Monday, April 24, 2017

Don't Miss Out on Your "Elephant Rides" and Other Lessons I Learned from my First Solo Trip to Salt Lake City

One of my earliest memories is of going to the circus with my dad and sister.  I don’t remember much, but remember being so excited when it was announced that they were offering a ride on an elephant at the end of the show.  I remember running with my sister to get in line behind a gate and when the gate opened, Jenni ran fearlessly towards the elephant but after seeing him up close, I got too scared.  The gate closed and the ride started.  Now, I realize that it was a perfectly natural thing for a little girl to be afraid of but even at that age as I stood behind the gate and watched from a safe distance, I had the sense that I was missing out on something I really wanted to do because I was too afraid.  Over the course of my life, there have been “elephant rides” along the way, opportunities and special moments that have also frightened me when I get closer and see them looming up before me.  Sometimes I have stayed back and watched at a safe distance.  Sometimes I have walked through the gate to meet them.  One such experience happened a few weeks ago over conference weekend. 

I had received an invitation from my best friend to come to the Salt Lake area for a family gathering to watch her son be ordained to the Priesthood and then for a potluck lunch afterwards.  It sounded wonderful because they live out of state and I don’t get to see them very often.  There would be so many people there whom I love dearly and it would be such fun to be able to spend a special evening with them.  There was only one problem.  I am very afraid of driving on busy freeways and while I have done it other places, I had never driven on Salt Lake City freeways because they particularly frightened me.    There was just no way it could happen.  The bus was out of the question and I hated to ask my dad to be chauffer and drive me all the way there.  But I really missed my friends and kept thinking about how wonderful it would be to see them and be there to see something special happen to this awesome kid I’ve known all his life.  Maybe…just maybe, I could drive.  For a few days before the event, I went back and forth about it and then one night I thought about that missed opportunity for an elephant ride so long ago.  I was tired of missing out on things I wanted in life because I was too afraid.  And then I had an image in my mind from when I was a little girl, of my mom facing one of her fears.  I had known then that she was afraid but she showed up anyway.  Suddenly I felt the Holy Ghost in my heart speaking to me.  “That is the legacy you have.  You come from people who show up anyway, even when they are afraid.”  I knew then that I needed to face my fear and make the drive.  It wasn’t just about seeing my friends anymore and having a good time with them.  There was a much more important reason. 

The night before the ordination, I put the address in the MapQuest program online and carefully studied the directions.  All the different names for freeways, highways and exits caused my anxiety to rise again.  It was a different language and it made me feel lost before I had even left home.   Then that next morning, I was getting ready for the day and I felt another impression from the Holy Ghost.  “Bingham High School.”  I didn’t understand at first, but then it hit me.  Of course! I knew how to get to Bingham High School!  It was a point of reference that I was familiar with.  I would concentrate on getting there, then put the address in for the ordination and go from that point.  The fact that it was raining as I left Cache Valley did not help my anxiety but by now I was sure this was something that I needed to do.  I was nervous, but got through Salt Lake City alright until I came to an exit that I thought was the right one and by the time I realized that it wasn’t, I was off going in the opposite direction.  My first instinct was to panic but then I realized that I still had the directions on my phone and all I had to do was pull over and my phone would recalibrate the directions based on my current location.  It worked, I got back on my way and I ended up at Bingham High School.  I felt such relief as I started to see things that were familiar to me from my childhood.   I had a lot of time before the ordination began so I decided to take go the extra 10 miles or so down to Riverton where we used to live.  It was delightful.  I stopped at my old elementary school and junior high.  I saw my old house and stopped and talked for a few minutes with my beloved former young women leader who is also one of the dearest friends I’ve ever had.  I had no problems getting to the ordination from that point and I had such a wonderful time.  Seeing my friends was soul-satisfying.  I absolutely loved spending time with them.  The ordination was beautiful and I was so glad I was able to be there. 

As I left to head back to Logan, there was a part of me that wanted to drive on the freeway just until Highway 89 started and then take that the rest of the way.   It was a lot less busy and a lot slower.  But did that mean I wasn’t fully conquering my fear? As I got closer to the exit for Highway 89, I felt good about pulling off and going that route the rest of the way.  As I came into Cache Valley later on that evening, I was very glad I had pulled off.  It was clear that it had been raining again.  When I pulled in my driveway, my parents met me at the door and told me they had been anxious for me because a bad thunderstorm had just passed and they could see black clouds over Sardine Canyon, where I was coming from.  Because I had taken Highway 89, it had taken me longer to get to Brigham City and then to Sardine Canyon.  Had I taken the freeway, I might have very likely hit that storm right as I was coming over the canyon and that would have terrified me. 

As I sat at home safe and sound, I felt proud that I had faced my fear and grateful for such a special day.  But there was also so much more.  I thought about how facing your fears often begins with just the acknowledgement of a possibility, something you hadn’t really ever considered.  I thought about how we are never alone, and how we can gain strength from legacy of those we come from.  I thought about how Heavenly Father had not only encouraged me to face my fear, but had strengthened me and given me the power to do it.  I thought about Bingham High School and how the Spirit had directed me to not worry about trying to figure everything out, but instead to focus on one familiar destination.  Isn’t that like this journey we are all on? We know the end destination, where we want to be, but each journey is different.  Heavenly Father sometimes directs all of us to destinations that are meant to help us take a breath, get our bearings and continue on.  Going to the high school first probably added another 30 plus miles onto my trip, but who cares? And during my trip I made a wrong turn.  During life I have made many wrong turns.  But each time I have pulled over and consulted the ultimate GPS, aka, the Holy Ghost, I have been given directions based on where I am then.  I am so grateful for repentance and the chance to get back on course.   

I’m so grateful for a Heavenly Father who watches over me.  I’m so grateful that he knows me so well and helps me in a kind and gentle way to overcome fear and doubt.  I am so grateful for this extraordinary life that gives us so many opportunities.  As one of my favorite authors Sarah Ban Breathnach says: “Life is full of wonderful surprises if we’re open to them.  Some mornings you wake up not knowing what will happen during the day, and then you get to ride an elephant!”