Each year I take a group of teenage girls on a hike through the Appalachian Mountains. There are some pretty tough climbs along the way which challenge the girls physically and emotionally. Although it’s hot and tiring, full of bugs, and sometimes threatens of bears, I’ve never lost a hiker. The best experience was the year we called it “The Happy Hike”. No one complained about the tough terrain because they were focused on something better.
We started the hike at the camp pavilion. After reviewing safety rules, I told the girls we’d be doing something different this year. When we reached the overlook where we break for lunch, we’d have a ‘Fifteen Seconds of Fame” spotlight. Anyone who had a joke or a funny story could stand up and share it with the group. The rest of us would enjoy being in the audience and cheer the performers on. It could be a silly story, embarrassing moment, a joke, a song, whatever made them happy. I asked them to think about what they wanted to share while we hiked the first half of the trail. I added one last thing—I asked them to find a small rock to stash in their pocket before we began the trek.
There was singing and joking during the first climb up Stoll Trail. The coolness from the forest canopy kept the bugs at bay. We stopped at the end of it to catch a drink before taking a right up a rocky road to meet the next part of the trail—Jacob’s Ladder.
Some girls thought the rocky road was Jacob’s Ladder because it was steep and seemingly endless. It was a challenge for many and the singing quieted a bit—but no one complained. At the foot of Jacob’s Ladder we took another break to regroup and rehydrate.
Encouraging Each Other on the Climbs
Before tackling Jacob’s Ladder I explained to them what they would experience. This was hand over hand climbing at an almost vertical incline. There were cuts in the terrain like stairs to help, but they were not always even. There were inclines so steep, you could only traverse them if you grabbed a hold of a root or a narrow tree trunk for support. The weaker girls would need a boost—physically and emotionally—to get through this difficult pass. Once they made it past the first climb, a second, steeper climb awaited. The girls were real troopers hiking Jacob’s Ladder. We sang songs of encouragement until everyone made it up.
At the trail’s end we came to a crossing where the Appalachian Trail began. We took a right to follow this rocky terrain. Just when the girls thought the overlook was minutes away, another steep vertical climb loomed ahead. In the eyes of some of the girls was a look of exhaustion—a glimmer of doubt where determination used to be. After a few words of encouragement and a mustering of new-found faith, the girls made it up the last difficult vertical. And just around the corner sat the overlook onto Culver Lake—our destination for lunch and our “Fifteen Seconds of Fame” performances.
The giggles and excitement flooded back over the group as they ate, walked out to the overlook, took pictures, and had lots of fun. After lunch we gathered in a circle and let the performers take stage. It was fun to see these tired girls come to life telling their funny stories, jokes and songs. When the last one ended it was my turn to stand. I took out the rock from my pocket and began to speak.
What Made This Hike So Different?
I asked the girls if they had a good hike so far. The answer was a resounding “yes”. And what made it different than last year? They agreed it was the anticipation of the performance at the overlook. We talked about how a positive focus can make your troubles seem to go away. The hike wasn’t any easier. But the girls were not focused on the difficulties of the trail. They were anticipating something better. And that anticipation helped them get through the hike with grace and dignity rather than grumpiness.
Then I held up the rock and reminded them that they each had been carrying one. I asked them to take it out and hold it. How many girls had forgotten about it? Most every girl said she hadn’t given it a single thought the entire trip. Now that they had it out again, they were curious as to why they had been carrying it at all.
I then explained the purpose of the rock. It represented a trial or struggle they may be carrying in life that they couldn’t fix at the moment. Maybe to some it stood for self-esteem issues, while to others it represented problems with school, family or friends. No matter what it specifically meant to the individual, on a grander scale it was a trial they could not solve in a day. And now, at this very moment of the hike, they held it between their fingers and were asked to look at it in a new light.
I asked them to hold the rock close to one eye and close the other one tight. This made the rock look enormous, while everything else was blocked out. We sometimes look at our problems this way—as if they are the biggest thing there is and there is no hope getting beyond them. This is a false representation of the size of our problems, just as it is an inaccurate look at the little rock.
Then I had the girls stretch out the arm holding the rock and open both eyes. The entire forest spread out before them with its beautiful display of trees, bushes and flowers. The rock they had been carrying looked tiny again in comparison to everything else. This is how the rock measures up when weighed against all the rest of nature—it was never really that bid at all.
We talked about the road of life—how it is filled with joys and sorrows, good times and bad. Blessings of friendship, safety, and love surround us every step of the way. Goals we set to shoot for something better help motivate us to continue on our path even when the going gets tough. Everyone has a pathway to walk, sprinkled with an assortment of blessings and struggles—but it is what we choose to focus our attention on that determines how happy our hike through life will be.
We compared our view of the rock to our Heavenly Father’s view of the same rock. When we stretched out our arms and the rock was a tiny speck in the vast wilderness before us, we caught a glimpse of how Heavenly Father sees our trials in life. They are merely tiny specks in the eternal plan of happiness—hardly enough to weigh us down. Likewise, He sees the true beauty of us all as His loving daughters just as clearly as we can see the forest around us—going on for miles at a time. We talked about how His perspective is pure—unadulterated by the cares and trends of the world. Ultimately, His view will be our view when we meet Him again. If we can keep this thought in mind during our hike through life, we can better manage our problems and be happier people along the way.
The girls got the message. They were then challenged to find a quiet place of their own and to pray to Heavenly Father about whatever was burdening them in life. They were to ask Him to help them see the trial as it really is, to see themselves as He sees them, and to enjoy the journey of their hike through life as it was meant to be enjoyed. They then tossed away their rock and traded it for a glass bead. The glass bead was a reminder that trials will be a part of life, but if we see the lessons they teach us they can lead us closer to our loving Father in Heaven.
Nanette O'Neal loves the gospel and is very happy to share her testimony on LDS Blogs. She is a convert to the church and still feels the spirit burn strong within her heart. She graduated from Mason Gross School of the Arts with a degree in music education and has taught children and adults in the private and public sphere for over twenty years. Nanette continues to study the gospel and the art of writing. She writes weekly inspirational articles on her blog and is currently working on an LDS fantasy novel series, A Doorway Back to Forever. You can find her at NanetteONeal.blogspot.com. Nanette has a wonderful husband, talented son, and three beautiful dogs.