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Women Are the Glue

Hands around globe

Ten years ago, I was on my first assignment to the Middle East. I was nervous. The first event of the trip was a missionary couples’ conference in Amman, Jordan. I arrived a day early, thinking I would prepare for the conference. Instead, I ended up working in Sister Jeri Cook’s white, well-used kitchen and talking with her while we cooked. When I offered to help, she first had me make a cake with Arabic instructions, and when that was cooling, she had me chop vegetables, fry hamburger, and make two big pots of soup.

With the two of us working, there was plenty of time to chat about how she and her husband were married when they were both 18; how they got the courage to leave Pleasant Grove, Utah, as a young, very poor couple and take a job in Saudi Arabia; and how she had loved her mission in Jordan.

I asked about her family from the pictures on the fridge, and she talked about each one with tremendous pride. Whenever a new couple arrived for the conference, Sister Cook would stop what she was doing and throw her arms around them. They were frazzled from irritating border crossings and heavy traffic, and she would welcome them inside.

Meanwhile, her husband, Elder Cook, was busy arranging other details: figuring out the logistics to pick up Elder Holland at the airport, then on the phone confirming the next day’s appointments at the Ministry of Health and haggling with the heating oil guy. If someone asked which of the Cooks was more productive that day on their mission, how can that possibly be answered?

But that evening, the five couples sat around the large dining room table and shared stories over soup and bread, juice and cake. It was a homey meal in a warm setting, and the camaraderie flowed in a way people would remember fondly after their missions were over. The couples were tired and used up from their difficult assignments. I was nervous about a new position I didn’t know how to fill. I realized it was Sister Cook’s gentle ministry that laid the foundation for the rest and faith and happiness we all felt that night.

We women are often like Jeri Cook. We throw our arms around the people who come and go. We have a refrigerator door full of pictures of people we love. We take a younger woman under our wing and involve her with whatever we are doing while we talk. I have no doubt each one of us would move the earth for the people in those photos on our kitchen walls. But so often we don’t want to scare them with our power to bless and heal, so we move the world in increments of soup and cake. They may never even recognize the universe has been realigned for their good. It may be that our mother does glorious things right in front of us every day so often that she blinds us with commonness. Maybe she serves the whole world soup and cake every night.

I wish I had a fancy name for it, but women are called to be glue. We are the bonds of unity and kindness. You see it in the matriarchs of your lives who are at the center of things. They reach out and include people, they find meaningful things for each person to do, they make sure the right things are said and done so things keep going, they make it fun, and they make us laugh.

This unity, this bonding, this glue is the ingredient of conversion to the gospel of Jesus Christ that is in our most basic doctrines.

Alma calls on those who will be baptized to “bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light” (Mosiah 18:8).

And the Lord tells Moses, “The stranger that dwelleth with you shall be … as one born among you, and thou shalt love [her] as thyself” (Leviticus 19:34).

Jesus says plainly in the Doctrine and Covenants, “Be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine” (D&C 38:27).

When I was first called to serve in Relief Society, I was surprised at how many women sat down and told me: “I’m not a ‘Relief Society’ type. I’m not like everyone else. I’m not politically conservative, or I don’t stay home. I’m not put together. My kids are in trouble. I’m twice divorced. I have sins I can’t put to rest. I have doctrinal issues. Relief Society increases my anxiety.” I realized after a lot of this that none of us fits in.

Relief Society is exactly the place for all of us who don’t fit in. It is organized under priesthood keys for women to have a place to grow, progress, build their faith, talk about the reality of family life, and mourn with each other for all the stupid, crazy things that happen to us when we are mortals.

We cannot give in to those voices who say it’s just like a sewing circle or a book club for people who have the same interests and backgrounds. No, Relief Society has a work to do on the earth. When you belong to Relief Society, you are part of that work. The Lord has a stewardship for His daughters in the work of salvation, and only we can do it. It can only be done by women who are truly converted unto the Lord.

Sister Addie Fuhriman, who was on the Relief Society general board, said in 1980: “The Lord saw our similarities as well as our differences, and he valued both. And from that wisdom, he provided Relief Society where gospel principles that can touch the heart and life of each woman—you, me, young, old, married, single … could be taught.”

To Addie’s list I would add people with disabilities, recovering addicts, new in the Church, old pioneer stock, American, Syrian, Chilean, Samoan, working, home with kids, wishing to have a job, poor, rich, in debt, happy, depressed, bipolar, autistic, serving others, being served, liberal, conservative, don’t care, immigrant, gay, converted, and unconverted. The question is: Can we open up the circle of our sisterhood to many more kinds of backgrounds and see those backgrounds as valuable instead of as handicaps? If you do this, you become a woman with sticky hands.

It’s as if you put glue on your hand and it’ll dry clear. But it sticks. And when you reach out with those sticky hands, you’ll hold fast to the people you care about. You’ll bring them in. You are a good Samaritan. You are a seeker of black sheep. You bond with people and you won’t let go. You become an example to others of the tolerance and good will that glues the world together when women try.

Strengthening our brothers and sisters shows how converted to Jesus Christ we ourselves are. These acts of practicing unity and love are often unseen and unrecognized, but just like with Jeri Cook, they last a long time. And women who can do this—we’re glue.

From the keynote address given at BYU Women’s Conference on May 4, 2017. Read the full address, “Eyes to See, Discipline to Create, Glue to Bind—Converted unto the Lord.”