If Thou Faint in the Day of Adversity, Thy Strength is Small

I know, I haven’t written in forever. But that is only because I’ve been staying up editing this beast of a book into the wee hours of the night until literal nauseated exhaustion.  That, and my toddler is switching from two naps to one– something we really should consider a capital crime. 

Helping me through this is a friend I recently discovered has a background in publishing. I have her to thank for my improved writing skills, clearer understanding of my work and its purpose, and for whatever remaining sanity I have left after my book, motherhood, and these four hour nights have chipped away their dues. Essentially, she is teaching me how to write a book from scratch. I thought I knew how to write a book. Foolish and misguided sentiments, but I now know better. 

Some result of this work are a) a weakened immune system, b) a zombie-like substitute Veena, but most interestingly, c) a greater appreciation for anyone that has ever written a book, edited a book, or selected a book to publish. I used to think of these people as something like the scourge of the earth, the gatekeepers of Hell. Those Evil People, deciding what books lived and what books died. No longer! Those fabulous people, winnowing the sheep and from the author-material sheep. 

Whenever I saw a published book I used to think, gosh, there are so many people more talented, articulate and determined than I. On the other hand, there are so many people more talented, articulate, and determined than I! If one half of a percent of those people also happen to be kind, think of what incredible friends they would make! Let me be clear: I do not select friends based on full resumes and CVs. I do, however, love discovering my friends talents, appreciating them for their differences, and learning from those differences and feeling inspired to become a better person as a result.

Here’s an example. A couple weeks ago I volunteered on a church youth retreat with a friend. For those unfamiliar with Mormon culture, enjoy some disjoined trivia as background: us Mormons have generally had a rough go of it. Back when the church was first established by Joseph Smith, church members would attempt to settle in a city and build a temple. The temples were routinely desecrated and burnt, along with any church members people could get their hands on. So they relocated, repeated the cycle again and again. Ultimately they settled in Salt Lake City, Utah. Members flocked to Salt Lake from all over, Europe, the American east coast, to avoid religious persecution. 

These pioneers were usually the poorest of the poor, so they took the train as far west as they could (Ohio) and then packed all their belongings in hand carts, and pulled them the rest of the way to Utah. Like I said, rough going. Predictably many people died on these journeys. 

You’ve guessed where this story is going. All around the world, youth in the church (roughly age 14 – 18) have the opportunity to participate in a pioneer trek to gain a greater appreciation for what our ancestors endured in order to bring us the fulness of the gospel. Two weeks ago, I went on a trek with about 140 teenagers from Manhattan and Westchester, all garbed in pioneer clothes, and hiked fifteen miles with them while pulling handcarts. There are about 150 stories I could share from this experience– and probably will, at some point– but right now I’m going to stick with one. 

My friend and I were originally assigned to the kitchen staff. We rode ahead to their destination, wiped off buggy picnic tables, set up a makeshift cooking area, and did our best without running water. The kids were all a delight, but we did have to feed them a meager ladle of chicken soup after a hard day of hauling handcarts. Needless to say, those growing teenage boys were not thrilled. (Hey, the pioneers didn’t get dumplings in their soup, kids!) Among other things, we were left with several huge stockpots to scrape clean, again, with no running water. My friend became skilled at holding a flashlight with her teeth, squatting in a spider free area, and cleaning with dirty water from the last pot. 

Ech. 

I, on the other hand, responsible adult that I am, stood around trying to look busy so that I wouldn’t have to do her job. 

The next day we both had the opportunity to join the hike with the kids. It poured the whole day. I’m not talking, Singing in the Rain kind of drizzle. I’m talking monsoon season in India kind of rain. Sleepings bags falling of carts and into the mud. Trail completely run over with the lake that we had to just wade through. Through all of this, we’re pushing our hand carts, freezing in our meager ponchos (it was supposed to be sunny, people), and us lady folk were doing our best with our full legth skirts that gusts of cold air between our legs every time we took a step. 

When we finally reached camp, I changed into my PJs and sat in a dry pavilion. My friend also changed into PJs, put her poncho back on, and helped the kitchen staff bake pies for the kids for hours. After that, she was again working up that elbow grease to scrub those dutch ovens, though this time with the aid of a headlamp and hose. While cleaning up the next day, she was the first jump on each task, without waiting around for someone to delegate to her. 

Tell me I’m not the only one impressed.

I, on the other hand, go-getter that I am, stood around with my thumb up my ass waiting for someone to give me instructions. 

I love seeing people do things better than I can and probably ever could. I love having something to aim for. I’ve never seen this friend flinch at the thought of hard work and I want to be more like her in this respect. I have no concept of hard work, really. I’ve dragged my feet through life, been comfortably spoiled, and except where academia was concerned, always scraped by with the least amount of effort. Heck, even with this book, why do you think its taken me about seven years to finally hack it together? I’ve had the idea long enough. 

But its not about the book. I want to be able to throw myself into the service of another without thinking twice. Jump! Leap! Don’t look! What is more impressive than someone willing to get their hands dirty at the sight of need? 

We’re taking it one step at a time; right now, I’m still on the Survive Sleep Deprviation and a Toddler plan. Once I get past that, I look forward to serving in other capacities. But I’m no longer frightened by the multitude of books so much more remarkable than mine could ever be. I am excited and inspired by their light. 

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