This is a subject I speak about with great reverence and gratitude to our Father in Heaven. Life can be very difficult, even unbearable, at times. There are moments when we are drowning in the darkness and despair and feel as if there is no light, no hope left in the world. This is never as our Heavenly Father intended it to be. He intended these to be times of reaching toward the heavens and trusting in Him and His Son, Jesus Christ, to get us through.
Many years ago, President David O. McKay, the ninth prophet called in these modern times, told of a desperate time in Mormon history:
Some years ago President David O. McKay told from this pulpit of the experience of some of those in the Martin handcart company. Many of these early converts had emigrated from Europe and were too poor to buy oxen or horses and a wagon. They were forced by their poverty to pull handcarts containing all of their belongings across the plains by their own brute strength. President McKay relates an occurrence which took place some years after the heroic exodus: “A teacher, conducting a class, said it was unwise ever to attempt, even to permit them [the Martin handcart company] to come across the plains under such conditions.
“[According to a class member,] some sharp criticism of the Church and its leaders was being indulged in for permitting any company of converts to venture across the plains with no more supplies or protection than a handcart caravan afforded.
“An old man in the corner … sat silent and listened as long as he could stand it, then he arose and said things that no person who heard him will ever forget. His face was white with emotion, yet he spoke calmly, deliberately, but with great earnestness and sincerity.
“In substance [he] said, ‘I ask you to stop this criticism. You are discussing a matter you know nothing about. Cold historic facts mean nothing here, for they give no proper interpretation of the questions involved. Mistake to send the Handcart Company out so late in the season? Yes. But I was in that company and my wife was in it and Sister Nellie Unthank whom you have cited was there, too. We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? Not one of that company ever apostatized or left the Church, because everyone of us came through with the absolute knowledge that God lives for we became acquainted with him in our extremities.
“ ‘I have pulled my handcart when I was so weak and weary from illness and lack of food that I could hardly put one foot ahead of the other. I have looked ahead and seen a patch of sand or a hill slope and I have said, I can go only that far and there I must give up, for I cannot pull the load through it.’ ” He continues: “ ‘I have gone on to that sand and when I reached it, the cart began pushing me. I have looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there.
“ ‘Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay, and I am thankful that I was privileged to come in the Martin Handcart Company.’ ” (As quoted by James E. Faust in “The Refiner’s Fire“, Ensign May 1979, 53 — Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1948, p. 8.)
Can any of us say we have undergone a test such as this? Yes, I think some of us can. Certainly abuse, illness, loneliness and addiction occurs in the lives of more than we could ever possibly know. But having been through some dark times myself I can now look back and see the points in the journey through those trials where I grew stronger. I looked more to heaven. I spoke more often with my Heavenly Father. At times I simply begged for divine intervention in situations which went far beyond my control.
I look back to the moment when I first realized the gospel was true and look at where I am today and it is a night and day difference. I have become a student of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and a fierce defender of my Savior. I am a better wife, a better aunt and a better daughter because of the trials I have been through.
In 2005 I had the occasion to be involved in the gathering of stories of people who suffered through great trials and came out stronger and closer to God. As I filtered through these stories I began to feel a common thread which was woven in and out of the stories. Hope and faith. With these two things came heavenly ministrations which strengthened them to the point where they could continue on, step by step, toward Jesus Christ. As I pulled the book together, placing the stories in an order that brought the smoothest flow, thoughts began to pour into my head.
As we truly began to understand the refining process, we realize, just as in the case with precious ore, that our weaknesses and addictions are swept away in that fire, and what remains is the purity and strength of children of God that we are. I testify to you, all we endure is an opportunity to grow that divine potential into a flame which will render you stronger than you have ever been. This I can tell you from personal experience.
Take on every obstacle with the understanding you do not go it alone. Realize that it is part of the refining process we agreed to before we were ever bone. Understand that we are better, stronger and more righteous at the end of these trials, more so than we ever could be then if we lived a charmed life. Know that you are loved and treasured, beyond all measure or understanding, by our Heavenly Father and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Believe it is possible, lift up your head, pick up your feet and move forward.