I know this may seem like a strange choice of revival posts for today–Angela Hallstrom’s original post from August 6, 2011. But it spoke to me this morning for 2 reasons: (1) This month we celebrate the birthday of the Relief Society. I believe this is a cause for celebration and for remembrance of the heritage we have and the strength and inner beauty of the women who have lent so much to this organization. Chieko Okazaki is one of them. (2) I have a student who is suffering right now, having just experienced a miscarriage and a subsequent diagnosis that means she will likely never give birth to children. After her diagnosis, she fell into a deep depression. I’ve been trying to contact her. This week she sent me a quote from Chieko Okazaki that she found out-of-the-blue that she believes was meant for her. It’s this quote:
“Well, my dear sisters, the gospel is the good news that can free us from guilt. We know that Jesus experienced the totality of mortal existence in Gethsemane. It’s our faith that he experienced everything- absolutely everything. Sometimes we don’t think through the implications of that belief. We talk in great generalities about the sins of all humankind, about the suffering of the entire human family. But we don’t experience pain in generalities. We experience it individually. That means he knows what it felt like when your mother died of cancer- how it was for your mother, how it still is for you. He knows what it felt like to lose the student body election. He knows that moment when the brakes locked and the car started to skid. He experienced the slave ship sailing from Ghana toward Virginia. He experienced the gas chambers at Dachau. He experienced Napalm in Vietnam. He knows about drug addiction and alcoholism.
Let me go further. There is nothing you have experienced as a woman that he does not also know and recognize. On a profound level, he understands the hunger to hold your baby that sustains you through pregnancy. He understands both the physical pain of giving birth and the immense joy. He knows about PMS and cramps and menopause. He understands about rape and infertility and abortion. His last recorded words to his disciples were, “And, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20) He understands your mother-pain when your five-year-old leaves for kindergarten, when a bully picks on your fifth-grader, when your daughter calls to say that the new baby has Down syndrome. He knows your mother-rage when a trusted babysitter sexually abuses your two-year-old, when someone gives your thirteen-year-old drugs, when someone seduces your seventeen-year-old. He knows the pain you live with when you come home to a quiet apartment where the only children are visitors, when you hear that your former husband and his new wife were sealed in the temple last week, when your fiftieth wedding anniversary rolls around and your husband has been dead for two years. He knows all that. He’s been there. He’s been lower than all that. He’s not waiting for us to be perfect. Perfect people don’t need a Savior. He came to save his people in their imperfections. He is the Lord of the living, and the living make mistakes. He’s not embarrassed by us, angry at us, or shocked. He wants us in our brokenness, in our unhappiness, in our guilt and our grief.
You know that people who live above a certain latitude and experience very long winter nights can become depressed and even suicidal, because something in our bodies requires whole spectrum light for a certain number of hours a day. Our spiritual requirement for light is just as desperate and as deep as our physical need for light. Jesus is the light of the world. We know that this world is a dark place sometimes, but we need not walk in darkness. The people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, and the people who walk in darkness can have a bright companion. We need him, and He is ready to come to us, if we’ll open the door and let him.”
(Chieko N. Okazaki, Lighten Up, Preface, p. 174)
So, here is Angela’s original post: “Sister Chieko Okazaki, a beloved LDS leader, teacher, writer, and speaker, passed away on Monday, August 1st. She served as First Counselor to Relief Society President Elaine L. Jack from 1990 to 1997, but her influence was lifelong and wide-ranging.
Chieko’s service in the General Relief Society presidency occurred during a particularly formative time in my life, spanning my graduation from high school, through my college years, marriage, my entrance into the workforce as a public school teacher, and the birth of my first child. Whenever I heard Chieko speak or read her books I felt loved, heard, understood, and lifted up. As a Japanese convert and a working woman, Chieko helped scores of LDS women understand that they, too, have a place in this Church. She emphasized inclusiveness, love, service, and patience, both with ourselves and with others. Her bold, compassionate speeches and writing unfailingly focused on that great eternal truth: charity never faileth. Chieko made me proud to be a Mormon.
To celebrate Chieko’s life, I’d like to share a few of my favorite quotes. It is my prayer that this incredible woman’s words will be pondered, cherished, discussed, and never forgotten by members of our church.
“I do think we should struggle for understanding just as hard as we can. It’s not showing a lack of faith to say, ‘I don’t understand this. Tell me how. Explain why.’ But at the same time, we also need to remind ourselves — sometimes right out loud — that, as the Lord explained to Isaiah: ‘My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways . . . For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts’ (Isaiah 55:9-9). We need to accept and be patient with our lack of understanding. It’s a superb and glowing faith to say, ‘I don’t understand this and I don’t like it very much, but I accept it. Show me how to live with it, how to deal with it.’ The limitations of mortality are so real and so personal that I’m sure one of the things we’re going to do in the next life is laugh and laugh.”
– “Behold Thy Handmaiden: The Answer of Faith,” chapter 13, Disciples
“Only you know your circumstances, your energy level, the needs of your children, and the emotional demands of your other obligations. Be wise during intensive seasons of your life. Cherish your agency, and don’t give it away casually. Don’t compare yourself to others — nearly always this will make you despondent. Don’t accept somebody else’s interpretation of how you should be spending your time. Make the best decision you can and then evaluate it to see how it works. Practice saying, ‘I feel good about my decision to . . .’ and then fill in the blank with whatever you decided. If you find yourself saying, ‘I should feel good about this decision, but . . .’ then perhaps you need to reevaluate that decision.”
– Lighten Up! , “Seeking the Light of Christ,” Chapter 14
“Now, I ask this question of all of us and lay this burden upon us: What circumstances are at work right now in our wards, silently separating one sister here and another sister there from the sisterhood of the Relief Society, marginalizing them, making them invisible? And what can we do about it? . . . For example, LDS women are participating in the labor force in ever-increasing numbers. These women need Relief Society. They need the strength of sisterhood. They need to be understood. They need support with their families. They don’t need to be told that they’re selfish or unrighteous because they’re working. They need to be told they are loved.”
– “Knit Together in Love,” Chapter 6, Disciples
“All of us face different family circumstances and home situations. All of us need strength in dealing with them. This strength comes from faith in the Savior’s love and in the power of his atonement. If we trustingly put our hand in the Savior’s, we can claim the promise of the sacramental prayer to always have his Spirit with us. All problems are manageable with that strength, and all other problems are secondary in urgency to maintaining a strong spiritual life.”
– “Strength in the Savior,” October 1993 General Conference
“When our burdens are grievous to be borne, when we face a world in which it seems that there is only struggle and no rest, I hope we can remember the immense strength of our sisterhood, the reservoirs that we have within us, and the unfailing wellspring of the Savior’s love for us, even in the midst of adversity.”
– “Finding Lightness in Our Burdens,” The Best of Women’s Conference
Of course, these quotes are only a very small sampling of the wisdom Chieko has to offer us. Thank you, Sister Okazaki, for your service, your example of discipleship, and your unfailing Christlike love.