I'm excited to have Jan as my first guest poster (is that a word?) for my celebration of Relief Society! I love everything that Jan writes. She has such great thoughts and says things so well... so make sure to jump over to her blog afterwards.
Relief Society, however, is not one of these echo chambers. Relief Society is a mix of real women, living in all different phases of maturity, with all different family situations, and vastly different life experiences. Relief Society does challenge my thoughts and the way I live my life. Sometimes I laugh. Often my eyes tear up at the sincerity and goodness of the women around me, their vulnerability in sharing deeply personal and spiritual things with a room full of friends and strangers. I love their hearts. I can see myself in them, whether it is the ghost of Jan Past, Present or Future--and seeing them in their strengths and weaknesses helps me to better see myself. Their motes become my beams; and I see my potential in their triumphs.
Within this mix of women in every ward I've attended, I always find several who just thrill me with their gospel knowledge. These women who make comments like, "Well, you'll remember that Joseph F. Smith promised. . . " or "I have always loved the thought by Brigham Young that. . . " and then they say something profound and topical and analytical and it just wraps the whole thing up in my mind. I adore these Sister Scriptorians. In a 1979 Women's Conference, Camilla Kimball delivered a talk in behalf of her husband, President Kimball, admonishing:
We want our homes to be blessed with sister scriptorians—whether you are single or married, young or old, widowed or living in a family. . . Regardless of your particular circumstances, as you become more and more familiar with the truths of the scriptures, you will be more and more effective in keeping the second great commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself. Become scholars of the scriptures—not to put others down, but to lift them up! After all, who has any greater need to “treasure up” the truths of the gospel (on which they may call in their moments of need) than do women and mothers who do so much nurturing and teaching?As a 16-year-old Laurel, my leader was the brilliant Sister Wilson. She was learning Greek so she could read the New Testament in its original language. She taught lessons of doctrine, almost devoid of crafts and handouts. She knew stuff. She blew my mind about the possibilities for sisters in the church. After watching her live the gospel, I had my trajectory roughly laid out--following her lead.
(I know about this quote because of one of these wonderful women saying, "You know, President Kimball told us all to be Sister Scriptorians, and so I decided that was what I was going to do!")
Following Sister Wilson, there have been an unbroken string of Relief Society mentors in my life. All of these wonderful women knew what they believed. They didn't just believe that the Church's doctrine was satisfactory and that it probably made a lot of sense. They knew it was. They had confidence in the ability of the scriptures, faithful living and prayer in bringing them closer to Jesus Christ. Their conviction and spiritual gifts have inspired me to try the same approach.
Without the sisterhood of Relief Society, I fear I would become stagnant. Growth requires exposure to other ideas, other paths, other experiences. Relief Society is an incredible brain trust focused on the problems of "How to Live Life", and "How Jesus Christ Can Help Us". Without the examples of my Sister Scriptorians, I would still just be believing that I believed in a good thing. They have taught me that there is a better way: to know. For me, gospel knowledge is a beacon. But for other sisters, the ideal they look for in Relief Society may be the expressions of selfless charity, or the sincere testimony, or the way some ladies can just call things as they see them. There are so many things to love and admire about the sisters in Relief Society, what a privilege to be associated with such a remarkable body of women.
Thanks to the example of my Relief Society mentors, my testimony of the Savior has hardened into a tangible thing, a bridge that I can walk out onto bravely and calmly, without knowing what is ahead. I don't know when the cement will harden in the steps ahead, but I know that it has supported me in the past and I will continue to rely on it. The stones in my path that have supported me over and over are simple: Our Savior will take care of us. He loves us. He knows us. All things we go through are for our growth and happiness. The trajectory that I was following behind Sister Wilson intersected with the Savior's path almost immediately, and I have found my way with greater confidence the more I study and pray. To draw out all the paths of the gospel, in every situation, would take an enormous map. Too big for one person to hold. In Relief Society, we all hold our piece and share the information found there. This group of women is more influential than any book group; in this divine society we learn from each other how to follow Christ to salvation.
Jan Gillespie Francisco is a mother of 5 living in San Antonio, Texas. Sometimes she has a few moments early in the mornings, or late at night, when she can put her thoughts in writing about motherhood and being a woman. You can find these thoughts at her blog: In Defense of Women.