Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Teacher of Girls

Here is a story of true love for your Valentine's Day. 

At fifteen I was a wannabe rabble rouser. An insecure, rebellious, plaid flannel wearing, grunge rock listening teen that shunned make-up and anything “girly”. The main interests of my life were the all consuming quest to date a drummer in a garage band and to be the most sarcastic kid alive. I went to the Young Women activities on Wednesday night only because my friends were there. I had no use whatsoever for the floral dress wearing leaders that wanted to teach us how to quilt and do crafts.

Sunday’s were much the same with me attending church mainly by force of my sweet mother. I did my best to be a pain in the you-know-what to the teachers and rarely paid attention to the lessons. It was on one of these Sundays that a new YW President was deposited in our midst. I immediately didn’t like her, mainly because she intimidated me.

Sister J was a stately looking woman with perfectly coiffed silver and black hair. She was immaculately dressed and wore flawlessly executed make-up. When she walked into the room all chatter stopped. She was a powerful presence.

She introduced herself in a business-like manner and class went on. I could tell immediately that she was going to put the kibosh on all of my mouthy shenanigans, and I was not happy about it.

Time passed and true to my prediction the new President did bring me into line, but not in the way I had imagined. She firmly but patiently included me in any discussion that was being had. Then she really listened to what I had to say. She let me know that she expected me to treat her with respect and she returned the favor. She treated me like an adult.

Over the course of the next year the woman I had thought was going to ruin all of my fun turned out to be an unexpected role model and friend. As Laurels, our class met at her home every Wednesday night for activities and we loved it. My three best friends and I soon became more than just girls in her class, we became "her girls". We could be found there other nights besides Wednesday, watching movies, hanging out, and having Gospel discussions.

She was a trusted confidant when it came to boy trouble, friend issues, and questions about the meaning of life, love, and happiness. She didn’t give pat answers but helped us really understand and learn about God’s love and plan for His children. She helped us gain perspective and rise above the heartbreak and drama of our High School world.

She had a fabulous sense of humor. When we visited and the hour grew late she would say to us in a deadpan voice “I love you girls, but get out”. Then she would smile and hug us as we went out the door.

She took us to Salt Lake City to see the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing Handel's Messiah at Christmas in the Tabernacle. Something she assured us everyone must do once in their life even if it meant enduring an eight hour journey in a camper with a malfunctioning toilet. Many a Renuzit air freshener was utilized on that trip.

During the summer she held water balloon volleyball tournaments in her back yard much to the watery and sun burnt delight of those involved.

In the middle of a snowy January Sister J finally bought the car she had been dreaming of all of her life, a white convertible. She immediately picked us up and we went for a drive in the 13 degree air with the top down. As that frigid wind blew through our hair she smiled bigger than I had ever seen.

More time passed and graduation from high school neared. As we prepared ourselves to enter the real world Sister J was right there. Directly after the ceremony the four of us met up at her house for a last hurrah. She encouraged us to cherish the friendships we had made and helped us to understand that things were changing. She was convinced big things were ahead for all of us.

It was sometime near this time of our beginnings that we learned that Sister J was approaching an ending. She had a rare form of adult onset leukemia. Not to worry; it was a slow moving disease and even though it would eventually take her life there would be many years before that would happen.

College, marriages, missions, babies, and work took the four of us far from one another, but any chance one of us returned home, a visit to Sister J’s was on the agenda. Wit, wisdom, and love would always be dispensed as she related the lessons learned from the difficulties she experienced in the course of treatment for her cancer, and the pain she so bravely endured.

Then ten short years from her diagnosis she was gone. Once again “her girls” gathered together to remember her, and laugh, and cry. She was buried on a hilltop overlooking a valley. She would have loved the wind that blows through your hair in that place. As we stood at her graveside trying to hang on a little longer you could almost hear her say. “I love you girls, but get out.”

Sister J was a teacher of girls, a teacher whose love and wisdom shaped the lives of those who came under her care. She was a person who followed in the path of the Savior.

Thomas S. Monson said “Each of us can be a leader. We need to remember that the mantle of leadership is not the cloak of comfort, but the robe of responsibility. Perhaps our service is to youth. If so, I caution: “Youth needs fewer critics and more models.” One hundred years from now it will not matter what kind of a car we drove, what kind of a house we lived in, how much we had in the bank account, nor what our clothes looked like. But the world may be a little better because we were important in the life of a boy or a girl.
Sister J was a model and not a critic, and in being who she was changed the world for at least one rebellious teenager she was called to serve. I know there were many others as well.

Now as one of "her girls" I find myself in the position to pass on her legacy to the next generation, it is something I hope I can live up to, it's important.

Thanks Sister J and Happy Valentine's Day.




  1. You made me bawl like a Beehive at her first camp testimony meeting. Thanks for this. Sometimes when I do something stupid, I hear her voice in my head and picture that look of loving disapproval that I used to get from her all the time in the beginning, when I was a total brat who deserved much worse. I echo your thoughts. Thanks Sister J.

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