A Happy Story

I was called into the Young Women’s presidency in my ward a little over five years ago. A week after I got that calling, two of my girls’ mother/aunt died (don’t worry, the explanation for this is in paragraph 3). I met them six days before she died. The next time I saw them was at the viewing for their mother and told them I wanted to do whatever I could to help, knowing that those words were completely inadequate and of little comfort, coming from a virtual stranger.

Over the next two years, I’d like to think that I gave all I could to Anna* and Faith*. I worried about them a lot. I worried about the kids they hung out with. I worried about them when they had boyfriends. I worried that they’d loose interest in the Church. I worried about how they were doing in school. I worried about how they were coping without their mom. In fact, I still worry about them, and I still feel guilty—perhaps, I should have done more.

Anna and Faith were quick to befriend me and explain their situation to me—the whole mother/aunt had me confused. It all started after Anna’s mother (also Faith’s aunt) moved from Haiti to Massachusetts. Anna’s mother and father married and had Anna. They later divorced.

Faith’s mother (and Anna’s aunt), Joan*, had stayed in Haiti after her sister (Anna’s mother) had left for the US. She married Faith’s father and had Faith. They later divorced. Then, Joan and Faith moved to the US. Joan and Anna’s father eventually married, making Anna and Faith both cousins and stepsisters. Got it?

A few years before she died, Faith’s mother converted to the Church and brought her girls to Church. They were all active when Faith’s mother got sick with cancer. After a couple of years with the disease, Joan died. Joan’s death was hard; she was a lovely woman and a good mom. She gave the girls stability and structure.

Soon after Joan died, Anna and Faith moved just down the street from me, a rarity in our ward that covered several Boston suburbs. I got to spend a lot of time with them. Sometimes, they’d come over. But, mostly, we spent a lot of time in the car. I drove them to seminary, mutual, and Church meetings. Their dad wasn’t a member and didn’t have a car.

Their family life wasn’t as stable as the one I grew up in. Sometimes, Anna’s mom was around, sometimes, she was living in New Jersey. Anna’s dad had to work late a lot. They did the chores and cooking.

Sometimes, Anna’s younger half-brother and half-sister would come to live with them for short periods of time. They would come to Church with us too. And, I would watch Anna as she patiently walked in and out of sacrament meeting with whichever kid was having a hard time. Sometimes, she would miss YW’s to go to Primary with them, or sometimes, the kids would come to YW’s with us. Anna will make a great mom one day.

Faith remained upbeat and outgoing as she mourned the death of her mother. She struggled with depression but remained a good student and became a budding performer. She always has a had a gift for immediately making others feel comfortable.

DH and I talked about how we hoped that these girls would go to BYU. While neither of us went to BYU and don’t think it’s for everyone, we thought it would be great for them. They are smart girls; I suspect they’d be the first in their family to go to college. And, they’d get to be around other Mormons.

Sometimes, I wonder if I got so close to those girls because I wanted to be a mother and was struggling with infertility and they had just lost their mother. I felt a responsibility to them. I looked forward to talking to them about BYU when they were more serious about school (I was in YW’s when they were Beehives and Mia Maids).

Sooner than I expected, we bought a house and prepared to leave the ward. I felt guilty; I knew Faith was struggling with depression, and I was worried about Anna taking care of her siblings especially since she was starting to have to miss school to care for them. But, I knew several women who would take care of them after I left. I wasn’t the only one who felt the need to mother them in some small way. There were the other YW leaders and the girls’ former leaders who still watched over them after they had been released.

But, as fate would have it, they were forced out of their apartment around the same time we left, and they went to a ward that I felt was a better fit for them. It wasn’t as spread out, had more youth, and was more diverse than our ward. I called my friend, Aimee the day we had to do their emergency move. Her husband and other ward members were there that night to help with the move. Aimee was in the YW’s presidency there; she kept me updated on their progress, and I was happy to hear how their new ward watched over them.

I still get email updates from Faith every so often. But, this week, I got one that brings a smile to my face every time I think about it.

Faith is going to BYU this fall. BYU is lucky to have her. With her warm personality and life experiences, I know she’ll change people’s lives. I’m so proud of her.

*names have been changed

EmilyCC

EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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  1. Deborah says:

    That must have made your week@ My husband has a skeptical streak when it comes to “organized religions,” but as he heard my stories about this young woman, he came to deeply respect the power of a church to help young adults who need a community to rally around them. There is nothing most teenagers want more than to be taken seriously (as people) by adults in their lives.

    Sometimes I’m awe-struck by the “call” of lay leadership — that by virtue of your calling, you took upon yourself the yoke of their disordered lives.

    I hope she has a good roommate/ward at BYU and doesn’t get lost in the bigness of it all. I’m sure there are probably bloggers in Provo who would be willing to keep an eye out and open their home for dinner — if my parents still taught there, I know they would have been delighted to serve in that role. It may be worth exploring connections . . .

  2. Caroline says:

    Emily, that’s a great story. Reading about it makes me feel both jealous and guilty. I’ve never had a calling in which I feel like I’ve really impacted others’ lives, or even felt responsibility for another ward member.

    If they ever let me into YW (which I doubt) maybe I’ll get that chance. 🙂

  3. stacer says:

    Emily, I think I know these girls, despite the changed names, from a different context. And if it wasn’t the girls I’m thinking of, it could be friends of theirs. I was in a singles ward in Boston and was involved with Books and Basketball, the tutoring program the singles wards runs in the two local stakes.

    Every week, singles–undergrads, graduate students, and young professionals–would meet with a student they mentored for tutoring at a local ward building. We were each assigned a student, the better to mentor and connect, like Big Brothers/Big Sisters. It had a noticeable effect, all those students getting to get to know people who had “made it”–made it to college, made it to a career–some of whom had come from backgrounds that were just as difficult, and it made a huge difference in the singles’ lives to be able to reach out to the community (we started with member kids, but it grew to the point that most member kids were bringing their friends, and it became a great opportunity for them to share their testimonies in a more casual environment).

    Whether they’re the girls I knew of (I worked with another girl, but she had a similar story) or other girls, it’s so good to hear this success story. BYU really needs students like her.

  4. Faith says:

    Hey Emily! I really enjoyed reading your blog post; as I read it, the memories came flooding back to me! The paragraph in which you explained the whole sister/cousin thing got a bit confusing. It may have been the different names. I got it in the end, though! Well done! I don’t know that I’ve ever thanked you for all that you’ve done for my cousin and me, so I do so from the bottom of my heart. Your open doors, both car and home, provided immense support during my grieving and eventual recovery. I can’t really speak for Anna, but I’m sure she feels the same. I hope all is well with you and your family! Joy and health; peace and love!!

  5. EmilyCC says:

    Deborah, I was thinking of your story when I was writing this.

    Caroline, why do you think you wouldn’t be put in YW’s? Is it because people know you’re a feminist? I was the president of EXII when I was called to the YW’s presidency in that ward 🙂

    Stacer, the Books and Basketball program was so great! A lot of youth leaders in the wards felt it when the program ended; it was some tough kids’ only connection to the Church.

    Hi Faith! You should watch out–now that you’ve been on our blog, we’ll have to ask you to write something for us 🙂

  6. Anonymous says:

    EmilyCC–
    Books and Basketball hasn’t ended. I’ve done it for the past few years and it’s still going strong! (Did you mean when each individual school year ended?)

  7. Maria says:

    Great story. Thanks so much for sharing.

    If Faith would be interested in meeting up with one of my young women, also Haitian, now a junior at BYU, I would love to put the two of them in touch with one another.

    But I imagine that there are not that many Haitians at BYU and that they will inevitably run into each other. Email me if you’d like my young woman’s contact info to pass along to Faith. 🙂

  8. EmilyCC says:

    Anonymous, B&B ended about 3 (maybe 4?) years ago. I heard a couple of reasons, no one to run it and that the kids were starting to get unruly (sp?). But, I’m so, so glad to hear it’s up and running again!

  9. Anonymous says:

    Emily, are you sure the break in B&B wasn’t a bit longer ago than 3-4 years? I’ve been in Boston for 4 years, and B&B has been going strong that whole time. But of course, as you said, the important thing is that it’s working now! (Do you subscribe to the New Era? I hope you saw the article about a few of the B&B kids…I think it was the May or June issue.)

  10. stacer says:

    I was in the B&B program for 2 years, and only left because I had to graduate and move away. That was two years ago, and from what I understand from friends still there, it’s still going strong. At least in Dorchester and Charlestown. (I might be off on the exact location–I’m thinking it’s not Dorchester but the one right next to it, but I’m blanking.)

    I’m going to have to look up that New Era article! If anyone has a link or knows the exact month, please post!

  11. stacer says:

    Nevermind, I found it–it’s an article on Millie and Johnathan, who were very active in B&B, and Bernard, who I’m not as familiar with but I have a feeling he also went. They’re all just really good people, and it’s a great article.

    If you’re interested in the story, it’s in the June issue on p. 57. Here’s the link to the issue, but I can’t link to the PDF of the page itself: http://www.lds.org/churchmagazines/NE_2007_06_00__Complete_00646_eng_000.pdf.

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