Olea has decided 2013 is a year of discovery, both of the world around her (she is currently living in the south of France, her first time overseas) and the potential within her. She would describe herself as open-hearted and optimistic (she loves words starting with an o), and her best friend tried to convince her to use the word “wise”, but clearly that didn’t work.
I have always felt a special connection to the sisters in my life. I loved the Young Women’s program, and often it was the only place in my life that I felt I belonged. When I moved from Adelaide to Melbourne, at the end of high school, to join my family who’d been there all year, I was looking forward to joining Relief Society. I had visited during holidays, and spent time with the young women, but when I went to Relief Society, I felt accepted and wanted in a deeper way than I ever had before. In classes, I was encouraged to share my experiences and testimony, and my needs and opinions were considered when planning activities, though I was only 18 and new to the ward. Our ward was very small when I first arrived – it had just been split, and wasn’t much bigger than a branch – and over the course of 6 years, we moved to a new building (from our rented hall-plus-a-few-classrooms) and now we are worried around Stake Conference times in case of more splits.
My first activity, as part of the new Enrichment focus that encouraged small groups organised by sisters, was a book club. We met monthly in a sister’s home and read, among others, The Pilgrim’s Progress, Don Quixote, something by Charles Dickens that I have since removed from my memory, Love in the Time of Cholera, The Lovely Bones and My Sister’s Keeper. We discussed authors’ intentions, favourite characters and unexpected plot twists. We discussed our families and friends and personal experiences, we shared philosophical views and argued about ideas, sometimes even relating to the book we’d read, often until (and occasionally after) midnight.
Even as more and more sisters were added, and the needs changed from predominantly mid-30s to late-40s sisters to a much broader spectrum, the feeling of acceptance and love didn’t change. Each new sister was welcomed into our family and her experiences became important to us, whether it was the struggle of becoming a single-mother of teen boys, or longing and hoping for children with her husband of many years through international surrogacy.
Because of Relief Society, I have a sister who has 2 children from a previous marriage, 3 older step-children, and 2 babies with her husband. I have a sister who lives on a farm with horses and dogs, alone since her partner passed away, and content with her current singlehood. I have a sister who expected her new home to be ready when she was pregnant with her third daughter, and now has a fourth, living in a home with no sink or light fixtures, and a husband who works long hours at his job and then comes home to renovate until the early hours of the morning. And she’s starting her own business, in clothing retail. I have a sister who struggles with depression, teaches primary school students now that her children are both in high school, and works hard at a marriage even on days when she’s not sure why. I have a sister who’s more like a mother and mentors and guides me so that, when I see how she sees me, I know how Heavenly Father sees me. And when we work together and she accepts my offerings of love, and tells me that my perceived-inadequacies are a beautiful part of me, I feel closer to heaven because I feel close to her.
I love Relief Society because I love my sisters. Every single one. They each inspire me, encourage me, show me their weaknesses and ask for help when they need it. They share their deep thoughts and spiritual yearnings with me. They teach me and are patient with me, and expect me to have things to teach them. Their joy gives me joy, their sorrow brings me sorrow, their testimony strengthens my testimony. Through their hardships I learn strength and faith, and through my trials I am comforted. When I am in Relief Society, or discussing literature with my sisters, or crafting together, or caring for their children – when my life is connected to theirs, I feel charity, the pure love of Christ. And charity never faileth.