I spoke at an LDS women's conference on Saturday on how embodying genuine aspects of our womanhood lifts us and others up. I thought about rewriting my talk into an essay for Meg in Progress, but decided against it. Because I wish each of you had been there. And I wish we could talk to one another across more than this screen. And finally, I really do think you are each beautiful and a blessing in my life.
Good morning, Sisters! I generally open my talks with a joke. Something just funny enough that the people listening will decide to forgive me if everything else that follows is jumbled and boring. This talk is a little different, I wrote most of it sitting in the hospital during the aftermath of my dad’s bone marrow transplant. It was written in a white room with black wires and metal rails. Not the stuff inspiration is generally made of, or so I thought. As I sat there, I tried to think of something funny. A real zinger, something to wake us all up in the morning. But over and over the only thing that came to mind was the vision of your beautiful faces. One row after another of choice daughters of God. And my goodness, the joy and awe of being in your company. Sisters, I felt it even as I sat all alone in a room I pray none of you ever have to enter.
So this talk will not begin with a joke. It begins with a thank you. Thank you for being lovely daughters of our Heavenly Father. The mere thought of you brought brightness and color to a time that had little. The existence of so many of you lifted me, even when most of you don’t know my name. (It’s Meg, by the way.)
This vision of your sweet faces and the effect it had on my spirits is a fitting way to begin, as today I will speaking about “lift”. What is lift? What does it mean to lift? And is it something that little, old me can actually do?
The principle of lift is an interesting one. Flight has been an object of man’s desire since he could look to the stars. However, for thousands of years mankind was always just a few simple insights away from understanding how to reach all those high places we wished to go. For centuries, great and small minds alike believed that, as ships float on the ocean, so birds flew in a sea of air. They hypothesized that in flight a bird’s wing looked much like a boat, curved on the bottom and flat on top. The exact opposite is true. In flight, the top of the wing is curved, while the bottom is flat. If you have been on a plane you can attest to this yourself. That curve on top, called camber, forces the air to flow more quickly and with less pressure over the wing. Because of the lack of pressure above the wing the plane is actually plucked up into the air. Lift is a phenomena waiting to occur, it simply needs to be allowed to happen.
Blah, blah, blah, physics. I am sure you are all thinking, "Man, she really should have begun with a joke". I promise there is a point.
I don’t think you and I are all that different from my imaginary plane. We are all just a few insights away from a better understanding of how to allow the Lord to pluck us up into the air, to the high places we are meant to go.
Luckily, for you and me, we are women. And I think that the most effective way to let lift occur is by adhering to the most genuine aspects of our womanhood. I realize that the phrase “genuine aspects of womanhood” is a loaded one. You and I could sit here and discuss that concept for days. However, I was only allotted a few minutes. So I am going to discuss oh-so-briefly three women that embodied a few different aspects of womanhood and by doing so were able to lift themselves and those around them.
First Eve. The mother of all Living. A woman that has been hated and loved and mythologized till she seems too distant for us to really know. I wish this wasn’t so. Because in so many ways, what Eve did is no different from what many of us do every day. She was simply the first to do it.
Eve was a leader. In a paper called Patriarchy and Matriarchy, Hugh Nibley spends an entire paragraph praising Eve and her go-get-it attitude. He says, “So who was the more important? Eve is the first on the scene, not Adam, who woke up only long enough to turn over to fall asleep again; and then when he really woke up he saw the woman standing there, ahead of him, waiting for him… In all that follows she takes the initiative, pursuing the search for ever greater light and knowledge while Adam cautiously holds back. Who was the wiser for that?...The first daring step had to be taken. It was an act of disobedience for which someone had to pay, and she accepted the responsibility…And had she been so foolish? It is she who perceives and points out to Adam that they have done the right thing after all. Sorrow, yes, but she is willing to pass through it for the sake of knowledge—knowledge of good and evil that will provide the test and the victory for working out their salvation as God intends. It is better this way than the old way; she is the progressive one. She had not led him astray...”
Sister’s, we are leaders. In our communities, in our church, in our homes. As daughters of God, leading the pursuit of ever greater light and knowledge is our heritage and our birthright.
Eve was a homemaker. The first homemaker. She went out into the wilderness and created a sanctuary out of brambles and bark for the man she loved and the children they shared. Now be honest me, after the wedding and the reception, didn’t it feel a bit like you had been cast out into the wilderness. A big wide world and just the two of you? And still you managed to create a sanctuary for your family. Only rather than brambles and bark it was made out of a basement apartment right next to the creamery.
Eve worked to impose order in a world that had little. And my darling sisters, you do this every day. With every load of laundry, all those washed dishes, each memo at the office and new spring garden. You each have the courage to wake up every morning and make the world more of what it should be. And that does take courage, because you know you will just have to do it all again tomorrow.
Sisters, the beginning of our world was rooted in much of what you do every day. If that doesn’t add meaning to your next Relief Society Meeting, I don’t know what will.
Born in 1828, Emmeline B. Wells was one of the most dynamic sisters of LDS history. She was on the forefront of the woman suffrage movement, traveled the world shouting equality, wrote beautiful poetry and was called as the fifth general Relief Society President of the LDS church at the ripe old age of 82. As one writer said, “She was at once a family woman and an ambitious professional, a sentimental poet and a pragmatic businesswoman, a romantic and a realist.” Sister Wells was the kind of woman that realized that we are here to do a great work and she dug in with her sleeves rolled up.
Emmeline was self-sufficient. She lost three husbands and spent more of her life responsible for the bread on her families table than not. She realized that work was a blessing. And my, was her life blessed. I know the women in this community. I have seen you can and work and bake and save and sew. I have watched you hold down two jobs while raising your children with love and patience. I have seen you pursue education and career with a clear vision of your future. You are a self-sufficient people.
Emmeline was confident. This was a woman that knew what she wanted from a very young age. Looking back on her childhood she said, “Was it under the hemlock boughs or ’neath the hardy old oak,” that I sat “with proud ambition burning in my soul, ambition to be great and known to fame, when a gentle whisper came. … ‘There is no excellence without labor.’ ” She was unafraid of the gifts the Lord gave her. Once, poet and activist Eliza R. Snow asked Emmeline to write an article on a particular subject. It was a request that would have left me shaking in my boots. Not Emmeline. She hoped she would be able to please Eliza but also admitted, “For my own part, I would not be at all afraid [to write what I wanted], I love this kind of work.”
Sisters, I would like to see more of this attitude in our ranks. You were made by the same hand that shaped the stars. He made each of you INDIVIDUALLY for an INDIVIDUAL purpose. Our dear Sister Wells understood that so exquisitely and that understanding allowed the Lord to work through her so grandly.
In 1697, a little girl was born in a little village outside of Cothen, Germany. Nobody knows who her parents were and nobody knows how she spent her days. There is no record of serpents or world altering decisions or lofty ambitions. Over three hundred years later we only know three things about her. Her name was Katharina Amalia Dorothea Von Schlegel. She spent much of her life in a nunnery. And she wrote 29 hymns, including Be Still, My Soul. I imagine she wrote that hymn after a day like any other day and never thought it would be sung outside of her hometown, let alone outside of her lifetime. She could not know the comfort it would bring to the millions that have turned to it in times of need. She could not see the broken hearted mothers it would calm or the worried daughter sitting in a white hospital room it gave peace.
Katharina listened to the Lord. She felt the grandness of his voice in her quiet life, she knew the power of inspiration, and could attest to the joy of being an instrument of the Lord.
Sisters, you do not know the power of a quietly inspired act on a day like any other day. Perhaps it will be the creation of a hymn that is sung for hundreds of years. But it is more likely to be an act of service for the family within your own walls, the neighbor down the street or a stranger at the store. Just as Katharina did not know her hymn would be sung in Utah 316 years after her birth, you do not know how your actions will echo through time.
Alright. So we have spoken about Eve, you know, the Mother of all Living. And we have talked about Emmeline B Wells, a woman that could raise a baby, bake a pie and write pro-woman manifestos with her eyes closed. And we've visited Katharina Von Schlegel, writer of the hymn that soothed a million hearts. All well and good, but perhaps a bit difficult to live up to… I mean my kids think the only way to make chicken soup is with three cups of water and two top ramen packets. Not exactly the stuff of which greatness is made.
If you are anything like myself, you may find yourself asking, “What about little, unremarkable me?”
My dear, dear sisters. I want to impress on you that each of these women, each so different, each so lovely were made of the same stuff as beautiful, blessed you. We were each made to be lifted. You are shaped for it just as surely as the bird’s wing. And yes, some of us will do it on the world’s stage and some will do it in the quiet moments of our lives, but each one of us can and will reach the same great heights.
I would like to bear my testimony today. Our Heavenly Father knows you intimately. Every bright spot and every flaw. He knows your hopes and he knows your depths. And He rejoices in you. He loves you. And He is just waiting - anxiously, anxiously waiting – for that moment when He can lift you to the places you are meant to be.
I say these things, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.