Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Pioneer Legacy

Much to my mother’s disappointment, my brother was born just after midnight on July 25th. No, the disappointment wasn’t my brother, it was the date. When she went into labor the day before, Mother was so excited that the baby would be born on the 24th of July. That would mean that he would have parades and celebrations on every birthday of his life, but instead he came into the world just a few minutes too late.

I have heard this story over and over again, and the funny thing is that I don’t think my brother has ever seen a Pioneer Day parade. We grew up in California, and the 24th of July wasn’t a holiday to anyone else in our town except other ward members; everyone still had to go to work. We did celebrate, but without any thing like a parade. Primary singing time for the entire month of July was always dedicated to “Pioneer Children Sang as They Walked” and “To be a Pioneer,” and there was usually a ward barbecue on that day, or as near to it as possible.

In 1997, however, our primary registered a pioneer float in our town’s Fourth of July parade. The parade still wasn’t on my brother’s birthday, but at the age of almost five he dressed up with the rest of us and marched behind the pioneer float. During the weeks before, my mother sewed calico and gingham bonnets and dresses for my sisters and me. Dad even joined in the preparations and fitted a frame of chicken wire over our play wagon and covered it in white paper.

By celebrating Pioneer Day in our ward and family, I learned at a young age to appreciate the Church members who sacrificed so much to protect the Church from persecution so many years ago. In recent years, however, I’ve realized that there are other pioneers that have influence my life who never pushed a handcart or walked thousands of miles. In the First Presidency Message of the July 2008 Ensign, President Uchtdorf talks about the importance of pioneers of all kinds. He mentions how he does not have ancestors that were 19th century pioneers who crossed into the Salt Lake Valley. However, he claims that these saints are his “spiritual ancestry, as they are for each and every member of the Church” because they “established . . . a spiritual foundation for the building of the kingdom of God in all the nations of the world” (p. 5).

President Uchtdorf’s acknowledgment that he has no pioneer ancestry surprised me, but of course it makes sense because his family joined the Church in Germany during World War II. Then I remembered that my mother also has no literal pioneer ancestors. My father’s ancestors were pioneers who had joined the early saints in Nauvoo before crossing the plains, but my mother’s family history is different. Her parents joined and fell away from the Church before she can remember. Even though her parents were never active again, my mother says that faithful home teachers came to their home regularly just the same. These home teachers urged my mother’s parents to allow to her to be baptized. Her mother didn’t give permission until my mother was nine.

After that time, her family still was not active in the Church. But one day when my mother was thirteen she noticed a copy of Bruce R. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine in the house. She was drawn to the book and felt a strong impression that she needed to start going back to Church. She went alone at first, and then her older sister joined her. Years later, her older brother also reentered activity. All three of them had temple marriages, and because of their faithfulness all fourteen of the children of their combined families have been born in the covenant. Out of us fourteen—myself, my siblings, and my cousins—we have so far had five full-time missions, four temple weddings, and two more children born in the covenant. There are no handcarts or wagons in my mother’s ancestry, but the fruits of the labors of the pioneer legacy of her and her siblings have been great.

The 19th century pioneers crossed the plains to the Salt Lake Valley to build Zion, God’s kingdom on earth. My mother journeyed away from the habits of a less active family in order to build her own Zion home. I may think that the pioneering of faith is a thing of the past that belongs to my Mormon pioneer ancestors and my valiant mother, but President Uchtdorf reminds us that we all are pioneers, that we must be diligent in strengthening our families and “building a spiritual foundation that will establish the Church in every part of the world.” Each of us can trace our spiritual heritage to the first member of our family to accept the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and that first member might even be ourselves. No matter where the heritage of testimony began, we each have a charge to continue the pioneer legacy. My brother wasn’t born on the 24th of July, but he and I both carry the pioneer legacies of our parents and ancestors—a sacred trust of faith.

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