Tuesday, March 25, 2014

the cultural celebration

Warning: this is kind of a long account, but something that touched my heart so deeply I feel compelled to share.

I feel incredibly lucky to have video clips to share because they help describe a little portion as to why I still tear up each time I watch them, but as a disclaimer, please keep in mind that it was really windy and I am not a videographer pro!

One other disclaimer for people who aren't of our same faith (and a lot who are).  

Sometimes Mormons are cheesy. And peculiar.  

And I love it:)

As we watched the coverage from television after all the hoopla that night, Max pointed out that people watching not of our same faith must think we're really crazy.  

But oh boy I feel so incredibly blessed to be one of the "crazies."    

My heart has been so full over the past month because of all of the hoopla going on with the new temple.  There have been an awful lot of really cool things going on (see back HERE), but I think I have to say that the Cultural Celebration was my favorite part.

A few months back I didn't even know what a Cultural Celebration was.  Never heard of it.  

Apparently they do them at most temples that are getting ready to open.  It's a way to involve the community and show honor and gratitude to God for such an incredible blessing: to have a temple built right in your midst. 

The Prophet almost always comes and watches the celebration which takes place shortly before the temple dedication. 

From what I understand, this temple cultural celebration was the largest one to date. 

Ever.

It included 12,000 youth.

Yes, 12,000 (we have a huge region here in the desert).  

So from the start I figured, great opportunity for the kids, and too bad I won't be able to watch in person.  (They broadcast it on television but there was VERY little possibility to attend in person...too many kids taking up all the room:).

Along with those 12,000 youth there were other thousands of adults asked to help.  Just imagine as you look through these pictures the undertaking it was for so many.  It makes me overwhelmed to even think about!  All the costumes and music and choreography and sound systems and lighting, not to mention getting 12,000 12-18 year old youth to come to hours and hours of practices semi-happily.

Wow.  

As it came closer I heard snippets about the hours of sewing costumes from my friends who are seamstresses.  I was in contact with the "leaders of 10" who were each in charge of ten youth to help them get to and from all the practices, etc.  I marveled at the 15-hour practice they held the Saturday before the big deal (7am til 10pm), and all the coordination involved, all the food that had to be organized and brought.  I have friends who choreographed, taught the dances, composed the musical numbers.  Usually I try to weasel my way into things like this (take the trek back HERE for instance).  

But for some reason I was just ok to let my kids go on this one.  It was wrapped up so tight and my head was so full of house stuff there was just no room in there to try to work my way into seeing it all up close and personal.  

I figured the best thing I could do to help was to give my kids pep talks.

"You're so lucky!" I would exclaim to their rolling eyes as they set off to yet another practice (they worked on their dances and singing for their weekly church activities for months before the actual event).  "Be a leader and help others have fun while you're practicing!" I'd exclaim when they would complain on their way out the door to practices.  "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right!"

I'm sure they loved that one.  

Now, that's not to say I didn't feel a little for them.  I'm well aware that there are kids who think they have died and gone to Heaven when they get to perform.  I have one of them myself.  She loves to be on stage and loves to let her light shine that way.  

But I'm not sure that that's the majority of kids in this little world of ours.  I'm pretty sure most youth those ages would feel that going to a sports game, watching television, hanging with friends, or even poking their eyeballs out with a hot stick would be better than hours of dance and singing.  

That's just the way it is.

But 12,000 kids bucked up and worked their tails off.  

Thousands of leaders helped.

And the Cultural Celebration began to come together.

Here's an arial view of the big practice the week before:
(They weren't trying to make any special formation, each region just had a different colored t-shirt.)

That week before the big day my friend asked if I might be interested in coming to help take pictures of the celebration.  By that time my "house-head" had cleared a teeny bit and I was giddy for the opportunity to be involved with this.  

(Sometimes being a retired photographer certainly has it's perks.:)

They wanted a little group of us to take some footage and pictures of the dress rehearsal earlier in the day as well as the actual event.  

Much to everyone's chagrin, after three months without so much as a drop of rain here in the desert, the forecast called for black, rainy skies on March 1st (the big day).  

The youth started praying.  The leaders prayed with them.  Everyone lifted their voices up to Heaven for a clear day to pull off the tail end of that Herculean event.  

As I drove to the giant park where it was to be held to take pictures of the dress rehearsal (with the temple in the background), that predicted dark sky was closing in.  

But not over the park where the practice was being held. 

I had to stop and take a picture of the light streaming down from Heaven directly over what seemed like the exact spot the kids were practicing in the distance.  
It was going to be a miracle.  That 90% chance of rain was going to change and these kids and leaders were going to be able to pull off what they had worked so hard to do for soooo long.  

I'm not going to lie, I teared up a little bit.  

God is good.  

I was so happy to get there and spot a couple of my kids in the midst of the practicing madness...see Max in there front right?  
(Thx Kiley for that last pic!)

I don't think Max or Grace were toooo sad about practicing by then from the looks on their faces.
I could never find Elle until the end, but luckily my friend did:
Yep, same smile.
(Thanks Lisa!)

I was overcome with the dress rehearsal.  Just watching how they cleared and came onto the field was pretty awe inspiring:



Every region had their own costumes and their own way to depict a particular part of the history of how things have gone here in the desert.










I watched a lot of the practice from the tent they were setting up for the Prophet.


They had cloggers and fiddlers (see them in front?)

There was a whole band of ukulele players (you can hear their whole song on the elapsed time video at the end of this post).  

And check out those straight lines with all those kids.
That's impressive to me!

All day we watched the dark clouds circle around us.

There was even a gorgeous rainbow.

And sun lighting up the temple.

My favorite part was when all the 18-19 year-olds who have their mission calls walked out on the field holding the flags hi of where they would be serving for the next couple years of their lives.

They joined in with all the other youth holding their own "Titles of Liberty" (see HERE)...flags they made in preparation for the celebration written on themselves outlining what they personally wanted to do to "LIVE TRUE" to be a witness of God in whatever capacity they could.

I know this is a fuzzy, blurry video, but bear with me and see if you can watch it without tearing up.



I just think of all those youth going out into the world as the "Armies of Helaman" (to read that story click HERE) to "Arise and Shine Forth."

I'm soooo grateful for a gospel that teaches them to do just that.

After the practice everyone broke for dinner and to have a break .

That's when the predicted clouds rolled in.

And they weren't just flimsy little things anymore.  They were big.

And they were very black.

And as those kids lined up on that field for the big show, those black clouds let go of those heavy loads they had held onto tight all day and the literal downpour began.

At this point my fellow photographer friends and I were under a little canopy deserted by all the kids who had headed out.  All of our hearts sunk.

The miracle we had all prayed for (no rain) had seemingly vanished and all that work and preparation would surely have to be cancelled or put off.

It was raining HARD.

I felt so horrible for all those tired kids out there who were surely freezing and miserable standing in the rain.  I was freezing and miserable standing under a canopy for crying out loud!

But what we heard from that field lined with thousands of youth wasn't sorrow and sadness.  Instead we heard the most joyous of roars.  The Prophet had just arrived and their adrenaline was pumping.

My friends and I found any plastic covering we could that wasn't already filled with rain and a couple umbrellas and went out to join in.

President Monson and Elder Eyring were standing in their little tent and the excitement was palpable.

Those kids stood out there dancing and singing their little hearts out for the next couple hours.  And as I zoomed in on them with my telephoto lens I could see their faces shining with joy.

That was our miracle that night.

It wasn't what we had expected: easy, smooth-running.

No.  Instead it was a night none of them will ever forget.  And even though I'm sure their bodies were cold, their hearts were warm and glowing.

Our region was the first number.

Let's just check out Max who was so easy to spot:

Here's Elle I happened to catch in one of the pics. (in the middle...it was like finding a needle in a haystack with all those kids!)

And here's happy Grace:

You can't tell how much it was raining until you look at the lights:

Here's a little snippet of their dance, just skip the first 20 seconds where I couldn't switch to manual focus in the rain :)  I LOVE watching Max. 

You get the idea:)

I thought this one was cool with the fire dancers:


And these dancers did such a beautiful job even in the pouring rain.

See that couple-hours-ago-grass under their feet?

All the "lines" that helped them know where to go were all washed out but they still did such a great job!

And these guys, who I happened to get to stand right next to, sure seemed to love every second.  At one point they were blowing kisses to everyone.

They were clearly pretty alert and entertained :)




This is the only picture I got of all three kids that night.  It was pitch dark so you can hardly see it.  But you CAN see those smiling faces after a night well-spent.

I was so grateful for the example of all those youth that night and for how they built my spirit.  They stretched my heart so wide with their enthusiasm and joy despite the cold, wet world surrounding them.

And could there really be a better analogy to life than that?  They are all going to hit bumpy roads here and there.  That's a given.  How I hope, standing in that rain that night, that their spirits were lifted as much as mine, and that they felt their own strength and resilience.

I hope that when times get rough in life, they will remember they can do things that are out of their comfort zones.  They can "arise and shine forth" just like they did that night.

And so it goes, as with many things in life, sometimes you don't get what you're looking for.

You get something better.


The Gilbert Cultural Celebration from Cameron Trejo Films on Vimeo.

I'm so grateful I got to witness that miracle first hand.

27 comments:

  1. I'm so glad that my family had the opportunity to recently participate in the cultural celebration for the Atlanta Temple. Now that we live in France, I wish the Paris temple was close to being completed so we could participate in their celebration too :)

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  2. I'm not Mormon but I'm learning a lot about your faith from your blog. It certainly looks like a great celebration! They dedicated so much time that it did come out perfectly, even under that pouring rain!

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  3. Thank you for sharing this. I served part of my mission in Gilbert and I wanted so desperately to attend the celebration of the temple. Thank you for helping me to feel the special Spirit that was there. It was a beautiful celebration. What awesome youth!

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  4. My13-year-old grandson enjoyed his experience there, especially when he saw the big smiles of Pres. Monson and Pres. Eyring. Matthew was wearing an orange shirt and said dancing in the mud was quite interesting.

    I watched the celebration on You Tube but it was fun to see your pictures and videos, too. Thanks for sharing.

    What a memorable opportunity for these youth and their leaders. What organization and planning!

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  5. I'm tearing up! What a fabulous experience to be a part of! Thank you for sharing it with us. You do a great job with documenting things like this :)

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  6. Those freezing cold, happy as can be youth really were the miracle of it all. I loved the celebration so so much! None of us will ever be the same again! The Lord is surely more concerned with our growth than our comfort.

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  7. What an incredible celebration! Seeing all that hard work and sweet youth united together made me cry the whole way through. Thanks for sharing.

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  8. I love the spirit your blog conveys. I felt the power of that night right here in my own kitchen. Loved it!

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  9. Totally cried!! What an amazing once in a lifetime experience! The youth in our area participated in the Brigham City Temple celebration and I was so jealous that my kids were just toddlers, but my oldest remembers seeing it and loves that temple just as much as the youth that were old enough! Wonderful Temples!!!:)

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  10. Nope couldn't watch any of it without tearing up. So amazing for these youth to participate in this!

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  11. Thank you so much for sharing. Could you tell me what the name of the song was on the last video?

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  12. Our cousin's kids were part of that Cultural Celebration too. We have yet to meet them. We live way up in the North here. So cool to read the story behind the story of this. Thanks for all your hard work and for sharing! This makes us feel like we are a smaller world than we think...and closer to family that we have yet to meet. ; )

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  13. I got so many goosebumps reading this! How amazing and beautiful~!

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  14. I hurried through this post because I've got to get my kids to the babysitter's before going to YW, but I'm totally choked up about all of this. The temple is such an incredible blessing to have nearby and the gospel is so amazing.

    Your kids will never forget the Spirit that was there, and isn't that an amazing thing to think about.

    I'll read this all in detail later. Thanks for sharing!!!

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  15. Here in Atlanta they allowed one parent of each child to attend, but they didn't have 12,000 kids. A memory that these children will have for the rest of their lives. How cool! I wish that I had the opportunity to do something like this when I was their age.

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  16. Oh Shawni! Reading your temple posts brings back all the memories of our recent temple experience here in Kansas City. We were able to be tour guides and be in the temple for the dedication as well. It is an experience we will never forget. I too was overwhelmed with emotion during Cultural Celebration here. LOVE this post!

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  17. I am not an LDS member but I am forever in awe of the amazing sense of community that your church fosters. What a fabulous celebration, and something for those kids to remember and cherish the rest of their days. They are well blessed.

    What I love most about the members of your church I have read and had contact with is that their sense of gratitude for life and for their blessing shines through them. So many people today bemoan constantly what they don't have instead of expressing gratitude for what they do. The world would be a better place with more attitudes of gratitude expressed in it!

    Much peace.

    xMx

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  18. how beautiful! i loved all of it. what an amazing opportunity for those youth.

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  19. Yep - totally teary here. Can't wait 2 year for ours here in Philly! Thank you for taking the time to share all of this wonderful night with us, Shawni. The spirit in a community with a temple is forever changed. Did you see my note that we have an elder in our ward from your stake? Awesome youth out in Gilbert :)

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  20. Very interesting. I am curious who The Prophet is? I am not of your faith. It's always a joy to read your blog.

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  21. Shawni! How can we not be filled with awe and gratitude? Thank you for sharing this. This new temple and its people are beautiful and delightsome...because they radiate the light of Christ.

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  22. I teared up reading about the heavy rain... because the same exact thing happened on the rededication of the Sao Paulo Temple in Brazil, when I was 14. We had practiced all day under the sun, and minutes before the performance the downpour started. It is still one of the happiest and most fulfilling memories I have, 10 years later. :)

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  23. Amazing! I have learned so much about your faith from your blog. I know what you mean about being seen as a bit "peculiar", lots of people think we Roman Catholics are a bit odd too.

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  24. I finally got to good enough Internet service to watch these fabulous videos. I cried several times and laughed a lot. What a truly AMAZING show of faith and dedication by the kids and their leaders. It's simply ASTONISHING!

    Thanks for posting so we could be there without getting wet!

    What a miracle1

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  26. Ill admit I cried while reading this post. Such a beautiful thing that your kids got to experience. I am so grateful to be a member of a faith where they are so many amazing youth who are ready and prepared to held lead and guide the church. This was a truly wonderful post to read.

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