Mormon Sisterhood

By


Mormon Sisterhood

There’s a Poet inside Me

Who am I? Well, I’m an English teacher, for one thing, and that means I spend a good chunk of my life studying. But it also means that there is a poet dancing around inside of me; it means that I am a person of feeling, of emotion. That poet inside me wants to live, to jump up and down, to laugh, to run. It’s no accident that but for one letter the words motion and emotion are doubles. In fact, historically, they are synonyms. The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that motion was at one time described as “a stirring of the soul,” and emotion was defined as “a moving … (in a physical sense).” End of English lesson. History cannot separate the two, and neither can I. I like to move because of how it makes me feel. For me, motion is truly emotion.

Why do any of us climb to the top of a mountain? Is it fun to pant for breath we can’t find? to ache in every muscle? to hurt where the pack straps drag on our shoulders? Is it fun to be clinging to near vertical rock, straining to reach a crack that will give a handhold ever closer to the top? Is it fun to run around a tennis court until we’re wet with perspiration and have holes in our shoes? Is it fun to pedal a bicycle against a headwind until our lungs seem ready to burst and our legs to drop off? The answer, of course, is a resounding yes! How better can we know that we’re alive?

When I find myself growling around the house, or inclined to give my students mainly Cs and Ds, I know I’ve been tied to a desk too long and need to get out and bang a tennis ball around or shoot a few baskets or climb a mountain or find a desert. When the grouch happens to a particular friend of mine, she knows that she needs to take up her violin. Another friend restores herself by baking bread. But me? I have to move—throw something or jump over something or hit something or ski down something (or even up something on cross-country skis). It’s funny, but exercise as such, in the name of duty, simply does not satisfy the poet inside me. I’ve tried jogging just because it’s supposed to be good for me. It’s about as exciting to me as swallowing vitamin pills. I’ve started exercise programs too. I think my record for continuance is four days. For me, exercise by design takes the fun out of moving; it doesn’t tell me that I’m alive. For other people, it’s not that way—their inner poets may love to jog or to do deep-knee bends.

Some of my brightest joys come from the sheer abandon of squandering energy. This holds true even in what we label work. When I’m helping my uncle haul hay, it feels good to run instead of walk to the next bale, to load a bale on the rack with more gusto than is really necessary. When I’m off to climb a mountain on a day-hike, I’m glad to be the one to carry the lunch pack because I want to feel my body working just a little harder. Part of the delight I feel in play comes from squandering energy, from indulging in activity that will never make a contribution to the Gross National Product, that will never result in putting anything in the marketplace. Something done for the simple joy of itself. Such an action is a poem, pure and lovely, for what is a poem but squandered energy? The squandering I describe is not waste; in fact, it results in a replenishing and a revitalizing. My energy is like the Dogpatch ham; the more I use, the more I have. Those times of “squandered” energy often turn out to be some of the most valuable times in my life because they are translated into being and are not lost down the drain of time the way so many things I spend my life for are.

The word motion has another obsolete definition that I really like: “A working of God in the soul.” I do feel at times when I am in motion—say, leaping high over desert sagebrush and landing shin-deep in soft sand, or hitting a good, solid volley at the net—that He is working in my soul (I think dancers must have that same feeling too). And I believe that in running and leaping I am not simply indulging my selfish whims; rather, I am recognizing a gift that is in some ways unique to me, acknowledging that He has blessed me with marvelous loves and almost miraculous awarenesses. To deny those gifts would be to demonstrate a terrible kind of ingratitude. My patriarchal blessing says that the Lord will “bless me exceedingly” in my lifetime. I believe that part of that great blessing has been a strong body and a love for movement and a oneness with the out-of-doors.

I was a long time discovering who I really was, a long time learning what my special gifts were, a long time admitting that I was a poet—of motion and emotion. When I finally discovered myself it was like finding what I had always been but had never known. Among other things, I learned that

—It’s all right for me, a woman, to move and play.

—I am most happily liberated by a pair of scruffy hiking boots.

—I have to get to the tops of mountains, come rain, wind, or nightfall.

—My inner poet is perhaps most contented in the desert—following narrow river gorges, trudging through deep, dry sand, walking up unbelievable angles on sticky red rock.

—I would rather eat around a campfire than in the fanciest restaurant.

—I love winter with a passion best expressed by gliding over snow with long boards attached to my feet.

—I would rather play tennis than eat or sleep or see movies or get paid.

—I would rather hear a canyon wren’s crystal notes cascading down a canyon wall than travel around the world.

—I would rather play one game of basketball than watch fifty.

—And finally, I learned that I do not have to apologize to the world for being the way I am.

Lehi says it all: “Men are that they might have joy.” (2 Ne. 2:25.) I have found inexpressible joy in movement.

Marilyn Arnold, an assistant to the president at Brigham Young University, is also an associate professor of English there. She serves on a task committee for the Relief Society general board.

Wear Your Working Shoes

Jim, my husband, died very suddenly two years ago. His death came as a shock to all who knew and loved him. He was a gentle man, highly respected by his professional peers and deeply loved by his patients in this community as “our doctor.” He held his family on the highest level of his priorities. He was proud of the Church and spoke freely of his deep faith. Although we had been members of the Church for only three years when he died, he had contributed much to members as well as nonmembers through the sincerity of his testimony. His love and example gave my faith a depth of strength that I shall cherish forever.

I had the privilege of being alone with Jim when he died. As I watched the expression on his face, I knew he had a calling from our Heavenly Father. I knew that I had nothing to fear as I felt a mighty power assuring me that Jim and I would be together for eternity—a feeling that has been with me constantly ever since. As I turned from Jim’s bedside, someone put his arm around me, saying, “Let me take you home now. You shouldn’t go home alone.” I can remember how quickly my reply came. “I can manage. I am not alone.”

Driving home from the hospital in the dark of that night, I relived the beautiful experience that Jim and I had shared as we knelt hand in hand across the richly upholstered altar in the sealing room in the Salt Lake Temple only two years before. Our sealing for time and eternity had been followed by the marriage of our beautiful daughter to her fine husband across that same altar. The following year in the Provo Temple we had the privilege of completing the temple ordinances for our parents and being sealed to them. What great blessings we have shared in the house of the Lord! As I reflected upon these blessings, “foreverness” came to me as a reality, giving me a determination to carry on and hold fast to my faith so that I would be worthy of the great blessings bestowed on me in the temple.

As I sat in the car for a while, preparing myself to tell our children that their father had gone, I found that my thoughts concentrated on the difference between the parting we had just experienced and the parting we lived through thirty-one years ago when Jim left me in the Washington railroad station, heading overseas. His parting words as the train started to move are still clear in my mind: “Remember that I love you always. This separation may be for a week, may be for a month, may be for a year, may be for. …” That last word was lost in the noise of the accelerating engine, but I knew what it was. Those three years and two months as he served with the U.S. Army in Iran were cruel years for both of us, a time of angry questioning. But now, as death temporarily separated us, what a difference! The appointed time had come for Jim and forever has such a different meaning. There are no doubts in my mind. I know that the gospel is true; I know that there is a God who is our Heavenly Father; and I know that forever means being together.

The compassion of others at this time of decisions and adjustments seemed to insulate me from reality. My children, my brothers, the entire Church, our friends from everywhere demonstrated a sustaining love that I shall never forget. But I soon began to recognize that this protective power of love could only be temporary.

Through prayer, I received a burning desire to move ahead. LeGrand Richards once said, “If you are going to leave footprints in the sands of time, you must wear your working shoes.” Keeping busy and involved is the key that keeps the door of self-pity locked. With so much to do to prepare to meet our Father in heaven, there is no time in our day of probation for self-pity. I know that I must not only keep on wearing those working shoes, but also have several pairs that can be changed frequently to broaden my sphere of knowledge.

One pair of working shoes, my calling in the Church as secretary of our ward Relief Society, is a tremendous blessing, getting me to all the meetings as well as teaching me the importance of Church records. The many programs of the Church are geared to better prepare us for the tests that lie ahead. I feel a great desire and urgency to avail myself of any learning experience I can find within the Church.

A full-time job as assistant director of nursing in our local hospital is most rewarding. I feel that I have a very special mission in helping families bereaved by the loss of a loved one to understand that all is not lost. Being on the board of directors of the New Hampshire Nurses Association also keeps those working shoes moving!

After my husband’s death I felt I should break up the big, old home with its joyous memories and move into a smaller, more manageable home. It was hard to sort the many years of memories, but I was slowly able to make the move. I have a very strong feeling that Jim is sharing in these decisions. The transition has been much less painful than I had anticipated. Home is now in its new setting and the important memories have come right along with me.

I want to share a very beautiful experience that I had in the Salt Lake Temple not too many months ago when “Our Elder,” the fine young man who baptized Jim, was married. Elder Paul H. Dunn of the First Council of the Seventy, who served as the New England mission president when we joined the Church, was officiating at the marriage. After warmly greeting me, he held my hand and turned me toward those majestic mirrors that reflect infinity. I was filled with a great warmth. As I looked up I could see this great man of God on one side of me, and on the other side, dressed all in white, with a soft smile on his face, was Jim. Through my tears of humility I heard the gentle words of Elder Dunn: “Sister Jessup, that is what this occasion is all about.”

Julia-Elizabeth Jessup, a registered nurse, serves as Relief Society secretary in the Laconia Ward, Manchester New Hampshire Stake.

Commitment to Motherhood

My commitment to motherhood began at age four with a rubber doll my father dubbed “Moses.” Moses got a bath every time my baby sister did, and since it was midsummer, bathtime came several times a day. Moses developed large holes. I was crushed. Unfortunately, wartime shortages made him impossible to replace.

My own mother was a college graduate and certified nursery school teacher. When she had to earn money, she conducted a nursery school at home, cleaned other people’s homes because she could take me, a toddler, with her, rented part of our home to another family, bottled our garden produce, and sewed our clothes.

As I went through school, I found enormous pressures against committed motherhood. In junior high, we were required to write term papers on our careers: motherhood and homemaking were not on the list. When a college acquaintance found out I was majoring in clothing and textiles, he asked, “What do you want to be? A seamstress?” During my sophomore year, a young man asked, “What are you doing here? It doesn’t take brains to make babies.” I once knew a professor who wanted a law requiring women graduates to work outside the home for at least five years to repay taxpayers their investment.

In view of these pressures, I was glad my commitment had begun early. I paid careful attention to diet and exercise from my early teens on, because I wanted to provide my future children with healthy bodies.

After my first daughter was born, I returned to my full-time job and found out something else about my commitment as a mother. It had to be full-time. My sitter was very devoted, but we couldn’t tell each other everything we needed to know about my daughter’s development. Five and a half months later I started working half days, but even that part-time commitment was putting priorities in the wrong order for me. When my baby was a year old, I quit work.

When I became a full-time mother, I discovered that my former jobs, even though I enjoyed them, were boring by comparison. They shouldn’t have been. One was in a dress shop where I did all the interior and exterior display, worked in receiving and marking, figured open-to-buys, and did sales work and modeling. On a later job I worked as secretary to an editor and a technical writer, finally doing the editor’s job myself and some artwork and writing.

Yet motherhood was more fulfilling. When working outside the home, I had no control over my immediate environment, which sometimes included profanity, “dirty” jokes, and what I considered low ethical standards. But as a committed, full-time mother I could create an atmosphere of physical and moral beauty within my home, no matter what was outside.

Furthermore, in my job as a full-time mother, I could put all my knowledge to work instead of bits and pieces of it. In fact, my knowledge of history, philosophy, humanities, chemistry, government, economics, and theology was grossly inadequate. My professors never asked me such questions as: “When was God born?” “Where does money come from?” or “What happens when a cake bakes?” But my three-year-old did.

In my job as mother, I discovered that I was often fulfilling one of the most important requirements for a doctoral degree: an original contribution to a field of knowledge. Because each child and each family is different, a complete commitment to motherhood requires that a mother do this repeatedly. Mothers are some of the most interesting people I know.

There is only one commitment that should properly be placed ahead of motherhood, and that is my commitment as a wife. The importance of this commitment became especially clear to me after the birth of our twins when it took all the effort my husband and I could produce just to cope with their basic needs. Fortunately, this situation improved as they grew older, but it made me aware that my commitment to motherhood was best placed in subjection to my commitment as a wife.

LaRee Farrar, a homemaker, serves as a Relief Society spiritual living leader and sewing chairman in the Detroit First Ward, Bloomfield Hills Michigan Stake.

I Dug Up My Talents

Did I ever gain some insight! And was it ever unexpected!

Every once in awhile I feel the desire to have my husband give me a special blessing; and several times he has felt inspired to admonish me to develop my talents. I couldn’t even figure out what there was about me that qualified as a talent, much less how to develop it.

Then came the day when I asked for a blessing and part of it was a clear admonition that if I didn’t soon develop my talents they would be taken from me and given to someone else. I was shocked and scared and humbled.

It made me think. I never hold back if someone asks me to do something, yet I couldn’t remember ever taking the initiative to develop myself. Nothing about myself seemed evident to me as a talent. How could I develop what I was unable to recognize? Buried somewhere inside me there must be an untapped source of gifts that were unknown, untouched, unused.

When I think of “talented” people they’re trained and experienced—the professional, the renowned. As a convert, I see talented people who have been in the Church all their lives, with years of practice to develop their singing, writing, and speaking talents. I had none of these things.

Suddenly my insight came. I can act on the desires and interests that I have and thereby reveal and use my talents in small ways.

Through meditation and prayer I discovered my desires and interests were:

People: I decided to carry out the good intentions that I often felt but seldom followed through on to make others happy. As a starter I baked a pie for a little boy whose mother was away.

Music: I can’t read notes or play an instrument, yet I love music. I contacted a sister with musical talent and said, “I’d like to sing a duet with you.”

Drama: I volunteered to be in charge of an “evening of drama” with donations to be given to the youth in our branch for their temple trip.

Writing: Ofttimes I have strong feelings when I am touched by something that someone says or does. I decided to put those feelings in writing when they happen and mail them to the one who touched me. I also dug out my file of stories and poems that I’d written but later classified as “dumb,” and started working over a short story.

Chances are I’ll never be “famous.” I’ll probably never sing the lead in “Promised Valley” at Salt Lake City or direct the Hill Cumorah Pageant in New York or be an Eliza R. Snow. What is mine, though, can be shared with those dearest to me—my family, our branch members, and neighbors. Small, perhaps, yet capable of development, precious and God given—my very own talents.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Sherri Thompson

Nancy Lee Seljestad, a homemaker and mother of five, serves as a district Beehive adviser, Sunday School teacher, Laurel adviser, and Relief Society visiting teacher in the Homer Branch, Alaska Anchorage Mission.