Nineteen-year-old Emily Rowland takes a deep breath. The task ahead of her seems nearly impossible. A trickle of sweat slowly makes its way down her face to drip off her chin, and her face becomes flushed, but she won’t give up.
Emily knows she must persevere, not only for herself, but for others who will follow. Her heart pounds and her muscles beg her to stop, but she knows it will be worth it.
This is Relief Society Homemaking meeting.
Of course, it’s not always this much of an ordeal—but this particular Homemaking night finds Emily and some of the other women in her ward—the University Ward near the University of Nevada at Las Vegas—working to improve their health and fitness, and that means working up a sweat doing aerobics. Other times Homemaking might mean learning about how to manage finances (not a bad skill for a college freshman like Emily), or how to look for a job, or maybe even how to change a flat tire.
What, no recipes, no baby quilts?
“Sure, cooking and sewing are important too,” says Emily. “It always amazes me how well Relief Society can adjust to individual needs. It’s a lot of fun.”
Emily and two of her friends, Aubrey VanDrimmelen and Charlotte Ballard, say that leaving Young Women behind was hard, and maybe even a little frightening. But it’s also something they all agree it was time to do.
“I really loved Young Women,” says Charlotte. “And Relief Society is different from Young Women. For one thing, there are a lot of people who are older than you. But after you’ve gone a few times, you realize how nice everyone is, how much they want to be your friend.”
Emily points out that going from Young Women to Relief Society happens at a time when most girls are headed off to college, entering the work force, preparing for missions, or getting married.
“Those are big changes,” she says. “Relief Society is a big change, too, but it helps you cope with all the other new things in life.”
Part of making the change into Relief Society means learning new skills. Probably one of the most important things all three girls learned right away was how to be a good visiting teacher—something none of them had done before.
“The first time I went visiting teaching, I had no clue what I was doing,” says Aubrey. “It was sort of hard to think of things to say, but now I really like it. It’s great to get to know people and help them out.”
Unlike some student wards, the University Ward in Las Vegas has a mix of single and married people. A few couples even have children, so the younger women in the ward have to step out of their comfort zone to help the others.
Emily and her partner (who is also 19) go visiting teaching to the married, has-a-master’s-degree, has-a-baby Relief Society president (gulp). But, as with most other things, Emily takes it in stride and has even learned to enjoy it.
“Getting the call to be her visiting teacher was a little intimidating, I have to admit,” she says. “Since I didn’t know what it was like to be married or have a baby, I just had to ask her. Since I was forced to ask a lot of questions, I’ve come to know more about her. I really admire her, and I have learned so much from being her visiting teacher. And I hope maybe she’s learned a little something from me.”
“Last week, our lesson on Sunday was titled ‘Aging Is Part of God’s Plan,’” says Aubrey. “I looked at that and thought, How on earth is that going to apply to someone like me? I mean, no one in my ward is exactly getting old.”
Even though there is only one lesson in the Relief Society curriculum about aging, there are lots of lessons on family and social relationships. Does that mean that someone who is young and single can’t get anything from them?
“No way!” says Emily, who serves as a Spiritual Living teacher in her ward. “I work on my lesson all week, reading it so many times I practically know it by heart. Every lesson has something that is valuable, whether you’re 19, 29, or 79.”
Charlotte says that the age differences in Relief Society actually add to her experience.
“You can always learn things from people who are older than you,” she says. “You may not need to know those things right at the moment you learn them, but lots of them come in handy later on. There’s always a great spirit in Relief Society because people share their own experiences.”
Of course, one thing that doesn’t change whether you’re in Young Women or Relief Society is the chance to learn about the Savior and how to become more like him.
“I know with a surety that my Savior lives,” says Emily. “Sometimes you start to doubt things, but if you listen to the lessons in Relief Society you learn and grow so much because you’re doing the right thing. Relief Society helps you stay close to the gospel.”
And along with that closeness to the Savior and the gospel come a closeness and friendship with each other that the girls say is hard to duplicate anywhere else.
“There’s a lot of love in our Relief Society,” says Charlotte. “You can tell when you’re there that people are willing to help each other. There are opportunities to serve and teach everywhere.”
This year, young women all over the Church will be taking the plunge into Relief Society. With a little less than a year of Relief Society under their belts, Emily, Aubrey, and Charlotte know what that initial plunge feels like: exciting, scary, and possibly (for the newcomer) a little intimidating. They also know what it feels like to keep coming: rewarding, uplifting, and a smooth transition to a lot of fun, where age differences don’t matter much.
“Everyone in Relief Society wants you to know you are accepted and to make you feel good about being there. What could be better?” says Emily.
“It’s a little like reading the scriptures,” she says. “Every time you go, you learn something different. And the longer you do it, the more you learn.”
Friendship, love, skill training, and spiritual growth—it’s a good deal no matter what age you are and no matter what your needs are. And who knows? The first time you go, they might even serve a delicious, fancy dessert—with the recipe, of course. After all, this is Relief Society.
Feeling left out because there’s not a student or singles’ ward in your area? Well, whether you live hundreds of miles away from the nearest Church member your age, or just a few minutes from Church headquarters, your home ward is still a great place for you to be—including Relief Society!
Christy Pimper, another 19-year-old college student from Las Vegas, has chosen to attend her home ward. Here are some of her tips on finding a way to fit in:
Mentally prepare to make the move. “I really liked Young Women, but when I turned 18, I felt ready to leave. I was older than everyone and my needs were different. When it’s time to move on, don’t hesitate!”
Take the opportunity to develop your testimony. “The lessons in Relief Society are great. You learn things you never knew before, and you understand things you’ve known all your life much better than before.”
Make friends. “Even though everyone in my ward is older than me, I don’t feel left out. All the women go out of their way to make me feel welcome.”
Keep an open mind. “Relief Society is different from Young Women, but unless you give it a try, you’ll never really know for yourself what it’s like.”