Elysha's World

Elysha's World

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Fight to be a Better Me – “Into the Burn”

I had stake conference last weekend. I have an amazing stake. There are so many talented people, and so many people with crazy cool life stories. Michael McLean came and sang for us as well. He’s a famous LDS singer. He came and performed in Taiwan while I was serving there. He reminded me that there was a typhoon that was supposed to hit the island the day that he was to perform in Taiwan. However for some unknown reason the typhoon redirected and he was able to perform. He said he believes it was because of the faith and prayers of the young members in Taiwan, that the Lord made it possible for him to perform. I had a lot of members and non-members go and see him and they loved it! 

While at stake conference I got a very strong impression that I needed to talk to a certain person in our stake, and I needed to clear the air/ make things right with them. That person happened to be conveniently sitting a few rows ahead of me. I had no desire to talk to that person. I realized in that moment that I really didn’t even know that person. That person was in a different ward than me, and we weren’t really friends. In fact I knew quite a bit about that person, because we’d been in the same stake for several years. We had some mutual friends and whenever there was drama my friends would come tell me about that person. That person had hurt a few of my friends, and so I didn’t feel a lot of compassion towards them. We’d been conveniently avoiding each other for the past year. Often we’d see each other in the hallway, and then walk past each other pretending like we hadn’t seen the other person. (I’m not proud of this, but this is what happened) To appease myself I told myself that if I had the chance I’d go talk to that person, but I knew that I wouldn’t get that chance anytime soon. 

I re-read a BYU Devotional this week and it was amazing! It’s one of my favorite talks. It’s called “Into the Burn” and was given by Val Jo Anderson a few years ago. I’d like to share part of it here. 

“Another great lesson was learned when as a young man of eighteen I took a summer job with the U.S. Forest Service. One of our duties was to be part of a twenty-man fire crew that could be called out from time to time to fight wildfires. Earlier, a wildfire had claimed the lives of four firefighters when in a panic they failed to follow the direction of their crew boss and tried to outrun an unexpected and fierce advance of a fire. The shockwaves of that incident were felt all around the region, and rigorous training ensued. Following the command of the crew boss without question or hesitation was given particular emphasis.

We fought several fires that season, and then, late in August, our crew was called out to fight a wildfire in Southern California. This was a large fire that had many crews dispatched to fight it. Our crew, along with two other crews, was assigned a sector of the fire. It was a chaparral brush fire that had a tremendously fine fuel load of dried grasses and weeds in the understory. We were obliged to make a two-mile hike from the nearest road through the brush to where the fire was burning.

It was not a particularly intense blaze, and we were to build black line—a fire line right against the burning edge of the fire. As our three twenty-man crews, marching single file through the brush, approached the fire, the sector boss suddenly appeared on a nearby ridgeline. His urgent command was to become indelibly impressed upon my mind. His voice screamed through our radios, “She’s blowing up, she’s blowing up! Into the burn!”

My pulse raced and my heart sank as I watched the small campfire-type flames, fanned on by an intense wind shift, transform into a raging inferno racing directly toward us. The command “Into the burn!” meant that we would charge through the fire and into the area where the fire had consumed the fuel. My instinctive impulse was to turn and run, and I could see others considering that option. Our crew boss, without hesitation, reiterated the command “Into the burn!” and though it did not seem the intuitive thing to do, my training and my memory of the tragic earlier deaths compelled me to follow my leader through that wall of fire. On the other side we found a blackened moonscape where the fire could not return. With eyes and lungs burning from the heat in the whirling smoke and ash, we resorted to dancing on the top of hot rocks to protect our feet from the searing deep ash. We had made the right decision and were preserved.

After about thirty minutes the wind died down, and we were able to cross back out of the burn and begin our black line. That was an intense lesson that helped me to understand the importance of knowing in advance who you should trust and follow without hesitation, especially when the correct choice may be obscured by our own limited experience or instinctive bias.”

I love this story. He knew who to trust, and by following instructions survived! For FHE on Monday our stake combined with another stake to host a huge party. They rented out a place with laser tag, bowling, an arcade and all sorts of other things. Towards the end of the night a lot of people had left and I had just finished playing a game. I turned around and started walking to go find my friends, when I saw THAT person standing alone. I knew that I had to go and have a conversation with that person. I figured it was now or never, and that for whatever reason I needed to clear the air.  

I swiftly walked over before I had a chance to change my mind. As I walked over THAT person locked eyes with me (like we often did) and turned and pretended like they had never seen me. That person was pretending to suddenly be anxiously looking for someone (anyone) so that they could ignore me. I stood my ground; I wasn’t going anywhere. After a few minutes of this I realized that I knew what their name was, so I called it out. Nothing! That person wasn’t even fazed. That person continued to anxiously search for a person that they’d never find. A guy happened to be standing close by and also knew that person. He called out that person’s name, and not surprisingly he got a response. The man pointed at me and said, “She was trying to get your attention.” 

That, my friends, was divine intervention! I truly believe that if you feel like there is something that you are supposed to do, and you’ve done everything that you can in the situation, and it’s what the Lord wants you to do, He will help you make it happen! 

That person walked over to me and pretended like they hadn’t seen or heard me. It was super awkward. I said something like, “Hey, I don’t know if you’ve been doing this or not (which they had), but I’ve been avoiding you for about the past year, and I felt like I should come over and clear the air. I know we have a lot of the same mutual friends, and I’ve heard a lot of things about you over the past year, but I realized that I don’t actually know you at all, and wanted to say that there is no judgement here.” That person responded by smiling and saying, “Oh hey, yeah, what’s your name?”
That person may or may not have known my name, but I’d been to that person’s house on many occasions. However, because I’d started the dialogue we actually had our first conversation. All of the angst, awkwardness, and wanting to avoid that person disappeared. I learned a little bit about them, and I felt like I’d done what I needed to do. After a few minutes of small talk that person said, “Well I’ve got to go find my ride.” We parted ways and I wondered what it would be like now that I didn’t have to avoid that person in the hallways at church. It was a very freeing experience. I don’t know that we’ll ever be good friends, or even that we’ll ever have another conversation, but I’m glad I stepped into the unknown in order to make a stranger a friend. 

I’d like to end this blog with one other story from the BYU devotional mentioned above. I’ll post the video at the bottom, and encourage you the listen to it if you get the chance.
“I was invited to participate in a grizzly bear study in Alaska, where we were to observe the response of grizzlies to the influences of smells, sounds, and colors that humans bring into the backcountry. Part of that experience was a safety training session that included instruction of what to do if approached or charged by a bear. If we were charged by a grizzly, the instruction we received was to turn and face the bear (do not run and invoke the predator/prey killing response), make yourself as big in posture as possible, and yell at the bear to go away. Well, I had been in Alaska before and had searched to see a bear with no such luck, so I wasn’t too concerned and took the training somewhat lightly.

Shortly after the training, the bear biologist who had trained us asked if I wanted to go with him to wade the river and count bears. Of course I couldn’t wait. We donned our chest waders and were off for a two-kilometer walk in a river. I couldn’t believe all the bears and how close we were and how much they didn’t seem to care. In that walk we counted over forty grizzly bears.

On our way back we got behind a mother bear and her three little cubs. She was going painfully slow, and I suggested we pass her. The biologist said that was only a good idea if I was tired of breathing. So we followed patiently behind the bears until we reached a place where the river made a great horseshoe bend and we had our chance to cut through on a brushy trail to get ahead of her. In our haste we apparently intruded on another bear that we hadn’t seen, and as I waddled down the path behind my guide, I heard the huff and paw pounding of a bear coming up behind us. I spun and saw a large bear coming upon us fast. The biologist, true to his training, faced the attack, taking up a firm stand—right behind me! As I turned to face the bear, armed only with my small can of bear mace, it dawned on me why they had invited this great big, juicy botanist to join the party. I mean, what bear in their right mind would choose a tofu–diet-burger biologist when they could have the super–double-deluxe meal of a tender and juicy botanist—and, yes, fries with that!

While turning to run seemed the prudent thing to do, I trusted and followed the instruction I had received. Facing the bear, in my deepest, most menacing voice I yelled repeatedly, “Go away, bear! Go away!” The bear pulled up just short of me, paused for an eternal moment, twisted her head back and forth, and finally turned and slipped away into the underbrush. As I regained my faculties, I realized that I had begun to breathe again. After checking to be sure that I still had all of my body parts and functions, I trundled off back to camp, following my biologist friend who was explaining that this charge “wasn’t really so bad!”

I have often reflected back on these occasions and considered the faith I had in the wisdom and decisions of my Forest Service crew boss and the bear-biologist trainer and in the pre-event decisions I had made to follow them. I have pondered the analogous circumstances in which many of the recorded prophets found themselves faced with commands from God that were, if anything, counterintuitive. How and why did they respond? I think of the response of Adam to the angel when asked why he offered sacrifices: “I know not, save the Lord commanded me” (Moses 5:6) […] through training and the development of faith, I take courage in the words of Nephi when he told his father Lehi:

I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them. [1 Nephi 3:7]”

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