About a month ago, I took a quick roadtrip from my home in Southeast Michigan to Nauvoo, Illinois for a weekend retreat hosted by Affirmation. I plugged the address “Main Street, Nauvoo, Illinois” into Google Maps on my phone, and off I went.
I suspected when I entered Iowa that I wasn’t quite on track, but I figured that Google Maps knew where I wanted to go, so I followed the course it laid out for me. I soon found myself on the western banks of the Mississippi River, headed south. I figured that there must be a bridge or something that would get me to Nauvoo faster than having stayed on the east banks.
Boy was I wrong.
It turns out that, for reasons unknown, Google Maps thinks that “Main Street, Nauvoo, Illinois” is co-located with “Main Street, Montrose, Iowa.”
As I was pulling into Montrose, I could see Nauvoo across the river. I quickly recalibrated my phone with my actual desired destination, and as I headed out I realized that if this wasn’t a great metaphor, then Dieter F. Uchtdorf has never flown an airplane.
I have found that sometimes life takes me in directions that I don’t anticipate. From a vantage point I did not anticipate, I end up looking at my desired destination across a gulf or a river or a gap I didn’t mean to put between me and my goal.
I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. Actually, having my retreat weekend begin on the wrong side of the river gave me some excellent perspective. I got to see the Nauvoo temple the way that the Saints would have seen it as they completed that first step of their no-turning-back journey. Being afforded that view, when we later discussed the reasons we serve and the things that sustain us, I felt a stronger kinship with the families who lined up on Parley Street and left their beautiful Nauvoo behind. I could imagine those lingering glances over their shoulders as they began their migration westward.
After I got myself oriented and found the nearest bridge, I also enjoyed a beautiful riverside drive that I would have missed if I had not taken a wrong turn. (It was also very fun to drive that winding road!) I was reminded that even when my life detours in unexpected ways, I can always find some joy in there somewhere.
The remainder of the weekend was a refreshing journey. I was shy, but I did make some connections with others on similar paths as mine. Together, we looked across the metaphoric river that stands between where we find ourselves and the destinations where our lives may have originally taken us.
We discussed the revelations received by Joseph the prophet while in Nauvoo. In D&C section 127, he commented that “deep water is what I am wont to swim in. It all has become a second nature to me; and I feel… to glory in tribulation.” This became a secondary theme for us that weekend. Life as LGBT Mormons and their allies isn’t easy swimming, but like Joseph, we gloried in our tribulations.
We also pondered how the early saints built Zion among them and how we might do the same. I took a few minutes during our free time to meditate at the site of the original temple stone quarry. I find peace in old sites where there had once been furious activity but now sit silent and off the beaten path.
In the evening, we gathered in the Red Brick Store’s upper room. Among the speakers there, Carol Lynn Pearson shared a story about one of Emma Hale Smith’s final interactions with her husband, the Prophet Joseph Smith. On the day that Joseph was to go to Carthage Jail, Emma felt the need for a blessing. With all of the goings on, Joseph didn’t feel he had the time so he told her to write out the best blessing that she could think of, and that he would sign in on his return. Emma did just that. She wrote it out, but because of Joseph’s death, it was never signed. It is beautiful though. Emma desired wisdom, strength, and the ability to understand the will of God, things I think we all desire. (Read the whole thing here: http://www.the-exponent.com/emmas-blessing/)
Our weekend ended with a story sharing testimony style meeting in the Seventies Hall. It was a comforting to hear and be with so many Saints who desire the best things in life, to live a full, authentic life, who may have found themselves on the other side of a river they didn’t anticipate. I left feeling uplifted, braver than before, and believing that I could find my way forward, just as the Saints did as they left Illinois for a place of peace.