Aubrey’s not home right now. Of course, if she were, you’d probably have a hard time finding her anyway. Consider a typical day in Aubrey’s life: it starts with early-morning seminary, then school, then practice for the school dance team, then on to her job at a local discount store. Add to that Young Women’s activities, social activities, personal scripture study, and time to be part of a large family (she is one of nine children), and you’ve pretty much got Aubrey’s schedule down. Sound exhausting? It can be, but for the most part 17-year-old Aubrey Mariner of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, enjoys it.
“For me it’s much easier to be busy than to be bored. It’s good to always have things to be doing,” she says.
But Aubrey’s not doing any of those things right now.
She and the rest of the girls in her Laurel class hardly ever have time to stop—let alone time to stop and think. And planning for the future? Sometimes the future seems a million miles away. But the future can sneak up on you, so the girls decided they would take a little time away from home and other distractions to map out some of the things they want to do, see, and experience in the next couple of years.
These Laurels from the Elm Creek Ward, Anoka Minnesota Stake, decided to take a four-day canoe trip to the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota. They worked hard to be prepared so that the trip would be fun and successful. And, just as the canoe trip took planning, strength, and teamwork, making a success of their lives as they leave home and go out on their own will require those things as well.
The girls started planning several months in advance. Because all the girls are so busy (remember a typical day for Aubrey? Everyone else’s life looks about the same) they decided to make the trip after school let out for the summer, but it was still important for them to plan the time off from work and other activities. Food, gear, and first-aid equipment had to be planned for and packed in water-tight bags.
“As a group we had meetings to plan our food schedule and who wanted to cook. We talked about what we needed to bring and how we needed to prepare,” says 18-year-old Mali Hegdahl.
Finally, after meeting with leaders Matt Humiston and Brad and Cindy Morris about what to bring and why, and a pack check at the church (leaders ask questions like, “Do you really want to bring that makeup?”) and a brief night’s sleep, the Laurels and their leaders are ready to go.
As they lower the canoes into the water, all the girls express anticipation, and maybe just a hint of fear.
“Do you think the bugs will be too big?” asks Shannon Christopher.
Everyone pauses for a moment to think about it, and then with some splashing and laughter, they are off.
Well, some of the bugs are big—but the little ones are worse. They’re so tiny, you don’t know you’re being bitten until it’s too late. Other than that, however, the trip is basically ideal. Hot weather and clear skies make swimming in the lakes the activity of choice. Also, since there’s no radio, no telephone, and no television to provide entertainment, the girls sing together. Harmony rings through the trees and bounces off the water as they alternately paddle and swim. Their preparation has paid off, and now the girls can enjoy their surroundings and each other.
The fun that everyone is having doesn’t interfere with the atmosphere of reverence that exists on the lakes. At night crickets and frogs provide background music, and during the day the girls quietly watch loons on the lake, admire the scenery, and talk to each other—a lot.
Although the conversation drifts from topic to topic throughout the trip, the girls mainly discuss the future: where to go to college, where to work, who to marry.
“It’s so peaceful out here. It’s so great to have a place where we can all come and get back to the basics. Trips like this help me remember what’s important,” says Aubrey.
Clarinda Wilson and Mali are leaving for college in a couple of months. The rest of the girls will go next year or the year after. Just like the prospect of taking a four-day canoe trip, the idea of being on their own is exciting and scary all at once. And, just like the canoe trip, the girls have given much thought to what they want to gain from the experience.
Choices about school and work seem to be fairly clear-cut. All of the girls say they realize the value and importance of hard work and education. For the majority of these girls, though, the decisions they feel are most crucial have to do with remaining worthy and ready to be married in the temple. Making and keeping the right kinds of friends, dating the right kinds of people, and keeping themselves worthy are at the top of the list. Because LDS families are few and far between in Minnesota, all of the girls say that standing up for what they believe in can be hard. But they know it’s worth it.
“Even though it’s not easy, I know I can have the things I want for my future family,” says Mali. “I’ve prayed about it, and I won’t settle for anything less than an eternal marriage. I know Heavenly Father won’t let me down.”
Lanna Kline, Laurel class president, says that setting priorities is an important part of reaching her goals for personal worthiness.
“It’s always sort of a balancing act. Sometimes it’s hard to give up talking on the phone or something else fun so that I can study for a test and get to bed on time to be awake for seminary the next morning. But once you decide what’s important to you, it gets a little easier,” she says.
Lanna also writes lists to keep track of what’s going on in her life. Aubrey relies on help from her family to stay focused. Rhianna Raatz says a good attitude is often her anchor, and when Mali mentions prayer, all the girls agree that it is a key ingredient for all of the things they want to achieve.
Shannon points out that a prayer from one person can turn out to be a great strength to others—something she thinks is one of the great beauties of the gospel.
“Sometimes,” she says, “things are going great for me, so then I can pray to find out how to help the other girls in the class. If we can be strong for each other, that really makes living the gospel rewarding.”
The other goal that comes up over and over again is motherhood. Although the girls are young, most of them have very clear ideas of what they want for their children: love, trust, respect, and gospel study.
“I want my kids to be happy and twice as good as I am,” says Rhianna. “I want them to be like future righteous Nephites.”
It’s a tall order, and most of the girls echo her wishes to have a family that is absolutely anchored in the gospel. The key to reaching that goal? The girls all say that listening to the prophets of today and reading the scriptures are essential keys to success.
“The Book of Mormon has given me so much strength,” says Aubrey. “If you read between the lines and think about all the great men it portrays, you can’t help but realize how valiant their wives and mothers and sisters must have been. If they did it then, we can follow their example now.”
The last night of the trip, the girls gather for a fireside testimony meeting. Since the group is small, the meeting is short and quiet. Everyone is tired but happy, thinking over the last four days on the water. Lanna points out that their canoe trip is a little bit like life: there can be some rough water at times, but if you’re ready with a strong testimony of the Savior, that strength will carry you until you find smoother sailing.
Rhianna gives a short devotional and speaks of the great beauty of being in nature and the feeling of inspiration it can give.
“When you take a look at the sunset and you see the creations that God has made and the thousand glistening mirrors on the lake, it really makes you think about how wonderful it is,” she says. “This is a good time to take care of yourself.”
It can be hard sometimes, to strike a balance between caring for yourself while still finding time to care for others. Sometimes your balance gets thrown off, and you land in the water—literally or figuratively! But that’s what being on your own is all about—learning from experience and moving forward. As they sit together watching their last sunset over the water, everyone is quiet, thinking her own thoughts.
Later, after dark, a voice can be heard softly singing a song the girls have sung together throughout the camp:
Lead me, Lord,
Lead me in thy righteousness;
Make thy way plain before my face;
For it is thou, Lord—thou, Lord, only
That maketh me dwell in safety.