Honestly, I mostly felt overwhelmed in reading through the Saints efforts to establish Zion. It seemed one upheaval after another in moving places, mobs, changing winds, respite, miracles, moving again. It wore me out just reading.
For me to glean something that may be beneficial to me (and hopefully to you), I’ve narrowed it down to a few ideas.
The Sunday School manual doesn’t mention them, but there were also women and children who marched the 1,000 miles with Zion’s Camp with the expressed mission to help their fellow Saints. The exact count is not known as records are conflicting but there may have been as many as 11 women and 11 children. The stories we know of them are a mix of exactly the sort of thing you would expect, charming, and some completely bold and inspiring. The women were part of the support crew for the camp (as you would expect in that time), there was one couple that fell in love along the way (charming)— but the bold and inspiring was what happened both at the end of the journey and beyond. As the Camp approached the area where they might skirmish, the Prophet ordered the women stay behind— but they protested. The Prophet then declared if they were willing to endure a siege they could come along— and so they did. The boldness to say, “This is what we prefer our lot and role to be,” and the courage to contradict what was given to them, and then face their lot was soundly impressive to me.
Also impressive was the fact that except for the one woman who died of cholera, all the women who made the Zion’s Camp trek made it to the Salt Lake Valley. We talk about how that experience was a development process for future male leaders (several prophets, many of the first 12 apostles called and all of the first 70 were part of the Camp)— but the refining process of the journey also developed the women’s characters as well. The women who marched then were able to be stalwart through much more— and make it to the “promised land.”
Do you know when it came time for the army to fight, there was no need? As Joseph Smith recorded, “It began to rain and hail. … The storm was tremendous; wind and rain, hail and thunder met them in great wrath, and soon softened their direful courage and frustrated all their designs to ‘kill Joe Smith and his army.’ …They crawled under wagons, into hollow trees, filled one old shanty, etc., till the storm was over, when their ammunition was soaked.”
Wow. For me, the lesson was clear—we are looked after.
Sometimes this divine presence is miraculous and sometimes it is not obvious, but our Heavenly Parents ALWAYS love us. If I can maintain this lens, then I can see my life in a much more reassuring and robust context. Sometimes I forgot that I have Heavenly Parents on my side. “On a particularly difficult day…what would this world’s inhabitants pay to know that heavenly parents are reaching across the same streams and mountains and deserts, anxious to hold them close?” (Elder Holland)
There is a painting by Caitlin Connelley that is called “She Became Herself With Years” — I hung it on my wall…well, to remind myself to quit being a pansy. In other words, so that I would not see adversity as a downer or “why me?” or “what are you thinking, Lord?” or “you really think I can hack this?”— but rather a defining process and opportunity for me to slough off the stuff that needs to come off…and we all know we got stuff. The way the D&C phrases it is a comment from God that says, “And my people must needs be chastened until they learn obedience, if it must needs be, by the things which they suffer” (D&C 105:5–6).
I think of obedience as simply becoming my best self…becoming Godlike. After reading about the Saints’ efforts and tribulations, I am humbled. Though, truly, there is no sense comparing their trials to ours. Or any friend’s or neighbor’s or stranger’s trials to ours. I think as women we have the tendency to do this which means our compass is always a moving target. If we say “my life is easier/harder, better/worse” blah blah than anyone’s— we miss the point. Our life is OUR LIFE. And the experiences we are tailor-made to offer the refining we need, if we accept the challenge to learn and grow. And growing pains is a real thing.
But, the key, and this is a Big Key— is the result of that pushing and pain is we get to where we want to be. In the case of the Saints in these days, their persecutions drove them to settle in what Joseph prophetically identified the area as the Valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman, the “place where Adam shall come to visit his people” (D&C 116:1). Wow. While they didn’t even know it, there was a grand plan to move them closer to God.
After reading this lesson and praying about what I could glean from it, I humbly offer— let the vicissitudes of life move us closer to our Heavenly Parents and our own divine heritage. That’s it.