When I was on my mission all the missionaries would meet with our President once every transfer (6-weeks); these interviews were some of the best times I had on the mission. I would drag out as much information as I could from my President. Interviews were intended to last a couple minutes, it was common for me to walk out of the interview after 30 or 40 minutes of discussion.
On one particular interview, towards the very end of my two years, I had asked a question regarding my family. I was looking for guidance. President pulled out his scriptures and turned to Acts chapter 3.
Me: When I go home, how should I go about influencing my family to discover what I have discovered?
President: I have wondered and thought a lot about you're returning home. Your family life is similar to a black hole in space. Are you familiar with black holes?
Me: A little. I have read things regarding Einstein's general Theory of Relativity, so I have come across black holes as they relate to relativity.
President: Your family loves you. You need to understand that, but your home life environment is a black hole; the dysfunction will suck out of you all that you have gained on your mission.
Hugh: I don't understand (I began to get teary-eyed).
President: My advice to you is to not be home longer than two weeks. Let's read together.
President: To answer your question Elder, notice verse 7. Often those who want to help others try to help by putting others on their shoulders, or they try to boost them up to higher grounds, but this is not the principle. The principle is that you must first get to higher ground. When you are on higher ground, then you can you take them "by the right hand, and lift them up." Get to higher grounds first.
Me: I see.
President: Two weeks- my counsel is that you ought not to stay home for longer than two weeks. Or I am afraid you will lose the ground that you have climbed on your mission.
I was sick to my stomach to leave the mission, it was so much harder leaving the mission than going on the mission. But I was so excited to see my brothers and my sisters. A few days after returning home my youngest sister celebrated her 8th birthday; that weekend I baptized her, just like we had promised each other before I had left.
At the end of my first week home I thought about what President had said. I began to cry. I knelt down in the middle of my room, I spoke with God, this is nearest to my recollection of what I said:
"You know my circumstance. You know my conversation with President, I believe President was counseling me according to thy will. But how can I leave my brothers and my sisters? I have no money. I have no opportunities. I have nothing. I promise you this, if you do not provide for me to leave this next week, I will still pack my suitcase. I will say goodbye to my family and I will start walking until you do provide."
St. Maries, Idaho | Home of the LumberJacks
It was 2002, cell phones were just starting to replace pagers, and facebook was another two years from being created. We were living in St. Maries, Idaho, a logging town of 2,576 people, tucked up in the panhandle. Most my mother's family lives in St. Maries and for me it is a heaven on earth. I thought to myself, 'I will become a logger, maybe if I am lucky enough I can find a spot on the lumberjack crew and spend most my days in the backwoods.' I envisioned myself in a flannel shirt, with Carhartt khakis and an axe. And if I was lucky enough, spending time swinging axe and felling trees I might one day be man enough to grow a real beard. That night I went camping with a friend on the St. Joe river. The river was as good a home as I ever had growing up. I've spent a lot of time fly fishing and, "the Joe," is one of my favorite places to dry fly.
I hardly slept that night. Because of leaving the mission and feeling as though I had lost the only identity worth having; no one called me "Elder Vail" anymore. I was depressed and now all I had was my commitment to follow President's advice. I would pack up, hell or high water, and leave in a few days. I was overwhelmed. I fly fished all morning before heading back with my old friend from my early teen years, Travis Avery.
Three days until my 14th days time would run out. Unexpectedly I received a call on the landline at my parent's place. An Elder I served my mission with, Elder Williams was on the other end. Williams and I went into the Missionary Training Center together and we went home together. Williams grew up in Elk Ridge, UT and that is where his call was coming from, Elk Ridge. Where in tarnation is Elk Ridge?
Williams: Hey Vail! It's Williams.
Vail: Williams! What'ya doing calling me! How the heck did you get my parents number??
Williams: I called President and he gave it to me.
Vail: Dang! I'm so glad to hear your voice! What can I do for you?
Williams: Well, uh, look man, I don't know how to say it, so I'll just come out with it. I was saying my prayers last night and God told me to come and get you. I don't understand, but I knew I needed to find your number. Where you at?
Vail: Man, it's kind of a long story, but here's the short side of it. When I left, you know how President gives the 'go home and get married' speech?
Vail: Yeah, well I got the go-home-but-don't-be-home-longer-than-two-weeks-speech
Vail: President said I needed to leave my parent's place within two weeks. So I have just been praying for a way out.
Williams: You kidding me?
Vail: Haha! I'm serious Elder! I mean... hey, what's your first name?
Vail: Pete. Man, I can't see you as a Pete, haha. Anyways, I ain't got a thing to my name. You know I told you I lived in an old barn while I was saving up to go on a mission, so I ain't even got an old barn these days. I guess I got the stuff from the mission. But that's it.
Williams: Guess, God wasn't joking. You wanna come live with me?
Vail: God's got humor, but this ain't funny. I'm ready when you are.
Williams: I'll leave tonight. Where are you?
Vail: Northern Idaho, in a small town called St. Maries. Probably 15 hours from you, I suppose?
Williams: Ok. I got a room for you and my family will help you get on your feet. Let me get a few things worked out. I'll see you in about 18 hours or so haha.
Vail: You have no idea what this means to me. I'll be ready when you get here.
The next day, a few hours before Pete pulled into the driveway, the mailman delivered a letter to me. Again, I didn't know anyone knew where I was. It was a card from my aunt Dawnette in Thatcher, AZ. A brief letter expressing her gratitude for my missionary service and an expression that she had received an impression to send me some money. Attached in the card was a $500 check. It was the only money I had except for the couple bucks I had been holding onto from my last month's mission allotment.
Pete pulled in. We drove to my uncle's secluded property way outside of the township. Pete and I had dinner up in Hell's Gulch (its actual name) at my uncles's place. Pete went off to bed. And I went out to the lake to fish one last time. Rested from a night's sleep. We ate a late breakfast my kind aunt made up for us. And that was that. We put my missionary suitcase in Pete's car and on the 13th day- I left home.
God provides. I have hundreds of these experiences. Hundreds.
The principle I have recently learned is this. Fear is essential to faith. The greater the fear the greater the faith. There is nothing wrong with being afraid. It was Christ who said "if it be possible let this cup pass." There is nothing wrong with wanting another way, wishing for things to be easier, things to be different. Fear is not the problem. Letting fear guide our choices is the problem. We are courageous when we face our fear and by facing our fear we are courageously faithful. God will provide. But even knowing this, I am often still afraid of the challenges that come. When logic tells me I'm between a rock and a hard spot, it is faith that enables me to receive the great miracles and tender mercies He is always so ready to give us.
Note: The photos are pictures of St Maries, Idaho; St. Joe River; My aunt & uncle; Pete Williams and myself. The pictures of Pete and I were supplied to me from a girl I used to date back then, hence the cute hearts. I promise Pete and I were not that close!