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Spiritual Mentors

By Kathryn Paul

spiritual mentor

Who are the most influential women in your world? I checked out  The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women; Forbes magazine claims their list “isn’t about celebrity or popularity; it’s about influence. Queen Rania of Jordan (No. 76), for instance, is perhaps the most listened-to woman in the Middle East; her Twitter feed has 600,000 followers.”   Powerful moguls and media queens may be changing the course of history; however, they are invisible in my little world.   Who influences you?   Let’s compare our lists.   Here’s a few powerful and influential women from my list:

 ONE: As I embraced the light after crawling out of the murky sewers of Babylon, I felt like a wobbly toddler, just learning to walk.   Desperate prayers were answered by a serene angel who helped steady me as I took a few tentative steps, focusing on the loving, outstretched arms of the Savior.  I knew Sister Brown was an angel because she glowed.  The Spirit would enfold me in an aura of love as I listened carefully to Sister Brown’s Relief Society lessons, analyzing how I needed to change to become just like her.  If she prayed and read the scriptures every day, then I would too.  If Sister Brown treated the Sabbath  like it was a precious and holy gift, then I would too.  If Sister Brown got spiritual power from attending the temple, then I would receive my endowments and go to the temple regularly, even if it required driving to Los Angeles on a freeway dotted with psycho drivers who didn’t value human life.    No sacrifice was too big if I could become like Sister Brown, who never even knew that she was my spiritual mentor. 

 TWO:   Growing up in a home of negative voices, I  have struggled with the lingering dregs of my childhood.  I wanted to be a positive and patient mother–and often I was–but other times I felt like Wanda the Witch Woman.   Discovering M. Catherine Thomas,  whose father was an alcoholic, helped me walk with a kinder cadence. She wrote in  Spiritual Lightening about her own  journey of healing:

 “To choose positive, affirming, tolerant, forgiving, Spirit-filled energy over negative energy is to choose godliness over evil.  I think it’s that simple.   There are finally only two forces at work on us, and they are continually at work; and until we learn to discern and reject most negative energy, we will be victimized by it. (142)

 THREE:   The presidency had just been changed; the  BYU Women’s Conference program promised Chieko Okazaki,  but instead we had to listen to some chick named Sheri Dew.  Soon I had another spiritual mentor who was smart and savvy.  When Sheri Dew wrote that there may be nothing as important as “having a vision, manifest by the Spirit, of who we are, of who we have always been, and of who we can become,” I accepted her challenge.  The Spirit pierced the veil and gave me a glimpse of who I was, who I’ve always been, and who I could become.  Truman Madsen said, “The cruelest thing you can do to a human being is to make him forget that he or she is the son or daughter of a king.”  

  FOUR:  She had no idea that I was in mourning when she called, but after hearing my story,  the Spirit inspired my visiting teacher to share  powerful impressions with me.  Jesus Christ had sent a spiritual mentor to help strengthen my feeble knees and heal my broken heart.

FIVE:  Long ago I saw a documentary about Mother Theresa, the nun who earned the Nobel Peace Prize back when actions spoke louder than words.  I immediately wanted to consecrate my life to some greater cause, but she believed that “we can do no great things, only small things with great love.”  So I focused on being a little pencil in the hands of God, which isn’t easy when you’re almost six feet tall. Mother Teresa taught that:

He does the thinking. He does the writing. He does everything—and it’s really hard—sometimes it’s a broken pencil. He has to sharpen it a little more. But be a little instrument in His hands so that He can use you anytime, anywhere. … We have only to say Yes to Him.”

Mother Teresa once cleaned the hut of a lonely man.  An unlit lamp sat in his hut.  When she asked why he sat in darkness, he replied, “Nobody comes here.” She promised to have the sisters visit him if he would promise to light the lamp.  Later he sent a message: “Tell my friend, the light she lit in my life is still burning!”

The light my spiritual mentors have lit in my life is still burning.   In my little world, no one is more powerful and influential than a devoted disciple of Jesus Christ.

Who are the most influential women in your life?  Who are your spiritual mentors and how have they influenced your spiritual journey? 

About Kathryn Paul


34 thoughts on “Spiritual Mentors”

  1. How beautiful!

    1. My maternal grandma – Cookie! She made sure that i did things other kids did, even tho my handicap. Spent all day at Lazarus Dept Store, going up and down the esculators, like everyone else. Gardening, embrodiery, practicing handwriting, valuing her encyclopedia she thot she would never have.

    2. Both great grandmas – Sophia and Kate. Sophia, practical – Kate – spontaneous fun

    3. My mom – best saying – Get the hell over yourself – has held me steady thru life.

    4. May Sarton – made me want to write more than anyone, and read everything she wrote.

    5. Maya Angelou – makes me want to live each day as an adventure!

    6. Sue Monk Kidd – makes me want to tell my stories.

    7. Sister Benjamin and Sister Elise – childhood teachers – Benjamin, love of painting – Elise, music – because of both i instructed for 16 years and it fulfilled my life.

    8. Jeanine – love of family and life – to see purpose in the ordinary day – which brings delight!

    9. Phyllis – who made me believe in sisterhood and putting my words down to share!

    10. Diane – let me see how wonderful sister in laws are!

    Thank you for getting me to think of this!

  2. Such great quotes, I may borrow them for my blog 🙂

    Minerva Tiechart- She lived the gospel, including devoting herself to family life, while developing her talents and living her dreams.

    Carol- a wonderful woman in one of my previous wards. She is a woman of prestige and respect in the greater community but for some reason she took the time to reach out to me. Loaning me books, offering me her 'no longer needed' beds for my children, always with a kind word and that aura of the spirit that Sister Brown had. Although her husband isn't a member of the church she didn't complain about him or his habits. She is a woman of refinement and grace. Even though I'm no longer in contact with her, my memories of her linger and encourage me to be like her.

    My maternal grandma – A racher's wife who always worked hard and expected the same from her family. She wasn't the pink warm fuzzy kind of grandma, but I always loved going to her home where I knew I would have a place and be taken care of (as long as I did my chores). She taught by example, rarely by lecture. I developed a connection to the land from watching her gardening, caring for animals, and eeking out an existence in the harshness of Utah.

    Sister Tolman, the stake primary chorister – She reminds me of my great aunt. A positive leader, meaning that she encourages the best in people. Her example is genuine, recently when she forgot the words to a primary song she was leading she laughed at herself and admitted that she still gets the words mixed up. She brings the bright light of hope and happiness into our lives whenever we see her.

  3. i blogged about 3 of my angels once upon a time (my name links to the post). they were the ones who got me through my early life. i have lots of angels in my life now. some of you read this blog, and probably don't know how significant you are to me. it's great to be an imitable world leader, but even better to make a difference right where you are, much like your angel Sister Brown. ♥

  4. Did you know Sister Dew talked about the 100 most powerful women at a Women's Conference, I think last year?

    I just want to say that I love Cathy Thomas, too.

    Love this post.

  5. Traci – I just finished reading the memoir Sue Monk Kidd wrote with her daughter, Traveling with Pomegranates: a mother-daughter story. It takes place when Sue Monk Kidd has her 50th birthday and is trying to turn a vision of swarming bees into her first novel. Mother and daughter take a couple trips to Europe together where they have epiphanies that influence their writing and relationships. I had my 50th birthday this year and traveled with my daughter and son-in-law this summer in Europe. so this book really connected with me, especially since A Secret Life of Bees is one of my favorite novels! Thanks for sharing YOUR list, Traci; it was fun to read!

    Jendoop – My daughter and I are also big fans of Minerva Teichert. We both own copies of her "Christ in a Red Robe" so her talent continues to influence us on a daily basis. Several years ago I took my activity day girls to the Minerva Teichert exhibit at BYU. One of the girls was especially drawn to the large canvas of "The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse." She said, "I wish I had a print of this in my bedroom, because just looking at it would make me NEVER want to sin!" Now that's powerful influence! I'm glad you liked the quotes!

  6. m&m – I was singing in the instant choir when Sister Dew gave that talk, so I tried to find a link to that talk from the 2008 BYU Women's Conference, but I didn't see it on the BYU-TV website.

    I've attempted to find and read everything that Sister Thomas has ever written. One of my other influential female authors is Patricia Holland. I was hoping YOU especially would share another author I hadn't discovered yet…

  7. Kathryn P. – thank you! Secret Life of Bees is one of my favs – altho learned so much also from her DESident Daughter book, check it out. Im waiting for my turn at the library for Pomegranets -6 more people then me! yeah, there were 15!

    Absolutely loved all the comments speaking of respect for our "grandmothers" all women who bridge us along!

  8. I love your list and your thoughts. I think I shall reflect on this tomorrow for my journal.

    I've seen a few places a quote something along the lines of well-behaved women never made history. That quote annoys me. Is the point to make history or is it to make a difference? I think Mother Teresa would agree that it is often the smallest acts that ultimately shape this history of the world.

  9. Giggles, I was curious about that quote, so I did an internet search and it was quite interesting. "Well-behaved women seldom make history" (which sounded to me like a really bad pick-up line overheard in a sleazy singles bar) is actually attributed to Laura Thatcher Ulrich, an LDS Harvard professor. It was first part of an article she wrote about little-studied Puritan funeral services. According to Wikipedia, “The phrase was picked up and soon was widely quoted and printed across the country. It continues to be seen on greeting cards, T-shirts, mugs, plaques, and bumper stickers.” So later Dr. Ulrich wrote a book using the title “Well-Behaved Women” to discuss the ways in which women shaped history, using the lives of Harriet Tubman, Rose Parks, and many others.
    I agree that the smallests acts ultimately shape the world…

  10. Kathryn,

    Sister Holland is on my list!

    I had a couple of BYU religion classes from Sister Thomas. Wow.

    Add Wendy Ulrich, too (a new author on my list now).

    My therapist is on my list, too. (Anyone in Utah Valley who deals w/ chronic illness…she specializes in chronic health issues, fwiw.)

  11. It's too late for me to think of them all now, but I look forward to pondering this tomorrow….great thoughts and a beautifully written post! Thanks for the inspiration.

  12. Love this post.

    I have a difficult relationship with both my biological mother and my stepmother. But my mother-in-law — She is a glorious golden shining superstar queen of loveliness. She is kind, thoughtful, unafraid of talking about gospel subjects, and and a genuinely lovely human being. I married the mother I always wished I had.

  13. Wow. I can always count on your posts being uplifting and inspiring, Kathryn!

    My list:
    1)Both Grandmothers.
    On my mother's side–my Bulgarian grandmother: she's constantly moving, cooking, working and learning (she's studying Romanian these days). Unfailingly devoted in her membership, one of my earliest memories of her is watching her give her morning prayers with her forehead and nose to the floor. I could listen endlessly to her stories about WWII bombs rocking Sofia and what village boy was pursuing her when. She is a jewel in my life.

    On my Dad's side–my Idaho born but Californian at heart grandmother. Her careful use of language, voracious reading, peaceful personality, and optimistic, generous nature has always drawn me to her. These days she has Alzheimers, but is still so pleasant to be around that I don't mind having the same happy conversation with her week after week when we go to lunch. She only remembers the good parts of her life–all else has gone fuzzy.

    2)My high school English teacher, Mrs. Morris. She was a wry, witty, out of the church (for reasons we spent all year imagining), tiny knot of a woman. She breathed life into every novel, poem and essay until we all felt we had walked with Tess of the Durbervilles and wept with Poe at Annabelle Lea's sepulcher. She encouraged, inspired, and prodded us all to enjoy our reading, writing and life-long learning. She is someone I will see in heaven.

    3)Emily. MY sister's husband's sister (my sister in-law-in law?). I don't know that I can name something she HASN'T done for me. She has birthed my baby (as a doula), watched my children, photographed births, baptisms and birthday parties, shopped for me, weeded my garden, deposited money in my account, pulled me up from my weeping, gut-wrenching depths of despair, walked with me daily, kept me posted on swine-flu shot availability, to name a few. Everybody needs an Emily. I joke with her that she is my personal life planner, but the truth is–she is.

    4)This next one is a group of women that call themselves "The Veggie Gals". We are a hodge-podge of home-schoolers, La Leche leaders, vegetarians, carnivores, and omnivores that meet together once a month for a delectable pot-luck lunch. No topic is off-limits; with discussions ranging from enemas to emotional release therapy to home births to family scripture study. Some women have 9 children and some have none. All of them try so, so hard to find and follow Heavenly Father directions for them and their family. They are a colorful, POWERFUL circle of women that hold me up.

    5)And last but not least is a friend who pretty much knows everything about me. She is someone I could literally call on in any crisis (and believe me, I have) or just to talk. She's the type of person that dispels darkness and fills anything she touches with light and love. She has been pivotal in helping me be more honest in my marriage, consistent in my temple attendance, patient with my children, and passionate in my church calling. Along with all her mentoring, she has been generous and magical in showing up at just the right moment with the perfect note, book, gift card, or lunch date invitation. She has seen me at my worst and loved me anyway. Just being with her, knowing her, talking with her, changes me and I am forever better for it.

  14. Jen – What a lovely tribute to a mother-in-law. Your beautiful words will be written in my journal tonight because that is exactly how I would like my future daughter-in-laws to feel about me and I want to remember that and work towards that goal.

    m&m – Thanks for both of those links. I loved your essay about your therapist's spiritual journey and I am also jealous that you've taken a couple of BYU religion classes from Sister Thomas. Every couple years I go back to her writings because I always get new insights.

    Merry Michelle – I totally love your positive energy and fun descriptions…everyone needs a friend like you!

  15. Strong women in my life? I've completely surrounded myself with them so I can learn from them all.

    My girlfriends, my mothers, my peers at church, the women I interact with in Relief Society, my daughters. The more women I meet, the more amazed I am at what women do and how much they accomplish.

  16. 1) My first mentor was my mother, who made it through 13 years as a single mom, has served the Lord in every way He has asked, and is just now discovering the "tangible" gifts she has — the intangible ones are the ones that blessed and taught me most, and for which I am truly grateful!

    2) Gotta agree on Sheri Dew! She taught me the power of righteous women, single or married. I hope she gets to marry Captain Moroni or a guy just like him someday :-)!

    3) When I was in the depths of despair a few years ago, Heavenly Father sent a sweet sister from Chile into my life who helped lift me and re-teach me the blessings of VTing. It saved my life!

    4) Sometimes I think Heavenly Father creates double-edged or back-door mentors — ones that fulfill the scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants: where "all are edified of all." Sometimes when we are called to serve, we are the ones who are blessed and taught. My latest VTing companion and Teachees are those kind of angels!

    I am so grateful for a loving Father who sends angels along the way, front door, back door, or from the other side! Couldn't do it without Him, or them!!!

  17. This post was a blessing to me today; thank you!

    I am another one who has been greatly influenced by Cathy Thomas. I took every class I could from her at BYU and have counted her among my spiritual mentors ever since, checking in now and then with her through the years. (Cathy, if you happen to read this, sending love!)

    I also consider both of my grandmothers, who couldn't be more different from each other in philosophy, politics, personality, etc. but each epitomize spiritual maturity and love. Between them I have a full spectrum of examples of humility/speaking out, quiet love/community service, spunkiness/sweetness. I'm grateful to know such wonderful women and to know we can come in different guises, be authentic, and contribute to our personal worlds in our own ways. (Also my great grandmothers, who I mostly know through their journals provide a great amount of inspiration and mentorship to me…just a little a plug for writing in our journals!)

    Others include my mother, my friend Annette, and even women I don't really know well from other wards and times but have gathered their examples and kept them as inspirations and mentors from a distance.

  18. It's difficult to name just a few women who have been my spiritual mentors, because I am surrounded by good women who consistently show me by example how to mother well and how to be a righteous woman who values her womanhood and divine gifts. But one mentor comes to mind—my Australian aunt, Rosalie (we call her "Auntie Ro"). She is beautiful, inside and out, and shines with goodness. She has always been such a great example to me of righteous living and loving mothering and, now, grandmothering. And now she is showing me how to age gracefully and how to endure to the end—always cheerful and uncomplaining—as she lovingly cares for her husband, who has Parkinsons'. I'm grateful for her example and the righteous and loving examples of many other good women in my life.

  19. Honestly, my mom is the woman who most influenced my life. It sounds like a cliche, but I don't know anyone who has been through as much as she has and still has such a positive happy attitude. Furthermore, if someday I could gain just a fraction of her spiritual wisdom, I would be an unstoppable force for good. She truly is a celestial being and a spiritual giant.

  20. My husband's grandmother was the angel of my life. She passed away 2 years ago this week and I miss her. Her gentleness, wisdom and faith fed me in a way that I didn't even realize I hungered. I often feel her spirit near me and hope to live my life so that I can see her again-and remind my children that we want to live so that we can be with "Grammy" again. She loved my husband so much and when I came along her whole attitude was "He is so wonderful, if he loves you, you are wonderful as well." and immediately adopted me into her circle of love. We were generations apart but both felt that the Lord was mindful of bringing us together and allowing us to be part of the same eternal family. I can't imagine becoming the woman she was but her example keeps prompting me to try!

  21. Faithnotfear – Your sweet sister from Chile is also on my spiritual mentor list. I was so sad when she moved from our ward because I loved her powerful testimony and faith.

    Annie W and Kathryn Soper – I guess I'll just have to be content with being mentored by the wise and talented friends and former students of M. Catherine Thomas…
    And Anne, there can ever be too many plugs for journal writing.

    Melissa M – Your Auntie Ro sounds like my Great Aunt Ramona. Great Aunt Ramona taught me everything I know about being a passionate, family history diva. Her name is spoken with reverence in our family…

  22. Christine – I love the feeling you shared of Grammy adopting you into her circle of love which was also a circle of influence… The power of love is so amazing!

    tkube – you have been an unstoppable force for good since the day you were born…

  23. The most influencial women in my life are also on my spiritual mentors list:

    1. My Mum. We don't have the traditional mother/daughter relationship, but I know she would do anything for me. Her persistance in becoming more Christlike is an inspiration to me, and her love of family is amazing.

    2. My best mate Natasha. We met nearly 8 years ago, and in that time we've grown in testimony, girth and personality together. She's been a source of strength and laughter and tissues and will always tell me the truth, not what I want to hear. She texted me scriptures every night for months when my husband left, and went through the temple with me the first time afterwards as well. Her faith burns brightly, and I want to be the friend she is to me.

    3. My Grandma. Who isn't related to me by blood, but I still know I'm her favourite. A devout Catholic, she helps whoever she can however she can and just lives beautifully.

    4. Two of my great-aunts, both of whom are Catholic nuns. One was a globetrotter and would send me postcards from Rome, Ireland, Pompeii, Japan, US, wherever, always signing it "God bless". The other rarely left New South Wales, and is now crippled with arthritis. She knitted my first born a jacket with wattle flowers embroidered on the lapel – I can only imagine how much that would have hurt to make. Both of them shine with a life of faith and devotion, and are such gentle, true ladies.

    5. Mother Theresa. One of my all time favourite quotes is one of hers "I know God won't give me anything I can't handle. I just wish He didn't trust me so much." I figure if Mother Theresa thought that, I can't be too awful thinking the exact same thing.

    6. The ladies here at Segullah – the staff and the commentors. The faith, example, courage, humour and determination are amazing to me.

    Thanks for making me think and be thankful!

  24. a friend of mine emailed me this quote today, and i thought it would be a nice one to share here:

    “Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world (in whom there is often such an inner sense of spirituality) will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], 322-23).

    it kind of goes with the theme of having that something about you, like your sister brown did, and also with our guest blogger who wrote "I Love Mormons" and her observation that there is something about us that is different…or beautiful or good.

    anyway, just thought this was a good place to share it.

  25. I think Sister Dew is an amazing woman, and her words have probably inspired me as much as any I've read. I've felt a great admiration for Sister Hinckley as well, which only grew after I read her book and her letters. Chieko Okazaki is pretty impressive, too, along with many of the women who post here.

    Recently, Stephanie Nielson has been someone who particularly uplifts and strengthens me.

    I have a deep love and respect for three women in my ward whose names I will not mention, but who have overcome considerable adversity with incredible grace.

    And, of course, my mother and grandmothers have each, in their own ways, been mentors to me.

  26. Selwyn – you're welcome and I loved reading your list. It was the perfect way to start out a Monday morning! Thanks!

    Blue – All weekend I've been thinking about the connection between my post and the guest blogger's post on Friday — so the quote you shared was perfect… We certainly didn't plan it that way…thanks for noticing and sharing your thoughts!

    Sue – I am a neophyte in the blogging world, so I only vaguely knew Stephanie Nielson's story; however, last week someone on the Segullah staff posted a link to the Oprah video clip where Andrea, the mother from California was interviewing Stephanie in her home. The mother was in tears by the end of the clip and so was I:
    Talk about a powerful and influential force for good…I can see why Stephanie Nielson has uplifted and strengthened you.

  27. What a great post! I love thinking about the women who have influenced me.

    1. My mother sacrificed so much to be a great mother and wife. She has endured a lot of heartache in her life and still chooses to be cheerful and faithful.

    2. There are three women in particular that I met when I moved to Sweden who made a tremendous impact on my life. One friend taught me that chronic illness doesn't have to limit your ability to live a full life. One taught me remain intellectually curious and enthusiastic regardless of what I am doing in my life. One has taught me the power of service willingly and lovingly offered.

    3. My sisters

    I'm grateful that wherever I go, I meet wonderful, amazing women that uplift and inspire me.

  28. Blue, that quote is one of my faves of all time.

    Also, I have really appreciated Sister Beck and her forthright and clear teaching.

    And, yeah, Stephanie Nielson is an inspiration. I'll second that.

    And Selwyn, isn't Segullah great?

  29. m&m: Thanks for reminding me of Sister Beck, who is also on my list. She gave a talk at the 2008 BYU Women's Conference that I especially loved. She spoke about our half of the plan of happiness: "The half that creates and nurtures life, that causes growth, that influences everything else, was given to us." Her comments seem to reinforce the theme of this post, including: "Our part is unique, it's precious, it's special, and in all the world, there's nothing like it. We have half of the plan. We have the influence half, the female half of the plan. Are we doing our half to the best of our ability?"


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