The journey to the Cultural Celebration was an emotional roller coaster. So many lows, so many amazing highs. I’m still trying to process it all but one thing is for sure, it’s an experience I will never forget.
I received a letter in March via email from George Rhodes, a member of the Seventy and the head of the Open House and Dedication, asking me to join the Celebration Subcommittee. We were to be in charge of planning a theme, writing a script, and putting together all the details associated with the Celebration. I forwarded the email to Rusty. This was our exchange:
Tara:Is this real?? How do you think I got picked? Kinda cool, I think?
Rusty: It’s probably real – if it’s fake it’s a pretty boring joke 🙂
So, I called up Pres Jones to accept the assignment. He asked me, “Why were you recommended for this calling? What special skill set do you have that will contribute as we plan this celebration?” Ummm….I have no idea. I’ve never done theater, I’ve never worked on a production this large. But I can show up and you can put me to work however you see fit.
Then just a few weeks later Jim passed away. We were all so overwhelmed with our grief and we were so busy taking care of the sweet Rowberry family that I really wanted to back away from this assignment. Now was not the time to be driving to Ft. Collins for meetings and taking on extra responsibilities. I called Pres Jones and told him if they needed to replace me I’d be ok with that. He was very kind, loving, and understanding. He said there was a reason I was called to the committee and that I was to just do the best I could in that moment and take the time I needed to heal myself, my family, and be there for the Rowberry’s. So, I continued to attend meetings via phone, but I kept my head down. I didn’t ever say much or volunteer for many assignments.
I went along pretty much like that until we got back from San Francisco in August. Then it was all hands on deck for the next 2 months. We had countless meetings and phone calls and this is where things started to get sticky. Communication had been a real struggle during this whole process and that really started to show in the final months. It was difficult to communicate all the rapid changes to all 15 stakes in 3 states, and then to get all the info down to a ward level was nearly impossible. Stake and Ward Leaders were super frustrated and everything got a little intense. Even on our committee it seemed that decisions were being made and then there was no efficient way to keep us all on the same page. It lead to a LOT of headache, frustration, and doubling up on work loads. Also, even though I knew this would be a big job from the get go, I really had NO IDEA how big. It took over my entire life and I worked from sun up to sun down and still felt behind most days. Everyone from the very top all they way down to the youth was burned out, a little angry, and ready to be done. I admit to my fair share of grumbling, complaining, and general bad attitude.
About a month before the celebration I decided to change my tune. I decided to have a good attitude, pretend to be be super excited and see what happened. I can’t lie, some days I literally had to bite my tongue. Snark and sarcasm come so much more naturally to me than optimism. Two weeks before the big day President Jones had us all listen to a talk on the temple given my Michael Wilcox at a BYU-I Education Week. The discussion that followed was incredible and uplifting and really helped put the entire celebration back into focus. Our job wasn’t to make sure the kids were amazing dancers, or to have perfect costumes or to sing like angels. Our job was to CELEBRATE the temple! To be excited and give thanks to God for this blessing.
Our theme was Fortress of Faith. There were many forts in the early history of Colorado and the celebration took us on a journey from fort to temple. We talked about the physical fortifications provided by these structures and the spiritual fortifications provided by the temple. Our main prop was a giant fortress that transformed into the temple by the end of the production. It was quite stunning.
The Saturday before the Celebration our committee went into the dress rehearsal feeling pretty jazzed. And it went quite well. The opening number took way way longer than anticipated to get the kids into their formation and they started to get pretty squirrely and bored. I don’t blame them. I was feeling the same way! But we got through it. I think that even though it was pretty chaotic it gave us confidence that we were indeed going to pull this thing off.
I made it to Celebration day hanging on by a thread. Marathon training peaked the same week and Rusty and I had run 20 miles the day before. I was in charge of props and costuming and training volunteers on what to do during and after their scene. We trained all morning and then had two big dress rehearsals in the afternoon. The day was sweltering. It was 80 degrees and the youth were sitting in the sunniest spot in the stadium. A few kids fainted from heat stroke and many more were suffering the effects of dehydration. The paramedics on scene threatened to shut the whole thing down if we didn’t get the kids into some shade and get them hydrated. So, we took a 45 minute break and let everyone recover.
Dress rehearsals went well but by this time the kids were DONE. I wasn’t sure they’d have energy left for the actual performance. Everyone was overheated, tired, hungry, and sooooo sick of these dances. Our pizza dinner and the sun finally going behind the mountain helped perk them up a bit.
But everything changed the moment President Uchtdorf and Elder Renlund walked into the stadium. I have never experienced anything like it before in my life. The whole energy of the place changed. Suddenly everything felt exciting, fun, and peaceful all in the same moment. I don’t really know how to explain it, but it was amazing.
The stands were PACKED!
The performance went off without a hitch. And, after 7 months of meticulously planning every last detail, my favorite part was the totally unscripted cheers of JOY from the youth at the end of the celebration. The kids on the field threw their scarves into the air over and over. The kids in the stands waved their lights. Pres Uchtdorf gave them a standing ovation and everyone just went nuts. The feelings of love and joy were completely unrestrained. I will never forget it as long as I live. If you would have asked me during dress rehearsal if all the work and effort that was required to put on the Celebration was worth it, I most likely would have said no. But in that moment, when almost 4000 youth and 17,000 spectators united their voices in giving thanks to God for our temple, every second we spent was worth it.
Just our dance:
The other best part of the celebration was the opportunity to meet so many outstanding people, both in my own stake and on the Celebration Committee. I feel so grateful to know them and to work with them. And also, my friends, who I already know are amazing, but went out of their way to take good care of me. Sharon Erekson brought me two delicious freezer meals, Meredith Maddox cooked enough Canadian Thanksgiving to also feed my family, many many friends texted and called with words of encouragement when things got tough, and many others were willing to jump in and lend a helping hand when we had to glue grass to 100 headpieces and when we discovered we were short 60 native american costumes women showed up to sew the day away. People are so awesome.