I met Leonore when I was a newlywed and living in Mexico City. Leonore was perfect. Or at least it seemed that way. Whenever we had a lesson in relief society she was always asked to tell how she did whatever principle we were learning about. If we were being taught about scripture study, Leonore was asked by the teacher to tell us how she did hers. If the lesson were on exercising, Leonore was asked to tell us how she got up and went running every morning. When the lesson was on nutrition, Leonore told us how she ate perfectly balanced meals every day. No matter what the topic, Leonore could tell us how to do it.
And although she was very nice, she also thoroughly, completely and totally intimidated me, because I felt thoroughly, completely and totally imperfect in comparison. Every insecurity I had about being a Mormon woman, every weakness and failure I possessed, were magnified when I was near her.
I grew up on the Wasatch Front in the days when young women were expected to sew, garden and know how to bottle fruit before they left home at 18. And although my mother is an amazing gardener, seamstress and can bottle anything, I never learned the necessities of Mormon womanhood. (I did take home economics in junior high but got a D when I didn’t put my pattern properly on the material and my shirt came out with little people sideways on it. )
And I felt guilty about it, so much so, that I enrolled in sewing classes as an adult. And I learned—to a degree. I learned to make Halloween costumes, some curtains and a few outfits for my three-year-old. (No one older than three would wear what I made). I also learned how to bottle fruit and even meat. For many years I tried my best to become what I thought the perfect Mormon woman should be.
I wanted to be Leonore.
Then I read a talk by Patricia Holland where she said she didn’t like to sew. She learned (because she too felt it was expected) but did not like it. That was a turning point in my life. For the first time, I felt free to admit I did not like sewing. After all, if Patricia Holland, the wife of an apostle didn’t like it, it wasn’t necessary for me to like it either.
Since then I have also come to realize that what makes the perfect Mormon woman has nothing to do with her talents and abilities, or her likes and dislikes. What is important however, is how she values and keeps her covenants. But even then, we are all on different places on the road to perfection. In our day of economic trials, knowing how to sew, bottle fruit and garden are all good things, and they along with all other good talents and skills should be cultivated. But they do not define Mormon womanhood.
One Sunday, while sitting in Relief Society, I glanced around the room. There were several single sisters who have been married and suffered through divorces, others have never been married. There was a sister battling cancer, others struggling with wayward children. Some were converts to the church, others born into families with pioneer ancestry. Some battle depression, some work full time, some stay at home. Some possessed the wisdom of age, and others were too young to realize they didn’t know everything. We had a Hispanic sister, a black sister and a sister from Finland. Each was very different. And each in some way had blessed my life.
And as we raised our voices together in song, I felt the spirit wash over me, and with it came a deep sense of love and appreciation for each sister in the room. I was so grateful the gospel tent has expanded to include every woman, from every background, from every country, with every weakness and with every talent. For just as our voices united in song, so did our hearts unite in love one for another and for the Savior. We had come together that day to honor our covenants. We had partaken of the sacrament and we were all trying to do our best to keep that covenant, and we were helping each other along the way.
We are different, but we are the same. And together we define the Mormon Woman.