“A Place to Grow,” Ensign, Aug. 1998, 28–29
When my husband and I moved from the Salt Lake Valley 24 years ago, we retraced in reverse the trek of our Latter-day Saint pioneer ancestors. Like the pioneers, we left home and family and—with our two babies and meager possessions in tow—wended our way eastward toward a new home.
I had lived comfortably in a cozy Latter-day Saint community where the stake president was my dentist and our chapel was just four houses down the road. I knew fewer than 25 “non-Mormons,” and I had never been east of the Utah border. For me, moving away from home so my husband, Craig, could earn his doctorate was akin to being thrust into Babylon, and I expected disaster at every turn.
Our New England home was nothing like my arid mountain home. It was pouring rain when we arrived. My new visiting teaching route had 13 sisters and covered a 40-mile radius. After our third child was born, tenants in our student housing complex expressed astonishment that we had such a “large” family. None of the television stations broadcast general conference, and I didn’t have a relative within 1,000 miles. I continually dreamed of going home to Utah.
Looking west prevented me from seeing the New England beauty that surrounded me. But as the days passed, I eventually realized that the reason we were in New Hampshire had little to do with an advanced degree and much to do with people and learning and growing. I began to appreciate and love New England, and by the time Craig finished his degree, New England had become my home. I didn’t want to leave.
But Craig was offered a job in the Midwest, and so we prepared to move again—this time to Iowa. Shortly before our move, I was sitting at the piano during Primary in Portsmouth when the chorister queried, “What are the beautiful things of the earth?” Hands bobbed up and down all over the room. “The ocean!” “The lakes!” “The mountains!” “The trees!”
“That’s right. But what about someplace like Iowa?” she asked. “What’s beautiful in Iowa?”
One child finally announced, “The ground.” Everyone nodded. My eyes misted over and I fumbled my way through “Reverently, Quietly” (Children’s Songbook , 29).
Visions of sap buckets hanging from sugar maples; white church steeples presiding over the pines; the rattle and din of the Boston subway; the cool, salty waves on the sand; and the sanctity of a shady cemetery tending the remains of patriots three centuries gone were replaced by a vast tract of cornstalk stubble. I wondered how I would ever survive in a new wilderness.
I felt like Harriet Decker Young, a member of the first group of pioneers to arrive in Utah in 1847. Looking out on the unsettled valley for the first time, she said, “We have traveled fifteen hundred miles to get here, and I would willingly travel a thousand miles farther to get where it looked as though a … man could live” (quoted in Leonard J. Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses , 145).
We had lived in Iowa only a few weeks when I was asked to prepare afireside on the state’s history. I wondered how I could dredge up anything, including motivation, to fill the 45 minutes. One afternoon at the public library I found an old book that described the area’s early Native American inhabitants, the Ioways. Their name comes from Iowa, a word used to identify a plentiful and secure site for a camp, and has been translated as “This is the place” (The Annals of Iowa, ed. Charles Aldrich, 55 vols. [1893– ], 2:467). That afternoon changed forever the way I felt about moving to Iowa and about moving anywhere new.
When I finally accepted Iowa as my new home, just as I had accepted New England, I began to see the state’s unique beauty and to understand why it is known as “A Place to Grow.” Farmhouses, painted immaculate reds or whites, peacefully hold the corners of fields while the muffled drone of harvesters is heard moving rhythmically through drying stalks of corn. Crickets and frogs sing evening medleys while fireflies float above the prairie. The whole scene is like a living, breathing painting by Grant Wood, renowned for his scenes of rural Iowa.
There is a soothing peace in the planting and harvesting of this goodly land. Its soil is so dark and rich that it has been said that you might as well eat it plain as to bother running it through the vegetables. As those Primary children observed, the ground in Iowa is beautiful.
In my new home, I have learned and grown and loved as I’ve welcomed new opportunities to serve others and to help further the Lord’s work. The bitter and the sweet together have provided my life with a bountiful harvest.
New families moving into our Iowa ward look familiar to me. Many, with one foot still deeply rooted in previous surroundings and the other timidly testing new turf, are ready at any moment to leap back to that more “attractive,” “accepting,” “stimulating,” or “familiar” place.
But our new home, wherever it is, is the place. The seeming reasons we move from here to there—schooling, employment, retirement—may be secondary in the Lord’s long-term purposes for us. Wherever we move, we will encounter people and experiences helpful for our spiritual growth and happiness. When we are willing to look forward to those things, our eyes will be opened to the beauty and opportunities in each new corner of the Lord’s vineyard.