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.
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.
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.
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 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.
All day we watched the dark clouds circle around us.
There was even a gorgeous rainbow.
And sun lighting up the temple.
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.
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.
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.
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.