Faith in Every Footstep

July 24th is Pioneer Day in Utah, a celebration of the arrival of the Mormon pioneers in the Great Salt Lake valley.

Some of my ancestors crossed the plains, and I’ve been thinking about them this week, thinking about their journey and the highs and lows they experienced.

Take, for instance, Henry and Mary Grow, who with their three children arrived in Nauvoo Illinois on May 15, 1843, one year after being baptized members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  Henry was a builder, and built them a home.   He worked on the Nauvoo Temple until its completion.  Mary had another baby, making four children.

Henry and Mary lived in Nauvoo when the Prophet Joseph and his brother were martyred.  They experienced the bitter anti-mormon hatred that was rampant at the time.

On September 19, 1846 a mob force of over two thousand men advanced upon Nauvoo.  With 13 cannon in tow, they camped a mere 220 yards from the Grow’s home.  As Henry lay in bed that night, he heard a distinct voice say to him, “Get up and get out of here in the morning.”

The next morning Henry awoke, hitched a yoke of cattle to his wagon, put in utensils, bedding and a tent, and got his wife and four children in the wagon.  They left everything else behind.  When they had traveled only 50 yards the mob fired a twelve pound cannonball through their home.

Every time I think of this, I pause and wonder what that felt like.   Surely there was relief at having escaped without injury, concern about what would happen next, worry for the safety of their children.   It seems to me that there would also have to be a gut-wrenching sadness at watching your home be destroyed.  I have wondered many times what kind of silent thoughts and feelings filled Mary after the sound of that blast.

They carried on, eventually traveling to the Salt Lake Valley in 1851, arriving on Henry’s 34th birthday.  Mary crossed the plains while pregnant with her sixth child.   They arrived in the valley and, like everyone else, started over again.

I think of these things and marvel at all they lost, all they endured, and all they gained.  God was good to them.  They ended up with 7 children.  They built a good life for themselves in the Utah territory.  Henry became the architect of the historic Tabernacle on Temple Square.

In 1997 a hymn was written to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the pioneers in the valley.  It was titled Faith in Every Footstep.

I’ve been thinking about that phrase this week, “faith in every footstep.”   I’ve been thinking about the footsteps of Henry and Mary Grow.  Certainly it was their faith that gave them courage to leave home, to strike out on the plains for a faraway place, to rebuild.  But what does “faith in every footstep” mean?  Does it mean that  an equal, steady amount of faith was meted out for every single step?  Or were there days then the fire of vision and testimony was so great that it hardly seemed like work to walk, followed sometimes by days when dust and exhaustion obscured the vision and the footsteps were taken because well, what else was there to do?  If some days were full of energy, were there others that were hard?  Did they ever need to remind themselves why they were doing it?

My life has days of vision and purpose, and days where the dust of everyday life obscures my sight.  Some days are filled with faith while others seem full of short-sighted mistakes and self doubt.   Sometimes I plod on, not because I have a good perspective or much hope, but because I don’t know what else to do.  When the dust settles, I can see clearly to fix what needs fixing and correct my course.  My footsteps are stronger and on the next windy day I’m able to walk a little farther into the dust before it gets to me.

If I could ask Mary one thing today, I would ask her to describe for me the ups and downs of her footsteps and the faith that fueled them.  If there were days that were hard, I do know this:  that the sum of  all her days, of all her  footsteps was sufficient.   Five generations later, I sit at the end of a difficult day and find strength in her faith.  Five generations later, her faith inspires my footsteps.

And so, if yesterday’s faith was insufficient, today’s can be greater.  And I can pray and have faith that the sum of my footsteps will somehow be enough to complete my journey and inspire the footsteps  of  another generation.

I do  not want to let her down.


The Mind and Heart Lead

This evening our family sat together and read the entire text of the Declaration of Independence.  We talked about the fundamental principles embodied in it, explained some of the 27 grievances against King George III, and felt the power of the closing paragraph of that singular document.  As our family has moved from one activity to another throughout the weekend, a single thread of thought has weaved its way through my mind.

What, exactly, do we commemorate on July 4th?  The answer is obvious.  We celebrate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.  Yet the Revolutionary war began on April 19, 1775 with the Battles of Lexington and Concord.  When the Declaration of Independence was printed and distributed throughout the colonies, General Washington had been engaged as the commander of the American army for a year.  We are not celebrating the beginning of the war on the 4th of July.  Interestingly, we aren’t celebrating the end of the war, either.  Most Americans don’t even know when the war ended.  (It effectively ended with the defeat of the British in October of 1781, but wasn’t officially concluded until the Treaty of Paris guaranteed the abandonment of British claims to the United States in 1783.)  In fact, on July 4, 1776, our independence was far from won.

Yet this is the date we remember, the date upon which we celebrate our nation and the principles upon which it was founded.  On this day, we celebrate an idea so powerful that it united a tiny populace and fueled it with determination to defeat the largest military force ever assembled in the history of the world.  We celebrate the document that provided unity, purpose and vision to an entire generation and to the generations that have followed.

“When in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness — That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness….

“WE, therefore, the Representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the Rectitude of our Intentions, do, in the Name, and by he Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly Publish and Declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that they are absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political Connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which INDEPENDENT STATES may of right do.  And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”  (The Declaration of Independence) Occasionally I am amazed at the conviction and nerve which the Signers displayed in pressing forward with such a Declaration.  Should they lose the war or be captured, each man had signed his death warrant.  Yet the Declaration was not an idea that suddenly sprung up amidst the debates in Congress.  The ideas had been growing, spreading, for years.   Ten and a half years earlier John Adams had written in his journal, “The year 1765 has been the most remarkable year of my life.  The enormous engine fabricated by the British Parliament for battering down all the rights and liberties of America, I mean the Stamp Act, has raised and spread through the whole continent a spirit that will be recorded to our honor, with all future generations.”  July 4, 1776 represents the day these ideas burst forth into reality, articulated brilliantly on a piece of paper which any citizen could hold in hand.

John Adams said, “But what do we mean by the American Revolution?  Do we mean the American war?  The Revolution was effected before the war commenced.  The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people.”

I guess I’ve been marveling this weekend that what we’re really celebrating is the victory of an idea in the minds and hearts of people.  The consequences of its acceptance had yet to play out, and would take many more years, costing lives and treasure beyond, perhaps, what any could foresee.  I’ve been thinking about how true it is that when our minds and hearts are convinced, the real victory is won and all that remains is to hold fast to our convictions long enough to bring our physical reality into alignment with that paradigm.  For the first time in my life, it has dawned on me that we celebrate even more than I imagined.   July 4th is evidence of the eternal triumph of truth when it has taken root in the minds and hearts of men.

Oliver DeMille wrote, “All generations before this one have had geographical frontiers to conquer.  We don’t.  Without a frontier we cannot become what the Founders, the explorers and the pioneers became in their extremities.  Our challenges define us, our reactions to them mold and shape us…. Human beings need a frontier in order to progress.  Fortunately, we do have one frontier left, and it is in fact the hardest one.  It is the frontier within.  In all of history, this frontier has not been fully conquered.”  (A Thomas Jefferson Education, p. 63) Tonight as I sit in the comfort of my home, my heart clenches with joy and resolve.  The world I live in has different wars raging, different battles to be fought.  Truth is as powerful today as it was 234 years ago.  The victories I seek for my family, for myself, lie waiting inside us.   Many mothers have succeeded before me, but it is my first experience with this frontier.  As this holiday weekend draws to a close, my celebration has become even more meaningful, more personal.  The mind and heart will lead us to freedom if we fill them with that which is right.  We can win our wars before they commence, and have only then to stay the course until physical reality follows.

Is this not something to celebrate?


Seven Miracles that Saved America

A few of you asked which history book I was reading when I posted about the power of history recently.  Having completed the book, I wanted to share it with you and share my thoughts about it.

The book is Seven Miracles that Saved America, Why they matter and why we should have hope by Chris and Ted Stewart.

I loved it.  It was a great “jump back into reading history” book for me.  The book goes through seven different events in U.S. history illustrating small things that did or didn’t happen and how the course of history would have been altered if they had happened differently.  The seven examples cited are:

Columbus’ discovery of America and why it was unlikely Jamestown, VA and the survival of the colony in spite of the “starving time” The Battle of New York during the Revolutionary War and the miracle of fog to cover the retreat Creation of the US Constitution Lincoln’s experience with prayer during the Battle of Gettysburg The Battle of Midway in WWII Ronald Reagan’s unique talents and influence in ending the Cold War Of these seven events, I can say that I was already very familiar with five of them.  Even so, among those five the book contained research that either I wasn’t familiar with or hadn’t considered from that perspective before.  So although much of the book was review for me, I felt that I gleaned new thoughts and insights.  For instance, I had never studied Chinese history during the century leading up to Columbus with the question in mind, “Why didn’t the Chinese discover the New World?”  Learning about the decline of Chinese culture at that time was fascinating to me, not because I’d never heard it before, but because I hadn’t connected it with what was happening in Europe at the same time and the consequences it all had on the Americas.  I guess you could say that this book connected some dots in my mind, an illuminating experience!

This book is written from a Christian viewpoint, something which I am not the least bit bothered by.  My personal belief is like Benjamin Franklin’s, that God governs in the affairs of both men and nations.  I was also happy to find in the bibliography several books which I intend to read.  Experience has taught me that reading the bibliographies in historical books often shows me new paths to follow in learning.  It’s like a treasure hunt, and I love it.

Finally, the premise of the book was what inspired me to purchase it in the first place.  Most historians have a purpose in writing, something they’re hoping to prove, and they use historical facts to do it.   Often those facts can tell more than one story depending upon the perspective of the storyteller.  In today’s world there are few who use historical facts to support the idea that the United States of America has a purpose to fulfill in the world, that it has tremendous potential, and that believing in that potential and mission is worthwhile.  I found it refreshing to read.

In addition to this, it is interesting to consider how history might have played out if different things happened, or if certain things didn’t happen.  Obviously we will never know, but this book reminded me that sometimes there is significance in considering the other alternatives.   I realized that I have more to learn from both history and my personal life by asking that question.  Sometimes the hand of God is revealed in what didn’t happen, not only in what did.

While this book was not the best written history I’ve ever encountered, I found certain parts of it to be compelling.  If history is an intimidating subject for you, it is likely that you would find in this book a story that would pique your interest and make you hungry for more.  It is also an easily digested book because it provides only general overviews of historical events and isn’t a thick book focused on one single event.

In sum, I learned and am a better person for reading this book.   I recommend it.  If you’re interested, you can purchase it here .


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