I saw it in their faces.
A battle of will. Realization of what was required.
A 250 pound handcart and a hill. To conquer alone.
A hush fell over the gathering.
The group of pioneers pulling handcarts had come to an abrupt halt. A change of plans was announced.
All men and boys removed from the families.
One by one the girls slowly walked over to the handcarts which were parked in a single line along the side of the trail.
The metal bar was lifted and fingers tightened as they embraced the seemingly impossible climb ahead.
Eyes fixed and determined. Hearts pounding.
Each young woman digging deep to find strength. Physical strength. Spiritual strength.
A lesson of searching and finding.
A Trek is defined as a journey involving a difficulty or hardship.
Those of us at church who organized this journey hoped that a group of teenagers might learn some lessons. Lessons not found in classrooms.
Lessons that might change a heart or two.
And so the youth were organized into Pioneer Trek families of 10 brothers and sisters belonging to a Ma and Pa. A new Trek family they would grow to love in just four days.
Pulling their handcart together on dusty trails. Hearing and watching pioneer stories come to life. Learning about sacrifice and obedience. Sharing the load and serving one another in this new pioneer journey.
Singing together along the trail.
Suddenly families are halted. And separated.
Life is good.
And then an interruption.
A season of our life that tears apart our best laid plans. Seasons which come unexpectedly. We cannot predict when or where or how long they will last.
A week. A month. A lifetime.
Health ailments, emotional suffering, financial stress, failed testimonies of loved ones, death . . .
A season of our life which will determine who we are. Where our commitment is. And where our focus will be.
A process of becoming more like Him.
I promised the girls that seasons are inevitable. That they would pull some heavy handcarts in their life. But that the result was strength. And that they were never really alone.
See His hands next to yours. He will never let go.
A lesson of eternal significance.
The young men and Pa’s were waiting at the top of the hill.
They had marched up the hill . . . alone. Leaving their Trek Ma and sisters behind with the handcarts. Legs burning as they pulled themselves up the trail. Glancing back. The unthinkable.
These young men were reminded –
Women have more strength than you know.
More reminders of life. Enduring and overcoming trials. Embracing the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
And then a simple instruction.
Line the top of the trail and watch as the women pull the handcarts alone.
I searched the faces of the young women as they took their place at the handcart.
Saw their eyes look upward toward the hill. Taking it in.
Then eyes back down. Focused on their feet.
Determined to move forward – no matter what.
A lesson of faith replacing fear.
And so they began to pull.
Straining against the rocky incline. Never giving up. Cheering each other on.
Pulling against the strain on the first hill. Then a turn.
A difficult and rocky turn. One which allowed doubt to enter. Can I do this? Fighting fear as they fought and pulled over boulders toward the final ascent.
And then I saw it happen.
Young men saw the struggle. The determination. The strength.
Silently the young men felt the weight. Desperate to help. Encouraging with their emotion.
Young women pulled their heads up and saw the sight.
Two lines of young men. Hats off. Held over the heart.
A lesson of reverence and respect.
For each other. And for Him.
I heard an emotional young man express the difficulty of watching.
“I wanted to help as I saw the girls struggle. It was especially hard to watch my own Trek family go by because I knew where my place was.”
A young man recognizing his place was serving and loving his family.
A Priesthood lesson felt in a tender heart.
A simple exercise with profound lessons.
Who are we? Why are we here? Where are we going?
As we honor pioneers we learn about sacrifice. Courage. Commitment. About respecting each other’s strengths and differences.
My greatest desire for the youth was change. Change of heart and soul.
Did they learn the lessons?
An unexpected thunderstorm hit the final evening. Wet clothes. Dampened spirits. A cold and difficult night. But the final morning all Trek families were eager and ready to pull.
In the mud.
I walked along the trail next to the 15 families. Saw the struggle in pulling through invisible muddy fingers that grabbed at the wheels and coated their shoes. Eventually we came to a hill. A slippery hill that was thick with mud and water.
I overheard two young men at the bottom of that hill. They were in the front position – grasping the forward bar of the handcart. Preparing to guide their family.
“One wrong step and we’re done,” said one of them.
The other young man looked at the brother beside him.
“It’s okay. We got this. And remember . . . the pioneers didn’t even have shoes.”
I smiled as my eyes filled with tears.
A journey of pioneer stories. A journey to finding their own story.
Yeah . . . they got this.