I loved Disney’s recent film, Moana. I liked it for many reasons, some of which include a fairly accurate depiction of Polynesian culture, great music, a strong female character, no evil patriarchy, no romantic love story (it wasn’t noticed that it was missing, nor was it needed), and a lot of heart. But one part I loved the most was the theme about knowing were we come from.
There is a one particular part that gives me goosebumps every single time I watch (or hear) it. In the scene, Moana is visited by her grandmother who has died. She is encouraging Moana not to give up her quest, to look inside of herself to find who she is, where she came from, and what she’s capable of doing.
Moana then sees visions of her ancestors (again), but this time, something clicks, and she beautifully and powerfully sings this:
Who am I?
I am a girl who loves my island
I’m the girl who loves the sea
It calls me
I am the daughter of the village chief
We are descended from voyagers
Who found their way across the world
They call me!
I’ve delivered us to where we are
I have journeyed farther
I am everything I’ve learned and more
Still it calls me!
And the call isn’t out there at all, it’s inside me!
It’s like the tide; always falling and rising
I will carry you here in my heart, you’ll remind me
That come what may
I know the way
I am Moana!
(Lyrics by Opetaia Foa’i and Lin-Manuel Miranda)
There is so much truth inside this simple song, truth about both our earthly and divine heritage, and I’d like to explore them both.
Physical and Earthly Heritage
Moana knew she was an islander and that her family had been living on the same island for generations and generations. But it wasn’t until she discovered who they had been before coming to the island that she understood why she felt this urgent inward call to take to the sea.
They had been voyagers! They discovered new islands, navigated by the stars, and set sail across the vast ocean, never losing their way.
Who are your ancestors? We are encouraged by our church leaders to do our family history, not just so we can do temple work for our ancestors, but also so we can get to know the people who have come before us. Who they were is important because it helps us know who we are, too. I love learning the stories about my ancestors –who were they? What did they do? Why did they make the decisions they did? Did they have love, loss, adventure, laughter in their lives?
Here’s a very small sample of where I come from:
My great-grandmother (Beatrice), whom I never met, was a musician. She was a piano teacher and a singer and one time, many years ago, and since I’m a musician and piano teacher myself, I like to think I got some of her talent.
Several years ago, I had the chance to play her piano that had been moved to a museum in Cardston, Alberta, Canada. That was special to me! She was also the doting mother of ten children! My grandmother was their youngest.
Another great-grandmother (Sarah) agreed to marry my great-grandfather (a rancher and future politician), but only if she could go to college for a year to get her teaching certificate.
My great-grandfather agreed and supported her decision. Later, she supported her husband when he wanted to move their family to Canada. She died when I was 2 years old, and although I don’t remember her, I feel deeply connected to her.
Sarah’s grandmother, Jane, came from Scotland. Her father refused to join the church when she, her mother, and siblings did. But he respected their decision. It wasn’t until after he died that her mother chose to take the family to Salt Lake City. Jane was 17 years old and they crossed the plains pulling handcarts. They were with the Willie Handcart Company, but her whole family survived.
She married, had many children, and spent a great life serving and working hard. Her grandchildren remarked that she was always clean and tidy, and she happened to be a really good influence for Sarah. I think about her often. I wonder about her life in Scotland, and since our family records end with her great-great grandparents (mid 1700’s), I have felt a deep pull to find them.
My grandfather was a rancher and starting in his late teens, he wasn’t very active in the church for a long time. Not long after his first marriage (it ended in divorce), the Stake President approached him and told him the Lord wanted him to be a Branch President.
My grandfather replied that he couldn’t do it –he had a word of wisdom problem, didn’t go to church often, and was a single father. The Stake President said he knew he could do it, and that if he did, the Lord would provide him with a wife.
My grandfather accepted the call, never broke the word of wisdom again, and shortly thereafter, met my grandmother, whom he married in the temple five months after meeting her!
My mother was their first child. I’ve often reflected how this story shows great integrity and repentance –and what would have happened had he not accepted the call? Who would my grandmother have married? My mother and my chance at the gospel is a direct reflection of his change of heart. He’s been gone for almost 19 years. I still miss him.
My ancestors came from England, Scotland, Ireland, Denmark, and Sweden. They were pilgrims, pioneers, farmers, ranchers, musicians, and their faith, strength, and determination are a part of me. I like to think they are watching me and cheering me on.
I am, after all, like you, dear reader, the result of thousands of decisions of love and faith! And even amidst many mistakes, trials, sins, and pain (theirs and mine), I can take those experiences and use them to give me the resolve to make them proud of who I am and who I am becoming.
Who are your ancestors? Where do you come from? How has your family influenced you?
I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.
Even more important than our Earthly heritage is our divine. Every time Moana sings the words, “the call isn’t out there at all, it’s inside me!” I get chills because isn’t this true about our divine heritage? We are children of God!
Who we are on the inside is so much more important than who we are on the outside, and recognizing where we’ve come from and the potential we’ve brought with us can do more for our success than any other earthly pursuits. We can’t find that call “out there” (at all!) because it’s right here, inside of us, always leading us.
Elder Donald L. Hallstrom said:
Here on earth, we identify ourselves in many different ways, including our place of birth, our nationality, and our language. Some even identify themselves by their occupation or their hobby. These earthly identities are not wrong unless they supersede or interfere with our eternal identity—that of being a son or a daughter of God.
He also said:
We live in a world that can cause us to forget who we really are. The more distractions that surround us, the easier it is to treat casually, then ignore, and then forget our connection with God.
People sometimes talk about self-esteem and learning self-care, self-love, and self-empowerment. The intentions are good, and the purpose to to help people see they are of worth, but I sometimes wonder if those efforts put too much emphasis on the earthly self, and not enough on the divine self.
In my struggles with Depression, I have found many people willing to teach me how to exercise self-care. I don’t mind this, because I believe it really is an important part of healing. I also think too many people can overstep the bounds of service and forget to serve their own soul (a.k.a. running faster than they have strength!).
But I have found that when I have a deep understanding about who I am as a daughter of God, I don’t need to focus on myself, anymore, at least not in the way the world teaches me I should. When I realize who I am and remember it, I have real power! Who can tear me down when I know I am descended from God? How can I limit myself when God is on my side? Nobody can take that away from me, because it is who I am. Not who I think I am, but who I actually am.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband said:
In the midst of life’s greatest storms, do not forget your divine heritage as a son or daughter of God or your eternal destiny to one day return to live with Him, which will surpass anything the world has to offer.
Once we know who we are and where that call for strength is coming from, we can then turn and face the storms of mortality, knowing we won’t have to face them alone. Moana was ready to give up on her quest and go home, even while knowing that her failure to accomplish what she set out to do would have far reaching consequences to her family and island. But when she knew she had help (ancestors) and strength inside (I would call that her divine heritage!), she was able to turn and face the challenges before her.
This reminded me of another part of Elder Rasband’s same talk when he said this:
Generations are affected by the choices we make. Share your testimony with your family; encourage them to remember how they felt when they recognized the Spirit in their lives and to record those feelings in journals and personal histories so that their own words may, when needed, bring to their remembrance how good the Lord has been to them.
What we do will not only affect us, but those who come after us. Like my ancestors, I am a product of their faith and strength. Like my Heavenly Parents, I am a product of divine love. So are you, dear reader!
Don’t forget who you are. Don’t forget from where you come. Don’t forget to where you are going! Always remember that you are divine, loved, and never alone. Then you can sing, like Moana:
Come what may
I know the way
I am (insert your name here)!
Cheryl S. Savage
Cheryl S. Savage has one incredible husband and seven sensational kids. Since earning her bachelor's degree in marriage and family studies at BYU many years ago, she spends her time raising the kids, teaching piano lessons, voraciously reading, traveling, romanticizing, writing, and learning. She and her husband have moved their family from coast to coast, but currently reside in Kansas.