The youth from our church just returned from Trek, which is a reenactment of sorts of our Latter-day Saint pioneer ancestors who crossed the Great Plains of the United States in the mid-1800's. The pioneers were escaping religious persecution in Missouri and elsewhere, and made the long, harrowing journey on foot to the Salt Lake Valley where they could live and worship in peace. They faced hunger, cold, disease, wolves, and freezing rivers on their way west. Many died en route.
It has been entertaining to read the newly-updated Facebook and Instagram accounts of the teens in my neighborhood rejoicing over toilets, hot showers, and soft beds waiting for them at home. Many of them have posted about their awakening gratitude for the faith, fortitude, and courage of their ancestors. The pioneer clothing, the handcart-pulling, and the "roughing it" conditions are designed not just to help the youth appreciate modern creature comforts; the Trek experience affords participants an experience in examining their faith.
It gives people a change to don a dress, apron, and bonnet (or trousers, button-downs, and hats), pull a handcart across a dusty plain, push themselves physically, and evaluate if they would've had the faith sufficient to do this for months. For real. With no support crews driving into camp each day with hot meals and a fresh supply of drinking water.
It's a spiritual journey.
I didn't get to go with the youth on this Trek, but I did experience an enlightening and memorable pioneer trek when I was sixteen. This time, my contribution consisted of preparing beef stew and chocolate chip cookies to feed the weary Trekkers. I would've liked to participate with my young women class this week, but it wasn't meant to be, and it's okay. Here's why:
I am currently on a lengthy, dusty, rigorous pioneer journey of my own. I'm raising two children with autism, both who have other complicated diagnoses as well. I also have two typically-developing children with their own needs and challenges. It's a life-long journey. It's totally rugged. Sometimes I absolutely feel like I'm on a trail in the middle of the wilderness.
I don't have to deal with wolves, and cooking over a fire, and giving birth in a wagon on the trail. My challenges are in raising sons who have behavioral, cognitive, emotional, and communication issues. I clean up a lot of poop. I'm navigating my sons' healthcare and education. We do a lot of therapy. We work on overcoming the bigger stumbling blocks as we shepherd the boys toward greater functionality.
My journey is not harder or easier than my pioneer ancestors'. They are both strenuous. The common denominator for us is faith. None of us feels that we are on this trail alone.
I've been humming the hymn "Come, Come Ye Saints" all week. One phrase from the second verse has been an inspirational bit of manna to me.
"Gird up your loins," it says
"Fresh courage take.
Our God will never us forsake."
It's enough to shake you out of your reverie, pull you to your feet, and encourage you to keep on pioneering. That's what it does for me, anyway.
And then this bit of Old Testament wisdom from the book of Joshua was a balm on my trail-weary feet:
"Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee withersoever thou goest."
It's a rocky trail: vast and overwhelming in it's length and complexity. But knowing I'm not going it alone makes it better. Happier. Smoother.