The girls lined up like soldiers, each with a gun pointed to the ground in their right hands, their blue jeans covered in dust from an early morning hike, their hair pulled back in pony tails, and no sign of makeup in sight. They were beautiful, standing there in a royal line parallel to the fence. Along the fence top were strategically placed soda pop cans, their shiny aluminum colors reflecting the intense summer sun. I watched from the window, washing up the dishes from breakfast, while Sheri instructed them. Petite, feminine Sheri who wore gauzy flowing dresses on Sunday, her jet black hair flowing down her back. It might surprise most of our congregation to see her now, in her boots and jeans and leather belt. Sheri is a woman of immense and diverse talent, who is just as comfortable slinging muck around the stable as she is dressing a table with fine linens and a scrumptiously elegant feast. I looked down, scrubbing the bacon grease off the griddle in the sink, and was quickly startled by the pop-pop-pop of gunfire and the ting-ting-ting of ammunition hitting those pop cans. I continued to watch from the window and the girls looked to their left, then their right, waiting until every gun was laid down on the ground. Then they moved up to the fence and re-set the cans for another round. I scanned the collection of souls out there on the dry Idaho ground outside Sheri’s cabin. I watched them, one by one, lift their weapon to their shoulders, their eyes focused on the target. One by one I offered silent prayers with their individual names attached. Twenty-seven souls given to my care as Young Women’s President in our ward of Latter-day Saints. I knew their names my rote, having repeated them in prayer often. I loved them deeply, and danced the dance of confidence and worry that every adult dances with their teenagers. I was impressed with their ability to hit those targets. Really impressed!
Later that day, when the girls were occupied with other things, I shuffled out to the fence with a couple of my advisors, friends of my same vintage. Most of them had experience shooting, but I had never in my life held a gun, and I was curious. “I doubt that I’ll ever again have the opportunity to shoot a gun,” I said to myself, so Sheri took me out there with Shauna and Suzanne. She showed me how to load, and cock, and I did all that as instructed. The other ladies got to talking and shooting, their pop cans flying into the air one after the other. I, in the meantime, have no idea where my bullets were going, but none of them were finding their way to those pop cans!
“Man,” I whispered to Suz, “I’m really bad at this!”
She paused and watched me for a minute. Then she casually asked if I was using my sight.
“Well, maybe my contact is messed up, but I think I can see OK.”
“No, she laughed, “I mean the gun sight. Are you using the gun sight?”
Having zero experience with guns, I told her I had no idea if I was using it or not. Suzanne put down her gun and stood beside me, showing me that sweet little appendage on the rifle that told me I was aligned correctly. I situated the front of the gun so that it was centered in the site with the target at the other end.
“OK,” says Suzanne, “Go ahead and shoot. Ding Ding! By golly, that bullet sent straight to that pop can and it flew off the fence just like I was Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke!
“Yee Haw!” I yelped, and the other ladies joined me. Over and over I lined up that machine in the tiny little sight on top of that gun, and over and over I hit my target. It was immensely empowering. I felt a great sense of gratitude that my girls got to experience that kind of empowerment as well.
That was a handful of years ago now. Some of those girls are married now, and my job in the church is to lead music with an irresistibly charming group of Primary kids. But those Young Women will forever be mine, in a sacred sort of way.
This weekend is a blessed time for those of us who are believers in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. We call it General Conference weekend, a time when we are instructed and inspired by our church leaders. I know my faith is alive and functioning because I actually desire to hear from them.
Today, as I listened and watched, my mind returned to that mountainside in Southern Idaho and that little army of young women lined up in front of the fence line. I thought about how hard it was for me to hit my target before I understood how to shoot, how to use all that was available for me to be successful in reaching my target. It was confirmed to me by the silent inspirer that dwells inside my brain that this bi-annual conference is the setting of my spiritual sights, reminding me to align my daily life with that firmly and accurately and strategically placed sight that God put on the machine of my life. And I was reminded that I needed also to keep my eye on the targets in my life: the good targets I want to protect, and other targets from which I need to protect myself and my family. The likelihood of my success is greatly heightened when I use the sights that God has placed in my life. I can shoot over and over, thinking I see exactly where I am aiming. But, I’ve discovered by parables learned and lived, that the key is divine alignment.