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  • Writer's pictureShelli Owen

Church “Friends” and Trust

Updated: Sep 9, 2023

River rafters at Tiger Wall on the Yampa River

“If an enemy were insulting me,

I could endure it;

if a foe were rising against me,

I could hide.

But it is you, a [person] like myself,

my companion, my close friend,

with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship

at the house of God,

as we walked about

among the worshipers.” (Psalm 55:12–14)

*Please note: people’s names have been changed to protect both the innocent and the not-so-innocent.

Even though I came to expect there to be some dishonesty, disloyalty, and bad behavior among my peers who were not members of my church. In the “innocence” of youth, I didn’t expect it from those who were active members of my church. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I already had some trust issues. During my teen years, some things occurred that broke my trust even more and kept me from being able to readily develop close friendships with other girls and guys—even, maybe especially, with those who were church members. I don’t begrudge these experiences, because of a better trust I learned as a result. But these incidents were still painful when they happened. The first event took place in association with a really fun church activity our Ward began one summer.

When my dad was a young man, before he married my mom, he worked as a professional river guide. He took an expedition of scientists down the Colorado River before the Hoover Dam was built. He also took people on rafting trips down other rivers including the Snake, Yampa, and Green Rivers. When I was in my pre-teens and teens, and he served in the Bishopric of our Ward, he and some other men in our Ward decided they wanted to plan a Ward river trip. After the first expedition, it became an annual event.

My dad would lead the preparations for the trips because he knew what he was doing. Before each trip, we kids would have a blast bouncing on the boats and pontoons inflated and left overnight or for a few nights in our yard to make sure they didn’t have any slow leaks. The big boats consisted of two large inflatable rubber pontoons each, vestiges of World War I. Each pontoon was approximately 4 feet wide in diameter and 25 feet long and had a tip that pointed up on one end—which was the front of the would-be boat. These pontoons were held together with a wood-and-half-culvert frame strapped onto the pontoons by a series of rings and ropes. They were “safer” for going through the rapids because of their large size.

My dad’s boat was a smaller, eight-man rubber raft, also left over from the war. It was about 15 feet in length and 7 feet in width—more similar to the boats usually seen on the river now. It was also topped by a wood rowing frame secured by rings and ropes to the rubber raft. It was a lot more fun than the bigger boats in the rapids, as well as more maneuverable.

Finally, when my dad thought I was old enough (twelve years old) I got to start going on these five-day river trips with the participating teens and adults from our Ward. They were a fantastic adventure from beginning to end. If we were running the Yampa River, we would start below Deerlodge Park Campground, which is in Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado. If we were running the Green River, usually put in just before the Gates of Lodore in Brown’s Park National Wildlife Refuge.

Everyone helped at the boat launch with unloading and shuttling cars, inflating and assembling, then loading supplies onto the boats. The impetus was getting to our first campsite in time for dinner and setting up camp.

The food was the best in the world. It tasted extra wonderful right off the camp stove, especially after I’d worked up a voracious appetite either swimming or rowing. Even sunbathing in the warm summer sun seemed to enhance my appetite. All that time outside in the fresh air probably didn’t hurt any. My dad did most of the cooking for our family and sometimes for others too when we were camping. Some food he prepared on river trips, he made nowhere else. One of my favorites was his “Forty-Mile Stew” in which he expertly blended fried-cubed steak, potatoes and onions, cheddar cheese, and toasted sausages to marinate in a Dutch oven surrounded by hot coals in a hole in the ground. As long as no one accidentally kicked too much dirt into it when my Dad was putting it together, it was legendary.

We didn’t generally bring tents but used tarps for cover (from sun or sprinkles) and for putting under our sleeping bags, as needed. We’d take turns with a buddy guarding our changing area or make-shift commode behind the bushes and/or towels, so no one could walk up on us unawares. I also learned to efficiently change clothes while in my sleeping bag, excluding wet swimsuits.

I loved camping out under the stars. Since we were in a river canyon I couldn’t see as much, but the sky I could see seemed nearer, darker, and the stars brighter. This was somehow comforting to me. The Big Dipper was my favorite star group to find. It was also the only one I knew. I liked that I could find my direction by it if I needed to. It was peacefully quiet with the river running right next to us, soothing me to sleep each night.

During the day, as we floated through the ever-changing, beautiful desert scenery of the river canyons, we would have intermittent stretches of calm water and rapids. In calm water we would swim, sunbathe, and participate in explosive water fights with oars, buckets, and creative crocheted-bleach-bottle hats our moms had made for themselves, turned into water scoopers. (We didn’t have the big water-shooting guns yet.)

While lazing on the silver-painted, sun-warmed boat to get “dry” again, I enjoyed the overall sense of floating. Along with the sounds of the swishing, ever-moving river, and the visual contrast of the red, pink, or yellow sandstone rocks against the blue sky and the green of any plant life on the riverbank.

Many of the sandstone canyon walls hovering over the Yampa River had black stripes running down their faces. The stripes were made by deposits of manganese and iron oxide in the water that had flowed down over the wall during runoff from desert snowmelt. One of the most arresting occurrences of this “desert varnish” was Tiger Wall where the Yampa River hugs a long, tall, looming section of “white” (light pink) sandstone, striped with these black streaks. We’d come around a bend in the river, and there it was. I was awestruck by its beauty and uniqueness, especially the first time I saw it, but then we were floating on by it before I could fully absorb the wonder of what I had just seen.

All along the river there were also historical and “prehistorical” remnants (how something can be before history is beyond me). Most of the petroglyphs could not be seen from the river, but a relatively short hike could get you to a few of them. My dad knew where several were and showed them to us when the occasion would permit. One “historical” landmark along the river consisted of my uncle’s and grandfather’s names written on the wall in September of 1945. (Apparently, from a recent video I saw, my dad’s family is still visibly part of the history of river rafting on the Yampa.)

Before the larger or more potentially dangerous rapids, we would pull off to the side for a bit. All those rowing (usually the men) would take a hike with my dad to scout out, if possible, the rapids we were about to go through and decide how to best run the boats through them. Each year the rapids would change due to the amount and flow of the water and alterations that happened over the winter months, so this was part of keeping things on the fun, rather than the disastrous side.

It was always thrilling to ride through the rolling, twisting, wild, and sometimes fearsome rapids, safe in my dad’s boat. Because of his expertise with the oars and the boat and his knowledge of rivers, I was never afraid when I was with him. I knew he would give us the best ride he could and still keep us safe. The only fear I experienced was when I was on another boat piloted by someone else. I never wanted to be on any other boat than my dad’s—though occasionally I had to be, ever so reluctantly, to give others a turn on our smaller, more fun boat.

The Yampa had a couple of class-III rapids: Big Joe and Teepee Rapids as well as Warm Springs, a class-IV rapid. On the Green River, after we went through the Gates of Lodore—cliffs towering 2000 feet above us on either side of the river—we would, in turn, go through Upper and Lower Disaster Falls, Harp Falls, and Triplet Falls, all class-III rapids, and then Hell’s Half Mile, a class-IV rapid. These were the ones the rowers would scout out beforehand with my dad.

Near Steamboat Rock at Echo Park (yes, it lives up to its name) the greener Yampa River would run into the browner Green River. At the beginning of this confluence—depending on the time of year—you could see the separate colors flow side by side before they gradually melded together into one “Green” River. The temperature difference between the rivers there was also remarkable. The Yampa River flow would generally be much warmer than the Green River flow before they blended.

On the lower part of the Green River, there were quite a few fun rapids. Greasy Pliers, a class II rapid in Whirlpool Canyon; Moonshine, the last class-three rapid of our trip unless S.O.B. was “acting up”; otherwise, S.O.B., School Boy, and Inglesby, were all class-II rapids. My favorite was School Boy in Split Mountain. There the Green River squeezed through a very narrow canyon. Because the chute was so narrow, the water was deeper and flowed fast over a series of huge boulders. This run, right next to the cliff, made for a very fun roller-coaster-like ride. Our boat could barely be seen from above when it was in the trough of each wave-like rapid. It was the next to the last rapid before we got off the river, so I savored every moment.

Dinosaur National Monument was near our boat take-out after Split Mountain. They always had live dinosaur digs going on there, which besides the other bones and exhibits was interesting. We’d usually stop in and take at least a quick look around before we had to head home.

When I was around fourteen years old, one of my church friends, *Dawn (mentioned in an earlier post[1]), had a good-looking and somewhat older-than-us cousin, *Boe. He was from Utah and was going to come with us on our annual Boulder Second Ward river trip. Right before the trip, Dawn let me know ahead of time and in no uncertain terms, that *Kelly was already friends with Boe, that she liked him—a lot, and that I shouldn’t interfere in any way in their budding relationship. Kelly was interested in getting to know him better on this river trip—and I shouldn’t even try to get to know him at all. Dawn was usually so soft-spoken, I had an inkling Kelly was behind warning me off. Either way, I didn’t intend to interfere with their plans—at all.

Then came Boe—on the river trip. He was good-looking. He was also a very nice person, and he kept trying to initiate a conversation with me. I tried to avoid him and spoke to him as little as possible. But I could see this was going to be a problem, right from the start. It came to a head sooner than I expected, at camp the very first evening.

After setting up camp, we all walked back into the canyon to see some petroglyphs. On the way back, Boe maneuvered himself to be able to chat with me. It would have been a direct affront to refuse to talk with him. I couldn’t avoid him by stopping to remove a stone from my flip-flop, he stopped to wait. By the time we got back to camp, I could tell Kelly was super angry with me. She pulled me aside and let me know what she thought of me and my “flirting.” I was very upset with her in return because I had been intentionally evading interaction with Boe all day—to the point of rudeness—and she was giving me no credit, but just the opposite. Finally, I got so angry with her, I told her I wasn’t going to try dodging him anymore, and I would just let him decide, not her, whom he wanted to talk with.

Long story, short, Boe did spend most of his time with Dawn and Kelly on their boat that he was helping to pack, unpack, and row; but he spent as much of his free time as he could with me and managed to get on the same boat as me for some short intervals a few times. I still—openly—made sure I wasn’t in any way flirting with him or soliciting his attention for Kelly’s sake. I didn’t hate her or intentionally want to hurt her. However, Boe and I had a lot in common and by the end of the trip, we had become great friends with an inferred—through our mutual attraction—promise of possibly becoming more in time. I wasn’t old enough to date, but we exchanged addresses and began writing to each other.

Long after the river trip, Kelly and Dawn still hadn’t given up hope. Without any respect for Boe or his wishes, they wanted me out of the way. Their next ploy was insidious. I never saw it coming. They waited a while, then at a youth activity, after Dawn had made up to me like we were best friends, they entrapped me. (I’m sure Kelly put her up to it.) It was an Iago (from Othello)-type treachery. Dawn asked about Boe—she knew we were exchanging letters. Then she started insinuating things about him and all the girls he was used to hanging out with and was probably dating....

This fiery dart went straight to my heart where it was intended to go. Dawn should know. She was Boe’s cousin after all. Since Boe was so good-looking and friendly, and I was just, well, me; I could believe what she was saying might be true. She also hinted that this was why Kelly was no longer interested in him (though later I found out she still was).

Of course, what Dawn had suggested wormed itself into my mind and heart, so when other guys began asking to see me or do things together, it didn’t bother my conscience to agree. I no longer saw myself as singled out by Boe or that my heart should belong solely to him. We were all so young and foolish, but not innocent!—except maybe Boe.

If I had trusted in his real interest—which I would have if I had known him better—I would have turned down a bunch of guys I had no business seeing or hanging out with before I was of dating age. I wouldn’t have gotten so serious so quickly when I was allowed to date. And even if things never worked out to be “more” between Boe and me, believing in Boe for the time being, would have saved me tons of heartache. By the time I learned the truth from Boe himself, it was too late.

He made a trip out to Colorado specifically to visit me, but I already had another boyfriend. (I’ll share more on my dating years later). When I confessed what I had “learned” from Dawn about him, and in exchange learned the truth from Boe about himself, and how I had hurt him by not believing in him, the realization and impact of what Dawn and Kelly had done began to set in. I was so mad at myself for even considering what Dawn had said—really, what Kelly had put her up to. I should have known. I was cut to the heart by their betrayal, as well as amazed at the degree of malice behind their tactics. I knew I should never have trusted either of them in the first place—not from the very beginning of our “friendship”! Now Boe was “free” for Kelly, but he had never been interested and still apparently wasn’t—not even in a friendship.

This incident was a major setback to my trust in female friends at church. But it wasn’t that much of a setback. I was already disinclined towards friendships in that circle anyway.

I’d already decided I didn’t want to participate in our Ward’s, LDS Church-sponsored, annual Young Women’s campouts after the first one I had attended. Toilet seats covered with honey, unwanted surprises in one’s sleeping bag, bushes covered with one’s underwear, and other similar tricks held no great attraction for me. These kinds of hoaxes were especially not worth it since I wasn’t close to any of the other girls already, and none of them seemed inclined to become “better” friends with me. (I hadn’t learned how to be a friend to others myself yet either!)

I did enjoy a few of the Church Youth Conferences—but that was because I mainly hung out with guy friends. Guys were more laid back and free from all the backbiting and nit-picking that went on among the “young women.” One year the conference was at Mount Rushmore—which was great; but because of the overabundance of the antiseptic that one kitchen manager was determined to use on all the surfaces: counters, tables, floors, doorknobs, etc., everyone got sick—which wasn’t so great. The smell was so overpowering it made you want to wretch, and the food tasted like dish soap. The bus ride home capped it off. The smell of numerous stinky feet and sweaty bodies crammed into one bus, all the way back to Colorado, was the opposite. Such a scenic and interesting but malodorous trip! Between these two extremes, I was ready for the fresh air of home.

Another year, when the conference was in Colorado Springs, some guy friends and I snuck out of our rooms after curfew and met in the social hall where we spent the night talking and laughing and playing games without a break. Besides hiking in the Garden of the Gods, that was the highlight of the conference for us. We slept through the talks (speakers) and the bus ride home.

Not all LDS Church guys were good company or fun to hang out with. At one church campout, the same neighbor boy, *Jed who, when we were kids, had tried to talk me into kissing him and being his number two girlfriend, outdid himself as a young man. I knew he had been fooling around with the new, “non-member” girl in our neighborhood. He’d get off the bus with her at her stop before ours and spend time with her at her house when her parents weren’t home. I think he told his parents he was helping her with her homework and that her mom was home. He wasn’t an upstanding example of LDS Church standards, himself.

He knew that I’d been seeing a lot of different guys at school, church dances, and elsewhere. I guess he figured it was a free-for-all with me. At the last Second-Ward family campout I went on, unbeknownst to me, Jed had made a bet concerning me with the other “young men” his age (they were all a year older than me). He bet them he could get me to kiss him before the night was over.

First, uncharacteristically, after I’d helped my family set up camp, he wanted to go for a walk and was very solicitous. He wanted to know what I’d been doing and asked about things I was interested in. This was so unlike him. I wondered, Is my neighbor, Jed, starting to grow up and be a person? That would be a nice change. But then, the next thing I knew, he was all intent on trying to hold my hand. Alarm bells started going off in my head. I intentionally kept my hands from him—in my pockets, behind my back, folded. Our conversation started to flag a little. I guessed something was up.

After we had returned to the campfire, I sat on a log. He sat right next to me. I scootched away a little, not knowing he was trying to put his arm around me. To cover what he’s been attempting, he awkwardly raised his arms skyward like he was stretching and yawning. Then I saw the other guys watching and trying not to laugh. I knew for sure something was up. At that point, I stood up and excused myself. I left Jed sitting there. He knew, I knew, he had been trying to play me. He never apologized, but he did avoid me after that. After that, we didn’t even acknowledge each other if we were in the same place as the other.

The next week at church some of the guys apologized to me for taking him up on that bet. That’s when I knew what he’d done. That’s when my trust in church guys also became much more reserved. But it’s also when I began to think a little more about my own actions and how others might be perceiving them, and me. And that, besides my dad, maybe God was the only One I could or should be trusting wholeheartedly anyway.

“Those who know your name trust in you,

for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” (Psalm 9:10)




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