Eighteen years ago today, Geoff and I got married and Sealed in the Bountiful Temple. It’s been a crazy awesome adventure since then. Some of you were like 18?! Whoa! And others were like, Ah, I remember 18, 18 was nice. It feels just right to me and I try to enjoy every day as it passes so quickly. I love you, Geoff.
Our oldest daughter Becca was born 16 years ago in Logan while we were still studying at Utah State. Her brain was damaged by a virus I contracted while pregnant which left her with Cerebral Palsy, Vision and Hearing loss, Developmental Delay and a sensitivity to the Spirit with a smile and a giggle to match. She was followed by two sisters, Emily and Grace who were definitely meant to be with her in our family. They are incredible young ladies. Our family is rounded out by two younger brothers, Landon and Ethan who bring noise and joy and dirt and happiness into our family, just as boys should.
If you’ve talked to me at all, ever, you probably know how much I love Girls Camp. I have always loved Girls Camp… ever since I was a string bean of a Beehive. I mean, I enjoy camping in general, but Girls Camp is so much more than roughing it, getting sunburned, bitten by bugs and trying to stay warm enough to sleep.
Did you know that the first official Girls Camp in the Church was held in 1912? That’s 65 years after the Pioneers first entered the Valley. Now, I tend to think that crossing the plains was like the biggest camping trip of all camping trips and I forget that what they were leaving behind was actually quite civilized. They didn’t live like that all the time. They were definitely roughing it. And that, combined with sheer distance, sickness and all other manner of trials brought them closer to Heavenly Father and cemented fiery testimonies that still reverberate today. So, in 1912, the Liberty Stake in Salt Lake picked a spot way out in the boonies of Murray to build a Girls Camp. I love imagining that Murray was “getting away from it all.” They raised money, $365.27 to be exact, and built a screened structure on a pretty little spot on the Big Cottonwood Creek. They rode a streetcar out to Murray and then hiked for a mile to get there. They had 12 cots with straw mattresses, a coal stove and even a piano out there. One of the girls, Clarissa Johnson, wrote in her journal, “Around the fires in the evenings, sat the camp girls… while they danced and sang and shouted, to music from the cabin… and they whispered and they giggled until sleep had grasped the last one.”
Nothing beats sharing testimonies around a campfire. I imagine the Pioneers did this often. It’s amazing how going out of your comfort zone flips the lens on gospel principles you’ve learned every week in Church and helps you to see them in a new way. Campfire testimonies are the glue that sticks the whole experience together and imprints it on our memories. Jesus told us in D&C 88:63 Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
I’d like to quote from an article celebrating the first Girls Camp, A camp with the most basic and simple accommodations can become a sacred space where the Spirit of the Lord is present, where daughters of God put the principles of the gospel into practice, and the glorious blessings of nature are appreciated in happy ways.
Another favorite illustration of this was our Sunrise Hike. As with so many things in life, it began easily enough, gradually got harder and the most difficult part, with the most rocks and the steepest uphill angle came right before the greatest reward. We sat on large, flat rocks overlooking an area they call the Church Without a Roof. There’s a valley that comes in this way and another valley that way and one coming up from behind you. You can see for miles in every direction. And as the earth slowly turned, the light from the sun very slowly overcame the darkness. Everything around us slowly gained back its color and its detail. I couldn’t help but think of my Savior and how He brings light to my life… how He is the light of the world… how everything makes more sense and has more detail when He shows me His way and shines His light on it. And here’s the thing, the Sun always comes back up. No matter how dark the night, how hard the trail we’re walking becomes, Christ always comes when we call, always walks beside us when we ask. It’s amazing what you can hear in the stillness. Later on in Doctrine and Covenants, section 88, in verse 77, we read, Which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made.
Sister Elaine S. Dalton said this about Girls Camp, “You learn you really don’t need much to be happy. You leave your makeup and music behind and learn to become self-sufficient. You learn the importance of a strong, healthy body so you can climb mountains… You learn that the scriptures can speak to you personally and you also experience what it feels like to be still and to listen to the song of a bird or to the voice of the Sprit, sometimes for the first time.”
In Becca’s Patriarchal Blessing, we are promised that those that serve her in this life will be blessed, not only in this life, but the one to come. We are promised that we will develop more Christ-like virtues as we reach out to her in love and tenderness, in patience and kindness. If you have ever wondered why I take Becca to camp- this is why. Not only because I benefit from serving her, I get to do that plenty at home and still sleep in my own bed. J But I always stand back in amazement when I watch your girls serve my precious daughter. When they use their strong and healthy bodies to pull her backwards in her wheelchair everywhere they go. Often Bishop Mott is yoked right beside them. We were walking up to dinner one night and Bishop turned to me and said, “Now wait a minute, where’s our girl?” The girls had taken her on their own ahead up to dinner with them. They even helped pull her up a mountain to watch them ride the horses. No easy feat! But she loved every minute… even being co-photographer as Sister Gurney captured so many smiling faces beaming down from saddles. I was on a field trip with one of my boys once and one of the girls in his class said to me, “I just feel so sorry for her. It makes me sad that she can’t do things.” First, I validated her feelings, those are real feelings. And then I encouraged her instead to be grateful for her legs that could walk, her eyes that could see, her voice that could talk. I hope that when I work so hard to get Becca there and they take the opportunity to reach out to her, that that is part of what they learn from her. If she was on this earth only for herself, she wouldn’t still be here. She got to stay to give us the opportunity to elevate our empathy and to celebrate our differences and to bring God’s plan into sharp focus.
Leaving the noise of the world behind and listening to what the Lord has to say to You and being able to share that experience with other Women of Faith and Virtue and getting to know yourself in a new light are all things I love about Girls Camp. Being out in God’s creations with no roof between we and He and knowing that we are one of His most precious creations gets me through the tough days.
I can see why, over 100 years ago and every year since then, we send our daughters (or in my case, take all of them with me) out into the wilderness and welcome them back again being sunburned and tired, but being changed and better and stronger and more able to withstand what the world throws at them. I know that Heavenly Father must cherish this time with His daughters. I know we do as their leaders. Thank you for sharing them with us. I say these things…