Sunday, April 17, 2011

We Can Do Hard Things

The gathering and dinner the night after the walk.
We can do hard things. That was the theme of the Craig Ranch Relief Society for the first quarter of this year. They set a goal of walking from their church building to the temple which is 12.66 miles.  They also read the first 3 books of the New Testament and memorized The Living Christ: The Testimony of the Apostles.  Many set their own personal goals of learning, working, and growing.  It was definitely inspiring to hear their testimonies last night after their walk to the temple.  Most were sore, but all smiled as they talked amongst each other during the dinner and then when bearing testimonies.  It was great to see the sisterhood amongst these women!

As I sat and watched them, I thought about the importance of friendship in our lives.  These ladies trained for the last four months to prepare them for their long walk.  They met together and walked and talked together and helped each other get stronger and stronger as they prepared for the long walk.  Many suffered blisters, a few suffered injuries, and all grew stronger in health and testimony.

Many ladies trained together every Saturday to prepare.
I was in this ward about 5 years ago and so I knew many of these ladies and I joined them for the walk.  Because of physical restrictions, I chose to walk from my house to the temple, which is 4.5 miles.  As the time came closer and closer, I had an internal debate about whether it was a good idea to make the walk or not.  But I committed when they first started this challenge that I would do it, so I was up at 4:30 am and at the church at 6:00 am to support them and join in on the journey.

After seeing them off from the church building, I got into my car and drove home.  I parked, grabbed my cane (I don't use it often, but thought it would be good to have extra support) and headed out.  I found that I made much better time than I had when walking with my children and the dog.  I listened to conference talks as I walked.  I had to laugh out loud as I noticed pain starting to set in at about 2 miles and one of the talks was all about pain and how it helps us to be humbled and also teaches patience.  Yep.  God is still trying to teach me patience and humility.  The talk was given by Kent F. Richards of the Seventy.  He quoted:

No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude, and humility. … It is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire.  - Elder Orson F. Whitney

I also learned from him:
Much of our suffering is not necessarily our fault. Unexpected events, contradicting or disappointing circumstances, interrupting illness, and even death surround us and penetrate our mortal experience. Additionally, we may suffer afflictions because of the actions of others. Lehi noted that Jacob had “suffered … much sorrow, because of the rudeness of [his] brethren.” Opposition is part of Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness. We all encounter enough to bring us to an awareness of our Father’s love and of our need for the Savior’s help. - Kent F. Richards of the Seventy

At 3 miles, I started looking behind me to see if any of the fast ladies had caught up with me yet.  I was surprised that they hadn't.  But looking at my watch, I could see that I had gone much faster than expected. I'm not used to being ahead of the pack.  Usually, I'm far behind everyone else.  I was always the one with the shortest legs and had been left behind on many hikes as a young woman and young adult.  I now have a bad ankle that I injured long ago and didn't heal properly at the end of one of my short legs.  I considered going on ahead and waiting at the temple, but I decided that I needed to stop and wait for my friend to catch up.  I wasn't sure where she was, but I felt it was important to wait for her since she had encouraged me to make the walk.

So I found a shady spot and waited.  My family drove by to check on me and say hello.  I was grateful to see them and have their support.  One of my former bishops stopped by too.  The lady who put together the support stopped too.  It was nice to have the support.  I learned later that there were quite a few support vehicles driving around checking on the women, giving snacks and water, and offering rides if anyone needed one (I think only 3 ladies did not finish - one diabetic and 2 younger women who decided not to finish the last mile).

Everyone had someone to walk with.
I finally saw white dots moving towards me.  At first, I wasn't sure it was them.  But soon I realized they were getting closer and closer.  They were on the other side of the road.  As they got closer, I moved to the other side too.  I hoped my friend would be in their group.  Just as I got to the other side, a bunch of them crossed the road to where I had been.  I started to cross the road again when I saw my friend waving at me.  I smiled and waited for her to come.  She walked confidently and quickly towards me  (They had been walking for 10 or 11 miles, I was surprised at how strong she looked and how fast she moved!).  I knew I was going to slow her down.

When she got to me, we started walking.  It was nice to have a friend to walk with and someone to talk to.  It definitely made the walking easier and more fun.  I fully expected her to go ahead.  I have to admit I'm a bit embarrassed by how slow I am.  After walking for a while, I thought she should go ahead with the faster walkers, but she insisted on staying with me.  I was appreciative of that.

The last hill.
Having someone to walk with is very unusual for me.  I've been left behind so often, that walking alone is something I tend to expect and am used to. I'll never forget getting lost on a hike once. I fell behind the group and they kept on going. I came to a fork in the road and took the wrong turn. I walked for about 30 minutes before I was sure I was going the wrong way. I said a prayer and sang some hymns to help me not be afraid and began walking back. The thing was that I was not alone. I felt comfort and safety because I knew that we are never left alone.

I thought of this memory as we continued to walk.  My friend at one point asked me what I had learned during the walk.  I can't say as I had any major epiphanies.  I'd done hard things like this many times before.  My main thought was just putting one foot in front of the other and a huge hope that I'd be able to walk the next day.  So I was trying to listen to what she had to say.

Physical limitations being overcome!

As we rounded the corner, she asked me to not use my cane.  I think of my cane more as of a walking stick.  It makes walking just a little easier and keeps my balance as I get more and more tired.  I don't use it very often and felt that it was entirely appropriate to use it for this walk.  She told me the story of the Eye of the Needle.
In ancient times there was a small gate cut inside the larger gate of the city through which one might enter after nightfall, when the city was closed. Although this small gate—termed the “eye of the needle”—could readily admit a man, a camel could enter only by first being relieved of its burden and then by walking through on its knees.
She compared this to getting rid of all aids and crutches in life and doing the hard part on our own.  I walked up the hill without my cane.  It slowed me down even more, but I made it.  As we walked up the hill I focused on the temple. That was my goal, and I was almost there.  We made it to the fence that surrounds the temple and I stopped.  I didn't stop because I was tired or because I had given up.  I stopped because the difference in what I felt inside was incredible.  I can't even describe it really.  It was just a peaceful feeling.  It was a feeling of energy and light.  It was a feeling of everlasting love.  And it started at the gate and it was a deliberate feeling that I felt right as the fence began.
Las Vegas, NV Temple

I knew that I would not have felt it if I had not walked up that hill.   It was just one more witness to me that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ live!  The Holy Ghost truly did testify to my heart that They are as real as the large, beautiful temple that stood before me.  And the temple is a holy, sacred place where I want to serve often.

Friends and family waiting.
Being one of the first to arrive gave me the opportunity to experience something I had not before.  Waiting.  Waiting for others to arrive.  But I thought about it much like those on the other side of the veil waiting for us to return.  I wanted to stand up and have a personal party for each person who made it up the hill and reached their goal.  Instead, I called out that they made it and clapped with the others who were there with me.  The wonderful thing is that as each person arrived, the group grew bigger and bigger and the applause continued to grow.  Many families came to greet their moms/grandmas who were walking.  When it was reported that the last group was nearing the end, a truckload of women went back and encircled them and walked with them to help them make the last of their journey. 

When all were gathered, the bishop took some time to talk to us all and congratulate us for putting our very best and doing something so difficult.  Even he had found it to be a challenging task and he runs all the time.  

The bishop talking to everyone.
As I peered around at the sisters listening to the bishop and then again that night at the gathering and dinner,  I saw was true sisterhood.  Women supporting each other completely and fully.  While they were accomplishing their personal goals, they were also celebrating the accomplishments of others.   When gathered together, these women laughed easily.  They have seen each other's weaknesses and strengths and they have pulled together to make something hard easier because they worked together.  I was reminded of one of the messages from the April Ensign that I read while waiting in my shady spot.  It was called "The Purpose of Relief Society" by Julie B. Beck.  She wrote:

Relief Society Logo
We learned that the purpose of Relief Society as established by the Lord is to organize, teach, and inspire His daughters to prepare them for the blessings of eternal life.
To fulfill this purpose of Relief Society, the Lord has commissioned each sister and the organization as a whole to:
  1. Increase in faith and personal righteousness.
  2. Strengthen families and homes.
  3. Provide relief by serving the Lord and His children.
As I listened to the women bear testimonies at the dinner, I saw that this project fulfilled all of this and more.  Women had worked together and with their families to accomplish this goal.  Their homes had been strengthened.  They had helped one another.  Their relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ was stronger.  It was an amazing experience.  I look forward to what these women do as they continue to grow and learn together.  I hope that I will soon be able to join them full-time instead of on occasion.

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