I’m home from church because I’m unwell. Sitting here I have been thinking about women I’ve known during my life. Women who faced all kinds of challenges, and what I learned from them.
I served in several Relief Society presidencies and had the opportunity to minister to and grow to love older sisters in my ward. I’d like to tell you about three of them.
She was my Relief Society president, my visiting teaching companion, and my friend. Joyce corrected my spelling whilst loving me unconditionally. Joyce was married to a non-member. She served as the Relief Society president, the first time I served as a counsellor. I sought to be a support to her to help take the pressure off of her in her family situation.
Joyce had an extra burden in that she was deaf. She had enrolled in lip reading classes and remarkably could read up to a level of 99 percent accuracy, even in profile. She wore a hearing aid, sometimes two. Seemingly every time she attended a Church meeting, the batteries would play up and buzz, causing Joyce no end of difficulty. As her counsellor, she began to invite me to attend meetings with her. That way, if or when the batteries played up, I would be able to continue listening. I would take notes of what was being said or asked. We noticed that men often talked with their hands over their mouths, as they leant on their elbows.
I had a great opportunity to serve with Joyce. I learned to take notes in all sorts of meetings for her. At times of family difficulty or ill health, I was able to deliver to her notes from stake conference and board meetings, etc., that she had not been able to attend. I was grateful to be able to assist her.
Joyce loved me dearly through some very difficult challenges in my life. She was patient and long suffering.
Sometimes I gave her a hard time. We served together for several years as visiting teaching companions. Over those years, one or both of us was in the Relief Society presidency and able to make sure that we were not divided or split up.
We had four sisters to visit. We didn’t ever want any sister so hear us say, ‘Oh, we have to go because we are due at somebody else’s house.’ So we would go out once a week to one sister. We served together for 5 years.
Joyce was about 73 at that point. All of the sisters we ever taught were older than her. I was in my early thirties. Joyce is very special to me. She is long gone from this earth now, but she still lingers in my heart. I miss her dearly.
One of the sisters Joyce and I visited was Mena. Mena was in her late seventies. She had been married and had one child. That child had some kind of disability. I can’t remember what it was called, but it meant that Mena must live in a routine and order with little change. So there was little change.
She came to Church with her then adult daughter who had the mind of a small child. They came to Church every Sunday just for Sacrament Meeting, and then they would go home. Occasionally, they would stay through, but it was just occasionally. Nothing could be changed in the home. Nothing could be moved or altered in its place because the daughter would become stressed.
We worked with Mena and found ways to encourage and support her to stay through Sunday School and Relief Society.
We helped organize things so that one day she was able to come on a temple trip, which was a ten-hour journey. I can’t remember where Jacqui, her daughter went, but we took Mena with us on the bus. As the bus wove its way out of the city, Mena marveled at some of the things that she saw. We asked her, ‘How long since you were out this way?’ ‘Thirty, or forty years.’ she replied.
We took her to the temple on her birthday which was also her wedding anniversary. She was a lady of great faith living with very difficult circumstances. She seemed never to waiver. She never complained, and I miss her too.
The third sister I’d like to talk about is May.
May and her family were original and stalwart members of the Church in the area where we lived. She could talk of the days of fundraising and days of catching trains or buses to get to the only chapel in the city where we lived. She also spoke about travelling overseas to the temple.
She had one daughter, a daughter whom she loved very much and who she raised carefully. May’s husband was fully active in the Church, always anxiously engaged, and he also worked hard in his chosen career. He was extremely diligent and hardworking in his Church responsibilities. This meant that he was often absent from home. May was very diligent in running her home and raising her daughter.
I met May when I met Joyce and Mena. I moved into the ward they attended. May’s daughter had grown up in the Church but then made another choice and married outside of the gospel. May loved her unconditionally, but by the time we met, this daughter had died in tragic circumstances just six weeks after giving birth to her own daughter.
The raising of this granddaughter was shared between the two grandmothers.
Over the years I never heard May complain. I never heard a bitter word. I never heard a criticism or a negative comment from May about the circumstances in her life.
She was strong and steady, and she became a strong and steady influence in my life. Her husband became my home teacher and was a great influence and support over the years.
May and I had several opportunities to serve together, and I learned from her in that role, as well. She did everything she was asked to do willingly. She seemed to have a quiet endless energy. Maybe we all can imagine the awful grief and sorrow that must have been within her heart, and yet outwardly it seemed that her faith and her belief sustained her to such a point that she was able to move forward and be a positive force and positive influence and example to all around her.
Joyce, who I mentioned earlier, May, and I served in a couple of Relief Society presidencies. May was the secretary. She made our lives so much easier. She and Joyce were contemporaries, and I was the age of their daughters—yet I never felt that. Sometimes they would mother me, but most of the time we were peers as we served together. I was grateful for their example and for the things that I learned from them—maybe more than they realised. I wonder if they knew that I was watching and learning. I guess they know now.
These three women are just three of a vast number of women who have been a great influence in my life since I came into the gospel. I wasn’t born or raised in the Church, but came in as a troubled twenty-year-old. People sometimes say to me, ‘We can hardly believe what you say about how you were when you were 20.’ I reply ‘That’s how it is supposed to be.’ We are supposed to be able to recognise, repent, and change the things that need to be changed.
My mother was not in the Church. I loved her dearly, and I learned good things from her. However she was not able to role model for me a gospel-centered woman—a woman who put Jesus Christ first. I had to learn that lesson from the good women around me.
Joyce, Mena, and May were significant contributors to those lessons that I needed to learn. They were endlessly patient with me as I fell and got up, and fell and got up. They were stalwarts, and they were always there for me through very seriously critical years of my life—years when I perhaps could have chosen a different path, but I held on—and I wanted to hold on—to the iron rod. I wanted to learn, grow, and improve.
As we know, there is a circle of life, and even before Disney invented it, it existed. What goes around comes around. There are a lot of expressions to cover it. I hope that I have reached a season of my life where just maybe I will be some kind of example to younger women, just as these 3 women were an example to me.
Sometimes we don’t know who is watching, and that’s not important. It is not important to know who is watching, it is important to know that we need to be our best, that we are doing our best because somebody is watching.
Of course, Heavenly Father is watching. He is our cheer squad. He wants us to grow, develop, and overcome, to learn to understand the power of the atonement, to learn to understand and apply the principles that will allow us to become more like Him.
I’m so grateful for these ‘elect’ (D&C 25:3) ladies who were part of my life during pivotal years. I am sure I would not be who I am now without them.
As an adult Jane moved north to Queensland, here she experienced an intense sense of belonging. She quickly took up Australian citizenship. Research shows that relatives had originally arrived in the states capital in 1881 and built a home which remains standing today.
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