Just a few weeks ago, the youth in our stake piled on school buses and traveled the long way to the barren plains of Wyoming to undergo a pioneer trek experience. If you are not familiar with the Mormon pioneers, in a nutshell, these faithful people sacrificed everything they had to come to Zion in Utah. Some of the pioneers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came from England and Denmark and traveled by handcart, and two of these handcart companies (the Martin and Willie company) suffered extreme privation in crossing the plains during early winter storms. Every year thousands of youth visit the sites of the Martin and Willie handcart companies in present-day Wyoming to dress up as pioneers, reenact parts of the pioneer trek, and feel the faith of these heroic saints.
There were many lessons I learned on trek. I recorded 9 of them in my journal on the long bus ride home. Today I want to focus on the one I call, “Elsie’s Rescue.”
It was the last day of the trek and everyone knew it would be our hardest. The first two days we had walked 6 miles a day, but the last day would be 15. Even more nerve-racking than knowing we would have to pull our handcarts over the 15-mile stretch called Rocky Ridge, was the secret assignment my husband and I had been given to reenact the story of a pioneer couple, Jens and Elsie Nielson.
Jens and Elsie had emigrated from Denmark and were wealthy enough that they could have acquired a wagon and traveled comfortably to Salt Lake City. But in an action of true Christian charity, they decided to travel by handcart and donated the rest of their money to the Church. Their sacrifice paid the way for 9 other people to travel across the plains.
As part of the Willie company, they were stranded in Wyoming when the winter storms hit in early October. On the day the company parceled out their last rations, express rescuers were seen on the eminence to the west. But it would be several days before they would meet up with the rescue party wagons and receive more food, clothing, and blankets. First, they had to cross Rocky Ridge.
From start to finish, the trek over Rocky Ridge which stretched about 15 miles and took the Willie company 27 hours to complete. It was bitter cold with howling winds and blizzard snows.
As Jens and Elsie climbed over Rocky Ridge, Jens became too ill with exhaustion and illness to continue. He told Elsie to leave him and take the children the rest of the way. But Elsie would not hear of it. She told him to get in the cart and ride. And with that, this tiny woman (who was only 98 lbs.) pulled her husband (220 lbs.) over the ridge.
As the story was told to our youth group on the upper monument of Rocky Ridge, they were told to watch a reenactment. Patrick and I were on a hill a ways away and upon signal, Patrick got in the handcart and I proceeded to pull him down the hill. As I descended, I breathed many prayers for strength and miracles and somehow the cart did not overpower me. But as I started uphill, I hit rocky ledges and then a spot of sand. I knew I would need to run just to make any progress up the steep hill, so I tried to keep the momentum of the cart going. But when the sandy patch came, my feet lost traction, and in an instant the cart overpowered me, began to roll downhill, and swept my feet from under me, dragging me down. I hit my face and chin hard on the ground as I fell.
As the card slid downhill, I tried to get up and start pulling again, but instantly, Patrick was out of the cart and by my side helping me pull. I was crying by now, not because I was hurt, but because I had failed. All I wanted was to go farther. Through my tears I told Patrick to get back in the cart, but he refused to leave me. As we continued up the hill together, I brushed my face with my hand and found it covered in dirt. My mouth was full of sand. Then I saw a drop of blood fall and used my other hand to wipe under my chin, only to find it covered in blood. By this time, a group of young men came to our aid and helped us pull the cart the rest of the way up the hill.
After I had been cleaned and bandaged, we were asked to share our feelings with the youth. The following is a summary of what I recounted:
I have always felt too small, too weak, and too inadequate. But this experience taught me differently, although not in the way I expected. I thought I would make it farther up the hill before I couldn’t go on. I thought maybe I’d be given superhuman strength or ministering angels to assist me. I thought I would prove to myself that I can do hard things and that I’m stronger than I think I am if I trust in my Heavenly Father. I thought He might send me a miracle. But that’s not what I learned.
I learned that when we don’t think we can do it or feel completely inadequate, it’s at that very moment that we can instantly receive our Savior’s help. When I kept telling Patrick to get back in the cart because I could do it, he refused, saying, “No! I won’t leave you!” Likewise, when we reach our mortal limit and cry out to the Lord for strength, the Savior comes running to our rescue–not to give us more strength, but to stand beside us and help us pull. And when we pridefully say, “No, I can do it,” He whispers firmly but ever so lovingly, “No! I’m not going to leave you.” He doesn’t just give us strength, He is our strength.
The Savior Himself promised:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Real life demands of us roles that sometimes fill too big and too hard to fulfill. And in the midst of living out our assignments, we often reach a point where we can’t go any farther on our own. But at that very moment when we cry out to Heavenly Father, He will rescue us with His all-powerful strength and grace. This I know.
The hardest calling I’ve ever been asked to fulfill is to be a mother and raise my precious children unto the Lord. Every day I climb Rocky Ridge, pulling my handcart behind me. And every day I reach a point where I can’t possibly do any more on my own. It is then that I cry out and ask for my Savior to help me “pull my cart.” He always does. I faithfully declare that I know I will go far in raising my family, not because I am strong, but because He is.
I want to end with a promise given to us from an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ:
“For those who are discouraged by their circumstances and are therefore tempted to feel they cannot serve the Lord this day, I make you two promises. Hard as things seem today, they will be better in the next day if you choose to serve the Lord this day with your whole heart. Your circumstances may not be improved in all the ways which you desire. But you will have been given new strength to carry your burdens and new confidence that when your burdens become too heavy, the Lord, whom you have served, will carry what you cannot. He knows how. He prepared long ago. He suffered your infirmities and your sorrows when He was in the flesh so that He would know how to succor you.” -President Henry B. Eyring