In my lifetime there have been many women who have inspired me to be a better person. It is difficult to choose one above the others, so I want to share with you, instead, several women who have inspired me.
When I was a little girl, my great grandmother, Sylvia Underwood Vandenburg, set the example of what a mother, grandmother, and great grandmother should be. She inspired me through her unrelenting work to feed, clothe, and educate her family. Grannie raised four children of her own, then raise six grandchildren in her home, when their parents abandoned them, while other grandchildren came and went on an as needed basis. She then raise three great grandchildren when her grandson divorced and needed someone to help take care of his kids while he worked.
Grannie was the finest example for sacrifice and service I have ever known. Her garden provided food for her family, neighbors, and anyone in need of food. She cooked for an army of people every day and lunch at Grannies was an event that stood until a week before she died. Because we are a farm family, lunch was the biggest meal of the day. It didn’t matter if we dropped in at the last minute, or if we brought along friends, Grannie always had enough food, and would just smile and “add another potato to the pot,” to make sure the meal stretched for everyone.
Her garden also provided flowers for everyone from new brides to the old and infirm. Her fingers sewed an unending supply of dresses, shirts, quilts, and dishtowels for all of her progeny and our friends. To have a quilt made by Grannie Vandenburg was the best wedding present any girl in the family could have. And when each of us had our first baby, and sometimes third or fourth, as long as she could see to do it, she made us a baby quilt. Those are held as sacred heirlooms by all of us.
Grannie was a small, quiet, homely, uneducated woman who was widowed at the early age of 50. Her life was hard, especially by today’s standards, but she was a tower of strength when it came to protecting her family. She always had the right advice, loving hug, or swat on the bottom for all of us children. She was wise, caring, possessed a wicked sense of humor, and she was one of the most spiritual women I’ve every known. All my life I have wanted to be just like her. To me, Grannie was exactly what a real woman was supposed to be. She could hoe a cotton field, do all the weekly wash, work in her garden, provide three meals a day, and still have time to sit quietly listening to a child struggle to learn to read at the end of a long day of work. Today, when I am sad or feeling lonely, the aromas of vanilla cookies and talcum powder bring back the feeling of unconditional love and security Grannie gave to all of “little ‘uns.”
When I was 26 I joined the church. In the small branch I attended in Harrison, Arkansas, there was a group of women who taught me what being a member was all about. Andrea Lewis, Mary Tasto, Marlene Lovelady, Ruby Essex, Eydie May Abell, and Candy Lovelady set the example for a very new and insecure sister over the six years I lived in Harrison, Arkansas. Each of them taught me in their own way. The older women, Andrea, Mary, and Marlene, who were each old enough to be my mother, gave me an ideal perspective on how to serve, teach, pray, and do visiting teaching. Mary taught me that the church was a place I could laugh, as well as shed tears and that I was too serious about every aspect of the gospel – something sacred didn’t mean something to fear. Andrea taught me that visiting teaching was much more than a lesson and a quick chat as we served together. She and her husband, Joe, were the couple I wanted Hal and I to learn to be like the most. I learned so much about service from Marlene, and those lessons still stand as my litmus test for how well I am doing. Ruby is the most spiritual of women whose calm devotion and knowledge in the gospel and in her testimony helped me to build on the basic knowledge I had as a new member. All of them are what I call prime examples, and it is my opinion that those four women are, in fact and deed, the best of the daughters of God.
The two younger women, Eydie Mae and Candy, were my first two friends in the church. For six years we raised our kids together, served together, struggled with our testimonies together, and built a friendship that still stands today. We were known for our silly antics, like the time they kidnapped me on my 30th birthday and took me to a big surprise party. We were known for being the terrible trio, because we were always up to something. We served in numerous callings together and shared every aspect of our lives.
In those years of learning and becoming a stalwart member of the church, they taught me to believe in myself, to laugh loud and long in joy, and to weep tears of sorrow without shame or embarrassment. Eydie Mae took the complex doctrines of the church and helped me see that the gospel is really quite simple, we make it hard. Candy taught me about dedication and strength. The two of them became my sisters in such a deep and meaningful way that no matter what happens, I will always stand by them.
Today they both live in Florida, and I live in Hong Kong. I miss them very much on days when I am feeling alone. But, all I have to do is wander in to my memory and find something that brings me joy, a laugh, or a comforting thought. I miss the wonderful small branch in Harrison. It is, and always will be, my home ward. The women there still set an example for me. And I will always yearn for those days when I could sit among them and feel the divine love and spirituality that makes them all so unique.
Finally, the women on the Sister’s List stand out as the most amazing women I’ve ever known. I admire their knowledge, spiritual joy, and ability to join together in the best Relief Society every created. When I am down, or angry, or hurt, or frightened, or worried, I just send an email. Within minutes, or at most, hours, I am sent words of comfort, peace, understanding, and usually a laugh or two. They even get indignant and angry on my behalf, and we all solve the world’s problems regularly, with laughter, and most of all, with compassion. I have learned the power of prayer from them, the importance of sisterhood and the ability to communicate and share our knowledge of the gospel principles. I have learned strength, and I have learned that no matter how hard things are, together we can overcome even the most horrific of worldly things. The awesome power of women who work together to accomplish miracles is proven daily by the women on the Sister’s List.
I am eternally grateful that the Lord has provided us with computers and the Internet. I am grateful that I couldn’t sleep one night and surfed into the LDSCN site all those years ago. I am grateful that my testimony has grown in leaps and bounds by the profound example of the testimonies of the sisters I have come to love even though I have never met them in person, or even heard their voices. I look forward, one day, to traveling to meet them. But if that doesn’t happen, I know I can look forward to meeting them on the other side. I know I will know them, all I have to do is look for a bunch of women who are laughing, and talking all at once.
I am so blessed.