he played and splashed and pretended to swim. We went down the big water slides together, and with joy he climbed out of the landing pool and raced back to the pool—the deep one, though—and jumped right in.

Dad followed, because our four-year-old can’t swim, and even though he bobbed under the water a couple of times until Dad could rescue him, he was still smiling as he coughed and spluttered to clear his lungs.

Pizza was eaten, the boy was nearly drowned a few more times, and a good time was had by all.

At the end of the evening when the sun went down and the winds came up, he was eager to be wrapped up in a towel and brought back home to a warm bath.

“So,” I started casually as I washed the chlorine off of him that night, “are you glad you went to the pool with us?”

He grinned.

“Even though you were screaming and crying that you didn’t want to?”

He laughed. Oh, that was so three hours ago!

I was about to be smug that I was right all along—he would enjoy it—until I felt God tapping me on the shoulder, as He occasionally does, to point out something He knows I’ll bite my tongue about later.

How many times has God placed before me a situation that I didn’t want because it would yank me out of my warm, soft spot?

How often has He dragged me away, kicking and screaming, to a new adventure?

How often has He patiently ignored my protests, even when I was utterly ridiculous in my complaints?

How often did He sit next to me, long-suffering, as I surveyed the scene before me, knowing that I’d want it, but that my pride wouldn’t yet let me admit it?

How often has He gently led me to the water, waiting for me to finally give up and jump in with both feet?

How often has He chuckled as I bounded and cheered and flopped and laughed with joy at my new situation that I was so sure I did not want?

And, perhaps most importantly, how long until I quit instantly whining to God whenever He thrusts me into a new situation that I will eventually love?

I’m afraid my pride won’t allow me to answer that just yet.

“There’s another plan for you, my boy. You’ve changed your path before, now do it again.” 

~Book 3, The Mansions of Idumea

Four reasons why change is the best, crappiest thing that can happen to you.

I hate and love change.

Sometimes change is most welcome: when you finally get a new job; when you finally move into that better place, and when that baby finally decides to be born. There are times when change is desired, sought after, even prayed and begged for.
The change that cancer is in remission.
The change that you are no longer in debt.
The change that you get to throw away your “fat” clothes.

But change is also a nasty beast. When life is floating merrily along, change is the white water rapids which you didn’t expect to throw everyone out of the boat.
Chronic illness.
Loss of job and/or house.
Death.

It’s when God whispers, “Plot Twist” in your ear, and you know nothing will ever, ever be quite the same again. And often, it’s a huge battle in our minds to decide if this latest plot twist is a good one or not.

But change has to happen, for these terrible, marvelous reasons:

1. It’d be horrible for things to stay the same. Don’t believe me? Think about this: What if your baby really did stay little forever? Never learning to speak, or walk, or play? After a while, you’d grow annoyed, even dissatisfied with this creature who does nothing but leaches off of you, year after year, whining and crying and demanding you carry it around. While it’s sad to see our little one outgrow those newborn clothes, it’s also thrilling to hear their first laughs, see them figure out how to toddle, and watch their personalities grow.

We don’t really want things to stay the same. We’re excited when that baby is old enough to catch a ball, when we can take him camping, or to the movies. While one stage quietly fades away, a new, even better stage takes its place. Progress is exciting.

2. We’re not mean to be stable. It’s the one thing in life most of us crave—stability. Maybe we crave it because it’s so elusive. I cringe whenever I read articles about money management and budgeting, because our income is rarely the same each month. And our family life is always changing; kids never have the same schedules year to year, and someone is always doing something new, somewhere else, with someone else. They go to different schools, go to college or the army, and find significant others, once again changing the dynamics of our family.

And thank goodness. Because, honestly, I find I get bored with predictability. While we crave stability, I think a lot of us also crave adventure. That’s why we go on vacations, take up new hobbies, write books, take classes, take on new challenges. We need to be shaken up every now and then. Snow globes aren’t interesting until after they’ve been tumbled around.

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3. What would we miss if we didn’t change? Years ago we built our dream house, with a huge yard, and plans that we’d stay there forever. It’d be where our grandkids came to visit us.

Four short years later, we lost that home and had to move two thousand miles away. I was bitter that we lost our dream.

After two more moves, we settled in rural Virginia, and our kids had adventures we never could have had otherwise. We traveled and learned and had a great time.

Not long ago we had the opportunity to drive by our old “dream house.” I was startled to hear myself say out loud, “I’m so glad we didn’t stay here.”

Because staying would have been terrible . . . for me. I realized then, as I looked at our old house, who I would have been had we never left. I would have been narrow-minded, fearful, and quite prideful, I’m ashamed to admit, had I stayed in my small town, with my small ideas, and with my small ambitions. I needed to change, in order to help my nine children who have so many different challenges. Our change changed everything, and I liked who I had become because I was forced to change.

4. The only way to grow is through change. And I’m not just talking about our children. I’m talking about us—adults. We’re not done improving simply because we hit a certain age, although some may think we are.

I once met a woman who lived in the same house she was born in. She never traveled out of her little town, except occasionally down to the “big city” ninety miles away, which she found a terrifying place. She married and raised her family and lived to be quite aged, all staying in the same neighborhood, and only occasionally crossing the state line to visit a grandson in another rural community.

At first, I envied her. She had a place that was home. At the time, we were moving around a lot, and all I wanted was a place to consider a permanent home.

But I was struck by a strange sense of stagnancy. Of dullness. Of fear. Of entrapment as I chatted with her. She’d never seen the ocean. The “distant” states of Colorado and California were evil and horrible places. When she heard of all the states we’d lived in, she literally pulled back, almost as if she feared I was contagious. She promptly turned to the person next to her—a long-time neighbor—and started up a new, safer, more predictable conversation.

I didn’t feel as nearly as contaminated as my acquaintance thought I was. Moving to new states, starting new jobs, beginning new projects are—initially—terrifying, but eventually invigorating. I think about how much I’ve changed over the years, and I like what I’ve picked up along the way.

This poor, dear woman, however, never felt she could leave. Her great-grandparents settled the area as pioneers, and she felt duty-bound to stay where they had landed.

I always wondered if it ever occurred to her that her ancestors once started somewhere else, and made a lot of changes in their lives to get where they finally ended? That perhaps they appreciated the changes they experienced, and maybe were sad that she never encountered any?

The purpose of life is growth through change, and that thought is simultaneously terrifying and thrilling.

Last month I was harvesting berries in our yard which, after eight years of work, is nearly exactly the way we want it. Our neighborhood is wonderful, the valley picturesque. We’re conveniently situated to all our children and the colleges they want to attend, and we love where we live . . .
Then God whispered into my ear those two words which terrify and thrill me: PLOT TWIST.

“No!” I nearly cried out. We’ve finally got some stability! Predictability! . . . Wait.

Have I become complacent? Narrow-minded? Or, even worse, stagnant?

Within a handful of short days, my husband was recruited, interviewed, and invited to take his dream job . . . thousands of miles away.

Change, coming again. I handled it in the most mature manner possible: I wept every day for three weeks.

Then God started trickling into my mind the reminders I listed above, knowing that while I’d “kick against the pricks” for a while, eventually I’d become intrigued. He patiently ignored my protestations, just like I do when I pat my children on the head as they whine about something they don’t want to do, but later will realize they really wanted all the time.

God’s smirking at me right now—yes, He does smirk. Because He also knows just how much I love a good plot twist.

But usually not while I’m in the very long middle of it, where I can’t see the outcome. While we’re trying to figure out if this change is temporary or permanent, who will join Dad and when, do we rent our old house, keep it, or sell it, then what will we move into, once we finally join Dad in several months . . .

Change.
I hate it.
I love it.
Right now, however, I just hate it. Mostly. (I have to confess, the coast of Maine is intriguing . . .)

Stay tuned. Plots change every day.

Crud and hallelujah.

Eventually Mahrree whispered, “I never wanted to leave this house . . . Every good memory is in this house.”

The woman answered just as softly. “And you take every good memory with you. Your life isn’t the house. Your life is your family. Things don’t matter. People do.”
Book 4, The Falcon in the Barn

(And thanks to eBookDaily, who today just featured me! Ebookdaily125)

If you don’t like “their game,” then for everyone’s sake, just leave it!

Today I’m going to tell you the secret to everlasting happiness: you don’t have to respond to everything that flashes your way, especially if it’s “not your game.”

Do you remember this rule from your childhood: “If you don’t like our rules, then you don’t have to play”?

Now, that may sound harsh—and it was usually uttered in a nasty tone whenever I heard it in elementary school—but nevertheless, the principle has some merit.

We tend to think that all ideas, actions, and behaviors should reflect everything we believe, and if someone is contrary in any way, we call foul, or are “shocked,” or “offended”.

But here’s something to consider: the world wasn’t made for you. Or for me. Or for any specific individual. It was made for all of us, and at times, we’re going to step on each other’s toes.

When that happens, don’t throw a fit, don’t get angry, don’t criticize—just move your toes.

For example, I follow a lot of Facebook groups, a few which I probably shouldn’t. One is a group of southern women who are romance writers. I don’t write romance, and I don’t live in the south. I know I’m not fully “one of them,” and I can’t play by all of their rules.

Not long ago they had a discussion about “What’s your favorite coffee for editing?”

I don’t drink coffee.

But I didn’t go on and comment about that. I didn’t say anything. I followed the thread for all of five seconds before realizing that everything I know about coffee comes from watching “Frasier” on Netflix.

Instead of announcing I couldn’t play because they were breaking my “personal rules,” or announcing haughtily that I felt left out, I did something astonishing:

I just moved on.

No judgment, no statements of “I don’t think this is appropriate,” no nothing. Just moved on. (Same thing when they had a discussion about wine, and I realized, once again, that all I know about wine comes from “Frasier.” This Mormon girl can say “chardonnay,” but I haven’t the slightest idea as to what it refers.)

I followed that group later again, when they had a discussion about drafting timelines. That was a game I could play and learn from.

I do the same thing with blogs I follow. Not all of them conform to my “personal rules” of what’s appropriate and what isn’t.

For instance, one collective blog filled with excellent insights on character and plot development references a lot of shows and movies I know nothing about, nor would ever watch. (Everything I know about “Game of Thrones” I’ve learned from these bloggers.) Quite often their language becomes coarse, even vulgar. Sometimes their descriptions are rougher than my tender eyes want to witness.

But I’ve never commented about those so-called offenses. I’ve never complained.

Because this is their game. Their rules. If I want to play, I’ll play. Otherwise I sit on the sidelines and wait for the moment when I feel it’s safe to jump in.

It would be highly inappropriate of me to comment that I occasionally find them going too far, or citing too many R-rated works, because this game isn’t for me. It’s theirs. I asked to join, because when these guys nail it, they really nail it, and I appreciate their candor and insights.

They let me be part of their game on the assumption that I’d let them play their game their way. So I do.

I could always leave them, if I find their game no longer fit my needs. I’ve quit following many blogs and Facebook groups for that reason.

And when I do leave, I do so quietly. I make no fuss. I don’t proclaim in a loud and angry post why I’m leaving the group. I don’t lambaste the blog owner, or the members of the group, or say anything at all . . . because it’s not my game. It’s theirs.

I simply tap the “unfollow” button, or the “unsubscribe” button, and go find something else that works for me.

(Yes, I’m boasting here about my elevated attitudes, because guess what? This my blog, and I get to set my rules. If you don’t want to play this game today, you may move on as well.)

I’ve walked out of performances, I’ve left gatherings early, I’ve even quit a job once because “their game” just wasn’t working for me. I never drew attention to myself, just slipped quietly out the door in search of a game whose rules fit my attitudes better.

And, unsurprisingly, I’ve found myself far happier as a result. It’s exhausting to pretend you’re one thing when you’re another, or to try to force yourself into a group where you really don’t belong.

There comes a time to be honest with yourself and those around you, to recognize that you’re playing their game wrong, and that you should go in search of a game more fitting to your needs.

How did I learn this? From a very brave woman. She grew up with my husband, married a very nice man, had several children, then everything fell apart. Her husband developed a mental illness for which he refused treatment, and after several years of anguish and violence, she divorced him. I know this only from personal conversations, because she didn’t deride or complain or advertise her pain online.

She simply, quietly, changed her status and last name when the divorce occurred, and moved on to begin her own game.

A few months later, she decided that there were too many hard memories for her in the LDS/Mormon church, and she and her children left it. Again, she did so quietly, without any fuss or public exclamations about doing so, nor did she deride those who choose to stay with it. The only way I knew they had found a new church was that she began posting sermon snippets from her new preacher, and advertising for their retreats and youth groups. She found a game that was more suited to how she wants to play this life.

There is no railing about her past, no criticisms of the groups and extended family that she left–she and her children just moved on.

So here’s my challenge: if you don’t feel comfortable with a situation—be it on Facebook or Twitter or any other social media platform, walk away from it. Don’t waste your time complaining, or antagonizing, or even dispensing what you perceive may be your very righteous judgment.

Just walk away.

This goes for larger issues, too. I’m astonished with many people who are angry at a political organization, or a religious group, or a long-time set of friends, or a difficult job, or painful family, and want to leave . . . yet never do.

Instead, they sit and harp and make everyone else around them miserable, intent on dragging everyone down with them, when they could instead get up and leave and find a group more in line with their philosophies.

To those who won’t make that clean break, but insist on venting like a self-centered teenager that the world’s not exactly as they want it, here’s my plea: Don’t waste everyone’s time getting mad at those playing the game you no longer like.

Go find your own game! Make it, if you must!

There are MILLIONS out there–go get one!

Create your own group, or blog, or even your own political/religious/grassroots movement!
Do something constructive, instead of going back to the same old stuff you don’t like, and being destructive there.

Be constructive, not destructive

Who knows—maybe you’ll change the world with your new game.

At least you’ll no longer be unfairly burdening those whose games you no longer care for.

 

Why would normally sane people take teenagers out into the wilderness of Wyoming to walk for 18 miles?

My husband and I just returned from rough camping for three days and two nights with a bunch of teenagers, and it’s called “Trek.”

We weren’t the only ones, either, to take on this insanity.

While Dave and I were responsible for eight teenagers, 13-17 years old, three other married couples from our ward (or congregation) accompanied us with their groups of eight kids (our two teenagers among them), along with nine other groups from our stake (about the size of a diocese).  We were “Pa” and “Ma” and they are our trek “kids.” All total, there were nearly 500 of us on this adventure.

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The Hyrum 12th Ward Trekkers

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Dave and my trek “kids,” before our “family” got too dusty and dirty.

At 6 am on Thursday, nearly 400 of us piled into ancient school buses with dubious safety features (about 100 followed in chase vehicles with our gear and food), drove for 6 hours on uncomfortable seats with no A/C, and spent the weekend pretending to be 19th century pioneers.

Yes, that means wearing dresses, aprons, and bonnets for girls. Because not all of our participants can sew, I made eight skirts, seven bonnets, seven aprons, and one relatively authentic pioneer shirt for my cute husband. The boys wore suspenders, long-sleeve shirts, long pants, no jeans, and bandannas. (But modern shoes, thank goodness.)

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Dave and I and two of our “real” kids. (The males in our family do know how to smile. Just not for cameras.)

Why would we go to so much effort, and drive for so long, just to walk around in the wilds of Wyoming?

Because our teenagers deserved it.

Not to suffer—which they did, but only mildly. But to discover incredible, amazing things about themselves.

Now I know I recently wrote about why the most dangerous words are “I deserve,” but here’s one thing all people everywhere deserve: perspective.

We all also deserve to discover a few things about ourselves. For instance . . .

Our teenagers deserve to discover their strength. Our kids are typical: they love their electronics, their games, their music, their cars . . . and they had none of those on trek. No, not even cell phones. (There really isn’t coverage out there, anyway.)

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See any cell phone towers?

All of this means that our teenagers were, overall, soft. (So were most of us adults, to be fair.) While we’ve been trying to prepare these kids since March for this adventure—encouraging them to go walking, and even taking them out ourselves—I think only a handful were fully prepared for the experience.

The second day of trek required 10 miles of hiking (later, we learned it was actually 12, but the senior citizen missionaries leading us initially said only 10, so that they kids didn’t lose heart). The terrain was varied and beautiful, but dusty and difficult, especially pulling and pushing a 19th century handcart through the sand.

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(Knowing how much I love epic-looking clouds, God generously provided some for our photos.)

The kids grew tired, despite the water and Powerade and Jolly Ranchers and hoagie sandwiches and bags of Milano cookies. (No, we didn’t eat like pioneers—that’s for sure.)

But they persevered. We “Trek Parents” were always by their sides to encourage and help, but we didn’t need to do much because the kids helped each other. They told stories. They made up song lyrics. They cheered when boys tried to sneak off subtly into the bushes to relieve themselves, and returned victorious from watering the shrubs despite threats to sensitive body parts from mosquitoes.

When one of our trek sons developed the most epic nosebleed ever, and the EMT and nurse who accompanied our group of one hundred finally got the bleeding stopped, they recommended that he ride for a time, seeing how pale he was.

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Our kids hastily made room in the handcart, helped in their “brother” get in, then, without any complaint about the added weight, cheerfully pulled him to the river where we crossed, pioneer-like, three times in the rushing water, pulling their brother.

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Our teens deserve to discover their strength, and their compassion, and their fortitude.

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Trek isn’t some exercise in futility—walking in enormous circles without running water or bathrooms. (And the porta-potties were few and far between. At one point, I took matters into my own hands by holding up a tarp and letting girls hide in front of me to relieve themselves on the Oregon trail. Quite literally on the trail. That’s why we brought lots of flushable wipes with us.)

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The disparity of porty potties. We taught the men they were allowed to water the bushes. Leave the potties to those of us wrestling with skirts, aprons, and bloomers.

Trek is an exercise in perspective, which our teenagers deserve to understand.

It think few people realize this, but over half a million people used the Oregon/California/Mormon Trail over a span of 25 years—from 1843 to 1869. The trail was so well-used that the original wagon ruts are still quite visible, nearly 150 years after the last wagons used them.

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These are the actual wagon ruts, from 150 years ago, caused by 500,000 pioneers. The distance, astonishing. The vista, immense. The trees and water, non-existent.

Among the 500,000 who trekked west were 60,000 Mormons, fleeing the persecution and mobs of Missouri and Illinois. In fact, they frequently trekked on the other side of the rivers, away from other pioneers who still saw them as targets for persecution and theft. The Mormons figured no one would bother them in the wild west (part of which eventually became Utah), so they took to wagons, and later handcarts, to get there. Most traveled safely, with their mortality rates similar to that of the rest of the country.

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Except for two groups of poor immigrants from England, Sweden, and Denmark. They arrived in America with very little money, had to build handcarts, and got a late start from Iowa City (now Omaha, Nebraska). The Martin handcart company had 665 immigrants, the Willie company around 500. They didn’t leave until August, when they should have been arriving in Salt Lake City, 930 miles away. (You can read more in detail about these companies here.)

Wyoming weather is unpredictable, and 1856 was brutal. In early October, snowstorms hit the beleaguered handcart companies, covering the poorly-dressed and running-out-of-food immigrants with over a foot of snow. It was impossible for them to progress, and they’d been crossing rivers with chunks of ice floating in it. Freezing, without proper clothing or shoes, and surviving on only half a cup of flour a day, the handcart companies were doomed. One group, the Martin Company, eventually took shelter in a cove which protected them from the Wyoming winds, but not the snows.

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Martin’s Cove, Wyoming

It was here that we first took our teenagers, and explained to them that it was sacred and hallowed ground, for not only did the handcart pioneers take shelter there, over 50 died and were buried in unmarked graves. President Gordon B. Hinckley also stated some years ago that the Savior walked there, making it akin to a temple.

Here the Martin Company waited for rescue parties, which Brigham Young had sent from Salt Lake City, over 350 miles away. Sixteen supply wagons and many healthy men headed out immediately, but traveling by wagon on unimproved roads with snows flying meant their progress would also be hampered. (Eventually 250 wagon teams were dispatched.) Many of these rescuers also suffered from hunger, illness, and exposure because they went to help.

When they found the Martin Handcart company, the immigrants were beyond frail, many of them dying, and couldn’t cross another freezing river to get to the cove for shelter. About 15 men, most of them young men and older teens—like those we had brought with us last week—carried the several hundred people across the waist-high river, over and over again, all day long in the bitter cold and snow. Miraculously, all of the young men rescuers survived, although they suffered from the effects of their heroic deeds for the rest of their lives.

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One of three statues commemorating the rescuers who carried pioneers through the icy rivers to the shelter of Martin’s Cove.

This was what our teenagers deserve to see and learn; to recognize their own strength, to see what others had done. Some of our kids had ancestors who were among the immigrants or the rescuers. As they walked the three miles of the cove, they did so in silence. Imagine that—over a hundred teenagers, hiking quietly recognizing the strength and faith of those who had gone before, and the willingness of other teenagers to sacrifice to save others. They deserve to learn reverence.

Our teens also deserve to discover they can do hard things. That evening we drove on our buses an hour west to where the Willie handcart company was discovered by the rescuers. What took us only an hour to drive took the rescuers several days to accomplish in snow and wagons. Here we camped, ate far better than the pioneers did (taco salad and pudding cups, anyone?) and spent the next day hiking that 12 miles I mentioned earlier.

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At one point in our trek, all of the men and boys were sent on ahead, recreating the fact that many of the pioneers were women who traveled alone with their children. The men were gone because many had been recruited to join the Mormon Battalion; other men had died along the way, giving their last rations to their wives and children. Still other men went on ahead to prepare the way for their families to follow.

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Preparing for the “Women’s Pull” and watching our men and boys walk away.

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On the other side of the valley, the boys were taught for a few minutes about their responsibilities to their families, God, and community, while on our side the girls were taught about their strength and ability to do hard things.

Then the girls and Mas pushed the handcarts, by ourselves, ¾ of a mile to where the Pas and boys were waiting and watching. They weren’t allowed to come help, but just observe as we struggled through the sand to get the carts up the hill.

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One of my older (real) sons, who did trek four years ago, said that was the hardest moment—seeing the girls struggle and knowing that he couldn’t help.

However, another recreation we did was that of a Danish wife whose husband became too ill to continue. He told her to go on without him, but she dragged him into the cart and hauled him herself for two weeks until he improved.

On our trek, we had a Ma and Pa act that out, with us at the top of a hill watching as the small wife half a mile away struggled to heave her very tall husband into the cart, then start pulling it all by herself. Even though it wasn’t “real,” still I couldn’t take any more pictures because I was too teary-eyed, watching my friend try to get her husband up that sandy hill.

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After a minute, one of our leaders said, “Any of the young men here want to go help?”

They did, four of them, eagerly jogging down the hillside to rush to her aid and help her push and pull her husband to the top of the hill. I have no pictures of it, because it was a sacred moment. None of us need photos to remember that.

Our teens deserve to discover that there’s nothing more important than family. Ten miles into that hike, our group paused at Willie’s Meadow, where the handcart company of 500 finally had to stop, out of food and facing too deep of snows. The rescuers found them, too, and got them over Rocky Ridge, 16 miles away to where the supply wagons had stopped, unable to go farther. After that ridge, another 13 people died, and after they were buried, two of the men who buried them also died.

It was in the meadow, where the kids were told about the Willie company, that we handed each teenager a letter, written some weeks ago by their parents. One hundred teens then went off on their own to sit in silence and read their letters, and spend a few minutes writing in their journals.

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All of Dave’s and my trek “kids.”

Again, complete silence. Dave and I quietly took pictures, and felt that even our whispering was too loud as we watched our trek kids, our own two teenagers, and about 90 more read, contemplate, and even meditate in an area of complete peace and tranquility.

That evening our ward group—about 50 of us—sat around a campfire and talked about our impressions of the two days, of what we learned.

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Teenager after teenager stood up and expressed their thoughts, talked about their love for their families, their ancestors, and those who were there that day helping them to learn.

That night the sky was astonishing—no moon, no light pollution, and no clouds meant that our kids could stare up into a sky crowded with stars and the Milky Way, and feel the universe come down and touch them. Even after such an exhausting and long day, no one wanted to go to their tents just yet. And so Dave and I stood with our eight adopted trek kids, after our “family” prayer and a group hug (which was more of a scrum), and gazed at the heavens which gazed back at us.

Finally, at midnight, we sent them off to bed, reminding them we had camp to take down in the morning, and visit Rock Creek to see where the rescue wagons had been, before the long drive home.

At Rock Creek, where the 15 of the Willie Company had died, we saw their burial area, and sat down on wooden planks for a devotional. That’s when the storm came, an isolated thunder shower, dumping cold rain and even hail upon us as our stake president tried to talk to us about the sacrifices and faith of the pioneers.

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We see the storm coming, and realized that we packed in another vehicle all of our jackets and ponchos. There was nothing we could do but wait to be hit.

We shivered. We froze. And, because it was before our lunch of more sandwiches, grapes, and even soda and more Milano cookies (there’s a Pepperidge Farm factory in our valley–lucky us), we were hungry.

For ten minutes we experienced a tiny fraction what the pioneers did, and it was utterly miserable. One of our leaders said that he had prayed we would have the weather we needed. Apparently, we needed to feel a little bit of discomfort in our very comfortable lives.

After the storm passed, we were able to take shelter in those buses which seemed to be as luxurious as a hotel. (Ok, not quite, but you see where I’m going with this.)

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Even though the school buses were miserable, they were far better and much faster than wagons, or handcarts.

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Exhausted fellow Mas and Pas, trying to sleep.

 

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(Wait–this means I’m the only responsible adult awake on the bus?!)

It’s now been a few days since we’ve returned, and I’ve finally got all the laundry washed and put away, the tents swept out, the Dutch ovens reseasoned, and the many supplies we gathered and purchased stowed away. The mosquito bites are healing, and last night I saw all of my trek daughters again, along with several of their mothers.

Would they say that trek was “fun”? Parts of it definitely were, especially for my 17-year-old daughter who was the only one who took a bath for three days, because the swift current of the Sweetwater River pulled her under briefly.

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But “fun” wasn’t the point. Over and over the parents of my kids said, “She said it was the best experience of her life,” and “He even broke down as he said how great it was,” and “She said it was a lot harder than she expected, which meant it was even better than we hoped for,” and “It changed him.”

So why did we drag these kids in pioneer gear out to the wilderness and walk them near to death (or so some claimed)?

Because they deserved it. Everyone did.

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(Pa Mercer wore the right boots, but not the right socks, which left him with many blisters. However, riding on the handcart proved more uncomfortable than walking, so his ride lasted about 50 yards. He bailed out when he saw the first major dip in the trail coming, to the relief of our kids.)

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(And I deserve to see my #6 child smile.)