I worry about white-washing the women I’m featuring. I don’t want to set up false and unattainable images of these women, but I also don’t feel the need include their flaws for the sake of including their flaws. If I were writing a book, I would have plenty of time and space to discuss the nuances of these women. However, the focus of my blog is to celebrate these women, despite their imperfections. I think that is part of the beauty of telling each others’ stories. It inspires me to see the amazing things that imperfect individuals are able to accomplish.
To me, Sheri Dew is one of these imperfect, yet inspiring women. It is true that she has used rhetoric about the gay and lesbian community that I find hurtful and counterproductive. It is also true that she has broken boundary after boundary for the contemporary LDS woman, presented me with new models for what it means to be a daughter of God, and improved my communication with Deity.
As a brand new freshman in college, I remember attending my first general relief society meeting and wondering what on earth I was doing there. All the talks were focused on motherhood (which I thought had nothing to do with me), and I struggled to take the sing-songy voices seriously. And then Sheri Dew got up to speak. Early in her talk, she stated,
“Have you ever wondered why prophets have taught the doctrine of motherhood—and it is doctrine—again and again? I have. I have thought long and hard about the work of women of God. And I have wrestled with what the doctrine of motherhood means for all of us. This issue has driven me to my knees, to the scriptures, and to the temple.”
And there she stood, living proof not only that God values the contributions of all women (not just the ones with their own children), but someone who’d had her own doctrinal wrestle before God about women’s roles and came out stronger, more committed, and at peace. For the first time, I felt like I belonged in Relief Society. I’ll admit I knew little of what General Authorities said on the matter, but as she continued her talk, it was the first time I had heard motherhood talked about in an empowering way. Listening to Sister Dew speak convinced me that I needed to have my own wrestle before God and find out what the Lord had in store for me as a woman of God.
Sheri Dew’s list of accomplishments is impressive: first unmarried woman in the general relief society presidency; first female CEO of Deseret Books; delegate to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women; biographer of two prophets; popular author and prolific speaker. Her speaking and writing style resonated with people – so much that I can’t count the number of times that I’ve heard someone say in exasperation, “you know, Sheri Dew isn’t the fourth member of the Godhead!” This path was not the one she would have picked for herself, but she dedicated herself to serving the Lord in the capacity he needed her to, and she has reached countless individuals as a result.
I haven’t read her later books, but I did read No Doubt About It, and it increased my desire to become the kind of woman the Lord wants me to be. I was also profoundly influenced by a fireside she gave during my undergrad. The standard formula for receiving personal revelation had not been working for me. As part of her address, she stated that God communicated to different people in different ways, and that you can improve your communication with God if you approach him prayerfully and ask how He speaks to you. I did, and she was right: I began experiencing revelation in ways I never would have considered before.
Sister Dew has had a measurable and profound impact on my spirituality and sense of worth as a daughter of God, and I am incredibly grateful to her for it.