Author Archives: Jan Tolman

About Jan Tolman

Jan Tolman is a wife, mother of six, and grandmother of seven. She is a writer, as well as speaker, on the history of the Relief Society at Several articles, written by her on Relief Society history, have been published in the Deseret News. She has taught Institute and served as a docent at the Church History Museum. She urges everyone to learn something new about Church History, and especially about the incredible women of LDS faith.

What Is Self-Reliance, and How Do We Embrace It?

This is a General Conference Odyssey post.

(April 1976 Welfare Session.)


Back in the old days, they had a welfare session of conference where they taught principles of self-reliance. We no longer have a “ full session” like this, but we still talk A LOT about self-reliance. Instead of food storage, garden growing, and homemaking skills, today our leaders remind us to stay out of debt, get a good education, and upgrade computer and work skills.

We live in a different world, but it isn’t all that different.

The Church is coming out with an updated program on self-reliance. But reading Sis. Barbara B. Smith’s talk reminded me of the evolution of Relief Society meetings where self-reliance has always been the main focus.

First, they were called Work Days because the sisters would get together regularly to work toward a common goal. In the early days, in the Salt Lake Valley, the sisters literally worked together to make items to be sold in their consignment shops. They also learned how to buy, sell, and trade on the Stock Market (because of the wheat they were growing and managing).

Later, the name changed to Homemaking as mothers were looking at ways to make their homes better places. They canned food items together, rolled bandages to be sent off to war, and took classes on nursing, well-baby care, social services, and gospel study.

Later still, these meetings were called Home, Family, and Personal Enrichment meetings, shortened to Enrichment Night. As the world changed, it became more desirable to add intellectual enrichment to a woman’s life. Over the years, however, the objective was always to provide security to a woman for herself, her family, and her home.

All of these meetings had one purpose: to bless and strengthen families.

Sister Smith (former Relief Society General President) spoke at this Welfare meeting and listed these four considerations:

  1. Are we as Relief Society officers motivating and actually training the sisters in the necessary skills of family preparedness, and then helping them to put these into practice?
  2. Are we counseling among ourselves and with our priesthood leaders so that adequate and realistic plans for home storage and production are being developed and carried out?
  3. Do our homemaking mini class plans respond to the various needs of the women in our ward?
  4. Are we helping the sisters know how to estimate needs and replenish their home production and storage program?

This list can easily be applied to today. Listen to our most recent directive listed in Handbook 2:

“To supplement the instruction in Sunday meetings, Relief Society sisters may participate in additional meetings. These may include service, classes, projects, conferences, and workshops. In these meetings, sisters learn and accomplish the charitable and practical responsibilities of the Relief Society. They learn and practice skills that will help them increase their faith and personal righteousness, strengthen their families and make their homes centers of spiritual strength, and help those in need. They learn and apply principles of provident living and spiritual and temporal self-reliance. They also increase in sisterhood and unity as they teach one another and serve together.”

The handbook even offers a list of the very most important things we should be focusing on in order to take care of our families.

Marriage and Family


Self-reliance and provident living

Compassionate service

Temple and family history

Sharing the gospel

All of these can be categorized as topics having to do with the welfare of the family. The handbook additionally invites Relief Society presidencies to decide how often to hold any or all of these activity meetings. In other words, meetings aren’t just monthly anymore. They can be weekly, bi-weekly, on-going, etc. And many different classes can be going on during any given week; all according to the needs and interests of the sisters in the ward.

Church programs come and go, but Relief Society has always been in the business of strengthening families and saving souls. I wonder how much stronger our families would be if we organized classes that got us talking more openly about our struggles with self-reliance. Really working to overcome the pressures of the world is what true self-reliance is. Sadly, the world is enslaved by monetary and other debt more than ever before.  Sis. Smith warned,

“We have been told that the gaining of this independence will come to Church members only in proportion to their obedience to the word of the Lord in this matter. Obedience brings security and self-sufficiency. It breeds confidence and a peaceful attitude.”

Spencer W. Kimball said in the same session:

“There are many people in the Church today who have failed to do, and continue to argue against doing, the things that are requested and suggested by this great organization [the Church].”

Nothing has changed between his day and ours. He continues:

“And so my feeling is today that we emphasize these two scriptures:“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.” And the other: “Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? … We talk about it, we listen to it, but sometimes we do not do the things which the Lord says. So we would do well to listen to what we have been told and to follow it explicitly.”

What are we waiting for?

Additional General Conference Odyssey posts:

Zion, when we have built it  Marilyn Nielson

Family Preparedness G

Jesus Christ Is The Cure

This is a General Conference Odyssey post for the Tuesday afternoon session of April 1976 General Conference.

The battle rages on as we fight against worldly evil. Yes, the world fights dirty, and we must always be on our guard, but even more important than defending truth is knowing Jesus Christ, for He is the cure.

The Savior asked His disciples, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” They answered, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:13-16).

As we fight the adversary and the evil doings of this world, we cannot forget the reason why we fight. It is to proclaim the Son of God, even Jesus Christ.

Back in the 70’s, clearly our prophet, Spencer W. Kimball, knew what we would face forty years later. As I read these conference talks, I am amazed at how applicable they are for our day.  

Pres. Kimball’s concluding address in the spring of 1976 included these words:

“We, the members of the Church, proclaim our liberty and our renewal of our faith and our assurance that we do have control in our own families and can rear our children to love truth and to be happy in the deathless dignity of man, governed by the eternal and moral laws of God.”

What a rallying cry!

He goes on to warn us that “the enemies of faith know no God but force.” Indeed, at every turn, those who choose morality are bombarded with others who steal liberty, demand compromise and cry false judgment.

But don’t despair! Continue holding onto your families with your Family Home Evenings, scripture reading, and prayers. Teach the true doctrine our Heavenly Father has given us. And stay true to that truth.

In his talk, Pres. Kimball reminds us what the full cycle of human life is. The natural order is

“… childhood, adolescence, youth, parenthood, middle age and the age of grandchildren. … Only by birth can any of these come into being. Only by the natural cycle of life can the great progressive joys of mankind be reached. … Any social system which prevents the individual from pursuing the normal cycle of life … defeats the divine order of the universe and lays the basis of all sorts of social problems.”

It is my understanding that all of us chose to come down to earth to prove our worthiness and desire to Come Unto Jesus Christ. We must have known there would be some sacrifice involved because we knew we would be given weakness to overcome. “If men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble” (Ether 12:27).

Our weakness is a catalyst for humility and sacrifice. And these two qualities ironically are our greatest tools. This is how we call upon the Lord to fight our battles who will ultimately come off victor. And make no mistake, every one of us has been blessed with weakness so that we can use these tools.

Being humble and sacrificing our will to Jesus Christ are not only the antidote to every weakness we hold dear, they are also the antidote for wickedness. For those who stubbornly hold onto their weakness and wickedness, He waits lovingly and patiently. For those who struggle to let go of both, He lovingly encourages. All of us can be sensitive, loving, patient, and encouraging because we are all stubborn and we all struggle. But ultimately, through Jesus Christ, we can release our weakness and become free.

Unfortunately, humility and sacrifice are seen by the world as weakness. The world would tell you to hide your weakness or flaunt your weakness into acceptable behavior. It will never tell you to sacrifice your weakness to the Lord so He can make you a better person.

It is our weakness (or dependency) when given to the Lord that allows the Lord to win our battles for us. So we have no cause to fear when we give ourselves to Him in our weakness.

“…for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).

Pres. Kimball stood at the pulpit and declared:

“There are a half a hundred special witnesses in this room this day. There are tens of thousands of [men and women] under the sound of my voice, all of whom would, in one great chorus, answer that question–’Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’”

I add my own voice to that chorus.

Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. Jesus Christ is the cure for the ills of the world. And because of Him, I will be made whole.

Other General Conference Odyssey posts:

The key to a unified church is a unified soul Marilyn Nielson

Truth: Do We Shame, Squirm, or Stand?

This is a General Conference Odyssey post for the April 1976 Tuesday morning session. (That’s right, Tuesday morning!)


Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the true definition of truth. Is there only one truth or can anyone make up their own truth?


The definition we find in the scriptures is when the apostle John quotes Jesus, who says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), and later Jesus states, “The Spirit of truth is of God. I am the Spirit of truth, and John bore record of me” (D&C 93:26). We also learn that “truth was not created or made” (D&C 93:29), which means it cannot be changed or modified; it is absolute.


The people of our day are doing their darndest to change truth, and I don’t believe it’s possible, yet this is the great dilemma of our day.


So, here’s my question: Do we shame, squirm, or stand for truth?

Continue reading

Modesty: Our Decisions Determine Our Destiny

Will the controversy of modesty ever end? Not likely. However, those of us who have chosen wisely will simply continue holding up the torch beckoning others to join. We have come to know that “our decisions determine our destiny” (Thomas S. Monson, “Believe, Obey, and Endure,” May 2012). “We are daughters of our Heavenly Father who loves us, and we love Him. We will stand as witnesses of God at all times, and in all things, and in all places.”

Continue reading

Families: Relationships Beyond This World

This is a General Conference Odyssey post for the Sunday afternoon session of April 1976 conference.

Families are the most important unit and they are under attack by the person who is the loneliest creature ever to be born. He hates the idea of families because he will never have one of his own. Having no family will be his hell without end.

Two of our great apostles have stated:

“The entire theology of our restored gospel centers on families and on the new and everlasting covenant of marriage” (L. Tom Perry, “Why Marriage and Family Matters–Everywhere In the World,” Apr. 2015).

“Families are not just meant to make things run more smoothly here on earth and to be cast off when we get to heaven. Rather, they are the order of heaven. They are an echo of a celestial pattern and an emulation of God’s eternal family” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “In Praise of Those Who Save,” Apr. 2016).

As much as all families have some kind of problem or another, because families are all far from perfect, deep down we still recognize the joy that comes from this celestially bound grouping of people who have learned to love one another. The good news is that not only do we live in variously shaped nuclei, every single one of us is actually strung together by related DNA from one end of the world to the other. The entire world is one big family and we are all a part of it.

Take, for example, William Grant Bangerter’s talk, “Relationships.” Speaking of relationships, first, he is the father of Julie B. Beck. Second, he introduces his talk with this laugh:

Continue reading

We Talk About the Work of God


This is a General Conference Odyssey post for the Sunday morning session of April 1976.

We talk about the work of God, but what exactly are we doing about it? Below is a list from Robert L. Simpson, who spoke on “These Four Things.”  He didn’t just talk about the work of God, he asked us to remember our vow when we promised we would actually perform the work necessary to bring salvation to all of Heavenly Father’s children.


First, the obligation to prepare one’s self and one’s immediate family for the presence of the Lord;

He explains how important it is to take care of one’s own spirituality first. We have to complete our own ordinances first. We have to know and understand the doctrines of Jesus Christ’s saving gospel first. We have to commit to righteous living first if we are ever to convince anyone else.

If you’ll recall this past conference, Pres. Russell M. Nelson challenged all of us to “consecrate a portion of [our] time each week to study everything Jesus said and did as recorded in the standard works.” After completing his own challenge he said, “I am a different man!” (Apr. 2017)

Continue reading

We Need Heroes Close By


This is a General Conference Odyssey post for the Priesthood session of April 1976.

I take the title of this post, “We Need Heroes Close By,” from President Spencer W. Kimball’s talk, entitled, “Boys Need Heroes Close By.” The truth is that both boys and girls need to have heroes they can depend on for righteous, kind, and beneficial guidance. The world has none to offer.

What I find interesting in President Kimball’s talk is his bold assertion that boys need to see their fathers treat women with respect. Likewise, girls need to see their fathers treat women with respect. In fact, mothers need to be seen treating men with respect as well. This whole world lacks in respect for the divine role of husband, wife, father, and mother. Unfortunately, our society has become almost abhorrent to this idea of family love, honor, and respect. Speaking as a prophet, he said, 

Continue reading

We Can Be Completely Healed From Spiritual Crocodiles

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey.

In this session of conference, we get to catch up with probably one of the most well-known talks ever given: Spiritual Crocodiles. Likely, you or your children saw this video many times in Seminary. It is well-known, and always worth spending some time talking about why its message is so important.

Incidentally, in this talk, Boyd K. Packer wasn’t kidding when he said he knew about the many birds of our world. He was an exceptional artist and he specialized in bird carvings.

Detail from President Boyd K. Packer’s 1991 woodcarving “Broad-Tailed Hummingbird with Indian Paintbrush.” Photo by Jason Swensen.


And with this extra knowledge, he admitted to still being skeptical, at the time, of those who knew additional knowledge concerning life and death.

Likening this knowledge to the prophet, who is most concerned about our spiritual safety and salvation is easy, and easily ignored. Sometimes, the best teacher is Hindsight. Unfortunately, we are in a spiritual life and death battle and Hindsight can be a whirlpool we may never escape from.

Continue reading

Family History: Does Your Garden Grow?

This is a General Conference Odyssey post for the Saturday morning session of April 1976.

What in the world does Family History have to do with a garden?

The lightbulb of enlightenment went off in my head with this week’s general conference reading, and my understanding has just been illuminated; now I share it with you.  

Do you remember all the years our prophets have talked about growing a garden and beautifying our yards and homes? For years, every General Conference, it was specifically Pres. Kimball who would spend quite a bit of time talking about gardening–of all things. Well, I think I just figured out why.

Continue reading

Robert D. Hales: Disciples Who Sacrifice

Robert D. Hales has been in poor health for many years, yet he keeps bouncing back and giving us sweet, sustaining, powerful talks. I bet he wishes he could move on, but this is his willing sacrifice, as a true disciple of the Lord, to endure to the very end.

We don’t talk about sacrifice much these days. There are simply too many ways to avoid it now. But God requires sacrifice from each one of us in order to enter His kingdom. I think Elder Hales was gently reminding us of this when he made these statements:


“There were many who claimed to be righteous in one or another aspect of their lives. They practiced what I have called selective obedience.”

“Faith is a catalyst. Without works, without virtuous living, our faith is without power to activate discipleship.”

“Now is the time to recommit ourselves to being His disciples with all diligence.”


I have often thought of the contrast between Jesus Christ’s purpose in life to my own. How did He stay focused on His mission without getting sidetracked repeatedly? How did He not want to have, or do, anything that was His very own? How did He always think “my Father’s will” before “my will” in everything He did?

Continue reading