I was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 40 years ago as of yesterday. I consider this a huge milestone. Why? Because the ancient Israelites wandered for 40 years in the Sinai desert after miraculously escaping from 400 years of bondage in Egypt. The number 40 is very symbolic of a wilderness experience in the Hebrew culture.
So did I have a “wilderness experience” these last 40 years. You bet your boots I did! After growing up in a Midwestern university town with little exposure to religion or spirituality, I then detoured through six years as a New England hippie, glorying in the back-to-the-land culture of the late Sixties and early Seventies. Not only did that affect my lifestyle (burning wood for heat, hauling water from a well by hand, and using an outhouse for two of those years) but those lovely, silent woods awakened my soul to a profound spiritual reality. I experimented with astrology, meditation, and night walks along lonely back roads. I sensed unseen beings and a higher power.
After an amazing conversion to Christianity and then to Mormonism, I moved briefly from my little hippie house to Iowa, and then settled in Salt Lake City soon after my baptism. That began my sojourn learning how to be a good Latter-day Saint (saint meaning “follower of Christ,” not holy person). Over the ensuing years, I had to confront a multitude of faults: my unchristian resentment of those I felt had wronged me, my lack of desire to serve those around me, and coveting the blessings of others, to name a few. I needed to think before I spoke, learn the place of faith and grace in my life, how to pray and get answers, and so much more. I found an image on the front of a greeting card years ago that’s provided needed encouragement when the road seemed long. This young woman is resolute in spite of inadequate clothes and winter weather, and she’s surrounded by snowflakes representing spiritual guidance and miracles:
As I tackled motherhood after my divorce, various jobs and church callings, each one seemed to provide tutoring along the path of discipleship. My children taught me patience and living in the moment. Difficult bosses taught me to either speak up professionally or learn charity and long suffering. Friends encouraged me and provided needed R&R. Prayer was a refuge from the storm and an anchor to my soul. While I have much to learn and master, I feel I’ve finally “caught up with myself.” The little wounded child within has been made whole by the grace of God, and my future challenges seemed designed for creativity rather than healing.
I had a dream very early on that foreshadowed my spiritual odyssey and also gave me hope: I was in the Florence, Italy train station on a balcony overlooking several tracks with trains backed up to a platform, waiting for passengers to climb aboard. I was trying to decide which train to take when I noticed a headlight burning in one of them with its engine idling. All the others were dark and still. I said to myself, “I want to get on that one.” I entered through a door at the back of the caboose and, as soon as I did, the train took off at a terrifying speed. The vibrations were so strong I dropped to my hands and knees and crawled forward with difficulty. I slowly progressed through several seemingly emtpy cars, crawling on a slightly dusty but clean linoleum floor. Finally reaching the engine, I groped my way unto the engineer’s seat and studied the complicated control panel in front of me, trying various switches to learn how to drive the train. Finally, I opened a hatch over my head and put it through a cold, dark, ominous opening. But then, amazingly, my face was struck by warm night air, I could hear the crickets along the track and see down it by the headlight. I was free, exultant, flying along, and driving my own train!
I feel I’m at the end of this journey and about to put my head through the hatch. All the threads of my spiritual and personal growth have come to a healthy place. I have great hope and expect life to open up with new creative and fulfilling opportunities. I encourage all of you to find an image or allegory that helps propel you forward and see where it takes you.