Monday, January 12, 2015

A New Adventure

As my baby gets older, I have been thinking about the next steps in my life. As I pondered possible goals at the end of 2014, I decided that 2015 would be the year I would figure out what was next. I have felt an excess of energy, a desire to do some good in the world, a deep desire to develop my skills and talents and move toward my future. I had no idea these thoughts and feelings I was having were building toward something exciting and new.

A few weeks ago, my Bishop called and asked to meet with me. In my church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have a lay ministry, which means most people in the congregation serve and help out running meetings, activities, service efforts, etc. All without being paid. Our Bishop is like a minister or pastor in that he oversees our congregation, counsels and works with members, and manages the administration. It is a demanding job which often requires many extra hours. Most Bishops will tell you that while it requires a great deal of time, it is spiritually and emotionally rewarding. Bishops serve for a period of 5-7 years and then a new Bishop is asked to serve. Anyhow, when my Bishop met with me, he asked me to serve as our congregation's, or ward's Relief Society President for about 2 years or so. (He didn't give me a time limit, but that seems to be about the term for Relief Society Presidents in our ward.)

I was shocked because this is a calling that also requires a great deal of time and service. After talking with my husband, I accepted the responsibility. Last Sunday the Bishop officially announced my service to our ward, and my tenure began.

What is a Relief Society President? A Relief Society president oversees the adult women, ages 18 and up, in her congregation. Her responsibility is to help women increase their faith and personal righteousness, strengthen families and homes, and help those in need. One program we have in place to reach out to all the women in our ward is the Visiting Teaching Program, where each woman is asked to visit at least one other woman in our ward one a regular basis, making sure that the spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of women in our ward are being met. In particular, I have a very important responsibility to assess the physical needs of families in our congregation. I am to make sure that families have enough food, that they have adequate shelter, that they receive help with job training, and other things that are needed. This is one responsibility that I have that I cannot share with my counselors as we want people to be able to retain their dignity as they receive assistance.

 Fortunately, I'm not alone in this service. I have three counselors and a secretary to help manage and oversee the work. One of my counselors will plan and prepare meaningful activities, one counselor will oversee the Sunday instruction, and the third counselor will help reach out to the many Spanish-speaking women in our ward. The secretary helps keep me on track by managing details, agendas, budgets, etc.

In the week since I was officially put in, I have met with a young woman who has been struggling to find her path in life and I counseled and encouraged her. I've reached out to women who have been doing their visiting teaching to see to needs of specific women. I've helped organize a Linger Longer following church meetings, and learned about the welfare program of the church.

In our ward, people are really anxiously involved in trying to help one another. Several women take turns babysitting for a single mother who is going to college. Through fast offerings, people in our ward who are struggling and do not have food or need help with rent, receive food and rent assistance. Several couples take turns giving rides to church to two deaf women who are unable to drive. In church, translation is provided for Spanish-speaking men and women so they can participate and understand the services.

Our theme this year is to build Zion. In our scriptures, we have a passage about Zion, that the people of Zion were of one heart, one mind, and there was no poor among them.  We have been charged to make our outreach broader and more community based. My activities counselor and I have been discussing exciting and long-term projects that could address needs within our community, but also interesting projects that could potentially benefit girls in Africa.

As much work as this calling promises to be, I am excited about it because I will be able to be engaged in something really meaningful. I am hoping that this will positively impact my children as they help me and we work together. My husband has already been a huge support in taking over some of my regular household duties so that I have the additional time I need. Reaching out to serve and help others is a wonderful thing and to be intimately involved is a privilege. 


Thursday, January 1, 2015

The Best Books I Read in 2014

Here are a few of the best books I read in 2014.

Global Mom: Eight Countries, Sixteen Addresses, Five Languages, One Family by Melissa Dalton-Bradford

Melissa Dalton-Bradford has a gift for distilling and analyzing nearly two decades worth of experiences as her family explored and lived in country after country. This isn't an ordinary travelogue turned memoir, but a weightier and more illuminating story of a family bound together through travel and grief. The last half of the book explores how the family has lived with their grief for their son and brother, Parker. If you want to know what it is like to live in a foreign country, learn a language, or struggle with loss, then this is the best book to read.

On Loss and Living Onward: Collected Voices for the Grieving and Those Who Would Mourn With Them by Melissa Dalton-Bradford

This primer on grief contains essays, quotes, poems, and songs about grieving, especially those who mourn children. After reading this book, I felt like I was better prepared to genuinely mourn with friends who have experienced devastating loss. I feel like every person on this planet should read this book because we will all experience death and loss and we will all be tasked with mourning with those who face death and loss. It is essential to the human experience.

The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan by Jenny Nordberg

Absolutely required reading for anyone who wants to understand the reality of being female in Afghanistan. The stories are true, riveting, and powerful. A sensitive and thoughtful reader will find much to ponder in the way gender roles are perceived, taught, and discussed in one's own culture and compare and contrast it to the function of gender in Afghanistan.

The Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Future by Christine Kenneally

If you are remotely interested in genealogy or family history, you need to read this book to understand what DNA and history can tell you about your past and your present. The book is densely filled with stories, science, and connections. Be prepared to develop a burning desire to get your DNA tested--along with everyone in your family you can cajole into getting the testing done as well.

Made From Scratch: Reclaiming the Pleasures of the American Hearth by Jean Zimmerman

A fascinating book which discusses the role and value of homemaking both anciently and modernly. The author explores why homemaking is so demonized today and why it is making a comeback. I think this could qualify as a homemaker's manifesto in being able to explain why possessing skills of cooking, cleaning, sewing, etc. are valuable and meaningful in our modern world.

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic In Disguise by Ruth Reichl

Warning: Be prepared to be very hungry as you read. There is a reason Ruth Reichl was a restaurant critic for the New York Times and why she was the editor for Gourmet magazine. Her food prose is divine. A must for any foodie or person who just likes to eat, read about food, or think about food.

What were your favorite books you read in 2014?