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Remembering Chieko Okazaki

By Angela Hallstrom

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.

About Angela Hallstrom

(Advisory Board) grew up in Utah, then moved to Minnesota, then came back to Utah, then packed up her husband and four kids and moved to Minnesota--again!-- in the summer of 2010. Although she loves the Land of 10,000 Lakes, she dearly misses Slurpees, Sunday dinners at her Mom's house, and eating a whole entire Cafe Rio pork salad while lunching with her Utah-based Segullah sisters. And yes, she finds it telling that everything she misses about her hometown is somehow related to food. She has an BA in English from BYU, an MFA in creative writing from Hamline University, and has taught writing to high school and college students.

21 thoughts on “Remembering Chieko Okazaki”

  1. Thank you, Angela. I have a special place in my heart for Chieko Okazaki, as well. Her time in the presidency spanned the same experiences for me as they did for you, and her vision of inclusion spoke to my heart. I've been feeling sad about her passing, and I'm so glad you shared these beautiful quotes.

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  2. Thank you for this post. I hadn't heard the news. She's a remarkable woman, and hugely responsible for my learning to Lighten Up.

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  3. I didn't know she had passed away either. Her insight of having the Savior in our daily lives in the same way the fragrance of home-made bread fills each room of a house, i.e. there isn't any facet of our lives of which He shouldn't be a part, is indelibly engraved upon my heart. She came once a few years ago and spoke in our stake. What a class act!

    p.s. Blue – I left a message on your blog site asking for some help if you get a moment to see it.

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  4. Thank you so much for this post! How I have loved Sis. Okazaki and her messages. Especially as a woman in the church, she was an important mentor and teacher to me.

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  5. I love Chieko Okazaki. I think it was in Lighten Up that she talked about how we wait for a perfect quiet time to invite the Savior into our lives, but because life is crazy and rarely perfect or quiet, we don't invite him in. Something like the kids are crying, dinner needs to be cooked, the phone is ringing, the cat wants out, etc. and Jesus shows up at the door and we say, oh, I am so happy to see you, can you please come back later? And Jesus says I know about cats, invite me in now. So, when I am in the middle of crazy for whatever reason, I try to remember that Jesus knows about cats and now is the best time to invite Jesus in. Thank you, thank you, Sister Okazaki. You changed my life.

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  6. Angela – thanks for posting these quotes. I'm at a place in my life where I needed to be reminded of Sister Okazaki's words. She was a wonderful sister and I'm glad I had the opportuniy to meet her.

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  7. Thank you for this post. I'm not sure how, but I had missed this news. I have always loved Sister Okazaki. One of my favorites from her that I often quote is "In principles, great clarity; In practices,great charity" (and not just because it uses my name). Reading this in my early days of motherhood helped me to realize that there are often MANY right ways to do a good thing, and to not be so narrow minded to think that the way I did something was the only way it could be done. It's one of those sayings that has stuck with me for many years.

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  8. Sister Okasaki's words helped me understand how the principles of the gospel are about love, how to apply them in love and live them in love. She showed me the way to gentleness and helped me step closer to being a good mother.

    I love that she introduced the church to her culture and in so doing opened our eyes to the worldwide sisterhood. She will be missed.

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  9. I loved her too. I remember listening to her and reading some of her books as a young adult and thinking, "Chieko works. She LOVED her work. It is okay to love work that is outside your home!" I also remember an anecdote she shared. A young sister was telling Sister Okazaki that there were just no young men to date and marry who were, for example, as wonderful as Brother Okazaki. She replied, "Well, he wasn't like that when I married him!" It taught me that people can change and grow, that the Spirit can help guide us in decisions about marriage even when we can't see the end from the beginning, and the people can grow better with great patience and love.

    She will be dearly missed!

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  10. Oh! Last one I promise. I remember her once talking about Mary, the mother of Jesus as a teenage mother and how scared and lonely she must have been. Although God had told her that she was blessed above other women, He hadn't told her family or her neighbors. God hadn't taken away the very human and terrible stigma that came from the unwed teen's pregnancy. I think her ultimate message in the piece was about how terrible it is for us to judge one another because we don't know the facts and haven't walked in their shoes. Does anybody else remember this or can tell me where it came from? I never thought of Mary exactly the same way again after reading it.

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  11. Sister Okazaki was a wise and wonderful woman and a willing but humble mentor. She visited our ward to speak at a Relief Society retreat, and I loved what she said to us. It was her reassurance to mothers that all of our children travel their own paths to the celestial kingdom and that some of them are pretty circuitous. Her idea was to do your best to teach them well and then respect their journeys.

    She was a woman who was not afraid to confront "difficult" subjects, and I believe that her compassion was a spiritual gift in every sense of the word. How she will be missed!

    And what a wonderful reunion she must be having right now with the husband she spoke of so lovingly.

    =)

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  12. I remember being given one of her books to read shortly after being baptised, when the newness and alieness of the church culture was overwhelming. Her reassurance that difference was needed and priceless gave me courage at a difficult time. I listened to a talk she did on the Cricket and Seagull as I drove 4 hours to district conference, and it was fantastic, like the lady herself.

    Thank you for the quotes and post.

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  13. Thanks for this. I went and got her book "Being Enough" at the library yesterday. Amazing. I'm so grateful for her wisdom left behind.

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  14. Angela – this is a beautiful and well-deserved tribute. Thanks for including her words. I am especially touched by her testimony of sisterhood and the strength we can find among women who love the Lord.

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  15. it was my good luck to belong to a book group with Chieko when we both lived in Colorado. i will always remember her genuine warmth to my brother who was a guest. i also like to think of the sweet relationship she had with her husband Ed. She was a "real" lady. xox

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  16. I remember meeting her at a Tri-Stake Relief Society here in California. She was so dynamic!

    I have read her books and felt impressed to write to her about infertility and she wrote back. We wrote back and forth a few times. She gave me hope I would have more children. I did…3 more boys for a total of 4.

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