"Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, chapter 7"
The manual begins, as always, with a story from President Snow's life. In this particular chapter, which talks so much of trials, we are shown that President Snow truly understood the nature of tribulation as he suffered with and led the early Saints.
Today, I want to start with a different story--one from one of my favorite people, Glennon Melton. She writes whimsically and honestly, but deeply. And as I read the story I'm about to share with you, though I've never had the same experience, I saw a mirror of all my life's trials. I found myself nodding and laughing and tearing up saying, "Yes, that's exactly how it was for me." I hope you can see the same mirror I did; that way we're all sharing our trials with each other, because we all see ourselves in the mirror.
"On Crying and Pedaling" p. 183-188 (abridged)
"On Crying and Pedaling" p. 183-188 (abridged)
Years ago I participated in the AIDS ride as a fundraiser for AIDS research. Thousands of people raised money by pledging to ride their bicycles 280 miles from North Carolina to Washington, D.C. I was one of these thousands of people.
I was not the most likely candidate because I'd never done anything for charity, ever… Decreasing my candidacy further was my absolute hatred of physical things.
For example, trying to unlock a door that won't unlock has been known to leave me on my front step in a puddle of tears. God, I hate that. The finding of the keys in my purse, the identifying f the correct key on the ring, the continuous turning of the key, the trying of the other keys, the dropping and retrieving of the keys, the juggling of bags and the whining kids and the sweat. Life is so hard…
Still, I agreed to do the AIDS ride. I'm not really sure why. I think I just wanted to be the sort of person who did those sorts of things. I think it's nice that God makes things magical even when we do them for lame reasons.
Most of the AIDS ride was hellish. Partly because I hadn't even sat on a bike since I was seven. I didn't even have a bike. Every time Dana asked me to train with her, I'd remain on the couch, close my eyes, and tell her I was training through "visualization." …
Also, we rode our bikes one hundred miles a day in ninety-five degree heat. Our bottoms were so blistered and chapped that hourly we had to apply a product I'd have preferred never to discover called Butt Paste. At the end of each godforsaken day we rolled into "camp" and peeled off our soaking bike shorts to shower alongside other riders in a truck… Then we had to go to sleep in a field. It was like Woodstock with no music or drugs. Just pain. And there were terrifying Wizard of Oz-like storms at night and our tents leaked. So we lay in our own personal freezing ponds all night until we heard the fire alarm indicating it was time to ride again. Then we stood up and put helmets on our soaking heads and put our blistered, red, screaming butts back on our bike seats. I spent most of each day pedaling and crying. Crying and pedaling.
I wasn't the only one crying… there were lots of tears. Tears from the sun's brutality and from witnessing families on the side of the road blowing bubbles and whistles and holding posters that said: "YOU ARE A HERO." That'll tear you up. It ore everybody up. You can't be called a hero when you're at your absolute weakest and not cry. You just can't. So you just cry and pedal…
There were rest stops along the way. Every few hours we'd pull over and find huge tents set up with volunteer medics scurrying around to bandage wounds, oxygenate wheezers, and take the sick to the hospital. I used these rests to inhale Power Bars [and] cry more…
Still. There were stretches that went on for hours. Just hours and hours of nothing but scorching sun and pain and regret, and all you could think about was taking back your decision to do this crazy thing. And then, in the midst of utter despair, you'd see a mountain. A mountain would appear on the horizon like a sick joke. Over and over. Mountain after mountain. Just when you'd think, we have to be done. There can't be another one. There'd be another one. And I'd get so angry. SO ANGRY. WTF God??? Really, another freaking mountain now? Now when things are already SO BAD? Now, WHEN WE'RE TRYING TO DO SOMETHING NICE AND GOOD?
The problem was that there was no quitting. Even quitters like me couldn't quit. Nobody said it; we all just knew. Even so, I'd also know that I just couldn't take this next mountain. I just couldn't. My soul was willing, but my body was close to dead. So I approached one of the mountains, already defeated. And a thin, gray-skinned, baldish man on his own bike rode up beside me. The man had hollow cheeks and eyes that were set too far back, like caves. His leg muscles looked painted on. Just muscle and bone. So skinny and small, like a jockey with a vicious flu. I made confused eye contact with the grayish man and he put his hand on my back. He read my pain and said, "Just rest, I'll push you." And I cried and rested my legs and let myself be carried. I didn't understand how he was doing it, how he was pushing me up that hill, riding his bike and my bike, one hand on his handlebars and one hand on my back. But slowly, together, we made it to the top. And I squeaked out a thank-you, and he looked right back at me with his cavey eyes and said: thank YOU. Then he turned away from me and rode back down the hill to carry another rider who couldn't carry himself. And I turned back to watch him go and saw that there were at least twenty of these angels--twenty men with hands on the backs of other women, other men twice their size, pushing them forward and upward. They stayed at the bottoms of the biggest mountains along the route, the mountains they knew we'd never climb on our own, and they carried us. One at a time. Then back down for another, and another, and another. 'Til we were all on the other side of the mountain, together.
I later learned that they were called the AIDS angels. They were so sick. Many were dying of AIDS. But they were at every AIDS ride nationwide. Waiting to help the healthy riders over mountains.
Do you see? They were dying. But they were the strongest ones. The weak will be the strong. I still don't understand it. But when those men carried me to the tops of those mountains, I felt heaven.
When we arrived in D.C., to our finish line, I felt heaven again. There were thousands of us and thousands of them. The streets of D.C. were lined--ten, twelve, twenty people deep, cheering and screaming and crying, and the sound of the joy was deafening. It all became white noise, so through my tears I just watched them, because I couldn't hear them anymore. They showed up for us because we'd shown up for love. Because we'd done something really, really hard, and they wanted to say thank-you, and be a part of it all. I saw my friends there, in the crowd… but I don't remember what they said because I can only remember their faces--overwhelmed with the goodness and the power of the movement… And there was no rider, not to the left or the right or behind or in front of me, who was not weeping. When we could steady ourselves long enough, we'd grab the hand of the rider beside us because it was too much to take in alone. And our tears and sweat would get all mixed up with the tears and the sweat of others. And we'd grab the hands of the children who wanted to touch us and pass on the tears and the sweat. And it didn't matter anymore if we were gay or straight or young or old or healthy or dying. We'd been through something real. It had hurt like hell, but we'd finished. Together.
This chapter, these words from Lorenzo Snow, isn't just about how hard our trials are--they are hard--it's about what happens to us during, after, and especially because of our trials.
Glennon's trial lasted a few days. The trials of the early saints and Lorenzo Snow lasted much longer. The pains and trials of Christ were infinite. Some people (and I'm not one of them) feel they don't have trials enough when compared to others. On page 111, President Snow says, "Some of our brethren have queried whether hereafter, they could feel themselves worthy of full fellowship with Prophets and Saints… who suffered in Kirtland, in Missouri and Illinois. The brethren referred to have expressed regrets that they had not been associated in those scenes of suffering. If any of these are present, I will say, for the consolation of such, you have but to wait a short time and you will have similar opportunities, to your heart's content."
He continues, explaining the reason for our trials: "You and I cannot be made perfect except through suffering: Jesus could not [see Hebrews 2:10]. In His prayer and agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, He foreshadowed the purifying process necessary in the lives of those whose ambition prompts them to secure the glory of a celestial kingdom." He repeats, "Take it individually or take it collectively, we have suffered and we shall have to suffer again, and why? Because the Lord requires it at our hands for our sanctification."
On page 114, President Snow says, "I have thought sometimes that one of the greatest virtues the Latter-day Saints could possess is gratitude to our Heavenly Father for that which He has bestowed upon us and the path over which He has led us. It may be that walking along in that path has not always been of the most pleasant character; but we have afterwards discovered that those circumstances which have been very unpleasant have often proved of the highest advantage to us.
"Every trial a man goes through, if he is faithful in that trial and does honor to God and his religion he has espoused, at the end of that trial or affliction that individual is nearer to God, nearer in regard to the increase of faith, wisdom, knowledge and power, and hence is more confident in calling upon the Lord for those things he desired."
"Every man and woman who serves the Lord, no matter how faithful they may be, have their dark hours; but if they have lived faithfully, light will burst upon them and relief will be furnished."
I want to share some of my own life story with you, and offer it as evidence that this is true.
Anthony and I have been married for eight years this August. I like to think of our relationship as "Hinkley-esque" and rejoice in the love and strength we give each other (although I daresay it's mostly Anthony's doing). But our life together has not been an easy one. People say the first year or marriage is the hardest; I think they're referring to the challenges of learning to live with and love another person constantly. Our first year was hard because I got migraines. Every day, for that whole first year, before school and work were even over, I was crippled by pain. Pain so intense all I could do was cry, and all my new husband could do was turn down the lights and ask the neighbors to turn down the noise. It's hard for husbands to feel helpless. And so we thought we knew something of pain.
By our third anniversary, we'd lost two pregnancies and felt hopeless about ever having a child. Then, the week before Christmas 2008, the recession struck us with unemployment, which would last another year. And so we thought we knew something of loss and grief.
I've learned something about trials--they're a lot like Glennon's mountains. Just when you think you're safe, there's another mountain.
We were blessed with another pregnancy. This was my Mount Everest. I lived with more physical pain and sickness than I could ever describe to someone who hasn't been there. For months. I won't relive those details; I think I've already shared them. But worse than the physical was the mental, emotional, and spiritual darkness in which I dwelt. It was darkest night, and dawn was so far away, I couldn't even hope it would come.
The forces of Hell surrounded me, taking away all hope and joy; fighting and tempting me to quit. I knew I couldn’t quit, but oh, how I wanted to! I approached mountain after mountain, already defeated. I cried to God and told Him, "I can't do this. You have pushed me too hard, too far, too long. This child is as much yours as she is mine, and if you want either of us to survive this, the you better give me some HELP here!"
And He did. He sent His angels, seen and unseen, to stay by my side constantly. The mountains didn't move--I still had to go over them--but there was help. There were angels. I often wondered, "Who is this child, that the forces of Heaven and Hell battle over her? Who is she, that so many sacrifices and miracles are required to bring her into the world?"
President Snow says, on page 115, "The Lord has from time to time given us trials and afflictions, if we may so call them; and sometimes these trials have been of that nature that we have found it very difficult to receive them without murmur and complaint. Yet at such times the Lord has blessed us and gave us sufficient of His Spirit to enable us to overcome the temptations and endure the trials."
And on page 110, "Trials and tribulations have been the experience of the Latter-day Saints. God so designed that it should be. I daresay that in the [premortal] spirit world, when it was proposed to us to come into this probation, and pass through the experience that we are now receiving, it was not altogether pleasant and agreeable; the prospects were not so delightful in all respects as might have been desired. Yet there is no doubt that we saw and understood clearly there that, in order to accomplish our exaltation and glory, this was a necessary experience; and however disagreeable it might have appeared to us, we were willing to conform to the will of God, and consequently we are here."
This past Valentine's Day, I looked through my pictures, intending to post a beautiful shot of my beautiful family on Facebook and say something sweet about love. Instead, I posted this, with the caption: "Here I am freshly emerging from the far side of Hell--the worst darkness, pain, loneliness and fear I can imagine. But look at the tiny piece of Heaven I am holding. Love."
Here she is, my piece of Heaven, my joy at the end of a very long ride.
President Snow sum sit up perfectly, on page 115, when he says, "The sacrifices you have made, the hardships you have endured and the privations you have suffered will… sink into insignificance, and you will rejoice that you have obtained the experience which they have furnished… Some things we have to learn by that which we suffer, and knowledge secured in that way, though the process may be painful, will be of great value to us in the other life…
"I know that your lives have not been all sunshine; you have doubtless passed through many a trial, and perhaps have come up through much tribulation; but by continued integrity you will soon emerge from the shadows into the glorious sunshine of the celestial world."
I know our trials, big or small, can be so overwhelming that we cannot see even a glimmer of that sunshine. But remember the promise: there WILL be sunshine!
"Many of you may have severe trials, that your faith may become more perfect, your confidence be increased, your knowledge of the powers of heaven be augmented; and this before your redemption takes place. If a stormy cloud sweep over the horizon…; if the cup of bitter suffering be offered, and you compelled to partake; Satan let loose to go among you, with all his seductive powers of deceiving and cunning craftiness; the strong, relentless arm of persecution lifted against you;-- then, in that hour, lift up your heads and rejoice that you are account worthy to suffer thus with Jesus, the Saints, and holy prophets; and know that the period of your redemption has approached."