Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanksgiving Daily

When life gets hard, it’s natural, and understandable, to complain. Heaven knows I’ve done more than my fair share. But I’ve never finished a gripe session without feeling worse than I did before I started. Unlike me, there are others, who despite their trials, thank God for the many blessings they receive from Him.

In 1856, my great-great-great grandfather Jesse Soar Taylor, just a boy at the time, his brother William, and their mother Mary Soar Taylor emigrated from England to come to Zion in Utah’s mountain valleys. They were poor and couldn’t afford a wagon, let alone a team of oxen, so they pulled their belongings and supplies in a handcart in the Martin Handcart Company. But they left for Utah late in the summer, and by late September, an early snow storm caught their company on the high plains of Wyoming.
They were stranded.
Providentially, Elder Franklin D. Richards of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had found them before the snow storm as he was returning from a mission in Europe. He had a fast team of horses and a carriage and made it to Salt Lake City on October 4 to report that there were still two companies on the plains.
Even though Brigham Young immediately sent help, my ancestors and their company didn’t arrive in the Salt Lake Valley until late November. Many died, and those who didn’t lost toes, feet, fingers, and legs. William eventually died from the effects of the experience. (For more information about the Martin Handcart Company, see James E. Faust, "Go Bring Them Home from the Plains," Liahona, Nov. 1997, 3; James E. Faust, "A Priceless Heritage," Ensign, July 2002, 2; "Remembering the Rescue," Ensign, Aug. 1997, 38; Paul H. Peterson, "They Came by Handcart," Ensign, Aug. 1997, 30.
Of all people, I think the members of the Martin Handcart Company were justified in complaining and criticizing Brigham Young and the other leaders of the Church. But they didn’t; other members of the Church did. The following is an account of one survivor of the Martin Handcart Company as he responded to criticism:

Some sharp criticism of the Church and its leaders was being indulged in for permitting anycompany of converts to venture across the plains with no more supplies or protection than a handcart caravan afforded.

An old man in the corner … sat silent and listened as long as he could stand it, then he arose and said things that no person who heard him will ever forget. His face was white with emotion, yet he spoke calmly, deliberately, but with great earnestness and sincerity.

In substance [he] said, "I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts mean nothing here, for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistake to send the Handcart Company out so late in the season? Yes.

But I was in that company and my wife was in it and Sister Nellie Unthank whom you have cited was there, too. We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? …

"I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through it."

He continued: "I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.

"Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay, and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company." (James E. Faust, "The Refiner’s Fire," Ensign, May 1979, 53).

I know that Mary, Jesse, and William felt the same way.
Now, I’m not going to say be grateful because so many people have had it worse. Rather, be grateful because there are others who went through hard times, refused to become embittered, and thanked God that they were counted worthy to pass through the refiner’s fire. For after they passed through the fire, they knew God.
There is a price for everything worth having.
Gratitude will also help us through trials. My first quarter of law school was difficult, and I was one discussion with my wife from quitting. But she wouldn’t let me give up. I realized that I could keep being negative and complaining about how hard life was, or I could change my focus.
I found that being grateful for the things that were going well in my life eclipsed the negative feelings I had about law school. But it took time. Still, as I felt overwhelmed or angry, thinking about my wife, my daughter (and now my son), my relationship with God, His love for us, the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, and the blessings of the Restoration brought things into perspective.
And I couldn’t help but feel thankful.
So often, we look past our blessings to what we don’t have. Maybe that’s why stores tend to skip Thanksgiving and go straight to Christmas advertisements.
The Book of Mormon tells of a poor group of people who were mocked by their neighbors and kept from worshiping in the synagogue they had helped build. When missionaries came to teach them of Jesus Christ, they asked, "What shall [we] do, for [we] are despised of all men because of [our] poverty?" (Alma 32:2-5).
To answer their question, among other things, the missionaries taught, "[L]ive in thanksgiving daily, for the many mercies and blessings which [the Lord] doth bestow upon you" (Alma 34:38).
Although trials may rage, like they did for those impoverished people, we can find peace as we reflect on what God has done for us. And if we can’t see anything, then today we can "come unto [Christ] . . . and find rest unto [our] souls." (Matthew 11:28-30).

During this season of Thanksgiving, may we reflect on the great blessings we have received. And let us refuse to complain when things get hard.
Let us live in thanksgiving daily.

1 comment:

Mom said...

Craig, I found your blog by searching for Jesse Soar Taylor to see if there was any more out there as I am speaking at a RS in Payson tonight and would like to talk a little about him and his mother. I was just wondering if you had a copy of the letter she wrote late in life to be opened 50 years later. It is precious and rivals Francis Webster's testimony. (The old man in the Sunday School Class.) Also, Taylor Elementary was named for Jesse because of his dedication to education. You may contact me if you have any questions: Jolene Allphin, author of "Tell My Story, Too" - a collection of biographical sketches of pioneers and rescuers of the Willie, Martin, Hodgett and Hunt companies of 1856." 801-897-8813