My feelings have been close to the surface lately. Over the past couple of days, I have, on more than one occasion, found myself blinking back tears while trying, rather unsuccessfully, to feign my natural state of stoicism. Perhaps I am getting more emotional in my old age, or maybe my heart is simply overflowing with gratitude.
While the world has been in turmoil from Florida to Texas to France, I have been hurting right along with you. I have wondered what the future holds when tragedy seems to be the new normal. But in the midst of heartbreak and worry and fear, I have found cause to rejoice. Because God is good.
Since my early teens, I have dreamed of taking a family vacation to visit all of the places where significant events surrounding the organization of the Mormon church took place. (Yes, I am a Mormon.) Because this is the last summer before my kids start leaving home (be still, my beating heart), we decided that it was time for this historic trip.
In preparation, my family spent six months studying about the places we would visit, the events that occurred there, and the lives of the early pioneers who lived through them. We read countless stories of persecution, heartache, and loss that were overshadowed by faith in God and hope for a better future.
Many of those stories came from the lives of our own ancestors who were among the early converts to the church. They lived through dark and challenging days of religious persecution, eventually walking 1300 miles from Nauvoo, Illinois to Salt Lake City after being driven from their homes by angry mobs who wanted to extinguish the Mormons from existence.
Standing in the places where it all happened, from a small grove of trees in upstate New York to Ohio to Missouri to Illinois and finally to the jail where Joseph Smith, the prophet, and his brother, Hyrum, were martyred for their faith, we felt like we were walking on sacred ground.
Particularly poignant was the Trail of Hope that leads down Parley Street in old Nauvoo to the banks of the Mississippi River.
It is called the Trail of Hope because thousands of faithful people, hoping to escape religious persecution, loaded their wagons and left their homes in the beautiful city that they had built, walking this path on their way to cross the frozen Mississippi. They looked back to see the recently completed temple on the hill, knowing that they would probably never see it again.
They knew they were heading west, but had no idea where they would stop. They left with courage to face the unknown because of their faith in God and His living prophet. Being forced from their homes in the dead of winter, they suffered many hardships along the way, yet their faith remained strong, and they reached their final destination in the Salt Lake Valley, where they finally found peace.
Today, the path is lined with plaques that display quotes from the journals of those who experienced that exodus. One plaque (which was, unfortunately, quite dirty) features a recollection from my great-great-great grandfather:
This is the blood that is running through my veins – blood filled with generations of faith and the courage to stay true to it, even when that led to extreme hardship. It makes me proud of my heritage and causes me to wonder if I would have had the strength to stand with them under such trying circumstances.
After coming home from this sobering and faith-promoting trip, Jordan and Andrew participated in a four-day re-enactment of that westward pioneer trek. Along with 170 other youth and several amazing leaders, they dressed in pioneer clothing, were divided into “families,” pulled handcarts through rugged terrain, and experienced just a taste of what it was like on that journey.
When they got home, they were tired, dirty and excited to sleep in their beds, but could not stop talking about the incredible experience they had.
It was evident that their hearts had been touched and their lives changed as they felt the spirit of sacrifice that those who came before exemplified to preserve the faith that meant everything to them – the same faith that we strive to uphold today.
The change that I see in my kids – the spiritual fire that has been ignited within their souls after a summer of studying and reenacting pioneer experiences – causes my heart to swell with thanksgiving. I know from personal experience what they are just learning: faith in and obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ is the one thing that provides direction and peace in a world of confusion and turmoil. Gaining a testimony of its truthfulness through the power of the Holy Ghost is essential, and they felt of that Spirit in abundance as they walked in the faithful footsteps of their pioneer ancestors.
That makes my mama heart almost burst.
Life is different today than it was back in pioneer times. Thankfully, religious persecution is not as intense, although it does still exist and, in some ways, is growing stronger. We have not been forced to leave our homes and walk across the frozen Mississippi in the dead of winter on our way into the unknown. But all of us, regardless of religious preference, will face defining moments of our own.
When those moments come, will we allow uncertainty, trials, fear, or doubt to keep us from walking down our own Parley Street en route to the blessings Heavenly Father has in store for us? Will we walk away from our faith when the winds blow or confusion creeps into our hearts? Or will we, like those who went before, face uncertainty with faith, even when understanding eludes us? Especially when understanding eludes us.
I want to follow the courageous examples of those on all branches of my family tree who endured much for the faith that sustained them. I feel an abundance of gratitude for their sacrifice – a sacrifice that blesses my life every day through the faith that it preserved and continues to nurture in my heart and now the hearts of my children.
Faith, my friends, is what sustains me in the midst of troubled times such as these because I know that there is more to life than what I see right now. We lived before we came to Earth and will live again after death, making it possible for families to be together eternally. Our loving Heavenly Father, who knows us individually, is well aware of our struggles. While world peace may forever be elusive and tragic things will continue to happen at the hands of evil people, He stands ready to fill our hearts with peace if we come unto Him.
That knowledge gives me hope for a bright future, despite the hardships that will inevitably come.
P.S. If you want to know more about what I believe, you can visit this site. Feel free to contact me with any questions or to request a copy of the Book of Mormon, which I would be happy to send to you. (firstname.lastname@example.org)