Wednesday, February 1, 2017

the edge of the mississippi

I've been pondering on what it means to move forward in faith.

My family decided to visit Nauvoo over the Christmas break. Our visit at the end of December was an entirely different experience from our usual summer vacations. The town was freezing and nearly deserted except for the faithful senior missionaries. We visited our favorite sites and reflected on our previous experiences in the beautiful city.

One morning, we drove down Parley Street to the edge of the Mississippi River. This is the road the saints walked down as they left their homes and followed the prophet's call to head west. Plaques containing quotes and journal entries from these early church members line the street. 

I've walked down Parley Street numerous times. I've read the plaques and heard the same stories every summer.
But this visit was different.

As I stood at the edge of the ice-covered river, the stories of these people leaving behind their homes, livelihoods and beautiful temple suddenly took on new meaning. I looked at the ice-covered river wondering how those pioneers managed to physically and mentally cross into the unknown west. I thought of the families huddled together, trying to stay warm but unable to escape the wind. I felt the almost-immediate urge to run back to the warm homes just up the street.

The wind from the river combined with the bitter cold pushed me back to the warmth of the car after only a minute or two. But those few moments at the edge of the Mississippi River have made me think.

It's easy to imagine ourselves doing hard things when life is in the "summer mode."
It's easy to not work during a semester and tell yourself you could handle a job along with classes
It's easy to say you're happy to help anyone with anything when your own life is running smoothly. 
It's easy to imagine following the call to go west when the river is full and the green hills on the other side carry the promise of a hope-filled future.

Thankfully, God knows what will actually help us grow. 
He asks us to do hard things right when it seems we can't do anything else.
He asks us to take on an extra calling while juggling three jobs and school already.
He asks us to serve more when we already have family members and roommates to take care of.
He asks us to give a little more to Him when we are financially, physically and emotionally spent.

He asks us to start a journey of unknown length to an unknown destination in the middle of the winter. 

One of my favorite lines from Nauvoo says, "West is just a direction, not a destination." 
Looking at the example of these early pioneers, I'm blown away by the sheer amount of faith they had to step on to the frozen Mississippi River and move forward. 
They had no idea where they were going.
They had no clue how long they would be walking.
They only knew that they were supposed to go west.

God often asks us to move and to change. That call usually comes at the seemingly most inconvenient times. We want to put off the prompting or ignore it entirely. We can't imagine why a loving Heavenly Father would put one more thing on our shoulders. To top it all off, we have no idea where He's trying to take us. Usually, His path makes little sense to our short-term minds.

This is the power of moving forward in faith.
We don't know the specifics of God's plan for each of us. There are hints in the scriptures and personal revelation, but we can't see everything laid out in plain detail. That's a frustrating concept for a planner, like myself.

But step by step, as we follow God's directions, we find ourselves coming closer to Him.
We discover what He needs us to accomplish.
We discover who we truly are as His children.
We align our will with our Heavenly Father's.
We become who He needs us to become.
And, step by step, we make it across the Mississippi River.

This is a time where I feel that I am one of the pioneers standing at the edge of the river, shaking my head and wondering why God is asking me to take those first steps. I wonder how I could possibly make it across. And yet, as I have acted and moved forward, I have felt Him guiding me every single day. 

I  know Heavenly Father loves me. I know He loves you. I know we are His children. He will not lead us astray.

So move forward. Act.
We won't go anywhere just standing at the edge of the Mississippi.

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