have you ever tried to tell someone later about an experience that involves incredible emotion for you?
like telling someone later about laughing until you cry.
or trying to explain how good something felt or how much you loved meeting a person.
the look in their eyes says, "i'm happy that you are happy, but i don't see why that's so funny" or "that's really nice, now let's move on with our lives."
i'm feeling incredibly thankful that matthew was there with me. he was laughing, too. so, so hard. he knows what it feels like, all of it. and he loves them like i love them.
we were "ma" and "pa" in a pioneer adventure. hundreds of youth (ages 14-18) rode 10 hours on a school bus, dressed in pioneer clothes, brought only 10-11 pounds worth of belongings each, and pushed/pulled a 500+ pound handcart for nearly 15 miles through a hilly desert and we were right there with them.
how do you describe the initial awkwardness of being assigned to families you've never met? these teens walk out of a bus and are told that they'll be with you for the next four days and you have no clue what they're thinking. you know nothing of their personality, perspective, problems, and you know they have no idea how crazy you are but they're about to find out.
we jumped right in on the crazy and never looked back. because the Lord is merciful and good and kind, and because He knows His children, we came to know and love each other and to see His hand in the assignment.
amallelie (pictured right) taught me courage and strength. her petite frame was totally misleading. she pushed so hard through the entire trek, you'd think she was burly and brute-like. her physical contribution was incredible and her spiritual input in the family was so valuable. though shy, she led the entire camp as a youth-committee co-chair. she conducted meetings and reached out to many of her peers in kindness and concern. she was subtly hilarious and quietly generous. and she will forever be the ninja in our family photo.
"that's really nice," you say.
i could tell you that goldbond is a 10 out of 10 and i would laugh really hard. you'd look at me like, "what's so funny," but amallelie would chuckle in her meek way and her hand would come up to cover her beautiful smile while she laughed.
nathan reminded me that boys can be spontaneously men and then turn right back into boys. he made me think of my boys, and peter pan's lost boys, and the goonies, and all boys. he was fierce and fast on that handcart, taking giant strides over whole shrubs. he set our fast pace and pulled his weight and more. he was a man. then in camp he was a boy again. he laughed and played merry music. he wrestled his friends and broke stuff by accident. then he was a man again and tried to fix stuff on purpose. he volunteered in the kitchen and set up camp and packed camp up. then he was a boy again, climbing hills and telling THE BEST jokes.
i wish you knew him. if you knew him you'd love him like i love him. and if he woke you up at 6am by playing his recorder you would smile and lay there and listen.
how can i even explain hailey? in one word, "good." goodness was all over her. in her, around her. as we sat around in our family devotionals to talk about the day's highs and lows, usually her highs were the hard parts and she didn't have any lows. in a lot of ways i think that hailey is my polar opposite. it's not so much that she's good and i'm bad, but that goodness, meekness, humility and patience are her default and i have to work really hard to exhibit those traits. in an alternate reality i'd like to be her child, i think. she'll be such a tender mother someday. she carries an intense, quiet power. her hands were always on the cart and i know she got us up those hills.
for a small, steep stretch in the path we were without our brothers and pa. matt and the boys were called off on "a mission," leaving the women to pull on their own. the exercise helped the women to dig deep and reach heavenward for strength and allowed the boys to witness the consequences of their absence. hailey let that quiet power crescendo, pushing with all of her might and then running back down the hill to help others who were struggling.
if i try to tell you what it was like to witness her self-discovery, to see herself in that new light, to know she was more powerful than she'd always thought she was... if i try to tell you i'll fail to give the moment justice. but i can see her face in my mind and that small memory is a priceless pearl to me.
kayla reminded me of the heavy weight on a teenager's shoulders. she helped me to have empathy and to draw from my own life experiences to try to understand. there are things about being a young woman that i swear i've blocked out because they brought me heartache and pain, and being with kayla brought me back a bit. i wished i could dump wisdom on her like a bucket of water because she is walking a path i've walked, but i know it doesn't work like that. now that i think of it she was a woman, then she was a girl, then a woman, just the way nathan changed back and forth from boy to man. i saw the woman when she helped pen a verse for a song; "today we can share the gospel, keep the spirit near, always keep our standards high to be a pioneer."
a woman of God and a woman of the world are two entirely different creatures, and i've been both. as kayla spoke of high standards i thought of her identity as a daughter of God. i felt sure that if she could grasp on to her true beauty and not get caught in the world's view of what makes a woman beautiful she would become a fiery force for righteousness.
you should have seen her lead our wagon. if you saw that you could never believe that she was "just a pretty face." you would look right through that stuff into her very soul and you'd feel flaring faith and burning hot hope.
my kids keep asking me to tell anakin stories. they want to hear the one about the rice krispy treats in his pockets. the plastic bag balloon on the bus and the disappearing act. actually they like all the disappearing act stories (there are dozens). my favorite anakin stories are more sweet and sacred. telling them at all almost ruins them, so i won't. he was so silently exceptional that i could hardly believe he was for-reals. he doesn't want anyone to know how thoughtful and kind he is when he thinks no one is watching.
i'm not even sure i heard him right, it was so quick, but i think he said that he didn't miss home so bad because of the way our trek family was. it was like that for me, too. he actually felt a lot like my real child for the week. which i can't explain to anyone.
erica was supposed to be in our family, of that i am absolutely certain. she reminded me that Heavenly Father knows what He is doing and she strengthened my testimony that i belong to a true and living church. the Spirit of God is real and as people organized the trek with the Holy Ghost as their guide they were doing His work. erica was a gift and a blessing in our family as she worked to overcome physical, mental, and emotional trials. matt and i have peculiar talents, in large part gained as we've worked with ossi, that were perfectly suited to match her particular needs. i was proud of erica. i saw her do things that she didn't think she could do. i know she needs time to process all that she's seen and i hope she will make some connections between the trek and her home life.
strangely, my favorite moments with erica were probably her least favorite moments of the journey. i liked taking care of her when she was hurt. i liked seeing our whole family come together and sacrifice for her wellbeing. i liked using some parenting strategies i've learned and seeing that they work for other kids besides ossi. and i liked seeing erica press forward and eventually come out of those bad moments.
lastly, nickolas. he co-chaired the youth leadership committee along with amallelie and so led. he taught me about character and desire to be valiant. i'm drawing on days and days of good deeds and dignity here. we're talking chivalry, courtesy, diligence, and a steady stream of service. wow. just wow. a couple of months before the adventure matt felt a prompting to start weight training. he'd been searching for a way to be more healthy and decided to follow a program for lifting. this prepared him to relate better with nickolas and have more in common. though, they already have so much in common as men of God. and as boys-at-heart (where priesthood and poop-jokes bring men together).
how did we get so lucky? in the mornings and evenings, when i was in my tent, i just prayed and prayed about my gratitude and love and a feeling of getting more than we ever deserved. i remember waking up the first morning and peering through the tent zipper to see that our boys had taken down their tent, packed their belongings, and that they were sitting at the top of a tall hill together watching the sun come up while the moon was still bright in the sky. the image is still with me and it lingers over me in the early morning hours. three boys on a hill.
i could tell you stories all day. stories of neighborhood friends who came to play with our kids. stories of hiding under tents. eating cooler meals in the hot sun. taking our shoes off to let our socks dry out. bruises and blisters, trophies of our bravery. i could try and retell the jokes and walk you through humorous moments when i thought my chapped lips would crack off of my face because i was laughing so hard. adam's hidden bucket. the nasty sandwich (eat it and you're cool). ben's winning spree. michael's giant crush. i could tell you how much i loved green grass after miles of dirt and weeds and how much more i loved seeing clean, joyful, bare-footed teenagers running around that grass like they'de never been to a park in their life. i could string words into the image of young eyes looking for spiritual guidance and finding it.
but you'd smile and say, "i'm happy that you are happy."
so i'll just share what i got in pictures (not much, really) when my camera wasn't packed away.