Sunday, July 10, 2016

My Pioneer Trek Sacrament Meeting Talk

(This is my first post in My Fankle Journey.)

Today I spoke in sacrament meeting about my experiences during my stake's Youth Pioneer Trek. My original talk was way too long—imagine that!—so, I crossed out several sentences as I waited for our meeting to begin. I think my talk was still probably too long, but it is what it is. #iamwordiness! ;) My blog, on the other hand, has no time limit (Yay!), so I'm super excited to be sharing my full talk here! That said, I edited it a smidgen for privacy.

Before we begin, let me share a few things... Greg and I were assigned to be the lead ma and pa for our ward. Initially, we thought we'd be the only "parents" on trek for 30 youth, but after attending our first stake trek meeting, it was decided that our ward needed another ma and pa. I'm so grateful we were able to divide/share our responsibilities with another couple because preparing for trek was a lot of work—they were essential to our success! :) Our ward ended up having 29 Youth go on trek. We missed several wonderful souls, but are so grateful for those Youth who did come with us! :)

After focusing intensely on trek for nearly three months (one of the reasons my blog has been so quiet), it's a little strange to know I'm actually done with my trek responsibilities. Yes, with the singing of our trek song, The Fire of the Covenant, and giving my talk in sacrament meeting today, I've officially completed my trek service! :) I'm not complaining, it just feels really good to finally be finished! While I'm so grateful for the entire experience of trek, and I'll remember it forever, trek wore me out! I'm extremely tired from the effort we put forth and I can't wait to actually have some moments to myself and my family!

Okay, here's my talk! 

Good morning! The topic I've been assigned is, "What I Learned About Myself and Our Pioneer Ancestors: Notes from Trek."

A situation I recently experienced ended up playing a big role in my trek journey. I titled my situation, "Fankle," which stands for fat ankle. Fankle became a challenge for me after I badly sprained my ankle on an extended family vacation in Midway three weeks before trek.

The day Fankle became part of my life, my world felt utterly perfect—that's not an exaggeration! I began the day working out with my little sister, we had such a great time together! Those who know me, know I love exercising in every form. Working out makes me happy!

Later that beautiful afternoon, my family and I went swimming. I discovered that the outdoor three-foot kiddie pool was the perfect place to practice my straddle-up handstands! It took a few falls, but I soon became the kiddie-pool handstand expert! In that sunshine-filled moment, I became 15-years-old again and had the gymnastic skills to prove it! Throughout that day, I was blissfully happy, surrounded by the people I love most. As my boys would say, it was a 10 out of 10!

I share that happiness to illustrate how hard it's been for me to be physically sidelined for so many weeks. Fankle is not my favorite. Yet I know Heavenly Father allowed me to have that most perfect of days to buoy me up for what was to come...

After my physically active day, one would think that I would have been satisfied to stay in our condo and relax with my family playing Monopoly. But when my brother-in-law said many of our extended family members were meeting in the parking lot to longboard, the Spirit told me I needed to participate, so I went. I've learned through many amazing experiences in my life that when the Holy Ghost speaks to me, I listen. Thus, a mere 45 minutes later, disbelief clouded my heart and tears filled my eyes as I sat on the sidewalk with my new friend, Fankle.

My ankle pain and swelling was intense, but the shock at what had occurred was unbearable. In the moments I sat waiting for my extended family members to discover me, I cried inside thinking, "I can't workout anymore!" But an even bigger worry immediately crept in: "What on earth am I going to do on trek?!" Thankfully, the x-rays assured me I didn't have any broken bones—but my level two sprain ensured that I'd be a gimp for the next four to six weeks. What the medical professionals didn't explain is the pain a sprained ankle hurt a lot!

One blessing I received from Fankle was that I had a lot of time to sit at my computer. In preparation for trek, I endlessly researched and read about many of my pioneer ancestors. On Family Search's Mormon Pioneer page, I found 29 of my direct ancestors who crossed the plains! In recent years, I'd read about two of my prominent LDS ancestors—John Solomon Fullmer and Thomas Grover. Their lives are intermixed with Joseph Smith, and our family feels blessed to have that early Church connection.

Yet as I looked over my pioneer ancestor names, one in particular stood out to me: Sarah Ann Harris. I clicked on Sarah's name but was disappointed not to find any information about her pioneer trek. I looked at her family tree and saw that she had 14 siblings! I decided to click on her parents' information, for I knew there was a story there!

Little did I know when I researched my fourth great grandparents—Robert Harris Jr. and Hannah Maria (pronounced Mar-eye-ah) Eagles—that I would find deep family ties to my favorite city! They were even one of the stories presented in our Youth's pioneer night a few weeks before trek!

In that moment, I humbly realized that my fourth great grandparents wanted me to find them. You see, Robert and Maria weren't listed on my initial pioneer page. If I hadn't been listening to the Holy Ghost who told me to click on Sarah's name, and then her parents' names, I never would have known about my connection! After learning about the Harrises, I concluded they had an incredible love story—one worthy of a historical novel and movie! And late last night, I discovered that a distant cousin of mine has written a trio of historical novels based on their lives! I love it when I'm right! I can't wait to read his books!

Yet I was stunned to realize that one of the two General Conference talks I was given to help me prepare for today includes Robert and Hannah Maria Harris' story! Yes, in General Conference, April, 2014, Elder William R. Walker spoke specifically about our great grandparents! I find it fascinating that out of the many General Conference talks about pioneers, our bishopric chose the talk about my fourth great grandparents—just for me! Yeah, that's not a coincidence. The Harrises wanted me to know them and learn from their legacy. :)

I was also delighted at what I learned from my other pioneer ancestors:

From my fourth great grandmother, Susanah Shuker Clark, I learned that wicked stepmothers indeed exist. 11-year-old Susanah was forced by her stepmother to cross the plains while carrying her very large, one-year-old half-brother the entire way. Her stepmother always said, "You go on ahead, Susanah, I'll catch up..." but she never did. I can't imagine a grown woman allowing a child to take on her responsibility in that exhausting way, yet Susanah remained strong and completed her trek!

After settling in Utah, Susanah's stepmother wouldn't allow her to wash her clothes at their house and forced Susanah to wash them at her older married sister's house. Susanah's family was so poor, she attended only one party during her entire growing-up years—I find that to be a tragedy! ;) When Susanah was ready for marriage, her father gave her the tops of his boots to make her wedding shoes. Susanah wore that same pair of shoes for an entire year! Yet during our stake trek, I heard stories of pioneer women who wore rags on their feet instead of shoes—which means my Susanah was pretty blessed.

Before trek, I was feeling picked-on that I had only a few pair of flip-flops to wear with my Fankle brace. I wondered if I should go buy more flip-flops because the pairs I had weren't dressy enough for church. In that moment, I said to myself, "Adrie! If Susanah Clark can wear one pair of shoes for an entire year, you can certainly rotate between your three pairs of flip-flops for the next four weeks—you'll survive!" :) As a side note, the photo of my fourth great grandparents—Susanah and David King—is gorgeous. They look like they stepped right out of a classic 1800s movie! I had fun imagining their love story!

What I learned from my fourth great grandfather, James Frederick Bunn, is that the parent-child relationship hasn't changed much in 101 years. James' journals are filled with daily facts, but the sentences that made me laugh included things like what time James woke up his children, versus when they actually got up and began working. He shared that his children left in the morning to go do something, but didn't come home for hours. Over and over, James frustratingly wrote about the fact that his children didn't complete the tasks he gave him. His daughter Elsie, sounded like quite the little socialite, and James was bothered that Elsie didn't care that she left her mother to work alone. That said, I'd like to point out that my third great grandmother, Minette, was never mentioned negatively in James' journal entries! ;)

Jane Comish Ashton, my fourth great grandmother, taught me that you can remain strong—both physically and spiritually—no matter what happens. Jane was asked to leave the beautiful Isle of Man (the island between Great Britain and Ireland), sail to America, and work with her father for two years to save money so they could bring the rest of their family members over. While their family was living in Missouri, Jane's youngest brother died. In their family history, it said that losing 8-year-old Joseph was the most difficult thing they had endured up to that point. Jane married Robert, a widower with one daughter, and they trekked to Utah shortly after their marriage. Joseph's death prepared Jane to later lose six of her eight sweet children: three died before the age of two; the other three passed away in their early 20s. I truly can’t imagine the pain Jane endured in losing her most precious children! Despite such tremendous losses, Jane and Robert remained dedicated to their faith for the rest of their lives.

Thanks to Fankle, I had additional time to discover the prominent people I'm related to. According to BYU's Relative Finder—another feature of Family Search, I'm related to many notable Latter-day Saints, celebrities, US Presidents, and European royalty! I was really excited to find out that my second-cousin-once-removed is Elder Gary E. Stevenson! More of my extended cousins include: Steve Young; Henry Samson—who sailed on the Mayflower; a few souls from the Salem witch trials; Lucille Ball; Humphrey Bogart; Henry Fonda; Jimmy Stewart; and Barack Obama.

Now let's move on to trek.

One of our stake leaders' assignments was for each Youth to find one of their pioneer ancestors to trek for and learn their story. While I didn't read every Youth's pioneer ancestor story—because our ward had two trek families, I read quite a few of them and loved what I learned! This ward has wonderful pioneer ancestors! But that doesn't surprise me because all of you are wonderful, too!

For my family's trekking assignments, my oldest son trekked for Robert Harris, Jr.; my daughter trekked for Jane Comish Ashton; Greg trekked for his third great grandfather, Jacob Foutz, Jr.; and I trekked for my little sister, Mackenzie, who died when she was 18-and-a-half years old. I wanted to trek for my youngest sister because she was never able to go on trek. When I prayed about trekking for Mackenzie, I felt strongly that I made the right decision! :)

Being on trek reiterated to me the need for all of us to work together in unity in whatever situation we find ourselves. I loved watching our trek family members working hard for each other! I love how our stake members endlessly served each other! Even though we were tired, I saw smiles upon smiles! The happiness of our Youth was contagious! I also greatly enjoyed our fascinating conversations with each other. We had such fun together! Well, at least I did! :) Because of trek, I saw a social rejuvenation in our Youth that is priceless! Yes, the pioneers' socialization model produced maximum benefits for our tech-savvy Youth!

There were several times when other wards in our stake weren't trekking as quickly as the mighty youth of our ward, and we had to come to an abrupt halt. There were times—because of my painful Fankle—when I wasn't trekking as quickly as our ward's Youth probably would have liked. Sometimes, our entire stake stopped trekking for a few minutes so leaders could care for a sick or injured trekker. In order for our stake to stay healthy and happy, we stopped a lot for water and bathroom breaks. At times, it seemed to take quite a while for us to be ready to move forward again.

There were also two instances during trek when satan made his presence known to our stake. I won't go into details, but those short experiences reminded me that we must remain strong in our efforts to stay close to the Lord at all times—there is no room for diversion or weakness in our souls!

I view those trek experiences as an analogy for our membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, as well as life in general. In our journey of life, do we get frustrated when we need to slow down for someone else? Are we antsy while waiting for others to learn or be rescued? Are we willing to take the necessary preventative steps to keep our souls healthy and safe—even when those spiritual steps are time consuming? Do we respect our inspired leaders and their vision of what needs to happen for The Church and its members? Do we try our best to keep moving forward, even if it's not at the pace we'd like? Do we run to our Savior when satan tries to confuse or sway us from our eternal goals?

In this race of life, whether we feel we're moving too quickly or too slowly for someone else, we need to keep smiles on our faces and happy attitudes in our hearts—for we never know when those roles will be reversed. Will we, or a loved one, suddenly find ourselves in a less-than-desirable situation that calls for extra patience, and possibly more suffering than we think we can bear? If and when we find ourselves waiting for someone else, instead of becoming frustrated, we would be wise to step outside of ourselves and see if we can help. Similarly, if we truly need help from someone else, we shouldn't turn away from their kind efforts. We must allow for genuine service between each other! :)

Unlike our very organized stake trek itinerary, our Heavenly Father doesn't have a specific schedule or timeline for when each of us should reach important milestones. Our Heavenly Father sees it all, and has placed us in each others' lives for many reasons. Whether we're the helpers or the recipients, we need each other! Unlike what social media has done to our society, the human family needs personal, physical and spiritual interaction daily! We must do our very best to reach out to each other—especially when called upon by the Lord. We must not ignore those vital promptings by the Holy Ghost.

Outstanding Paralympic track athlete Aimee Mullins said,
"There is adversity and challenge in life, and it's all very real and relative to every single person, but the question isn't whether or not you're going to meet adversity, but how you're going to meet it. So, our responsibility is not simply shielding those we care for from adversity, but preparing them to meet it well." 
Brilliant, right?! :)

I believe our pioneer ancestors prepared us to meet our own adversities well. One of the greatest things we can learn from them is how to tackle adversity head-on and endure to the end. They also showed us how to lovingly sacrifice for our faith. I love these words from The Fire of The Covenant, "With nothing left, they still kept their faith in Him." also, "Hold on thy way, be not afraid, for God is on thy side." Our beloved pioneer ancestors never gave up, and neither should we! :)

Now I must share my experience with Martin's Cove, which came on the second day of our trek:

My Fankle was incredibly sore. I awoke that morning wondering how I could possibly keep going. I wanted so badly to jump on the back of a handcart! I wished for a ride on the individual handcarts, but they were reserved for trekkers with serious medical needs and I knew that wasn't me. Despite my pain, I had thoroughly researched sprained ankles before we left and knew that my Fankle was a-okay. I wasn't doing any damage by walking in my brace, so I kept going. But by the time we stopped for lunch, I thought I was going to have to call it a day and hang out with the food committee in their spacious, air-conditioned trailers! I immediately took three ibuprofen and couldn't wait for the pain to subside.

By the time we started walking from the amphitheater up toward Martin's Cove, it had been nearly two hours since I had taken the ibuprofen and I still didn't feel any relief—and I usually feel relief with ibuprofen after about 20–30 minutes. Yet my foot hurt so badly that I was going at a snail's pace. People were passing me faster than they ever had, and I didn't even care anymore!

After we descended into the valley, rounded the first curve into Martin's Cove, and were about 25 feet in, my ankle pain seemed to disappear. I ignored it at first because I thought I'd just taken a really good step. But after about 30 seconds, I realized my pain was lessening with each and every step. Within seconds, I felt no pain in my ankle at all! I looked around, stunned! I kept walking and wondered if I was imagining it, or if it was really happening?

Yet there was no denying it: I was walking without pain for the first time in three weeks, to the day. Tears threatened to give away my joy, but I didn't want someone to mistake them for pain, so I kept them to myself! :) In case you're wondering, my ankle was literally pain-free for about 19 hours—long after the ibuprofen would have worn off. The pain only came back the next day because I did too much when I should have been resting.

As we headed down the slight incline of Martin's Cove, I suddenly saw my daughter up ahead of me. At that very moment, a beautiful monarch butterfly flew in front of her and landed on her back. The butterfly rested there for a few seconds, then flew off again. I gasped and said to Greg, "Did you see the butterfly on ______?!" He said, "Yes," as we watched the butterfly fly back to our daughter and land on her again—in the very same spot on her back. I was so excited! The butterfly flew away as I quietly gushed to Greg about what we'd seen. He was pretty excited, too. Yet when that beautiful monarch butterfly flew to our daughter and landed on her back for a third time, I knew that my little sister, Mackenzie, was telling me she was absolutely with us on trek. :)

You see, ever since Mackenzie died, our family has continually seen monarch butterflies when we get together for important family functions, or when we're talking about her. Many times when I think about Mackenzie, a monarch butterfly will suddenly fly into my view. Some people might call those butterfly encounters just a coincidence, but our family has experienced this happy little miracle too many times to believe it's just a coincidence. And the fact that my daughter—and it was only her—had that big, beautiful monarch butterfly land on her shirt three times, out in the middle of nowhere Wyoming, well, no one can ever convince me that it was just a coincidence. Interestingly, my son said he also saw a lot of butterflies while on trek. :)

Our walk through Martin's Cove was amazing. Not only was I given a miracle with my vanishing ankle pain, but I finally understood the reason Fankle wasn't just an accident. I was so happy to have that answer, especially since I knew I was inspired to go longboarding that night! Feeling my littlest sister's spirit there helped me know—absolutely—that many beloved angels were with our stake trek members! The Spirit was unbelievably strong in Martin's Cove—it was the loveliest feeling and I'll never forget it!

In Dallin H. Oaks' talk, "Following the Pioneers," he asks us, "...After all these [pioneer] studies and activities, it is appropriate to ask ourselves, 'Therefore, what?' Are these pioneer celebrations academic, merely increasing our fund of experiences and knowledge? Or will they have a profound impact on how we live our lives?" My reply to Elder Oaks' question is this:

My sacred experiences in Martin's Cove illustrate that miracles still happen. And if miracles still happen for me, all of those astounding miracles that happened to the pioneers aren't just inspiring, tear-inducing stories—they're real. The pioneers' strength and unbelievable sacrifices were not given in vain, but for the greatest cause of following our Savior, Jesus Christ, and returning to our Heavenly Father.

Like Elder Walker said about our pioneer ancestors, we are "standing on the shoulders of giants." We should look to our pioneer loved ones with the utmost respect, reverence, awe and happiness because they got it. They understood what's most important in life: living the Gospel of Jesus Christ and sharing it with everyone they possibly could; and they gave everything to meet those goals.

Elder Hales said, "The Lord expects us to be as faithful, as devoted, as courageous as those who went before us. They were called to give their lives for the gospel. We are called to live our lives for the same purpose." Yes, we should give our very best in living and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. There has never been a better time to be a missionary, and yes, we can be missionaries each and every day of our lives!

Lastly, I'm inspired by the pioneer ancestor stories I didn't find. I know several of my pioneer ancestors' names and important dates, but nothing was written about their lives. I was deeply saddened that there's nothing online to tell of my ancestors' life experiences. In those moments of non-discovery, I realized their silent advice is that we must write down our own stories! If we don't write about our lives, no one will do it for us—unless we're lucky enough to have a loved one write it. Yet do we really want someone else telling our story? I feel strongly that we must write about our own lives for our posterity's benefit! :)

A 2013 New York Times article said, "The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative... [Children] who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges." After learning about Robert, Maria, Jane, Susanah, and James, I couldn't agree more!

I hope and pray we will choose to be like The Fire of the Covenant song where it says, "...we will rise up and shine the light He gives. And with the Saints we will testify: He lives!"

I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

P.S. I know I've shared this quote on my blog before, but it's one of my all-time favorites and I'm sharing it again! :)

The next post in My Fankle Journey is "Fankle, Continued..."

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