Sorry - no highlight today. I thought it would be fun to include an excerpt from a talk I gave at our Relief Society Activity this week. I was asked to talk about chapters 3 and 4 in Daughters in My Kingdom, with a welfare/self reliance emphasis. Enjoy!
When the Saints were forced from Nauvoo, the formal Relief Society disbanded for about 20 years. But Mormon women were still working to accomplish the aims of the relief society during the migration and early settlement years. When opportunities for service came up, they came running.
I'm going to start off sharing a familiar story, but end it somewhere different than we usually do.
“At the October 1856 general conference, President Brigham Young announced that handcart pioneers were stranded hundreds of miles away. He declared: “Your faith, religion, and profession of religion, will never save one soul of you in the celestial kingdom of our God, unless you carry out just such principles as I am now teaching you. Go and bring in those people now on the plains, and attend strictly to those things which we call temporal, or temporal duties, otherwise your faith will be in vain.”
So when I've heard this account in the past, I've heard about what the men did next: the 250 rescue teams assembled within a month; the gratitude the handcart pioneers felt when they saw their rescuers; the inspiring brave, brave teenage boys who gave their lives helping a handcart company cross the freezing Sweetwater River. These are remarkable services. But that's not what we're going to talk about today. I'm going to talk about what the women did.
Let's go back to the moment in the tabernacle that Brigham Young declared that member's faith will be vain if the temporal needs of the stranded handcart pioneers were ignored. The women didn't even wait to leave the building to get to work. They stripped off their warming petticoats, stockings, and anything else they were wearing that they could spare RIGHT THERE in the tabernacle and piled them into a wagon to send into the mountains. And these wonderful women knew the survivors needed more than help getting out of the mountains – they needed help continuing to survive once they arrived. They gathered bedding, clothing, and anything else they could and filled up a building in town so that when the survivors arrived, they could come and get what they needed.
I love this perspective. As a young mom, it is easy to feel like the problems of the world are too big for me to do anything about. I have this fantastic and life-altering bond to my family, but it is a bond and I can't easily step away from it. I can't hop on a plane and volunteer to restore clean water to refugees in Haiti. But if I stay in tune and keep my eyes open for the opportunities around me, I can build from where I stand. God will bless me in my righteous desire to serve, and show me what I can do, not just in the little things, but in the big if I want to take it on.
Relief Society started up again once the Utah settlements were a little more established, and among the many fabulous projects these indomitable sisters took on were several self reliance-related projects. Not only were these women fabulous women's suffragettes who made their case on a national scene, and articulate public speakers in an era when it was considered ladylike to stay silent, they followed Brigham Young's counsel to stay independent of worldly influences both temporally and spiritually. They sewed their own clothes and made their own silk (and if you've ever seen a silk worm, you'll know it isn't a fun process). They arranged a wheat storage program so successful that they could provide food for not only for local droughts and needy members, but earthquake survivors in San Francisco, famine victims in China, and the US government itself to feed thousands during World War I. They sent women to eastern medical schools at much higher rates than the US population at large, established a hospital, and trained hundreds upon hundreds of women in midwifery. Their efforts to live the welfare principles blessed both themselves and the world at large.
These early sisters teach me that my influence is only as limited as my energy and initiative, and I'm grateful for the power I have as a woman of God.