I just realized yesterday that in one month from today, I will be at EFY. It will be Thursday, and I will probably be weeping in my bed, trying to go to sleep after a super spiritual testimony meeting and a you-can-do-it devotional from my counselor.
And then I realized that EFY is pretty much one of the best things that has ever happened to me, and I found myself reminiscing.
Please indulge me and let me explain.
When I was 14 (it seems like so long ago!), I was in a little bit of a spiritual crisis. I was trying so hard to fit in with all of my friends. I had just finished some overly dramatic years in middle school, filled with "secret" romances (seriously debated over whether to put the quotations on romances or secret, har har) and lost friendship. I was a terrific bully to those who I thought were less than I, even though they would turn out to be my best friends. I really was not in my happy place.
I was totally excited for EFY, though. My friend, Gabrielle, had already been and we stayed up late into the night talking about it. I packed my meager wardrobe into a huge thing of luggage and went to her house to spend the night before we started our grand adventure.
We went to Nauvoo sometime (the morning? the night? I honestly can't remember) and were able to go to the Nauvoo pageant on its last day. I remember very little of the pageant, but I do remember the protesters that were standing outside of the gate. I think they were against the Book of Mormon, but really, interchange it with anything your heart desires because this is a detail that also skips my mind. There was an old man that had a Book of Mormon in his hand and went up and hugged the protesters. I think it really touched me, seeing as I can remember it clearly.
The next day was a Sunday and we attended a Fast and Testimony meeting in the Nauvoo Stake Center. It wasn't really incredible, just a ton of "I'm so glad I got to be in the pageant" and stuff, but I tried diligently to listen, because I recognized that this was the chance of a life time to get things right. I think I knew already that EFY would change me in ways that I didn't even know and I wanted to meet that change head on.
Monday was an incredible day. I awkwardly tried to straighten my hair (despite the fact that it was so stinkin' hot and humid) and put makeup on. I picked the cutest of my outfits (I think it was a knitted shirt before it was cool to wear) and Gabrielle and I headed out the door. We were SUPER early there, because her mom and dad had to leave early, but I was still pumped. We walked the main street a dozen times, almost getting to the temple several times (that was a mile walk, mind you) until it was time to go. I saw all of the people, and I felt incredible awkward. I was incredibly awkward. But I was ready to make the most of things, so I put on a happy face and checked in.
We met our counselors ... and mine was a rockstar. Annalaura seriously changed my life, and I am forever grateful that she was my first counselor. Gabrielle was my roommate, along with two girls from Utah, Kat and Hannah. Kat was a firecracker, SUPER cute! I felt sooo intimidated! And Hannah was so sweet! To this day, I think she looks like someone that I know, but I can't put my finger on it. They were fabulous roommates.
One thing about Monday that I loved was meeting the boys. The counselors, MAT and Tony (who interestingly met his wife the session after mine) were super fun. And I found that I took on talking to the boys in stride. They were so sweet. Now that I look back on this experience, I was totally floundering when I tried to flirt, but I was fourteen. They were fourteen. When I think about the little kiddo's at EFY now, I just grin and am super grateful that I am an older participant. I suppose I'll have that same feeling when I am a counselor.
We had a nice orientation, dinner, and FHE. The FHE was something that totally made me think this week was going to rock. Our Session Director was John Hilton III, who is a successful teen author. He was so incredibly funny and his spirit and enthusiasm for the gospel was awesome. I literally could feel when he entered a room because he had such a dazzling effect on me. His first real talk to us was great. I remember feeling the spirit like I never had before. We then had a few fun games, and then we "brought it home" and related each game to the gospel. I felt my mind stretching to find new and clever ways to relate, but my mind was blank. Annalaura's goal for us, I think, was to remember that Christ was in everything. From the tables we ate at to the candle holders at the blacksmith's. It was certainly intellectually stimulating and spiritually engrossing, something that I thought couldn't go together.
Then our family, the Smith's as we were called, went home. I cried at our devotional. I just felt so much in that one day. It really hit me that the gospel was worth learning. I felt like Alma the Younger, and the first days of EFY were like the spirit prepping me for a mighty change of heart on Thursday.
Tuesday was lovely. In the morning, we had gospel study smack dab in front of the temple, and most of the time I was just pondering the significance of where I was at. I grew to have such a love to the Nauvoo temple during gospel study. It was the first day that I cracked open the scriptures and found an answer. Incredible. It was truly incredible. We had a few classes that were hilarious one moment and then spiritual the next. Seriously, I can't describe how novel this was for me. After a somewhat disappointing Youth Conference earlier in the summer, this was great. We didn't get the chance to have a dance because our week was just SO busy, so I don't remember the rest of the day.
By this point, I was foaming at the mouth for all of our boys. They were so stinkin' cute, and considerate, and funny, and chivalrous, and SPIRITUAL. I couldn't believe that all of these traits could exist in one person. I was so blind to church guys before EFY, I mean, I loved guys with long, flowing hair. I liked guys that were pretty cool, but they weren't very good examples to me. EFY guys were awesome in comparison, and I loved that they made me feel great about being me. I was really starting to blossom as a person by the second day.
Wednesday was equally awesome. I think this was the day that we went to all of the church historical sites. We took a tour bus and went to the Nauvoo cemetery and I cried as I wandered through the grave sites. I really am a baby. We then went to Carthage, and there was an incredible spirit there. Especially because one of the guys in my group was a direct descendant of Hyrum Smith. Totally chilling experience. I just found out that I loved Joseph Smith. It was in Carthage, and on the bus ride home, that I realized how incredible he was, and that he really must have been a prophet of God.
We then had Game Night, which was super fun. The only thing I remember was being mortified that our that Gabrielle and I made was runny. And the Pratt family that did their chant to The Potter Puppet Pals Mysterious Ticking Noise (Pratt, Pratt, Parly P. Pratt, POLYGAMY). Pizza night was incredibly fun, and I felt like I bonded so much with the girls. We talked about C.O.W.s (Crush of the Week's) but I insisted I didn't have one (I lied). We ate our weight in candy. It was such a great experience. Was this the time that Annalaura told us she liked one of the counselors (who would later become her husband)? I don't remember. WHY DIDN'T I WRITE THIS SOONER?!?! We were so convinced that Michelle loved one of the boy counselors named Ammon. Now that I think about it, it must have been totally annoying to Michelle, but I respect her so much in hindsight for her patience.
Thursday was the best day (it still is the best day). It is where I point to when people ask me when I started to love the gospel and decided become a Molly Mormon. We were able to walk around the streets of Nauvoo and see the sights and we went to the temple to do baptisms. It was incredible. I loved seeing the boys in their sharp attire, and the girls were so pretty. It was so interesting to think that all of us believed the same thing and that we were all worthy to go in. I had some names from WAAAAY back, like the 1500's, and it was just awesome to think about the sheer awesomeness of what I was doing. We got a chance to look up the spiral staircase that goes all the way up to the Celestial room and I determined that day to get married in that exact spot. Climbing those steps with my husband has been my dream ever since. That day, I cried and longed to be there already.
We also performed for the Musical Program, and I cried. The spirit always hits me when I perform, and since I was feeling so on fire, it was especially so. I was praying all day for little things, and I really felt like this was what it meant to pray always and not faint. Brother Hilton talked, and I cried. We had a testimony meeting, and I prayed really hard not to cry, but I cried. The spirit had never affected me like this before and I was relishing in it. We walked home pretty late, and I remember crying as we passed the temple. I must have been walking with Matt, though, because by the end of the long walk, I was rolling in laughter.
I really felt something that day that I will forever relish. I knew. I knew that everything that had been testified to me that week was true. I knew that Heavenly Father loved me. I knew that I was his daughter and that I deserved the best in life. It was an invigorating revelation. I felt a little scared at the thought of not fitting in with my friends because I didn't want to be like them any more, but I knew in the back of my heart that it was going to be all right.
The last day. Friday. It was totally bittersweet. I was so happy, and I could see the spirit working in my life already. Just after four days of doing everything I should, but I was also sad that I had to leave. I was sad that I had to go back to a place that I felt like I couldn't hold up what I learned. Friday seemed like it was just there to prove my insecurities wrong. We split up, the guys and the girls, and had some one on one time with Brother Hilton. His lesson was all about how awesome women are, and how we should always respect ourselves and that we should learn to expect the respect. It was such a novel concept to me, the awkward little nobody that just wanted to fit in. After his lesson, we went to the Visitor's Center and watched "Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration." Such. a. good. movie. I cried through it because I felt for the saints. I felt for my ancestors. My heart yearned to be with them, but at the same time, it totally horrified me what they had to go through. It also put a lovely picture in my mind of Joseph Smith. He's the real deal, you know I kept thinking to myself. The force of that statement hit me again.
It was then I started to make a list of spiritual studs that I continue to this day.
During the movie, it seemed that Heavenly Father felt the need to cry too, because it was POURING. Luckily, the EFY counselors had a convoy of vans that shuttled us to the building. When we got there, something amazing happened. Our guys were there at the door, standing in the rain with coats off to protect us from the rain. Here was one moment when I felt like crying, but instead, I laughed and ran inside, not knowing what to think. It was lunch, and when we entered the room, the guys all stood up and started clapping. They already had plates made for us, and they were extra sure to pull our chairs out. I was in total awe. I remember being pretty shocked, and I didn't know what to say. So this was respect. Like the Aretha Franklin version. This moment forever defined "what it means to me." I was so appreciative to the guys. I was teeming with gratitude for Brother Hilton.
The dance was also something I will never forget. I had never spun, slow danced, interpretive danced, fast danced, or waltzed as much as I did that night. I had not a care in the world, and I think that it showed. It was the first time I remembered dancing EVERY slow song. It also was the first time I had ever had a blast at a Church Dance. SO FUN!
There was a touching slideshow and a tearful rendition of the EFY medley, and then it was off to bed. I believe that this was the year of the SWINE FLU, so for the whole duration of the week, we were banned from physical contact, but all pretenses were dropped that last night. Hugs and numbers and last names (because who ever remembers those during the week?) were recorded and then we went to bed.
In the morning, some of us would drive home. Some would fly home. Some might even walk home (for those lucky enough to live in the city of Joseph). I prayed that night that they would travel in safety. I thought about all of the people I had met and I expressed my thanks to Heavenly Father for each and the impact they had on my life. I expressed my thanks for the spiritual giants I had as examples for me. It was one of the longest prayers I had ever remembered giving in my life, and it felt so personal. I quickly fell asleep after hitting the pillow and then it was Saturday.
There were some awkward goodbyes. There were some pictures and hugs. And then everyone was gone. As we drove away, I looked back at the beautiful temple on the hill and sung to myself, "I love to see the temple ..." Gabrielle's cousin, who was also in our group, interrupted my thoughts though and said, "Laney, there were three guys that said you were their C.O.W."
THREE? Awkward little me? I couldn't believe it, but it was the perfect way to end my journey. I was a pretty happy camper as we drove away. I felt that if I had died right then and there, I would have been one content little girl.
What would my life be like if I hadn't gone that week? I don't like thinking about it, but I am forever grateful that I was able to have that experience. A mighty change was wrought in me and I have never looked back.