Another year has been and gone and I’ve been contemplating what twenty-fourteen meant to me. I like to recall a past year and it’s pivotal accomplishments or adventures. This past year was a little different: some things melted into the background, other things were completely cast aside. What was left was something I consider most precious: my testimony and relationship with God.
Most of you will (hopefully) know or feel that I have a certain consideration for the divine. Perhaps to you that makes me less cool than you had believed; modern societal demands certainly suggest it. I am a Mormon. I’ve always felt it to be something “true”, I’ve always found comfort in its guidance and counsel. I believe that there’s a bigger power out there- and to me, it’s a “father and mother in heaven”; a couple who know me individually, who have a plan for me. I don’t believe that this is all chance, or that it’s all destined to end, to no end. I agree that it’s peculiar to believe. I kind of like that. There are a world of questions I have, and I think finding answers is exciting. Mine is a religion of personal adventure- it’s tailor made, it’s constantly rewarding, and it’s constantly inspiring. When I learn more about God, I learn more about myself. I think in 2014 the result of that is that I’ve become more like “myself” than I’ve ever felt before. It’s surprised me to learn of my own capacity. It’s surprised me to learn of God’s capacity.
Two great things contributed to my spiritual journey in 2014.
The first is my “calling”. My church operates with a lay ministry- so leadership, teachers, music, everything is run on a voluntary basis. The bishop (also a volunteer) of a congregation will feel inspired about who to “call” into teaching or leadership roles within a congregation. Over a year ago I was asked to lead the women in my congregation. Something strange happens when you’re given that responsibility and stewardship. It’s empowering and ennobling, yes. But it’s humbling and uplifting in ways that I’ve never before experienced. The Relief Society, comprised of Mormon women aged 18 and above, is the largest and oldest women’s organisation in the world. It was organised to uplift and serve women and men in communities religious and non throughout the world. It’s the backbone of charity within our religion, and being a part of it comes with great opportunity and privilege. When I was asked to lead and direct 150 of the most impressive, vivacious women I’d ever met (and not met), it was met with huge feeling of inadequacy and great anxiety: I was ill-prepared and under-qualified.
Despite the odds I learned that as long as I was willing to participate, the distance between my imperfections and a job well done was magically closed. Here’s some things I’ve learned as I’ve been serving as a Relief Society President:
1. God loves His favourites… and I think we’re somehow all His favourites? I can’t explain how I know this to be absolute truth, but the mathematical equation of it involves my feelings, intuitions and the things I see and hear. It’s also proven to me that I am loved by Him in the ways that others take care of me. I can’t tell you the volume of instances where I’ve received a kind word or deed at a pivotal moment of need and prayer.
2. The women in my Relief Society are a quality and calibre of epic proportions. They are culturally diverse and their backgrounds are each unique unto themselves, and they are each making their footprints on this world as they discover who they want to be. Some of them are successful and powerful businesswomen. Some of them are entrepreneurs with million dollar ideas. Some of them are settling into paths that are perfect for them, others are only sure that they are in the wrong vocation. Some of them are brand new to Christianity. All of them, so different, impress me constantly! I listen to their ideas and their feelings on the beliefs we share and I am floored by their faith and their diligence. I watch them serve one another- both in secret and within the bonds of best-friendship, and I’m sure that future generations are in safe hands.
3. Discipleship means pro-activity. When I say “discipleship” I mean the ability and willingness to follow the example of Jesus Christ. We don’t always get it right, but we’re always trying. Being a part of my Relief Society, especially watching the efforts of the women in it, I have learned that my favourite people are proactive in all things. They understand that they are accountable for what they know, and consequently they work hard every day to be better people. You know that feeling in the air the first week of January? Everyone has new resolutions- they’ve all promised themselves certain levels of personal improvement and they are all trying at something. Usually after a week (if you’re me at least) you can it and get back to the business of chocolate consumption, etc. Well with my girls, that January-first-feeling lasts all year. It’s energetic, and it rubs off on others. My women understand that clean-slate feeling: our religion rotates on hope and redemption. We believe a loving saviour lived a perfect life in example, and that He died so that we could each amend our shortcomings and imperfections through Him, and be able to qualify for eternal blessings promised to us by God (told you it was peculiar). I watch women of faith living this principle. They aren’t afraid to ask for help, and they are the best at getting back on the horse.
4. Men and women are equal in the most different ways. I’ve learned of the acute value and splendour of womanhood. I think when I understand my religion as best as possible, I feel as though believing in feminism is essential. My experience is that nothing different is required of men than that of women, but that different roles are tailor made for the sexes to accomplish like-minded goals as well as serving one another. No accomplishment can be made without the cooperation of both parties. We teach partnership in all things: whether that partnership is between man and woman, woman and God, parent and child, friend and friend. I believe one of the great lessons to be learned and practised in life is how to effectively work in a partnership rather than solitary. I’ve loved discovering by experience that my male church leaders take no decision or action without getting the approval or contribution of its women church leaders. I’ve loved feeling a natural impulse to likewise seek their contribution whenever I’ve had to make leadership decisions.
5. In all things, I’m supported. As you can imagine, the task of administering to 150 women- and often another 100 men- is no small task. It’s a lot of groundwork. It’s a lot of hard work. It’s miles away from my comfort zone. It’s public speaking. It’s teaching a doctrine class at an hours notice. It’s counselling and comforting with no qualification or experience. It’s budgeting (also something I have no experience in). It’s listening. You’d think I could crumple under the weight of it. Yet I’ve never before felt so light! Most of the time it’s because of the things I’ve detailed in points 1, 2 and 3. Most of the time it’s because other volunteer leaders who are “called” to be my counsellors and aides are so in-tune and supportive that it’s easy to share the load. Other times it’s for unseen and inexplicable reasons. I remember, quite early in my volunteer work, sitting with a woman. She was struggling in a way that was so emotionally intense that it seemed my every ounce of being was racked in empathy. I felt as though we were linked. As time ticked by and we delved deeper in her despair, I felt drained. As I silently begged for some kind of divine assistance, immediately I felt physical help. It was almost as though someone had slipped their hands under my elbows and were pulling me up. It was a feeling of strength, it was a deep breath and it was the air around feeling lighter. Words spilled out of my mouth in sentences that weren’t mine. I realised then that this church I belong to isn’t mine. It doesn’t belong to an American man we call a prophet. It isn’t the work of well-to-do Christians who want to be a bit different. I realised then that this is God’s church, and these are His people- and whether or not I’m prepared or even involved, His work and His will will go forward. In that moment Hollie McKee was pretty useless- but she was there sitting with someone who really needed His help. Sometimes just being there is enough.
The second amazing thing that contributed to my halleluljah year was the temple. Temples in my church are holy, sacred places of learning and devotion. There we learn more about our father in heaven, and we commit to following the example of Jesus Christ. It’s different to every-day worship at our local meeting house or chapel. It’s quiet and calm, it’s a place to go in meditation and sometimes solitude. There’s a different feeling in the temple. Its sort of like when you’re out in nature and all of a sudden the view takes your breath away. Or it’s like a piece of inspirational music that stirs something inside. That feeling. In the temple, when I take a moment to think over my lot, I feel close to something divine and calm. You might think you feel that way at the country club spa. Multiply it by 1000. Like I said, peculiar.
I’ve said that I hope you know that I’m religious, but I think more likely that the first thing you’ll gather about me is that I’m a definite work-in-progress. That’s a delicate way of saying I’m a human mess. I cuss now and then. I can sass you outta town and I roll my eyes a lot. I put someone out so much this year that they blocked me on Facebook (we weren’t even Facebook Friends… it was all pretty dramatic). I’ve got a long way to go. But I’m thankful for this sure foundation in my life, and the slice of optimism that comes with it. I’m grateful for the fresh-start feeling that comes with trying when failing. I’m grateful for a super old book, as old as the bible, called The Book of Mormon. It was written so long ago, but it was written for people in the future- for people in our time. PECULIAR, yes. But, and I say this as a die-hard English literature nerd, it’s dead-on. How is that even possible? (Read it and find out). I’ve seen this Christianity change lives, and I’ve seen my own life changed by it. 2014 was the year I got to know more about God and other people, and in the process I got to know more about myself.