From a talk given 14 Jul 2019 in the Pflugerville Ward
I had the opportunity to go on Trek this year. Bishop Arnesen and I went as a Ma and Pa for one of the families. The theme for our Trek was “Keep on the Covenant Path.” In essence, the covenant path is the path that leads us back to our Heavenly Father, and the path is marked with covenants and ordinances along the way, such as baptism, priesthood ordination, and temple ordinances. As we repent and partake of the sacrament worthily each week, we progress along the path. By keeping on the path, we are brought safely back to our heavenly home.
A member of our stake presidency mentioned several times that the real growth from Trek would happen as we reflected on the experience. I believe that is applicable in many of life’s poignant experiences, and I found it to be true in this case as well. Rather than give a report of my experiences on Trek, I’d like to mention gospel principles that I learned on Trek and in my reflection as well as relate these principles to the “Trek of Our Lives,” as we strive to keep on the covenant path. I encourage you all to listen closely to the Spirit as you read, and pay attention to any nudges He may give you. I’d like to discuss the gospel principles of preparation, work, play, prayer, ministering, endurance, and consecration.
First, preparation. Before I dive in, I should probably mention that my experience with preparing for Trek was different than it was for most. As a Ma and Pa, Bishop and I were given two packing lists—one for our personal gear, and one for our family gear. All of the family gear needed to be turned in the Saturday before Trek, which happened to be the same day that Bishop was flying home from a ten-day trip to China for work. Many of you know that Bishop is a very experienced scouter. As such, he knows what gear works best, things that are superfluous, and things that are vital. I, on the other hand, have only been camping a handful of times in Texas, and never during the summertime. I knew that if I tried to gather that family gear on my own while he was out of town, our family would not be nearly as prepared as we would be if he and I planned together. So, about a month before Trek we started discussing the family packing list, gathering items, buying what we needed, borrowing tents, packing everything in big containers, re-packing everything in different containers to fit better, and so on. We had everything together before Bishop left for China except for a few small things that were fairly easy for me to acquire. The day before our gear was due, we found out that we needed one more tent. I stressed out for a few minutes before the Spirit helped me remember that a family in our ward had said they had a small tent they were willing to lend out. After a quick phone call, we coordinated use of the tent, and I felt so grateful. The day that everything was due, I didn’t have to do any last minute packing or acquiring but was able to hand over our family gear with confidence. (As a side note, I am good at procrastinating packing, so this was a big deal to me.) The anxiety I had experienced for the months leading up to Trek had subsided, and I felt peace and excitement for the week to come. What a blessing that was!
Now, how does this all relate to us in the Trek of Our Lives? We all have things that we are preparing for. A wise institute instructor once told me, “There is no time to wait, only to prepare.” We are preparing for baptism, for receiving the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods, for graduation, for college, for making covenants in the temple, for marriage, for parenthood, for jobs. We prepare for partaking of the sacrament, for lessons we give in Primary, Sunday School, and so on. We prepare for dentist and doctor appointments, for work presentations, for ministering visits.
Hopefully, we are all preparing for eternal life. Alma said in the Book of Mormon that “this life is the time to prepare to meet God” and counseled us, saying “Do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end” (Alma 34:32, 33). Sometimes we can feel overwhelmed with the things we need to prepare for, especially when we don’t have much (or any) experience. But, just as I had access to a masterful scout in preparing for Trek, we all have access to the Master Scout for the Trek of Our Lives, who is Jesus Christ. He has literally experienced everything that we are preparing for. He knows how to gain eternal life and how to help us gain eternal life too. He knows exactly what tools work best, what is superfluous, and what is vital. He knows what we need to pack in our spiritual containers and how big they need to be. He knows who can help us out and lend us that spiritual tent at the last minute. He has given us everything we need—He has given us Himself. We have constant access to our Heavenly Father, we have the words and experiences of the prophets in the scriptures, we have living Prophets and Apostles who speak the Lord’s word for us today, we have the Gift of the Holy Ghost, we have patriarchal blessings, we have Bishops and Stake Presidents, we have ministering brothers and sisters, we have the opportunity to renew our covenants during the sacrament each week, and we have so much more to help us be prepared for all that lies ahead for us on the covenant path. I know that if we will heed the Lord’s counsel for preparation and use all that He has given us, we will be able to gain eternal life too—just like Him!! As we continue to prepare, the Lord’s promise of “if ye are prepared, ye shall not fear,” will be manifest in our lives, and we will be blessed with that peace which passeth all understanding as we journey along the covenant path.
The second principle is work. There was obviously a lot of work involved on Trek. Those handcarts were heavy. Thankfully, the only daytime rain we had on Trek was a Texas-style ten-minute drizzle when we first got there and were loading up our handcarts. That little bit of rain, however, made for a muddy trail on the first day. The wheels were caked with and weighed down by mud and grass. Mud weighed down our boots, making it harder to walk. There were muddy puddles to push through. The heat of the sun made it so that we had to stop often to drink water. There will hills to push up and to brace ourselves on when going down. The trail was sometimes very rocky. There were times we had to push extra hard to get over a big rock. On the Women’s Pull, I was pushing from the back of the cart, and I remember one particular moment where I felt like I had literally exerted all of the energy in my muscles to push up, and yet the cart stood still and then started to roll backward. You better believe that extra strength was mustered from somewhere inside that told me I would die if I didn’t keep pushing even harder. Then there were the meals. Breakfasts and dinners were cooked in Dutch ovens over hot coals, and most people had very little experience cooking in Dutch ovens. Camp had to be set up and taken down every morning and night. There was just a lot of physical work, but we made it through. In our family, everyone pitched in as much as they could, and everyone seemed to have a willing attitude to help out. At the end of the day, we were tired but fulfilled. Every day, through diligent work, we reached our goal of making it to camp.
Work is an eternal principle. I love this quote by Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf: “When our wagon gets stuck in the mud, God is much more likely to assist the man who gets out to push than the man who merely raises his voice in prayer—no matter how eloquent the oration. President Thomas S. Monson put it this way: ‘It is not enough to want to make the effort and to say we’ll make the effort. . . . It’s in the doing, not just the thinking, that we accomplish our goals. If we constantly put our goals off, we will never see them fulfilled.’” (Ensign, Nov. 2009, 55). There may be times in our lives where we feel exhausted thinking about all the things we need to do to keep on the covenant path. Sometimes we make it feel like a checklist: pay your tithing, go to the temple, go to church, magnify your calling, do service, fulfill your ministering assignments, share the gospel, read your scriptures, say your prayers. When I get stuck in a muddy checklist mindset, my wagon gets stuck. It usually means that I’ve lost sight of my eternal goal. Sometimes it means that I have become too casual in my devotion to God and that I need to be more careful in my discipleship. When I remember the reason that I want to do all those things—so that I can live again with my Heavenly Father, become as He is, and live with my family eternally—then I don’t get so lost in the checklist, but those things become part of my character. In essence, when I remember my “why,” then the “what” doesn’t weigh me down. I admit that I struggle with this at times—I am a person who loves checklists, after all—but I am continually trying. As Elder Uchtdorf also said, “Try and keep on trying until that which seems difficult becomes possible—and that which seems only possible becomes habit and a real part of you” (“The Love of God,” General Conference, October 2009). I know that as we seek the Lord’s help in our exhausted state and keep Him as our goal, we will be able to reach it.
Third, the principle of play. The youth and Trek parents found ways to enjoy pulling the handcarts. Many families sang hymns or camp songs. Several families had cheers that they repeated often. When we had a few minutes to sit after camp had been set up or before we had to take it down, families played games, sang silly songs, quoted silly movies, and so on. After the first full day of trekking, we had a few classes, dinner, and then a youth dance. I was amazed by the energy of youth! These youth, who had pulled on a difficult trail for much of the day, somehow had energy for the equivalent of an outdoor youth stake dance. The dance seemed to revitalize many of them, and they were ready for another day of trekking the next day. Playing helped us all to enjoy the experience even more.
Historically, we know that the early pioneers took time to dance and sing even while they were making their great migration to Utah. Brigham Young said, “Life is best enjoyed when time periods are evenly divided between labour, sleep and recreation. All men, women, and children should labour; all must sleep; and if mental and physical balance is to be maintained, all people should spend one-third of their time in recreation which is rebuilding, voluntary activity—never idleness. Eight hours work, eight hours sleep, and eight hours recreation” (Susa Young Gates and Leah D. Widtsoe, The Life Story of Brigham Young, p. 251). I love this principle. Yes, we want to work hard, but it is also okay to play! This is when relationships are strengthened, friendships are built, and trust is gained. Remember that “life is to be enjoyed, not just endured” (President Thomas S. Monson).
The next principle is prayer. Several of the youth in our family mentioned that we prayed a LOT on Trek—but we also had a lot of opportunities wherein we needed extra faith and help. We prayed over meals. We prayed before we left camp. We prayed as a family before retiring for the day. We prayed when one of the girls in our family got heat exhaustion. We prayed when one of the other girls in our family had one of her real-life younger sisters struggling with heat exhaustion in an unusual moment when there were no people with walkie talkies around. The girls in our family prayed before doing the Women’s Pull. We prayed when we were struggling and when we knew others were struggling. We trusted that our Heavenly Father could and would help us.
I love in the Book of Mormon where Alma teaches us to “Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good” (Alma 37:37). There is literally nothing too overwhelming or complicated that Heavenly Father can’t handle it or doesn’t want to hear about, and there is nothing too small that, if important to us, is unimportant to Him. Our Heavenly Father wants to hear it all! The entry on Prayer in the Guide to the Scriptures states, “The object of prayer is not to change the will of God, but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant, but that we must ask for in order to obtain.” What blessings are we withholding from ourselves because we are simply not asking our Omnipotent God, our deeply personal Heavenly Father, for help? Are we living beneath our privileges in this regard?
Relating this to the Trek of Our Lives, when we are struggling along the way, do we ask Him for help, or do we just allow ourselves to keep tripping? Prayer is such a gift. It is the way that we are able to receive peace and strength, to unload all of our worries, to ask for direction and guidance, to repent(!) of all our sins, to ask for help in our weaknesses, to express our deepest desires and our most profound gratitude. It is how we learn to make decisions like our Heavenly Father does. It is one way that we strengthen our relationship with Him. As we pray, we humble ourselves before our Maker, who amazingly, deeply desires that we address Him and remember Him as our perfect, loving Father. Our Heavenly Father, whose number one goal is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39); in essence, to bring us along that covenant path, to bring us home so that we can live with Him and be like Him. That is why He sent His Son—for us.
I also hope that in our families we are establishing traditions of praying for each other. We did this so much on Trek, both for our Trek families and for our real families. While members of our Trek family mentioned that we prayed a lot, it didn’t feel unnatural to me because of the tradition of praying over everything that had been instilled in me as a youth. (President Henry B. Eyring spoke of this in the last general conference. He said, “Your praying as a family can play a crucial part in making home a sacred place. … When the prayer is clearly to God in behalf of the people kneeling and listening, faith grows in all of them. They can feel expressions of love for Heavenly Father and for the Savior. And when the person who prays mentions those who are kneeling in that circle who are in need, all can feel love for them and for each member of the family. Even when family members are not living in the home, prayer can build bonds of love. Prayer in the family can reach across the world” (“A Home Where the Spirit of the Lord Dwells,” General Conference, April 2019).) My life has been blessed countless times over by being able to send a text to any member of my family asking them to pray for me in a specific situation, as well as by opportunities to stop what I am doing and kneel and pray on behalf of someone in my family. What a beautiful gift from our Heavenly Father.
Next, ministering. Ministering was a constantly present principle on Trek. When our family would pull off to the side for a rest, passing families would always ask, “Are you guys all doing okay?” and stop if necessary. Our masterful scout, Pa, was fully prepared to help others, which sometimes meant that he would quickly run off to help someone tie down their cart better, lend them our shovel to scrape the mud from their wheels, give them an extra tarp to cover their belongings so they wouldn’t fall out of the cart, give another family our leftover coals that were still hot so they could finish cooking their food, provide first aid to a few that were starting to get heat exhaustion, teach skills to others, and I’m probably missing more ways that he ministered! He definitely wasn’t the only one, but I provide this as an example of what was happening all over the camp and all along the trail. In contrast, in moments when Pa was needed elsewhere, I held down the fort and ministered to our family. Sometimes ministering means going forth to serve, and sometimes it means supporting others in their service.
I also had other opportunities to minister to members of our Trek family. Two of the girls in our family had never been camping or hiking before they came on Trek. (Talk about a difficult first camping trip!) One of those girls, who I will call Susie, wore shoes that were a terrible style for hiking, and she had only purchased them a week or so before Trek, so they weren’t broken in either. Needless to say, parts of the trail were completely miserable for her. Susie did her best to keep up with the others in the family, but there were times when her sore feet and her inexperience made it so that she just needed to walk slower than the rest. This often put our family toward the back of the company, but that didn’t matter. While Pa helped to lead our family in the front of the cart, I walked in the back with Susie so she didn’t get left behind, signaling to Pa when we needed to stop and let her catch up and rest. I did my best to stay with Susie, which often meant we were isolated from the rest of the family in short distances. Her sister was also in our family, so she sometimes took turns walking with Susie as well.
On the second full day of trekking, one of the other girls in our family, who I’ll call Mary, started to walk behind with me. Mary started asking me questions, and we had some great conversations. As I reflect on this experience, I realize that Mary was ministering to me just as I had been ministering to Susie. I didn’t realize that I also needed mental refreshment from the sometimes difficult service I was giving, but I did. This is an example of what we do in real life: we all take care of each other through ministering! When we are truly doing this, no one falls through the cracks or is left behind. We are progressing together along the covenant path.
There were times I wanted to let the medical truck pick up Susie and take her to the next camp site. Her feet were so sore from blisters, she was struggling with heat, and it was just a grueling first hike for her, but the Lord helped me see her through His eyes and develop greater charity for her while encouraging her to press on. Isn’t this what the Lord does for us as we minister to others? We can’t leave anyone behind! We may not always know what they need help with, but we can show them His love by just loving them.
The Savior ministered one-on-one throughout His life. We are to minister in the same way. As we have studied His life for the past six months, we have seen numerous examples of the Savior helping individuals with their personal needs, doubts, desires, and problems. I love knowing that there was no person too impure or too lowly for His love. He ministered to those who were judged by the world, and He loved them! He forgave them, healed them, and made them whole. When we minister one-on-one as He did, we are following in His footsteps on the covenant path. We are becoming His hands on this earth and fulfilling the mandate to serve that He has given us. We are bringing others closer to Christ and coming to know Him better as well. As President Russell M. Nelson said, “A hallmark of the Lord’s true and living Church will always be an organized, directed effort to minister to individual children [of] God and their families. Because it is His Church, we as His servants will minister to the one, just as He did. We will minister in His name, with His power and authority, and with His loving-kindness.” I love that we have this opportunity to bring others closer to Christ. Ministering provides another opportunity for us to learn to become like Him.
Next, the principle of endurance. First, I’d like to give a nod to the Early Saints, for whom this lifestyle was the reality. This was their LIVES! Even though they were better equipped with skill sets for living outdoors that many of us are today, I can’t imagine living like this for months. That teaches me something about the depth of their conversion.
On the last day, Susie was really struggling. Everyone passed us. We were in the very back of the handcart company. We were getting close to the end, and Pa, who usually was able to look out and see that we were far behind, had joined with those pulling the handcart and didn’t notice that we had fallen very behind. There were four of us: Susie, her sister, Mary, and me. We couldn’t see anyone else on the trail. I was grateful for a clear path that was made from the handcarts because otherwise we would have been lost. At a moment when Susie didn’t think she could go any further, Pa and a member of our Trek family came back up the hill they had just descended and found us. They had made it to the valley where the buses would come to pick us up! And better yet—it was only about five minutes away. This was the bit of encouragement Susie needed to finish Trek. We were literally the last four people into the camp site, but it didn’t matter. We still made it.
There are several lessons here. First, when you are enduring on the covenant path, it means keeping at it. Sometimes life is really challenging. Sometimes we feel utterly alone and like no one really understands, even when they’re right there with us, just like I didn’t fully understand Susie’s pain. Sometimes we feel like we won’t ever overcome a weakness or get through a trial. The Savior, however, truly understands the path we are on. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland stated, “Because Jesus walked such a long, lonely path utterly alone, we do not have to do so. His solitary journey brought great company for our little version of that path?—the merciful care of our Father in Heaven, the unfailing companionship of this Beloved Son, the consummate gift of the Holy Ghost, angels in heaven, family members on both sides of the veil, prophets and apostles, teachers, leaders, friends. All of these and more have been given as companions for our mortal journey because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the Restoration of His gospel. Trumpeted from the summit of Calvary is the truth that we will never be left alone nor unaided, even if sometimes we may feel that we are. Truly the Redeemer of us all said: “I will not leave you comfortless: [My Father and] I will come to you [and abide with you].”” We are never truly alone on this path because Jesus Christ has already walked it for us.
Another lesson here is that it is worth it to keep on the covenant path. That is the only real place for safety. When the four of us were isolated from all others, if we had gotten lost and fallen off the path, we would have been on dangerous ground. There were rocks, snakes, and sharp speargrass and thorns. We had limited water and food and were walking in the Texas heat. Our best chance for safely getting to camp was staying on the path. Likewise, in the Trek of Our Lives, our best chance for gaining eternal life is staying on the covenant path. Of course, if we stray from the path, there is always the chance for course-correction, also called repentance. Repentance doesn’t always mean a painful, terrible process. It can simply mean to change the direction we are headed so that we are better aligned with Jesus Christ. We are all in need of course corrections every day, and the Holy Ghost helps us know when and how to make them.
I love this quote from President Gordon B. Hinckley as it relates to endurance. “It isn’t as bad as you sometimes think it is. It all works out. Don’t worry. I say that to myself every morning. It all works out in the end. Put your trust in God, and move forward with faith and confidence in the future. The Lord will not forsake us. He will not forsake us. If we will put our trust in Him, if we will pray to Him, if we will live worthy of His blessings, He will hear our prayers.” Our job is to trust Him and rely on Him, and He will lead us safely along.
My last lesson here (and it relates back to ministering) is to look for those who need help. In the case of Bishop and our “daughter,” they had to come back and find us. We would not have made it as quickly without them coming back to encourage and help us! In our lives, we also need to seek for those who are separated or lost. The Savior asks us, “Will you not seek for MY lost ones off from my shelter astray?” (Hymns no. 221). This is what Christ does for us. He leaves the ninety and nine and comes back for us, walking with us when we allow Him to, and marking the way for us to best be able to return to live with Him. He employs us in His service. Will we choose to be part of His work?
Lastly, consecration. I loved Elder David A. Bednar’s distinction when he explained that consecration is not just giving something up but being dedicated TO something. It is the arrow that points us forward toward our goal. On Trek, we were dedicated to getting to camp every day, hopefully with everyone in good health and good spirits. That goal changed how we did things during the day. It wasn’t a race, we just knew we all wanted to get there. We took time to refresh ourselves and worked really hard at other times.
Likewise, living lives that are consecrated to God changes how we do things. We know what our goal is and that we need to stay on His covenant path to get there. We do certain things, and we don’t do other certain things. President Ezra Taft Benson put it this way: “When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives. Our love of the Lord will govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities.” I know that as we follow this counsel and choose to be consecrated TO God, we will make it to our eternal camp site.
I hope that I’ve been able to give you a fair illustration of what Trek can be like, and I hope that, as we learned about preparation, work, play, prayer, ministering, endurance, and consecration, you’ve been able to make note of times the Spirit may have touched your heart. Remember those things (write them down if needed) and act on them.
I bear my testimony that keeping on the covenant path will help us all return to live with Heavenly Father. That path only exists because of Jesus Christ. He paved it for us and made the ordinances valid and binding for time and all eternity. As we partake of the sacrament each week, we recommit to keeping on the covenant path.
I know that Jesus Christ lives. I know that He suffered for each of us. I’ve recently been struck with the realization that, as the Son of God, He had the power to end His suffering. He could have stopped it at any moment, but He didn’t. I don’t understand the amount of love it must have taken, but I do know that He did it. I have felt His power change my heart, my mind, and my life, and I’ve seen Him work the same miracles on others. I know that as we follow Him and strictly heed to words of our living prophet, we will be safe on the covenant path. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.