Friday, October 23, 2015

A Path Worth Taking

About a year ago I had the idea to sit down and make a list of all the people who have changed the course of my life, people who I consider to be mentors throughout my 50 years.  

I began reflecting on my life beginning as a child and prayerfully went through my life in my mind to pinpoint who these key people were.  It almost seemed that as I followed the path I had trod in my mind, that there were very specific times where the path turned one direction or another.  I was able to identify key people, and how these people were instrumental in my decision to turn one direction or another on my path.  Funny how I could not see it at the time, but in looking backward it became so obvious.

This kind of reflection about my life gave me great insight and perspective into who I am and the people who have helped me become who I am today! 

The first people (other than parents of course) who I came across in my reflecting were the husband and wife I used to babysit for as a teenager.  Their family was a lot different than the one I was growing up in, and their example of healthy ways to parent and love children stuck in my brain and mulled around until I became a parent myself.  Their example greatly influenced my desire to be that kind of parent too.  It set me on a journey of book-reading and class-taking in an effort to be the patient and loving parent I saw exemplified in their family.  

The next person on my path was a seminary teacher who brought Christ and his gospel alive for me.  Because of this teacher's influence I developed a thirst for a testimony of who Christ is, a thirst which has brought me a very long way.

Following him was an institute teacher who gave me a love for my heritage; a friend from college who taught me to serve and love others without expecting a return; my husband who has taught me multiple layers of lessons on many subjects; a former bishop of our congregation who taught me about priorities in marriage; several close friends who have taught me many things; some therapists who helped me become a more loving parent, wife and person; and a wise younger friend who has taught me so much about refining who I am, even recently!  

It was so rewarding to recognize the different people who have played a key role in my life, and to know that their influence has permanently changed me and led me to where I am today, on an ongoing path in a direction I want to go.

2 weeks ago I decided to write each of these mentors a letter detailing how they had been a positive influence in my life and thanking them for their role in helping me along my path.  So far I have written 4 of my 12 letters.  

I did not anticipate the great influence it would have on ME to write to each of them in such detail.  It has been a rewarding and very humbling experience, one I wish I would have done long ago.  I am lucky enough to have everyone still living that I wanted to thank, but I had decided at the beginning of this effort that I would still write the letter even if I could not deliver it.  There is something about writing it down, about putting it physically on paper that is therapeutic, and has instilled gratitude and humility in me.  It just feels good!  This is a path worth reflecting on!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The 50/20 - A Lesson for Life

A good friend in my neighborhood recently sent me an incredible picture of her husband quite literally supporting her son as he walked the 50/20.

For those of you who don't know about this grueling event, the 50/20 is a 50 mile walk done in 20 straight hours.  My friend's son Thomas and his group left late in the afternoon and walked all night in an effort to finish the next day.  Six boys and their two scout leaders plus one girl had signed up for this grueling and character-building exercise.  As I later visited with Thomas about his experience, he described to me how different people in his group dropped out at different points in the walk for different reasons.  One person stopped at 8 miles, another at 18, more at 25.  By 32 miles only he and one leader were left.  Thomas described how hard it was to keep going when other people stopped.  He described how it was easier to walk with a group and how he felt lonely when it was just him and his leader, often walking within sight of each other, but not together.

By mile 35 Thomas was in tears from fatigue and pain.  He was ready to give up.  He told me that he would have given up if his dad had not come to walk with him at that point.  His father had checked in with Thomas' leader to see if there was anything he could do to help.  The message was conveyed that Thomas wanted his dad, so his dad came bringing food, enthusiasm and support.  In order for his father to walk with him for a time he would park way ahead of where they were, walk back and walk with his son, then go back to get the car and move it far ahead again, repeating this process multiple times.  As his father did this for him, Thomas was strengthened and encouraged and was able to keep going.  After a little more than an hour, Thomas seemed renewed enough to continue, and his father left him to keep walking.

By the time Thomas reached mile 43, he was again struggling.  His father again met up with Thomas and his leader and carried their backpacks for them to help ease their burden.  He stayed with Thomas the rest of the time.  By this time Thomas was crying.  He would say "I can't do it" "I want to be done!" "I hate this!"  But he kept walking.  He later told me that what kept him going was the goal he had set to finish and that he did not want to disappoint himself or his father who was rooting for him.

By mile 47 Thomas was so tired that he could barely continue.  His arches hurt, his legs hurt, his whole body hurt.  His father walked beside him and held his hand, encouraging him to keep going, telling him he could do this, and that they were almost there.  Thomas described the disappointment he felt every time they would come around a bend and stretching before him was a long road still to be walked.  He said that he felt that the journey would never end.  During this last few miles, he would take a break every half hour or so and lay on his father's back.  His father did not take any steps for him, but he would lift him up onto his back, stand in place, and let him rest for a count of 60, then Thomas would continue walking.  Thomas described how he could not rest for longer because his muscles would cramp up.  He had to keep moving, keep progressing forward.

According to Thomas the last mile felt like ten.  Thomas probably stopped around ten times to rest on his father's back that last mile.  They began picking a spot or a tree up ahead, and Thomas would commit just to get to that point.  Every bend that was not the end was discouraging.  All the other participants had long since finished by now.  Even the rest stations had been taken down.  He kept thinking "I want it to be done" "I hate this!"  "This is stupid!" yet he kept walking.

FINALLY after 22 hours and 39 minutes he crossed the finish line.  Surprisingly he felt no great sense of accomplishment but just a sense of relief that he had succeeded, that it was done.  He and his leader were the only ones to finish from their group, and the last to finish the race, but they DID finish.

As Thomas told me this story, I was struck by the parallels in his story to life and God's role in our lives.  We all have trials and tribulations.  Some of them are our own choosing, like Thomas, and others that are  not of our choosing.  As with Thomas, we have no idea what is ahead or how hard it is going to be.  Often we are not prepared for how painful it will be, or how long it will be, or how heavy it will be, or how lonely it will be.   Although the support of a group was helpful while it lasted, the most helpful for Thomas and the only thing that could have sustained him to the end was his father.  So it is with us in our trials and tribulations.  We definitely need support along life's long journey, but in the end what offers us the true and lasting support we need is our Father - the only one who can truly make our burdens light, who can hold us up and give us "rest" when we think we cannot keep going, who ultimately through the Holy Ghost gives us peace and encouragement, and holds our hand to the very end when we feel we can't do it, when we cry and say about our trials and tribulations "I want it to be done" "I hate this" "This is stupid!"  And sometimes when the Spirit whispers "hang in there, you're almost done" and then we come around another bend and see the path stretched out before us we wonder if there will really ever be an end or will the pain and suffering continue on forever.  It is at those times when we feel we cannot keep going, when we are ready to give up, when we have nothing left to give that God lifts us up onto his back and gives us rest, allowing us the ability to dig deep and keep going.  He does not walk our journey for us, but he knows what we need to make it to the end, and he walks beside us holding our hand, and he lifts us onto His infinite back to give us rest when we need it.