They sustained me as I served them, and I learned how valuable Relief Society is to every Latter-day Saint woman.
At first I thought the bishop was joking. Me, a Relief Society president? I wasn’t married, and I wondered what I could offer the women in my ward. But the bishop smiled kindly and reassured me that Heavenly Father wanted me to serve in this position.
In the week that followed, I was in a daze. Nothing seemed to sink in. But the next Sunday as I heard my name called and watched as members raised their hands to sustain me. I felt the mantle of the calling settle onto my shoulders. From that moment I began the most wonderful spiritual journey of my life.
Formerly a Catholic nun, I joined the Church in 1969. I was grateful to be called as a seminary teacher. Six months later. I was called as president of my ward’s Young Women’s Mutual Improvement Association.
For the next 17 years, I worked mostly in the Young Women and Primary organizations, except for two periods when I was a Gospel Doctrine teacher.
In January 1988 I was called as the Relief Society education counselor in my ward in Takapuna, New Zealand. I soon learned that I had much to offer my Relief Society sisters—and even more to gain.
It was so stimulating to teach adults and to feel the spirit of these women, who were struggling in their various circumstances. I realized that the Relief Society lessons were pertinent to every member. Even lessons on marriage and family were based on essential gospel principles that I needed in my life as a single sister. Relief Society was becoming more relevant to me than I had imagined.
However, this calling was only a stepping-stone to what was to come. Eighteen months later, I was listening to the blessing setting me apart as a Relief Society president. I knew there was much work to do to help uplift and strengthen the sisters, many of whom came from cultural and economic backgrounds different from my own. I especially wanted to encourage those sisters who didn’t attend church regularly to come back into full activity and enjoy the fulness of the gospel.
Almost overnight after my setting apart, I felt a confidence I had never possessed before. My compassion increased noticeably. The Lord was truly magnifying my abilities, and I felt that with his help I could accomplish anything he required of me. As I started visiting sisters in their homes, my love for them grew.
I learned patience as I sat beside the elderly and infirm, listening to them talk of their challenges. With tears streaming down her face, one dear sister in her 80s told me how she no longer felt like knitting or crocheting. Every part of her body hurt, and the days and nights were long and sad.
A year later I sat by her hospital bed, holding her withered hand and stroking her thin arm. As she labored for every breath, I pleaded with Heavenly Father to release her from her terrible suffering if that was his will. Many sisters in the ward had helped her feel loved as cancer ravaged her body; we all longed for her to be at peace.
Forty-eight hours later, she breathed her last breath, and we all wept together. We could envision her joy as she entered into a new life of freedom from earthly cares.
As I sat with her that last night, I knew that even in her terrible physical condition, there was still purpose in her life—not only for her personally but also for us. How could we learn to give of our time and love if there were no needy souls?
There were dear sisters in our ward who could no longer see and who relied on others to read to them and keep them informed. There were sisters with hearing loss who couldn’t benefit fully from the lessons and talks given during Sunday meetings. Yet many of them continued to attend, eager for the fellowship and love found within the walls of the meetinghouse.
I learned to give of my time and to feel it was not a sacrifice. Many Saturdays I woke up feeling burdened. How I wanted to take the day off, to stay home and wallow in my own worries and cares! Sometimes the heaviness of heart almost overwhelmed me. But in every case, when I drove up to a hospital or home to visit someone in need, my own worries subsided and the feeling of peace returned. Once again, I was reminded that the Lord greatly blesses us when we sacrifice to reach out to another soul.
I loved the unity I felt among the sisters in my ward. Amid our differences in backgrounds, interests, and cultures, we felt close and united in our love for one another.
I am grateful for the inspiration I received as I sought to meet the needs of others. Ideas flowed, and as I attempted to implement those ideas and prayed for guidance, more light and knowledge came to me. It was a most humbling experience. I felt myself being spiritually stretched and filled.
The greatest experience I had as a Relief Society president was receiving an increase of love beyond anything I had previously experienced. I know that the Lord increased my capacity to love and care, and this feeling has not left me. Never before have I worked so hard and found so much joy in any calling. Relief Society changed my life.