At a recent BYU Education Week lecture, I was reminded of the impact of one voice in challenging times or situations. This presenter was sharing about the life of our beloved prophet, President Russell M. Nelson. There were so many touching and inspiring experiences of a life being well lived. A trusted disciple who did not grow up in a “traditional Latter-day Saint home” – as if there is such a thing – truly! Yet, this man has had an impact for good on so many levels and with so many faith filled hearts.
I walked away from that lecture with several insights, a deeper love and appreciation for our prophet, a desire to be his trusted defender in tumultuous times, and a recognition that I don’t have to be called as a prophet of God to have an impact on those who cross my path.
Sister Rosemary Wixom stated it so clearly in her 2015 general conference talk,
“Because you are His child, [God] knows who you can become. He knows your fears and your dreams. He relishes your potential. He waits for you to come to Him in prayer. Because you are His child, you not only need Him, but He also needs you. … The world needs you, and your divine nature allows you to be His trusted disciple to all His children. Once we begin to see the divinity in ourselves, we can see it in others.”
I’m grateful for Sister Wixom’s inspired insight, we are needed as Father’s trusted disciple to all His children. So how do we more fully become and stay trusted disciples? Perhaps it includes being in the middle.
Middle of the Wagon Train
My husband recently gave a wonderful presentation at a community event about the life of his great grandfather, Edwin D. Woolley. Consequently, I have discovered that there is much to be learned from Brother Woolley’s trusted discipleship. He was tenderly referred to by Leonard J. Arrington, historian, and author of his biography, as a “Middle Wagon Stalwart.”
Brother Woolley’s life and teachings contributed to his grandsons, J. Reuben Clark Jr. and Spencer Woolley Kimball, as well as others whose lives that had crossed his path.
What does it mean to be a middle of the wagon stalwart? Arrington, referred to J. Reuben Clark’s address, “To Them of the Last Wagon,” where President Clark spoke tenderly of those who occupied the last wagon as wagon trains traversed the wilderness from winter quarters to the Salt Lake City valley.
President Clark explained that what life often looked like for those in the last wagon. It meant having great trust and faith in those leading the train; it meant that you’d be covered in the dust that was kicked up by all the wagons and livestock in front of you; it also meant that you were probably among those who had weaker oxen to pull your wagon, or special needs of a loved one who was ill or expecting a child. Perhaps it meant that despite the trials you faced on the trail, your morning prayers of gratitude and supplication may have taken longer as other wagons pulled in line ahead of you. There is much to be said of the faith and discipleship of those who traveled as the last wagon.
Throughout our lives, there are times that we may find ourselves in a “last wagon” experience. Where certain season in our existence are especially difficult, where the dusty challenges of life slow down our pace and our ability to travel in the way we used to. This is when we are given the opportunity to faithfully wait upon the Lord; seek mindful ways to ask and accept the faith filled assistance of others and seek understanding and soul growing counsel from the Lord and those He lovingly places in our path.
Looking Forward and Back with Trust
Brother Arrington explained how Brother Woolley was a middle wagon man, “a man who was neither in the very front with the greatest leaders nor in the last group of followers whose primary prerogative was to demonstrate faith in the policies of those at their head.”
Nor was Brother Woolley in the last wagon. There is much to be learned from the second-echelon leaders” and in their stalwart efforts.
With that said, let’s talk about how we can grow our faithfulness and discipleship as we embrace the middle of the wagon opportunities to serve and love those around us.
Looking Forward in Faith and Commitment
As we look forward upon those local leaders who are at the head, do we seek to understand and apply the inspired counsel they receive for our region, stake, ward, or branch? Do we add our clarion voice as a witness of the truth that they are receiving from those at their head and from Heavenly Father?
Do we continue forward with regular holy habits that include time for receiving our own personal revelations. Do we discover each day the inspired words of God in our scriptures; talk to Father In prayer throughout our day; magnify our callings and become magnified through temple worship?
As we do so, we are able to more fully rise to the tasks that are placed before us to support those beside us and behind us in their very personal journeys of faith.
Discerning What the Last Wagon Needs
As we strive to be a resource and a voice of encouragement, wisdom, and love to others, we will discover the power in counsels and counseling with others. By grand design, from the foundation of the world, there have been counsels. In humility, we will recognize that we don’t have all the answers, in fact, we have very few all encompassing answers. Yet, we do have experiences, inspiration, and an open heart to share as we counsel with others on best next steps. As I’m sure many of us have discovered, when we counsel together and a variety of ideas and experiences are shared, amazing things happen. Ideas that began very simplistically evolve into brilliant and inspired solutions.
Insights from the front, middle and back of the wagon train can blend beautifully or create opportunities for growth as we, and others, overcome the challenges on the trail we are traversing.
Stand On Solid Ground
There may be times when we find our faith, or understanding of a gospel principle, to be challenged by others. If we haven’t had the opportunity to seek understanding and inspiration on that specific principle, it is to our benefit and those who are looking to us at the middle of the wagon, to seek after inspired understanding to help our feet to stand on solid ground.
We may also receive an invitation from Church leaders to live a principle in a specific way. For example, recently the Church has become more actively involved in working to promote legislation to encourage non-discrimination toward our LBGTQ brothers and sisters.
In September 2022, it was reported in Florida that:
“Latter-day Saint leaders are part of a group of over 45 religious, LGBTQ and educational leaders who signed a joint letter calling for legislation in Florida to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people from discrimination. “A call for peace,” specifically asks Floridians to support non-discrimination legislation to protect “all people from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations, while also protecting important religious rights.”
In February 2021, Church leaders in Arizona were involved with similar goals and invitations to protect the rights of the LBGTQ community in Arizona. They advised,
“The Church is pleased to be part of a coalition of faith, business, LGBTQ people and community leaders who have worked together in a spirit of trust and mutual respect to address issues that matter to all members of our community. It is our position that this bipartisan bill preserves the religious rights of individuals and communities of faith while protecting the rights of members of the LGBTQ community, consistent with the principles of fairness for all.”
Some of us may have already had “skin in the game” because we have one or more family members and friends who experience life in the LBGTQ community. There may be others who have not yet had the opportunity to seek after an understanding of the principles and doctrines surrounding how we can best love and support our LBGTQ sisters and brothers. Now is the time to consider these and other important issues and seek after a better understanding of the varied nuances of experiencing life on this planet.
Seeing the Divinity in Others
Whether it’s the need to gain a deeper understanding of LBGTQ needs, compassion towards those who have been abused or abusers, empathy for those with mental or physical trails or just patience in our own human frailties. There is solace and peace in truly understanding the wisdom and inspiration of Sister Wixom’s comments from her 2015 conference address:
“Once we begin to see the divinity in ourselves, we can see it in others.”
May we put forth the necessary time and energy to tie our hearts to the Atonement of our Savior as we let go of our weaknesses, discover our true divinity, and allow our hearts to change so that we may see the divinity in others – regardless of where they may be traveling on the wagon train called life.
Beth Young is a convert of 44 years; served a mission in North Carolina; has been married for 35 years to her sweetheart, Bob; has five adult children and two grandchildren. She raised her family in Texas for 25 years where she served in various capacities in church and in her community. She moved to Utah four years ago and loves writing, teaching, and inspiring others to make changes to their physical, mental, and spiritual health. Beth is the owner of 5 Pillars of Health, is a certified Tai Chi Instructor, serves as the written content manager at Leading Saints, and is a master gardener.