As a testament to the fact that normal, yes, even weakness-filled people get asked to do cool things, I was invited to speak at this year’s BYU Women’s Conference. I wouldn’t really say it was magical–more along the lines of “But I’m not like all those other women who do everything right and are never angry, jealous, ornery or unkind.” (ha!) But Sister Carole S. Stephens gave us some great counsel in our orientation, “Breathe in faith and breathe out fear.” I figured just holding my breath was about the same thing.
How does someone get asked to speak at the conference? I honestly have no idea. I am pretty sure they get sent a letter. I was actually just a fill-in for a co-worker who found out she wouldn’t be available and who suggested I present instead. I know, you’re telling me not to sell myself short, but I’m serious. At least I found out 3 months in advance which was only a bit behind the other presenters. We are given a subject to speak on–mine was on how to serve when we’re busy, how to serve in ways that build and uplift, and how service sanctifies us in keeping covenants.
I had never been to Women’s Conference before as an attendee. My only experience was after my Freshman year at BYU when they needed extra help with food prep at the conference, so I made a lot of cranberry turkey sandwiches (which I was surprised to see are still being sold at the conference…I mean, not the same ones, the flav-uh, of course).
Each session has co-presenters and I presented with Michelle Curry.
Nevertheless, that’s not what you came to this blog for. What did you come here for anyway?
Since I have some guidelines about how I can post the transcript of my talk, here we go. This is just a random talk I am posting here, probably not connected at all to what I talked about above. Also the views and opinions expressed in this talk are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BYU and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Also, the following is posted with some modifications because I used Powerpoint slides and…just because.
And be careful. It’s looooooong because it was a 25 minute presentation! Ok, enough caveats. #giveback
I am so grateful for this conference to learn and be uplifted by so many women. Michelle [my co-presenter] and I were strangers 3 months ago and through this opportunity we have become friends. She practices what she preaches because whenever she was thinking of her talk, she would contact me to make sure I was feeling ok about mine. She is an example of reaching out.
To begin I want to thank all of you who are here. I am a people-watcher and yesterday I got to know many of those who attend Women’s Conference. I learned that one of the most favorite parts of this conference is the service projects. It is so impressive to me that you take time off from your busy lives to come to a conference, serve, and even to step foot in a room where I just might suggest that you ought to be doing more. I loved attending the service project where meals were prepared and blankets cut and tied. And it was awesome to see Sandra Rogers, head of the conference, out there serving right alongside everyone else.
Another thing I noticed is that the women here are alert and connected. I have been in a singles ward longer than I care to admit and far too often, all I see is the neck bent down, face on the screen, view of people. It was refreshing to see that the necks bent down and unseen faces here were because women were working on service projects, sewing and crocheting away.
So why do we do all of this? Why do we serve? Because we are covenant-keeping children of God who believe the Savior’s admonition to comfort those who stand in need of comfort, mourn with those who mourn, weep with those who weep and rejoice with them that rejoice.
I am so grateful that there are women like you in the world. I need you and the Lord needs you.
I have the great privilege of working as the Web Content Manager for the Church’s Welfare Services department, which includes the Church’s humanitarian efforts as well as efforts to help those with employment, financial challenges, counseling issues, addictions, food necessities, and so many other things.
Part of the great mission of the welfare department is to help members truly find sanctification through service. We have focused some of our efforts this year on coordinating with the Mormon Channel on a new series titled “Give Back”. This series highlights individuals who find ways to give back in their communities and we encourage all to share their stories through the hash tag #igiveback.
Just yesterday, the Mormon Channel released the newest “Give Back” video. This video is about a faithful sister who lives in Sierra Leone. She tells of her experience living through the civil war and the Church’s efforts to help the members. Then, some years ago, Abie received training through the LDS Charities Neonatal Resuscitation Training signature program. This is a program funded by your humanitarian contributions to provide training to medical professionals throughout the world to help them save infants’ lives. Sister Abie Turay, who went through so much, also chooses to give back in her community. I would like you to meet her through this video.
The support that you already give the Church provides this kind of life-saving training, support, and help for millions of people. I want to thank you for being a part of a Church that provides this aid.
But this is not the end of Abie’s story. As you listened, you may have recognized elements of Abie’s story. In the most recent general conference, President Henry B. Eyring spoke of this same Abie Turay. As he told her story, he spoke of a certain “visitor” who met Sister Turay in Sierra Leone. This visitor happens to be my boss, who met Sister Turay while filming the video we just watched. President Eyring shared the following, “A visitor from the United States sat with Abie not long ago. During his time with her, he found his eyes ‘drawn to a set of scriptures that were on the table.’ He could tell that they were a treasure, ‘well-marked with notes in the columns. The pages were [worn;] some were torn. The cover was detached from the binding.’
He held the scriptures in his ‘hand and gently turned the pages. As [he did, he found a] yellow copy of a tithing donation slip. [He] could see that, in a country where [a dollar was worth its] weight in gold, Abie Turay had paid one dollar as her tithing, one dollar to the missionary fund, and one dollar as a fast offering for those who, in her words, were ‘truly poor.’”
In a quiet, unassuming way, in a way that never would have been noticed, this faithful sister encapsulates the mission to serve and give back. In all her hardship, she finds ways to support the “truly poor”—not only through her service to the community, but also through donating a generous fast offering. Like Abie, no matter what we have gone through, we can all give back to the community. No matter how little we have—we can give in ways the Spirit prompts us. This is how we can be sanctified through keeping our covenant to serve.
So how can we know what the Lord would like us to do?
Nearly two years ago, I felt, like you may have felt sometimes, that I was doing a pretty good job at helping others. No one would have accused me of not being serviceable to others or of not being willing to help anyone in need.
At the time, I was at the tail end of finishing an MBA program, while working full time in the Welfare Services department. I served in two busy callings, and I had a lot of fulfilling things going on in my life. But something was missing, and I couldn’t pinpoint quite what it was. Perhaps some of you have felt that way. You’re raising your children, or you’re in a career you love, or you’re empty-nesters. And you are doing good things and wonderful things. But there may be something in your heart that feels unfulfilled. Something that is begging you to reach a little further. I can’t tell you what that is, but the Spirit can if you listen today because the Spirit helped me know what to do.
I felt prompted to seek mentoring from one of my professors. This particular professor is one of the most popular professors in the University of Utah’s School of Business because he is a man who gives back to the community. At 18, he was alone in a new country trying to begin his university studies when he found out his parents had been killed in a political uprising in his home country. Due to the uprisings, he could never return home. In desperation and despair, he was close to taking his life. But a feeling that he had something good he needed to do stopped him. He worked himself up from a pot washer at a hospital, all the way to a major service director in a local hospital and now to a consultant and professor. His story of rising from his struggle with a purpose to serve inspired me deeply and I knew he could help guide me.
He knew a lot about my Church service and callings, even though he is not a member of our faith. While my service in the Church was essential, he pleaded for me to use my skills and talents as I served, especially in the community at large. Simply put— I needed to reach out more and serve in more meaningful ways to help more people.
And so I began to pray and to look for what was missing for me.
A few months later in January, I found myself helping one of my friends— a single mother. She lived in a low-income housing complex and needed to get out of a bad situation.
As we moved her belongings, I noticed in the center of the complex a sign for the Hser Ner Moo Community Center—a community center to help children and teenagers with reading, writing, and math and to lead them on a path to graduation.
The next day, I was back at the complex again, helping move more boxes. This time it was snowing and as I carried a box, I slipped. Someone reached down to help, and surprisingly, it was a member of my ward, who I soon found out worked at the center. I felt something inside tell me, “You need to find out more about this center.”
And so I did and I like to say that I literally fell into this opportunity to serve. I discussed volunteer opportunities and soon became a weekly mentor for a darling teenager. The center has asked that I not use actual names, so I will call her Istar. Istar and her family had immigrated to the United States about two years prior. Istar was born in Djibouti but her parents were Somalian refugees. She came to the US speaking very little English, but had progressed rapidly in school and was aiming to be a doctor. As we met weekly, I learned how much she needed me and how much I needed her. I got to relearn geometry and algebra and history and chemistry as I tutored her in her schoolwork. And I also got to hear about her life. About her beliefs and values. She is Muslim and spent many days in the local mosque helping take care of duties in the mosque. She taught me some Somalian and I made great inroads with her mom just by knowing “Hello” and “Thank you”. I went to one of her community soccer games—something her family members had difficulty doing. She became more than someone to mentor, but also a friend.
In July of last year, Istar and her family moved out of state to be with some other Somalian families. She is now finishing up her last year of high school. Istar also gives back to her community in meaningful ways by serving in her mosque.
I was subsequently assigned a new girl to mentor, who I will call Riva. Riva’s family is also Muslim. Her parents were Burmese refugees who fled to Thailand. She came to the US about 6 years ago, but remains the only member of her family who speaks fluent English. She has younger nieces and nephews who are learning, but the burden of translating and interpreting rests on her. She loves meeting every week and she loves talking about her life. Often she speaks of the challenge of being the family interpreter. She speaks of the challenges of fitting in. She speaks of the challenges of being a teenager and the challenges at school. But she loves to learn and she catches on quickly. She needs me and I need her. Riva also gives back to the community in meaningful ways by serving as an interpreter.
It has been an incredible experience to be involved in serving these displaced families of refugees around me. And as you can see, they also give back in any way they can.
Each of us has our own specific skills, talents, and abilities that can make the most impact and that will allow us to find the most fulfillment.
I think often of what constitutes a refugee—someone fleeing to find safety and refuge. And I am reminded of the great need among us to be a refuge for any kind of refugee. Consider the lyrics of a song written by Michael McLean, titled Safe Harbors.
There are refugees among us
That are not from foreign shores;
And the battles they are waging
Are from very private wars.
And there are no correspondents
Documenting all their grief,
But these refugees among us all
Are yearning for relief.
There are refugees among us.
They don’t carry flags or signs.
They are standing right beside us
In the market check out lines;
And the war they’ve been fighting
It will not be televised,
But the story of their need for love
Is written in their eyes.
This is a call to arms,
To reach out and to hold
The evacuees from the dark.
This is a call to arms,
To lead anguished souls
To safe harbors of the heart.
Can you see through their disguises?
Can you hear what words won’t tell?
Some are losing faith in Heaven
‘Cause their life’s a living Hell.
Is there anyone to help those
Who have nowhere else to flee?
For the only arms protecting them
belong to you and me.
This is a call to arms,
To reach out and to hold
The evacuees from the dark.
This is a call to arms,
To lead anguished souls
To safe harbors of the heart.
Can you feel the pleas of the refugees
For safe harbors of the heart?
Who are the refugees in your family, neighborhood, ward, and stake that have been placed in your path to serve?
Who in your family or ward is out of a job? Who is looking for a better job? Who has a child who has an addiction? Do you know a friend whose spouse struggles with pornography? Do you know a family who struggles to pay their bills? Who in your ward has a child who struggles with mental illness? Do you know someone going through a divorce? Or someone who is a caregiver to a spouse or child with a disability? Or someone who is encompassed by grief and loss?
I bet that many people passed through your mind. These are the refugees among us who are seeking comfort and safety. And we have safety to offer. What skills and talents do you have that can bless the lives of our own brothers and sisters? Our prayers and our fast offering contributions can do much good, but I am reminded of the Parable of the Ten Talents. What talents has the Lord given you that he expects you to multiply by sharing them with others? Ponder upon this as I share a few examples.
Consider the experience of a sister I became friends with in the MTC. While barely 30, she is a caregiver for her husband who is battling leukemia for the 4th time.
With her permission, I share a portion of her most recent blogpost.
AJ says, “I loved during general conference when a speaker said people are sent from God and ordinary people are working as God’s hands when they make ordinary gestures. We are so grateful for the people who have truly borne the burden with us. It’s hard for me to see some friends disappear with time. The road seems to get a little more lonely for me each relapse. It may be because our story is getting harder to tell and live. I’m reading a care giving book right now that suggests that people just don’t know what to say or do. It’s hard to relate to a difficult journey sometimes when you’re trying so hard to keep yours happy and full of life and light. I understand that some people simply process it differently or just can’t process it. Most days I wish I could ignore it all and not have to deal with it too.
“Sometimes my cares for this world and battle have choked out God’s words and promises and I really need to remember to focus on those at times. Marshall and I (especially Marshall) are very tired this round. We are reaching for and trying to grasp any light we can find no matter how dark or seemingly hopeless this cancer can be. We are trying to find our strength again in that light. It [is] so wonderful to see friends and family come out to support us…You help us dispel our fears and have some peace.”
A.J.’s friends give back by helping with her small son, supporting them financially, and spending hours upon hours visiting in the hospital. They also give back by looking to A.J.’s needs as a caregiver. The friends dispel fears and give real peace. And AJ is even giving back by helping with the service projects here at women’s conference and even supporting me by being in this presentation.
Or consider a group of widows and widowers at the Wentworth Care Center near my house. In their lonely times, these “widows and the fatherless” often have nothing to look forward to. Yet nearly every Sunday for the past five years, a group from my young single adult ward has visited the residents and they sing hymns to bring peace and solace.
These friends give back by practicing pure religion.
Or consider a marvelous group of people from my hometown of Huntsville, Utah. At age 13, I started a very small garage sale to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation in memory of a friend who passed away and who had received a wish from the foundation. The garage sale turned out to not just be a one-year stint, but has since been taken over by a committee of families–largely headed up by my mom, and a community of people, who now run this sale to not only sponsor a wish for Make-A-Wish every year, but also to support infant bereavement programs in local hospitals, children’s hospitals in memory of families from our valley, other memorial donations, and many, many individual families in desperate need. Having raised more than a $100,000 thus far, this committee is poised to yet again tackle this adventure in its 17th year.
This community gives back by seeking out the needs of its own.
Or consider those who give back by mentoring missionaries who return home early. Or those who give back by attending Addiction Recovery Program Spouse and Family Support Group meetings with their friend in need of support. Or those who, in thousands of other ways are not just offering a smile to those in need, but extending a hand, reaching out, and lifting upward.
The opportunities to serve others around us are endless. And I recognize that we have so many of our own needs. There are times when we are those being served. But even in those times, and in all other times, I turn to three principles to guide my service.
First, as Sister Linda K. Burton has said, “First observe, then serve.”
Second, as Camilla Kimball said, “Never suppress a generous thought.”
And finally, as President Thomas S. Monson has taught us, “Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.”
As we learn to observe, act on generous thoughts, and seek to love people, I know that we will find sanctification through keeping our covenants. We will know how to serve in meaningful ways.
Again, I thank you for the service you already provide in so many ways. And I invite you to humbly ask our Father to help you find what more you can do to give back. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said in the October 2014 general conference, “I don’t know exactly how each of you should fulfill your obligation to those who … cannot always help themselves. But I know that God knows, and He will help you and guide you in compassionate acts of discipleship if you are conscientiously wanting and praying and looking for ways to keep a commandment He has given us again and again.”
I know this to be true and I am grateful for a Savior who saved us and allows us to serve Him by serving others. I leave this with you in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, Amen.