Two years ago, we had the opportunity to go to Martin’s Cove and the historical sites in Wyoming and Utah that were significant along the Mormon Pioneer Trail. It was a life changing experience for me! It was a long trip, even in an air-conditioned, comfortable car! We hiked through several of the areas, drove to others, ate at restaurants and slept in nice, comfortable hotel rooms. They were exhausting, adventure-filled days. They were also days filled with of feelings of overwhelming sacredness. It was incredible to walk some of the places the pioneers had walked, to read their testimonies and to hear their stories, some even about my own ancestors. Without actually walking the trails and seeing the difficult conditions (and I saw it on a beautiful summer day), it is nearly impossible to even imagine what the early Mormon pioneers went through to get to the Salt Lake Valley. So even though I have gained an appreciation, it is nowhere near an understanding!
A very sacred experience happened when we went to Church there on Sunday. My husband and son were asked to bless the sacrament. Words are inadequate to express my feelings. As I listened to the words of each prayer, tears rolled down my cheeks. I found a deeper meaning to those words as I listened to them that day and thought how the pioneers must have heard those same words on that same spot so many years ago. As we take the sacrament, we promise to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ and always remember Him, and keep His commandments so that we can have His Spirit to be with us. That day I thought of all that the pioneers had endured because they had truly taken His name upon them and remembered Him and kept His commandments. And it was because they had His Spirit with them that they had been able to endure all they had been through and could continue to endure all that was still ahead. I thought of their sacrifice and their devotion. I remember wondering if the way I was living my life was evidence that I truly appreciated that sacrifice and devotion. Would they be as proud to be my relative as I was to be theirs? Am I as willing to take the Savior’s name and always remember Him and keep His commandments as they were? Do I allow His Spirit to guide me and sustain me like they did?
There are so many lessons we can learn from the pioneers! They knew sacrifice! They also knew that they would be blessed for their sacrifice. There are incredible stories that tell of the miracles. I believe that, while they too experienced heaven’s blessings, their sacrifices have brought us heaven’s blessings! I have heard stories about the pioneers all my life. However, I didn’t understand or appreciate what they went through – for us – before I went to Martin’s Cove. The things I heard, saw and felt have deepened my faith and filled my heart with gratitude for the blessings I have because of the sacrifices of others. I am so grateful for that experience. I love the story below about Francis Webster. It had such a profound impact on me when I first heard it! And it still does. It is a sweet reminder to me that those times which are the hardest to bear are never really borne alone! If we put our trust in our Heavenly Father, those will be the refining times when we are being molded into the person He wants us to become.
In 1856, Francis and Betsy Webster had enough money to travel to Utah in a wagon, but they donated their money to the Perpetual Emigrating Fund. Their donation allowed an additional nine individuals to travel by handcart. Brother and Sister Webster, who were expecting a baby, traveled to Salt Lake City with the Martin handcart company and suffered along with the rest of the company.
Years later, as Brother Webster sat in a Sunday School class, he listened to some Church members criticize Church leaders for the handcart tragedy. Unable to constrain himself, he arose and testified of the blessings of being in the Martin handcart company:
“I ask you to stop this criticism for you are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts mean nothing here for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistake to send the handcart company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that company and my wife was in it. … We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation. But did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? … Everyone of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we became acquainted with him in our extremities [extreme needs].
“I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I said I can go only that far and there I must give up for I cannot pull my load through it. I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.
“Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor one moment of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay and I am thankful that I was privileged to come to Zion in the Martin Handcart Company” (in William R. Palmer, “Pioneers of Southern Utah,” The Instructor, May 1944, 217–18).
The second quote comes from Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s First Presidency message, All is Well, in this month’s Ensign. It is a great reminder of the optimism that the pioneers exhibited. The title of President Uchtdorf’s article comes from the song “Come, Come, Ye Saints.” I love the second verse. It says:
“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!” I’ve always told my kids that life is hard – and it’s supposed to be! That is exactly what I read in that second verse! Don’t whine and think life is hard. It is! But it is supposed to be! We will never earn “a great reward” if we aren’t willing to work hard and fight for it. Adjust your attitude! Be strong! Know that God will never leave you alone! And no matter what, because of our Savior, “All is well!”
Instead of just being a day filled with parades, parties and fireworks, Pioneer Day is now a holy day and not just a holiday. It is a day to express how truly proud I am of my heritage and how thankful I am for ancestors who gave so much so I can have so much!