Monday, March 24, 2014

I Trekked the South Mountain Challenge

Cedar Ridge Trek 2014

Parent Discussion Challenge Topics

March 19, 2014   Wed. night--Pretrek FHE

A mountain of buckets and sleeping bags filled the cultural hall the night before we departed for our historical reinactment of the handcart pioneers trek across the United States to the West. 

The youth arrived buzzing with excitement.  We introduced Ma’s and Pa’s and began the challenge of blending families--the first being what would become our surname.  The family name, selected by the youth, and reflecting our ancestral heritages was crucial to achieving unanimity.  The Rockefellers, Ripleys and MacCalters, won out.   

 We broke out into families and got to know each other.  One family asked how were each of them pioneers? What is our purpose in the Lord’s plan? We volunteered for family role assignments to fulfill what the prophet advises--to fit in we need a purpose, and a friend.  And we needed another challenge, so we were all given a heavy baby to symbolize the small and innocents on the trek. Ask about our baby's name and how it was decided.

March 20, 2014   Thurs. morning 7 a.m.  Pickup, bandanas and travel to trek site

·       In our morning meeting, Bro. Watts showed us a shawl carried across the plains by his ancestor--the young girl, Mary Elizabeth Rollins in Independence who rescued the book of commandments pages from the mob.  After we arrived out past Henryetta, the youth were responsible for packing their personal buckets and sleep material onto handcarts.  We decided that our super youth needed this super challenge and still some trek parents had to simply walk away as they observed the potential packing failures.  
      As incredible as it seems, they piled all their buckets and mountains of sleep gear into a five by five cart, stacked it up and then covered and roped it.  When we walked that first day, the loads did shift and carts... excreted.   But, first day packing failures are great training.    Some families tore a Title of Liberty, wrote their name and flew it on a pole.  Carrying a pole became the challenge to some walkers as they looked for incentives to keep up.  

      Admittedly many of the challenges on this trek were man-ufactured--created to challenge the youth in difficult situations and crafted to create discussion and to push the youth out of their comfort zone to seek spiritual guidance.  They had to learn how the pioneers turned to the Lord so they could test His strength in their/our own personal trials.  

Yet, some of the trials were accidental.   The boxes of food were loaded but at lunchtime, one box was just gone.  We did not plan it, but when the kids were told of the situation in pioneer parlance, “that one family was thus challenged” the youth rallied, combined their stores and set into motion a lunch line and delivery system that was marvelous.   Ask about the pioneer story of miracle of the shoes or the pie in the road.  Miracles happen.

·       Our youth worked together coordinating cart-pulling duties all on their own.  I explained that our family would have extra challenges with our dozen orphans that the other companies did not and that our older bro and sis would have to step up.  They had to forge ahead like many true pioneer children did as parents fell behind caring for others or perishing.  

Pa and I fell behind that first day, sometimes far, far behind as the two of us built a trust relationship for the challenge that our two weaker trekkers would face ahead.  In that first day, there was talk of illness, of calling for the truck and talk of giving up and each time youth rescuers would step in, add encouragement and even one youth, the youngest, and shortest offered to take the youth’s biggest pack. 

      Uplifting and pertinent conversation. There was  only one incidence of  the youth interacting about worldly issues (I asked one youth to discuss videogames with another to take his mind of the misery and they do mesmerize and take the mind off the current miserable task).  Otherwise, the walking conversations were to be focused on history, comparisons and personal live challenges.

      Each individual upped their personal trial level and we parents were encouraged to allow it.  Some youth stepped it up (ha pun!) and initiated a barefoot challenge to authenticate their experience.   Wow. When one walker twisted an ankle, these same youth improvised and perched the injured atop a precarious pile.  That’s what the pioneers did.  It was the story of the woman who pulled her husband the sixteen miles up Rocky Ridge that helped the youth understand that this could only have been accomplished with the help of angels. Thereafter, packing plans included that potentiality.

        It was truly a vision of the promised land that the youth experienced when at the days end we parked at the shores of what was to be their Sweetwater or Platt River crossing challenge.  Ask about that evening, and the success of the soothing sand/water activities.   The topic of conversation was “What is your Trek Trial?”  Our beach devotional was insightful.  It was about then that the youth voted to limit my devotions to morning, noon and night.  After all the stories, they marveled that any pioneers ever survived.

      That night was the terrific stew/spoon challenge—again planned only by the Lord, but inventiveness and sharing again prevailed.  Ask about Zane’s bark spoon.  Again, no complaining.  Ask how your youth adapted.

     The potential for crossing the river challenge was deeply felt.  The youth sent out explorers to test the depths, as they brainstormed how to make it easier.  There was talk of dumping buckets and attaching them as ballast to float across.  The group packed the next morning with purpose and dressed in water shoes, preparing well.  When they were told it was too treacherous, their mental planning served them well for the next challenge.        

       The immediate mustering of the men for the battalion challenge was emotionally overwhelming for all of us.  They left for battle still in their worst water shoes, and as the male priesthood presence exited (not period authentic as not all the men left,) the women experienced the lack thereof.  

      Ask your youth about the survivor guilt these men must have felt as they were government funded, fed and clothed.  The discussion and comparison to current day was deep and impactful to all of us.  Ask about the boys watching in silence and difficulty of them allowing the girls to test their own strength and endurance in the women’s pull.  Ask girls about the discussion that sometimes we will put our spouses on the spiritual wagon, and sometimes vice-versa. For the women, the stops for prayer, (once kneeling) along our journey was significant.  We increased our trust in the Lord.  Sometimes when we feel more bodies would be better, prayer works best.  

 At times, in spite of best planning, the Lord’s small challenges continued.  Ask about the jug water challenge, unplanned but it fit well with our own 4 oz. biscuit challenge.  Even when the youth saw the extra rations in the box and knew that the food challenge would end, they stepped up to the spirit of the challenge and tested their own limits.  They chose to either eat, share or pocket their stores and then pulled harder to reexamine their own endurance.

That evening upon reaching camp with minimal stores, they still pitched camp, and joined enthusiastically in all the authentic activities prepared to coincide with stories of the true pioneer challenges.  The deprivation hunger challenge served it’s purpose and not one complained about it as they explored their own personal spiritual starvation.

.  Ask your youth about games:  the blind guide game, the boy/girl wagon pull, and the three-legged jump. There was some small murmuring about feeling at their peak for competition, but after the Joseph Smith stick pull, the guys and girls proved they can survive fasting deprivation and with the strength of the Lord, it is possible to endure and excel!

·       Ask about the afternoon rescue party who brought fresh baked bread and three cookies each to us. When the group finally opened the stores, the food was even more appreciated.  Ask about the second wave rescuers whose dutch oven dessert included three or four delicious choices and ice cream.

·       It was here that the group met one of its hardest social challenges, dancing.  We hoedowned, Virginia Reeled and learned three line dances.  Aside from a few, all participated and enjoyed themselves.

      The firesites and vignettes added much spiritual depth to the trek, the sacrifice of their pie, the Indian encampment, the deceased family complete with bagpiper and  Hudson, our three year old child actor portraying the deceased, who did not step out of character, and Jim Bridger telling them not to go.  President Fox speaking of trials building strength and Bishop advising “Find Joy in your Journey,” regardless how arduous.  Ask what they learned about themselves in each of these situations--particularly when two babies of our company died and one adult merely disappeared.  They learned like the pioneers, that they could do hard things.

·         Break-feasts were the bounty.  Fruit, scrambled eggs, pancakes, bacon, biscuits, sausage gravy, juice milk; we ate like royalty in the mornings and enjoyed quick and tasty lunches on the trail—like our ancestors we never went hungry as we focused less on sustenance and more on the feasting of the Spirit.  

      Each night the youth set up their own camp, prepared for any bad eventuality (I promise I did not once say Indian raid at night-- that was totally camp gossip. Well done! whoever started that.)  Each morning they broke camp and packed again.  By day two the handcarts were packed tight and strong!  This challenge promised initial failure but the process of thinking and packing stimulated their pioneer spirit and the resulting success made their next challenge even more do-able.  

      We were all changed by this experience, and this was best demonstrated by the change in our most challenged walkers who by the second day were discussing how they might improve, how to gain a second wind, challenge themselves, and by the third day even the first day’s weakest were pulling the cart—in the impromptu single cart challenges.  Go Andrew the Ox!    The youth stepped up to challenges we couldn’t even imagine for them.

We Pioneer children sang as they walked and walked and walked and walked and walked, and walked, and walked.  Even when the youth got that we were retraipsing trail to extend the experience, there was no grumbling.  There was joy in the journey and we became grateful for the journey of our forbearers who persevered as an example for us so we could gain the strength and testimony from their journey. More than once it was mentioned that they did their trek for us—in a literal and figurative and spiritual sense.  Bishop once told us that Family History creates resilient teens.  Knowing about others who faced greater difficulties and then experiencing a taste of that challenge make life-altering changes  for these youth.

And then it was over.   I watched as the white flags waved and the trek ended and the teens relished time to hug parents but then felt the need to immediately return back again to their trek brothers and sisters in regret and sorrow, taking a moment to adapt to the return to reality.  Continuity in our ward family was just what our youth needed and what they came to yearn for.  They were still filled with reluctance to give up the greatness that these life-altering experiences offered them.   

This was reaffirmed when the next morning I received a lengthy text from a teen.  “I miss trek.  I want to wake everyday with the excitement and enthusiasm for the thrill of a new spiritual experience.  Help me!  What can I do now?  Do you have ideas for service projects or challenges for me?  I can’t give up this feeling.  I want the Spirit with me all the time.  I want more.” 

They can do hard things and with enough challenge, they will Find Joy in The Journey.  

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