Lessons from the Past
Thank you for all the prayers that have been offered in my behalf.
I wanted to sing the opening song to place in your mind the fact that things aren’t always what we expect. I never expected to be on this side of the podium.
When I received the call to speak from Brother Nelson, I was standing, keys in hand, ready to head out the door to catch a flight to Arizona to attend the Gila Valley Temple open house. I thought, great, July 27th. That’s close to Pioneer Day and I’m going to the home of some of my ancestors. I’ll speak on pioneers. That’ll be easy. I could just stand up, read pioneer histories for 35 minutes, say “amen,” and sit down. Right?
If I was going to speak on pioneers, I needed to learn more about them and decide what I could share that may help someone in the audience today. I began to gather histories and take a closer look at my ancestors. In the process I discovered 12 of my father’s 2nd great grandparents and six of my mother’s great grandparents came across the plains in the early days of the Church – there were a lot of histories to read through. To say the least, I’ve been learning a lot about my family; some stories were faith promoting, others eye opening; and with that many ancestors in such a small geographical area, the histories and families were becoming so intertwined it was making my head spin.
As I stepped back and analyzed what I had learned from the stories and how they might help, these words from Come, Come, Ye Saints came to mind.
Why should we mourn or think our lot is hard?
’Tis not so; all is right.
Why should we think to earn a great reward
If we now shun the fight?
Gird up your loins; fresh courage take.
Our God will never us forsake;
And soon we’ll have this tale to tell—
All is well! All is well!
Those words, along with the histories, helped me to better understand that life is hard for everyone – we all have our challenges. What is hard for one person may not be hard for another, and vice versa; we need each other to help balance load. Some days it doesn’t seem so easy.
In Mormon 9:15 … and God has not ceased to be a God of miracles.
September 1846. While camped at Cutler’s Park on the west side of the Missouri River, Brigham Young asked for volunteers to go back to Nauvoo to help evacuate the poor Saints from the city. My 3
rd great grandfather, Orvel Morgan Allen, left Winter Quarters and joined the volunteers, however, before they arrived the Saints had been driven by rifle and cannon fire from their homes, and then they were either thrown into or ferried across the river to a temporary camp near Montrose, Iowa. As the Saints camped, the rains poured down and drenched everything. Then, Thomas Bullock records the miracle – “On the 9th of October, several wagons with oxen having been sent by the Twelve to fetch the poor Saints away, were drawn out in a line on the river banks, ready to start. But hark! What noise is that? See! The quails descend; they alight close by our little camp of twelve wagons, run past each wagon tongue, when they arise, fly round the camp three times, descend, and again run the gauntlet past each wagon. See the sick knock them down with sticks, and the little children catch them alive with their hands. Some are cooked for breakfast, while my family were seated on the wagon tongues and ground, having a wash tub for a table. Behold, they come again! One descends upon our teaboard, in the midst of our cups, while we were actually round the table eating our breakfast, which a little boy about eight years old catches alive with his hands; they rise again, the flocks increase in number, seldom going seven rods from our camp, continually flying around the camp, sometimes under the wagons, sometimes over, and even into the wagons, where the poor sick Saints are lying in bed; thus having a direct manifestation from the Most High, that although we are driven by men, He has not forsaken us, but that His eyes are continually over us for good. At noon, having caught alive about 50 and killed some 50 more, the captain gave orders not to kill any more, as it was a direct manifestation and visitation from the Lord. In the afternoon hundreds were flying at a time. When our camp started at 3 p.m. there could not have been less than 500 (some say there were 1500) flying around the camp. Thus I am a witness to this visitation. Some Gentiles who were in the camp marvelled greatly; even some passengers on a steamboat going down the river looked with astonishment.”
In his May 2000 CES Fireside address entitled
Miracles, Elder Dallin H. Oaks gives the definition of a miracle and then gives an explanation of the greatest miracle. Miracle: A beneficial event brought about through divine power that mortals do not understand and of themselves cannot duplicate.
… the greatest miracle is not in such things as restoring sight to the blind, healing an illness, or even raising the dead, since all of these restorations will happen in any event in the resurrection. Changing bodies or protecting temples are miracles, but an even greater miracle is a mighty change of heart by a son or daughter of God. A change of heart including new attitudes, priorities and desires is greater and more important than any miracle involving the body. I repeat, the body will be resurrected in any event, but a change affecting what the scripture calls the heart of a spirit son or daughter of God is a change whose effect is eternal. If of the right kind, this change opens the door to the process of repentance that cleanses us to dwell in the presence of God. It introduces the prospective and priorities that lead us to make the choices that qualify us for eternal life – the greatest of all the gifts of God.
Dallin H. Oaks, Miracles, CES Fireside: May 07, 2000,
The pioneers did indeed experience a miracle, but I have witnessed what Elder Oaks says is greatest miracle. One story in particular comes to mind. It is of a young man from Nevada. I cannot tell you his name, only of the experience. One summer we took our YM and YW to float down the Green River. The overall group included three different youth groups, ours from East Mill Creek, a YM/YW group from Bountiful, and a Young Men’s group from Nevada. Our ward ended up in several water wars with the Nevada group, and over the next couple of days friendships were made. There was one young man in their group that really stood out – not because he had that “spiritual giant” demeanor, but because he was covered with tattoos. One day as we were getting off the bus I asked him what had caused him to want to do that. He said, “I got in with the wrong bunch of friends. I wish I could take ‘em off, but it’s too expensive.” The night of our ward testimony meeting he joined our group and bore a strong and powerful testimony. He had experienced the mighty change and wanted the youth in our ward to know that the journey he had taken was a hard one and encouraged them to make better choices than he had. I’m not sure if the youth in that meeting understood that they had witnessed a miracle.
And if thou shouldst be cast into the
, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the
; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to
up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of
shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee
, and shall be for thy good.
Rudolf Dreikurs wrote a book entitled,
Children: The Challenge. I think Amy Francom would agree with my first response to that title, which is simply “amen.”
In 1860 my ancestors, William Francom and Amy Dora Harding Francom, joined the Church while living in South Africa. In 1865 William gave his consent to Amy to go to America with four of their children. Due to persecution, they left secretly. They loaded their wagon and drove the 20 miles to Port Elizabeth where they boarded the ship with 35 other convert families. William planned stay in Africa long enough to settle business matters and then to join Amy in America.
According to the diary of Miner G. Atwood, the head of the company on the ship, Amy had an eventful trip. They left harbor on April 12, 1865. On April 21 he made this entry, “Met with the children. Also met with the Saints for prayers. A light breeze during the day. Met again in the evening for prayers. Spoke a short time to the Saints. All felt well. Sister Francom took the office of chief grumbler.”
In Atwood’s entry a week later I gained a better understanding of what may have been the cause of her grumbling. On Thursday, April 27 he wrote. “I am some better today. Met for prayers this morning. Before the meeting was over Brother Kershaw came down in a passion about the conduct of (my then 13-year-old 2
nd great grandfather) Samuel Francom. I soon settled it. Attended the school. A fine day. Ship on her course. Very warm. Met for prayers again in the evening.”
Friday, April 28. “Met this morning as usual for prayers. Also met in school. Samuel Francom was a very bad boy. We were obliged to tie him up to the ship's post. On promising that he would be a good boy he was released. A good breeze. Ship on her course. Met in the evening for prayers. All felt well.”
Saturday, April 29 was a repeat of Friday.
After Samuel, it was his older brother, John…
Saturday, May 13. “Met for prayers. John Francom called Elder Noon a liar in meeting and would not ask his pardon until he was tied up for several hours. He then did so and promised to be a good boy. A good breeze during the day. Very warm.”
Monday, May 29. “Had some trouble between [John] Driscal and John Francom and so it is, no sooner is one difficulty over than another begins, but through the blessings of the Lord we have thus far been able to put all things right. A good breeze during the day. Met in the evening for prayers. I stood guard until one.”
I can imagine what may have been in the letter Brother Atwood spoke of in his Saturday, June 17 entry. “Saw a great number of steamers, a lighthouse at one p.m., and land. We are about 80 miles from New York. Wrote a few lines to Brother William Francom, Senior. We saw land this afternoon. A light breeze. All feel well. Met for prayers when I gave the Saints some counsel about landing, etc. A good spirit is with all the Saints. I had a bath.”
thy father and mother; That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.
Poor Amy. Can you imagine what it was like to spend four months on a ship with teenagers. Children are a challenge and frequently push the limits, but to Amy it was worth it. In John’s later history he says, “It was a very trying time for Amy to break away from her home and leave her husband, son, and sister behind, but her faith was so strong that she was willing to leave everything to cast her lot with the Mormon people.”
When I first read Atwood’s journal, I just had to shake my head and laugh. My son had come by his behavior rightly. There was been as many a time I felt like tying him up to keep him from driving me or someone else crazy. When many of his younger sister’s sentences began with a tearful, “Mom, Paul…” You have to know that he was good at pushing the right buttons to get a response. There was a time he was tied up. I guess my boys had pushed one cousin to the limit. My nephew tied both of my boys and his sister to a tree. I wasn’t aware things like that ran in families. I, too, need the faith that Amy had.
D&C 138: 47-48
The Prophet Elijah was to plant in the
of the children the promises made to their fathers,
Foreshadowing the great work to be done in the
of the Lord in the
of the fulness of times, for the redemption of the dead, and the
of the children to their parents, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse and utterly wasted at his coming.
One of the first histories I read was that of my 2
nd great grandparents John Jacob Huber and his wife Mary Elizabeth Abegg Huber from Switzerland.
After being introduced to the Church, John read everything he could get for and against the Mormons. He joined the Church March 28, 1865. On June 2, 1868 he married Mary who had joined the Church in March of 1857. They decided to go to America the following spring even though Mary was in a delicate condition. When upon the high seas, Mary became sick and gave birth to a baby boy, who only lived three days, and it was necessary to bury her first born in the Atlantic Ocean.
In later years she told her son, Jacob, the following regarding that voyage: “I knew Mormonism was true, and I prayed earnestly and with all the faith I could muster that our Father in Heaven would spare my child and that it would live and go to Zion, but with all the kind help I received from other immigrants, it passed away and my prayers were not answered. But, my son, I want to tell you that through all my life I have prayed and have had consolation in so doing, although my prayers, it seems to me, have more often not been answered than they have. Yet my faith grows stronger year by year, and my testimony of the Gospel does not diminish.” Jacob says, “That’s the kind of integrity and faith that buoyed them on when adverse circumstances confronted them along the highway of life.”
I gained strength and appreciation from their story as I, too, lost a child to death. Shortly before my youngest child turned two, she was diagnosed with liver cancer. Her diagnosis put into perspective the fear my husband and I felt when her older brother needed tubes put in his ears – at the time we thought tubes would be the most difficult medical problem we would ever have to deal with. Little did we know what life had in store for us. One experience seems to prepare you for the next, perhaps more challenging, experience you’ll face.
After two years of hospital visits, surgeries, chemo, and then radiation, the doctors told us there was no more they could do. It was time to take her home and let her enjoy the time she had left. Seven months later our brave little Sara quietly succumbed to cancer and moved to the other side of the veil. While people often asked, “How can you stand it?” or they said, “I couldn’t do it.” I wondered why we were so blessed to have an angel in our home.
Losing Sara was very hard, and 17 years later we still miss her; however, as hard as it was to lose her, I have since learned that there are things in life worse than death. Her death added another step of experience, growth, and testimony to prepare me for the next hard step.
For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon
, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn
After pondering the stories of the lives of my pioneer ancestors, their testimonies, their challenges, and their faithfulness, my mind went back to a conversation I had with Elder Hawkins a few weeks ago. He’d been writing a story and I asked him how it was coming along. He said, “I had the beginning, but then I had to write the end to figure out what to put in the middle.” That really hit me. We’ve “written” the beginning of our stories, and we know how we want it to end, so what are we going to put in the middle? What other trials will we encounter? How are we going endure if each step is harder than the last? Who will help us? Can we really hope to make it in this crazy world we live in? Will we be as strong and faithful as the pioneers, so our stories help strengthen the testimonies of future generations?
President Monson gives us counsel in regards to what to “put in the middle” in his talk
Finding Joy in the Journey. He tells us, “This is our one and only chance at mortal life—here and now. The longer we live, the greater is our realization that it is brief.
Opportunities come, and then they are gone. I believe that among the greatest lessons we are to learn in this short sojourn upon the earth are lessons that help us distinguish between what is important and what is not. I plead with you not to let those most important things pass you by as you plan for that illusive and nonexistent future when you will have time to do all that you want to do. Instead, find joy in the journey—now.”
Thomas S. Monson, “Finding Joy in the Journey,”
Ensign, Nov 2008, 84–87
President Faust adds to that, saying, “We are not only to avoid evil, not only to do good but, most importantly, to do the things of greatest worth. We are to focus on the inward things of the heart, which we know and value intuitively but often neglect for that which is trivial, superficial, or prideful.”
James E. Faust, “The Weightier Matters of the Law: Judgment, Mercy, and Faith,”
Ensign, Nov 1997, 53
We have a goal – the end. We just need to remember what is most important, get our priorities straight, and forget about the petty and unimportant “things” that often distract us from our that goal.
This was the most often-quoted scripture during our family home evenings. My kids had it memorized. When I read this scripture I envision Christ weeping because of our sadness, our pain, and our trials, but when we meet him, I hope he’ll be weeping for joy.
While we’re making our journey trying to make the best choices, we’re going to experience adversity. It may be something unfamiliar to us like a new church calling we feel inept at doing, or difficult decision we need to make. Perhaps our trials will be physical, emotional, or mental challenges, never marrying, failed marriage, a lost job, abuse, money, children who stray, no education, too much education, or a myriad of other scenarios, it’s not going to be easy.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell explains why. “One’s life … cannot be both faith-filled and stress-free.
Therefore, how can you and I really expect to glide naively through life, as if to say, ‘Lord, give me experience, but not grief, not sorrow, not pain, not opposition, not betrayal, and certainly not to be forsaken. Keep from me, Lord, all those experiences which made Thee what Thou art! Then let me come and dwell with Thee and fully share Thy joy!’ …
“Real faith … is required to endure this necessary but painful developmental process.”
Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,
“Lest Ye Be Wearied and Faint in Your Minds,” Ensign, May 1991, 88, 90.
In a Church News Article entitled “Role of Adversity” we learn more of the purpose of adversity. Orson F. Whitney, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve from 1906-1931, is quoted as having said: "No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God. . . and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire and which will make us more like our [Heavenly] Father. . . ."
“Role of Adversity,”
LDS Church News, 4 Dec 1999
Through our trials it will be up to us to decide how we’ll act, or react. Will we turn to the Lord for strength or will we become bitter and angry and look for someone else to blame? Will we blame the Lord? I heard a comment regarding blaming the Lord the other day on a radio broadcast. The gentleman being interviewed was talking about the tragic death of his wife and children and he said, when asked why he didn’t blame the Lord, “You come to realize how incredibly ridiculous it is to shake your fist at heaven, because all you can say is, ‘Why are you trying to make me more like you?’ It’s the reason why we’re here.”
As hard as it is, he’s right. It’s the plan. Hopefully we are becoming more like him one small step at a time, and through those steps, we must endure.
And, if you
my commandments and
to the end you shall have
life, which gift is the greatest of all the gifts of God.
President Uchtdorf shares his thoughts on enduring. “When I was a young boy, “endure to the end” meant to me mainly that I had to try harder to stay awake until the end of our Church meetings. Later as a teenager I progressed only slightly in my understanding of this scriptural phrase. I linked it with youthful empathy to the efforts of our dear elderly members to hang in there until the end of their lives.”
He goes on to explain that enduring to the end implies “patient continuance in well doing,” striving to keep the commandments and doing the works of righteousness. It requires sacrifice and hard work. To endure to the end, we need to trust our Father in Heaven ….
By doing our best to endure to the end, a beautiful refinement will come into our lives. We will learn to “do good to them that hate [us], and pray for them which despitefully use [us]” (
). The blessings that come to us from enduring to the end in this life are real and very significant, and for the life to come they are beyond our comprehension.
Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Have We Not Reason to Rejoice?,”
Ensign, Nov 2007, 18–21
… as ye are
to come into the
of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; Yea, and are
to mourn with those that
; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort,
How did the pioneers do it? They certainly didn’t do it alone. Every story I read included saints who worked together. They might never have made it if they had to travel that far in the competitive and contentious nature of the world we live in today. We must forget the ways of the world and help each other.
Lucy Mack Smith expressed the importance of working together when she told the Relief Society sisters in 1842, “We must cherish one another, watch over one another, comfort one another and gain instruction, that we may all sit down in heaven together.”
Minutes of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, 24 Mar 1842
Together. Isn’t that the way we really want it?
In D&C 66:9 Be patient in affliction.
, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
In the Church News article, Role of Adversity, President Kimball shares of another source of help. Therein he states, “The Lord has not promised us freedom from adversity or affliction. Instead, he has given us the avenue of communication known as prayer, whereby we might humble ourselves and seek his help and divine guidance, so that we could establish a house of prayer. I have previously said that they who reach down into the depths of life where, in the stillness, the voice of God has been heard, have the stabilizing power which carries them poised and serene through the hurricane of difficulties.”
Spencer W. Kimball, “Fortify Your Homes Against Evil,”
Ensign, May 1979, 4
Do we “disconnect” from the distractions of the world and take the time to put ourselves in the stillness so we can hear the voice of God?
In Moroni 7:40-42
And again, my beloved brethren, I would speak unto you concerning
.… Behold I say unto you that ye shall have
through the atonement …, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise. Wherefore, if a man have
needs have hope; for without faith there cannot be any hope.
Elder Wilford W. Andersen describes the scene at the edge of the river when he visited Nauvoo, “As we stood on Parley Street reflecting upon their desperate conditions, my eyes were drawn to a series of wooden signs nailed to fence posts upon which were etched quotes from the diaries of these suffering Saints. As we read each quote, to our amazement what we found in their words were not of desperation and discouragement but of confidence and commitment and even joy. They were filled with hope, the hope that is reflected by this quote from the diary of Sarah DeArmon Rich, February 1846: “To start out on such a journey in the winter … would seem like walking into the jaws of death but we had faith … [and] we felt to rejoice that the day of our deliverance had come.”
These early Saints were indeed homeless, but they were not hopeless. Their hearts were broken, but their spirits were strong. They had learned a profound and important lesson. They had learned that hope, with its attendant blessings of peace and joy, does not depend upon circumstance. They had discovered that the true source of hope is faith—faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and in His infinite Atonement, the one sure foundation upon which to build our lives.
When we strive to keep the commandments of God, repenting of our sins and promising our best efforts to follow the Savior, we begin to grow in confidence that through the Atonement everything will be all right. Those feelings are confirmed by the Holy Ghost, who drives from us what our pioneer mothers and fathers called “our useless cares.” In spite of our trials, we are filled with a sense of well-being and feel to sing with them that indeed “all is well.”
He concludes with this thought. He will never forget or abandon us, for He has graven us upon the palms of His hands.
Wilford W. Andersen, “The Rock of Our Redeemer,” Ensign, May 2010, 16–18
So our posterity may learn and grow from our stories, remember the experience shared by Sister Hales of President Eyring when he heard a voice tell him, “I’m not giving you these experiences for yourself. Write them down.”
Henry B. Eyring, “O Remember, Remember,” Ensign, Nov 2007, 66–69
May our lives be filled with the faith, hope, and the ability to endure as we have learned from the pioneers, that we may touch the future.