Physically, I’m not afraid of much. With nineteen marathons on my legs and several 36-hour, pitocin assisted, non-epidural childbirths, the prospect of pushing a loaded handcart for twenty-six miles didn’t worry me.
But at midnight, when the wind and rainstorm shifted to a 50 mph raging blizzard, I huddled under the tarp (yes, just a tarp!) with my Erik and nine teenagers I’d just met and thought, “This pioneer trek is the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard of.”
And when the tarp ripped from it’s stakes, leaving half our group exposed, it wasn’t me who jumped up to help, but a fourteen year old, 89 lb girl who climbed out of her sleeping bag and began pulling ropes and prying the stakes out of the frozen ground.
And when one girl was forced to ride in the car because of a broken foot, it was the other girls who decided to rearrange our load and carry her, queenlike, right on the handcart.
And when the carts were stuck on a steep hill, it was three young boys who ran back and pushed one cart after the other up the incline.
Shall the youth of Zion falter?
I’ve always considered myself a champion of teenagers– I don’t like to hear them disparaged or stereotyped– but I was unprepared for incredible charity I witnessed on this Trek.
On the first morning the youth are divided into ‘families’ of eight or nine kids and a ‘Ma and Pa’ (a wonderful ‘Aunt’ also joined our family). No one knows which family they will land in, and the organizers purposely place each of us with people we don’t know very well. Even Erik and I had no idea who would be joining us until we were in front of the cart and ready to go.
It sounds crazy– tear kids away from their home, their phones, their friends– and ask them to pull a handcart across a Wyoming cattle ranch. But there’s an odd sort of genius in it and our experience was, quite simply, miraculous.
The handsome senior jock befriended the freshmen; the girls reached across social barriers. We all started off a little shy but they each made an effort to ask questions, to include the quiet one, to laugh at each others’ jokes. At camp, where there are a myriad of tasks to provide shelter and cook meals, they worked together without complaint or laziness. I could scarcely suggest a task without three teenagers jumping up to help. In four days, I didn’t hear one unkind word, cruel joke or crude comment.
Handcarts are a clever contraption. Cheap to build and simple to maintain, they are quite easy to push as long as the load is balanced over the axle. Hills require more effort, both up and down, but with all of us working together they were easily accomplished. If each of us had to carry our own gear (and the tarps, dutch ovens and camping equipment), we would have been exhausted within a mile. But together, we pushed it easily. And isn’t life like that? No hill is insurmountable if we share each others’ burdens.
Spiritual subjects came up early and often as we shared the stories of our ancestors and spoke of the Holy Ghost. But we laughed much more than we prayed and I worried a bit when I saw other families huddled in deep discussion while we were playing tag.
But Erik reminded me, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith.” Gal. 5:22 And maybe I need that reminder every day, that a religious life isn’t one of somber flagellation but one of joy. That happy kids who are loving and kind are a reflection of the Spirit.
I also loved:
watching the kids become entranced with Erik: his goofy humor, his masterful storytelling and his incredible strength.
dutch oven cooking! Loved it! I can hardly wait to practice my new skill.
watching the girls do their hair without a mirror. Why is it that a teenage girl can twist their hair in a casual knot and look like something out of a magazine? My hair was just a mess.
flushing my toilet when I got home just for the fun of it. Forget the iPad; modern plumbing is the greatest invention ever.
By Saturday afternoon, our little ‘family’ felt like one, we cried as we said goodbye and promised a reunion party before September.
It’s usually the privilege of the older generation to tell the young ‘uns how much harder life was when they were a kid, but for youth today, I disagree. Crafting an honorable, virtuous life is much more difficult now than ever before.
And I’m not one bit worried; the future is in kind, hard-working, able hands.