A week ago I was really, really frightened. I woke up in a strange room, triple-checked that I had everything I needed, and drove off into the middle of the mountains. The town of Cimarron, New Mexico seemed sleepy at best, but I found myself silently screaming as we pulled through its dusty streets lined with tourist traps. You might have asked me that day what I was anticipating so intensely. If I answered you honestly, I would have said,
"I am afraid. I'm going to have blisters the size of grapefruits on my feet. I am going to die in the Montañas de Sangre Christo (literally the Blood of Christ) without running water. I can hardly carry three text books ... I'm not sure that I can carry fifty pounds of hiking gear on my back. I am worried that I am going to want to complain. I am worried that the spirit won't be with me always. I am terrified."
Today, I am content. I woke up in my very own bed, took a shower, and even used a flush-able toilet. I watched some TV at my Nandy's house and ate food that wasn't packaged. I drove a few miles in my little Miata down the streets of Waynesville and found myself wishing I was back.
What changed from a week ago? Well, I spent a week in the mountains. A beautiful, breaktaking, eye-opening, challenging week in the mountains at Philmont Scout Ranch. I spent a week working and uplifting incredible girls. I spent a week with some rock solid priesthood holders. I experienced one of the best weeks of my life and came back a stronger, more confident Laney.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
After every day during our mountain trek, my wonderful Rangers (Philmont Staff that accompanied us during the week) would have us reflect on the events of the day. After a little bit of reflection, each girl in the group shared their thorns (challenging moments), roses (beautiful moments), and buds (things they were excited about for the next day). Because there were so many incredible experiences I had during the week, it is hard to choose just one moment that defines each of the little triumphs and battles I experienced while on the trail.
Please forgive me if I rant.
(I feel like I should mention that these thorns hardly count. Heavenly Father really blessed me while I was on the mountain trek to see the purpose and blessings that come from doing hard things.)
1. Preparation -- Part of the reason that I was so scared to come out to Philmont was the fact that I was completely and utterly unprepared for what lay in store. I did not know where we were going to be in the mountains. I picked up my hiking boots the day before we left on our cross country adventure. We were still buying things that we needed the night before we left for Philmont. Some of the videos that pop up about Philmont on Youtube are incredibly intimidating. I felt completely inadequate going into the camp. I really was concerned that it was going to be a real struggle to remain positive and spiritual throughout the week. It was a scary feeling ... I never want to be that unprepared in my life for anything.
2. Pain -- One of my Rangers (Carly) said that her main thorn for the week was seeing the pain faces of all of the girls as we hiked and hobbled around camp sites. This was so on point for me. I am a pretty empathetic person when it comes to pain. I have a pretty high pain tolerance myself, but when I see other people in pain ... I feel it. If someone were to describe to me a broken arm, I would feel it. It was SO hard to see the other girls in pain. I almost lost it when I saw Spencer after the first day. He was so miserable and I just wanted him to be okay and happy. Savannah got huge blisters all over her feet and I hurt. Sam (a girl in my group) pulled her leg muscle; Maddie strained her Achilles.
I wanted to help in any way I could, but physical pain is such a personal thing. It isn't a simple thing to take from someone. Sometimes I would feel a little sore after the never ending uphills and switchbacks, but that pain helped me to gain such a testimony of the atonement. Jesus Christ felt every pain I have ever experienced and he knows exactly how to take care of it and comfort me. I found so much gratitude for that sacrifice as I knelt in prayer and simply asked for the pain to go away. Every time, I felt peace and a renewal of energy. This was such a blessing and helped me to forget about my own needs and to help others.
3. Separation -- Another thing that was really difficult was the separation I had from my family. I was actually really lucky to have Spencer and Savannah with me for most of the time, but I really found myself missing the rest of the Blau crew. I found that even though I felt this homesickness, it wasn't disabling at all. I was able to continue moving forward and to comfort others who were having similar feelings. It was really nice to know that no matter what happened during the six days of separation that I experienced, I would see my family again. It really made me think about the importance of eternal families. I really really want my future family to have this same knowledge: whatever happens during this life, we'll be able to see each other again.
1. Strength -- One of the best things I learned during my week at Philmont is how incredible the human body is. At the beginning of the hike, I could hardly lift my pack without Savannah's help. I felt so much pain and felt like crying during the first day of actual hiking. We hiked up this ginormous mountain and had to sit in the rain for an hour and we were just going SO fast. Heavenly Father totally blessed me though. After every hike, I would feel totally wiped and in pain. Only a few minutes after rolling into camp, however, I felt completely revitalized. I can hardly even remember how difficult the days were. I learned that my body can do hard things. I went to bed every night thinking that I had done my very best and committed to do better the next day. It was such a nice reassurance and gave me great confidence. I could have felt completely and totally the opposite (after all, I must have looked and smelled disgusting), but I loved that my pack felt lighter every day. I loved that my calves were becoming more defined. Sometimes, we have to be stretched to the limit to realize just how strong we really are.
2. Testimony -- Philmont was such a testimony building experience for me in more than one way. Check out these experiences!
Chaplain's Aid During our check-in for Philmont, a nice lady was walking around and talking to the participants. As she introduced herself to me, my mouth slightly hung open. It was Sister Cheryl Esplin, one of the general authorities of the church. She was such a sweet lady and we chatted a bit until a new crop of campers came in. Later, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. As I turned around, Sister Esplin put her arm around me and said, "Laney, I would like to ask you to be the Chaplain's Aid for your group this week. Will you attend a meeting for all the Chaplain's Aids at 4?" Of course, I accepted. It didn't really matter that I had no idea what being a Chaplain's Aid entailed. I didn't matter that I had just been overwhelmed with all of the things that I would have to worry about during the week. I heard these words like they were a call from the Lord to serve my group throughout the week.
During the meeting, I got the AMAZING opportunity to receive counsel from members of the Young Men's General Board of the church and from Young Men's President, David Beck. It was so exciting to be in the presence of these servants of the Lord and to hear the things they had to say. It was also wonderful to see other teenagers that had been pulled out of their groups to the same responsibility. During the meeting, I found out more about my role. Chaplain's Aids are basically the spiritual leaders of their respective groups. They are in charge of leading prayers, devotionals, and making sure that others are having a positive and uplifting experience. I truly believe that Sister Esplin was inspired to give me the call to Chaplain's Aid. The Lord knows me. He knew that I was worried about not being strong enough to stay positive. He also knew that I could help the girls in my group before I even knew their names. It was not a coincidence that I was asked to be in this position.
I loved that David Beck knew me by name by the end of the first day. He asked me to lead a kind of spirit rally before we left on our trek to show how a positive attitude can help anyone get through any trial. It really calmed me to participate in this activity. I knew that even if a bear attacked me, I could remain happy because I'M EXCITED, I'M EXCITED, I'M EXCITED. Throughout the week, as I led devotionals and gave girls encouragement, I really felt the spirit testify to me that Heavenly Father loves his children. He really wants us to stay on the straight and narrow path to eternal life and gave us commandments to keep us on the path. I gained such a testimony of that as we hiked those straight and narrow mountain trails.
Sacrament Meeting Another super sweet, spiritual experience I had in the mountains was the Sacrament meeting we had on Day 2. We didn't really hike for the first two days, so I was able to spend a little more time being anxious about what the days ahead would hold in store. I wasn't sure what strength would be required of me during the week, but I knew I needed all of the help that I could get. I felt myself looking forward to the strength that I know the Sacrament gives when one partakes of it worthily. Unfortunately, for a while it looked as if we would be unable to make it to our meetings. It is officially monsoon season at Philmont, and just as we started to hike to the camp where our meeting was located, it started to pour. The lightning and thunder were too close for us to make the trek, so we had to return to our tents. I was super, super bummed, and I prayed that we would be able to still have our meeting.
It didn't take too long for that prayer to be answered-- the rain subsided. We were able to make it all the way to our destination with a pleasant breeze accompanying us. The spirit was so strong during this meeting. Brother Beck was presiding and the other Chaplains and I coordinated the speakers and musical numbers. It was really neat to see the priesthood in action, even though we were in our hiking clothes and were already sweaty and gross. The external factors didn't matter at all. I was really impressed by the promise that the Holy Ghost could be with me ALWAYS if I was willing to take upon Jesus's name and always remember him and keep his commandments. I tried that promise this week and tried to always have the spirit with me. It was awesome to see the blessings that came from that willingness. The spirit can give so much strength to the weak things of this world.
The Priesthood Sacrament meeting was a way cool experience for me, especially when I considered the blessings of the priesthood. To be honest, I had been kind of struggling with realizing the importance and relevance of the priesthood in my life. I knew that the priesthood power was real, and I really believed that I needed to marry a righteous priesthood holder, but I wasn't exactly sure why I knew that or why it was such a big deal. I have been praying a lot this summer to have my testimony of the priesthood strengthened. This week was a DEFINITE answer to my prayers.
Before the trek, I was able to receive a priesthood blessing from my dad. I can't quite remember what it said, but I felt confident that Heavenly Father would be looking out for me during the week. It helped me to calm down and to start feeling excited for the week ahead.
I was kind of interested to learn that out of all of the Rangers on the trek, only one of them was a member of the Church. His name was Ian and he was my brother's counselor for the week. He got off his mission a year ago from Quebec, so he wasn't just a member of the church -- he was rock solid. I found it so comforting that if anything happened to me, I would be able to ask Ian to give me a priesthood blessing and I could rely upon that protection. Luckily, for the beginning of the week, I didn't need to ask for a blessing. I miraculously avoided injury and painful experiences and was able to have a pretty stellar time in general.
Things got a little more strenuous during the course of the week, but I remained okay. There was one girl in my group, Samantha, that got injured on day 5. It was such a painful thing for her. She was definitely the fastest hiker in the group and I think it frustrated her to have to slow down. As I thought of what I could do to help her, I immediately thought of Ian. Of course, a priesthood blessing would be able to help her! A few of the boys that I became friends with during the week also had the priesthood because they had received their mission calls. Before our devotional on Wednesday night, Samantha was in so much pain. I knew that I needed to hop into action, so I leaped over a few of the benches that separated us and asked her if she had gotten a blessing yet. She hadn't been able to find Ian during the day, but she really desired to have a blessing before she went to bed.
That night, a few of the boy groups and our group were under the roof of a place we had eaten in earlier in the day. I spotted Brandon, one of my friends that I knew had the priesthood, and walked over to him and asked him if he had consecrated oil. He didn't, but he was willing to go and grab Ian (who was at a different campsite). I was so appreciative of his willingness to serve, even though in hindsight, he was probably anxious to get ready for bed. We started our nighttime devotional and learned about the value of having good friends. During a convenient moment in the devotional, I saw Ian and Brandon walk up to our campsite. I paused the devotional and filled Ian in on the situation and he got right to work. He taught Brandon what to say to anoint. A girl in my group was able to grab her brother, Cole, who also held the priesthood, to join in for the blessing.
It was such a special experience for me to hear this blessing. Half way through, I was bawling (and I really don't get that emotional when I feel the spirit anymore). I heard these boys that were my age giving a blessing of comfort and healing to my dear friend. Suddenly, I got it. Of course the priesthood is applicable to me. Of course I need to get married to a man that has the priesthood. It suddenly became the most important thing in the world to me. I needed that protection more than I needed to breathe. I needed to know that the person I would marry would have that power no matter where we were -- whether it be in the mountains of New Mexico or in our home. I needed that power to be near no matter what the external circumstances were ... whether my sweet husband was wearing a white shirt and tie or striped pajamas. After the blessing, I was able to testify to the girls the importance of the priesthood. I felt like my chest was burning within me. I knew that it was not only possible for me to have that with me always, but that it was necessary.
I couldn't fall asleep because I was reflecting on that feeling over and over again. I woke up early in the morning and thought about it. I thought about it during the ten mile hike that day. The fruit of that knowledge was delicious to me. It was not a coincidence that Ian was assigned to be the leader of my crew's sister crew. It was not a coincidence that I became close enough friends with some of the boys that I felt comfortable asking them to use their priesthood on one of my girl's behalf. Heavenly Father was looking out for all of us at that moment, and because I knew he was looking out for us then, my eyes were opened to the times he was looking out for us previously in the week. Truthfully, he was with us always. It was such a WONDERFUL EXPERIENCE. I'm afraid I can't give it justice.
3. Views -- I have always loved the mountains. I get chills and cry like a baby when I'm near them. I just can't get over the majesty that accompanies them; God is definitely very near when I am in their midst. I wasn't sure that this love of the mountains would be enough to help me hike through them with a fifty pound pack, however. On the first day, I spent a lot of time looking at my feet. I was really worried that I would twist my feet and die. I was also concerned that if I looked at the steepness of the next switchback, I would lose all confidence in my will to live. Okay, maybe it wasn't that drastic, but I didn't see a lot of the scenery during that part of the hike, and it was really frustrating to me. Part of the little reasons that I was looking forward to the hike was the fact that I would be in my favorite scenery on earth. When we reached the top of that first mountain though, I realized just why I was there. That hike was stinking hard for a weakling like me. But as I looked out at the valley on either side of the summit, I realized how worth it the climb was.
After that moment, I tried to look less at my feet and more at the things around me. I tried to appreciate the little things that were all around me ... the sound of wind, the taste of the mountain air, the wooded meadows. It was all really beautiful when I stopped to look at it. I found myself relating it to my own life. Sometimes I focus on day to day life so much that I lose perspective on what my life is really about. But when I'm able to look out at the wonderful vistas of my life, there is SO much that is beautiful and good.
There was one point in the hike that was incredibly eye opening. It was on the fifth day, and we hiked quite away from our previous campsite. It wasn't a really difficult hike, but it was getting late and it looked like rain clouds were forming. We learned very early that when it looked like rain, the rain would come (and come hard) within the hour. We had just reached one of the posts that we were supposed to encounter before we got into camp, but struggled to find the right trail to take. Carly and Megan were not talking to us that day to show us that were were competent when it came to hiking, but after going down the wrong trail for a thirty minutes, they finally stopped us and turned us around. I was so demoralized, and I could tell that the girls were tired. We had already been rained on earlier in the week, and it seemed that it would happen once again. Camp was forty minutes away and entirely uphill ... it seemed like misery was a certain outcome.
The entire way, our little group was silent. I was praying the entire time (and later learned that everyone else was as well). "Please, stay the storm." I repeated that phrase with every step. It became a cadence for me, especially as we wound around the mountain, endlessly climbing. The relief I felt when we walked into camp was something that I have never experienced before. I was strengthened ... the entire group was strengthened through our combined faith, and we were able to make it into camp with hardly any stops. Even though we saw signs of rain for the rest of the hike, it didn't start to rain until we set our packs down. I quietly cried as we marched into camp and the words of one of my favorite hymns flowed in my mind continuously: "Be still my soul, the waves and winds still know His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below." Heavenly Father heard the prayers of ten desperate young women who just wanted to make it to camp safely and comfortably. He has all power and is totally in control of every aspect of life.
4. Camps -- I loved every staff camp that we stayed at throughout the week. The first camp that we hiked to was called Abreau. It was so beautiful and comfortable. There were wonderful places to pee and the activities there were super fun. I was able to milk a goat for the first time, cook dinner in the mountains with a ton of awesome people, and play slaps during down time. It was such a beautiful place. The rest of the camps that we traveled to, we had to hike a long distance to reach. It was such a relief to enter each of these camps, and I found so much energy to participate in the various programs that were available there. At Fish Camp, I was able to play some super fun games and got to know incredible people. At Apache Springs, I took a tour of an Indian Teepee, got a refreshing bucket shower at the sweat huts, took a beautiful side hike to see the sunset over the valley, and got to shoot a bow and arrow. Beaubien was so nice ... it was located in a beautiful place and there were a ton of fun things to do. I looked like an idiot as I learned to throw a lasso, ran around in the mountains to get rid of pent up energy, and watched a kind mediocre but super funny play put on by the staff. Every camp we stayed at was so accommodating and the staff was super nice. During the week, the knowledge that our hikes were not leading us to the middle of nowhere was so comforting. Knowing the destination at the beginning of the hike was awesome. It almost made me want to work at Philmont as a staffer.
5. People -- I feel like I've been rambling about the roses I've had. Sorry readers! If you're still reading, I love you. Because I love you, I'll limit it to five. One of the things that I will always cherish about Philmont are the people that I met and the relationships I developed in super short times. I was able to become so close to all of the girls in my group and the Rangers that were quietly serving us throughout the week. Any time we passed a crew on the trail, I was able to learn a little bit about them (where they were from, how long they'd been out on the trail). There were random crews that stayed in the same campsite as us that I also was able to talk to and got to know. The boy groups that we were with were just incredible. I'm not sure that I was very attractive during the week, but I didn't care. I loved talking to them and really learning more about them and their lives. During the week at Philmont, I became so good at putting names to faces. I also really became a better and more sincere listener. These skills blossomed right before my eyes and I imagine that they are going to help me so much in the future!
There is so much more that I could talk about. SO MANY INCREDIBLE THINGS. But I've already been typing for hours and hours ... and I'm pretty tired. I am so grateful for my experience at Philmont. I am grateful that I now cannot physically waste food. I am grateful for the testimony I gained of the Priesthood and it's importance in my life. I am grateful for the knowledge I now have that I can do hard things with Jesus Christ. I am grateful daily, now, for all of the little things in my life. I am so much more anxious to rely on Heavenly Father in everything I do. These, and many more, are all things that I have taken home with me from the week. Every day was difficult, but every day was worth it. Now that I'm home, all I've been thinking about are the beautiful mountains and the wonderful spirit I felt while I was at Philmont. I've experienced the Missouri mugginess and mosquitoes and rolling hills. I wanna go back to Philmont, back to God's country. Here's to life changing experiences. Here's to the beauty that surrounds us every day if we'll only look. Here's to thee, Philmont.