Learning to Let Go

Disclaimer:  Any of you blog readers out there in the Blog Stratosphere who are not Mormon will probably not understand this blog post.  However, you Mormon women, especially you Utah Mormon women, will understand exactly what I’m talking about here.

This time of year, all over the world, LDS women are celebrating the anniversary of the organization of the Relief Society.  I am currently serving as a counsellor in our RS presidency, and I was in charge of our RS birthday celebration.

This was the first time I have been in charge of one of these events, although I’ve attended many of them in Utah.  All of those that I’ve attended have been held on a weeknight evening.  An entire committee of women would have spent months in preparation.  The Sunday before the celebration, a lovely hand-made invitation would be handed out and a few days before the event, a cute reminder would magically appear on the door of every sister in the ward.  A delicious dinner would be served, prepared by members of the committee.  Other committee members would have spent most of the day putting up lavish decorations that they had spent weeks making.  The room would have been transformed into something that looked like it came straight from the pages of Martha Stewart Magazine.

The program would consist of semi-professional musicians performing beautiful musical numbers and speakers that could have come straight from BYU Education Week.  At the end of the evening, the sisters would go home with some sort of hand-made party favor that would include a quotation from the evening and probably something chocolate.  The evening would be inspiring to all who attend.

But I don’t live in Utah anymore.  I now live in Taipei where things can’t be done like they are done in Utah.  For one thing, all of our RS activities have to be done on Sunday afternoon, immediately after church.  Many women in our ward are Filipina domestic workers; and for most of them, Sunday is their only day off.  If our activities were held on weeknights a large number of our sisters would never be able to attend.  Because activities are held right after church, we have very little time to set up and decorate.  Also, whereas in Utah, an event like this would require a large committee of women, in our case, the committee consisted of me and one other sister (who coincidentally is also named Erin.  We were the Erin Committee.)

Here is how our RS birthday celebration went:  There were no hand-made invitations.  The invitation was given orally during the RS announcements the week before.  With the help of our husbands, Erin and I quickly set up tables in the cultural hall during the Sunday School hour.  We needed seven tables to accommodate the forty-five or so women and young women we expected to attend. (We have eight beautiful young women in our ward.)  Unfortunately, our RS owns only one set of six dark red tablecloths, so one table didn’t even have a tablecloth. (It is my recollection that my former ward in Utah had six or seven sets of tablecloths in various colors, each set consisting of twelve to fifteen tablecloths.)  Each table was decorated with the paper products from which the women were eating.  The tableclothless serving tables were decorated with the food that was served–nothing else.  Sisters signed up to bring either a crock pot of soup or some sort of side dish.  The ward sprung for rolls and cake.  The food that was brought included dishes from the Philippines, China, Korea, Mexico, the US, Taiwan and Italy.  One sister brought a pot of boiled chicken soup–with an entire chicken carcass, skin and all, still in the pot.  (Not very common in Utah, but quite a hit in Taiwan.)  There was even a lovely hot dog soup.

After dinner, we moved to a large room on the 4th floor. (Our building serves as the stake center for three stakes and consists of four floors, two chapels and three underground parking levels.)  Erin and I spent a grand total of seven minutes decorating the room.  I won’t embarrass myself or Erin by describing the decorations.  But in our defense, neither of us had any idea where to go to buy any cute or crafty supplies to make Martha Stewart decorations.  So everything came from our houses and they were pathetic.

We started the program by reciting the RS Theme.  I love, love, love hearing women recite this.  And hearing it recited together by women from so many nationalities with so many different accents sent chills down my spine and brought tears to my eyes.  Our adorable young women then recited the YW Theme from memory, just like young women all over the world do each week.  I then spoke briefly about the history of the RS.  Then we heard from two lovely senior sister missionaries, one from Utah and the other from Kentucky.  They both shared insights that only women well-seasoned in life experiences could share and they were both delightful and inspirational.  We then played some fun games prepared by the other Erin.  Then we had cake and that was it.

Earlier in the week, I saw some pictures from one of those Martha Stewart RS celebrations on Facebook.  I also spoke to my mother on the phone where she described her ward’s celebration.  I’m pretty sure both of these celebrations were put on by full-time professional RS Birthday Party Planners.  And it made me kind of sick to my stomach when I compared those celebrations to the meager celebration we were planning.  But then during the dinner portion of our celebration today, when I was apologizing to our bishop’s wife who was sitting at the one tableclothless table, and comparing our sad, little party to those in Utah, she said to me, “Erin, you need to let go of your Utah ways and expectations.  Look around this room.  Are the sisters here enjoying the company of their sisterhood in the Gospel?”

“Yes.”

“Are they getting to know one another better so they can better serve one another?”

“Yes.”

“Then you’ve accomplished what this celebrations is intended to accomplish.  We don’t need all the tablecloths and decorations.  No one here is expecting that and trust me, no one here cares that we don’t have it.” And she’s right.  In my previous wards women would spend countless hours and incredible amounts of stress with the same results we achieved.

However, at the end of the celebration, we did hand out a home-made party favor which included a quote and chocolate.  As she took her party favor from the basket, the bishop’s wife said to me “See, you still have some Utah in you!”

Just a little.

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21 comments

  1. Melissa · March 27, 2011

    We had our celebration yesterday after church too. It definitely was not as fancy as those I have attended in the past but the Spirit was strong as various women bore their testimonies. How grateful I am to share in this sisterhood around the world!! And how wonderful that you could help the sisters in your area share in sisterhood!!

  2. Zoe · March 27, 2011

    This made me tear up a little. Of course none of those things really matter. And we all need a few lessons on letting go.

  3. Holly · March 27, 2011

    Erin,

    Loved this post! Your description sums up many of my experiences, too.

    We had the opposite “letting go” experience moving back to the USA – living here in a giant and fully-functioning ward I need to learn to “let go” of the wonderful experiences we had in smaller international wards and realize that the same purposes are being accomplished even in these fancier meetings (instead of getting bugged at all the seemingly pointless preparation and fancy clothes).

    Has the Japanese earthquake affected you guys?

    Baby due in a week and a half! We are excited!

    Holly

    • Erin · March 28, 2011

      Holly, I didn’t realize you were so close to your due date. Good luck and we will be praying for you. Let us know when the blessed day arrives.
      We weren’t really affected by the earthquake. There was a very small tsunami that hit the island, but did no damage.
      When I was writing this post I actually thought of you and how much you loved the small congregations you attended in Germany. The kids and I will be back in Utah for most of June and July and we need to get together with you guys.

  4. veda hale · March 27, 2011

    Yea! I’m so glad you are seeing this. You’ve heard me spunk before about the time when in a RS presidency I timed the sisters and it took an hour to decide what color napkins to have. Some of this is why I don’t go to RS anymore.
    Hang in there. Love Veda

    • Erin · March 28, 2011

      Veda you crack me up!

  5. Alix · March 27, 2011

    my eyes are filled with tears!! love this post! sounds like it turned out great, nice work!

  6. Becky · March 27, 2011

    I loved this post too. I think I am more like Holly having grown up moving a lot and having attended church all over the world now too. Sometimes I have to work hard at not judging people for being “superficial” when they put so much effort into things like decorations. When I do though, I always find that they are wonderful people trying so hard to do a good job. The Lord wants our best, whatever that is and I think He always appreciates our efforts to serve and do a good job. (I am grateful every time I go to the temple that someone with more attention to detail than me was involved in the interior design.)
    No matter where we are in the country and the world, we all have our strengths and weaknesses. The more places I go, the more I realize that people are all the same. We all need love and acceptance, and we all try hard to do a good job. Whatever form the activities and programs take place to place, at the end of the day it is about feeling close to the Lord and sharing His love with people around us. If that is always our focus, we will be okay. I have struggled some with adapting things for our small, new branch primary. Your post was a nice reminder that the focus should never be on the programs but instead should always be on the people they are designed to serve. In Utah, sometimes we get way more focused on the process than on the people. Other places, it can be hard to find enough people to get stuff done. Everywhere has its advantages and challenges. It sounds to me like you are doing a great job! Sending you much love!

    PS You can put me at a tableclothless table any time you want. I’d probably just spill on a table cloth anyway. Less pressure without one 😉

    • Erin · March 28, 2011

      Becky, I can’t wait until you are part of our tableclothless group.

      • Becky · March 28, 2011

        Me too! Hey we’ll be in UT in July too on home leave (we get there about the 23rd). Maybe we can meet up for a second. I’m sure you’ll be super busy though.

        Thanks again for writing this post. Like Zoe said, we all have things we need to let go of. I have been thinking about this post a ton in terms of both my calling and my life in general.

  7. Gretchen · March 27, 2011

    I loved this post! There was a lady in our Colorado ward who called colored napkins and coordinating tablecloths, etc. “Mormon Hobbies.” It’s sometimes just something women do to keep busy; it has very little to do the message of the gospel or the inviting of the Spirit to the meeting. I’ve remembered that comment for many years now and it’s actually helped me let the little stuff go and to better concentrate on the larger picture. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  8. Lyssa · March 27, 2011

    Great post! As someone who grew up in Utah and then moved abroad (Not State Dept. yet, but hopefully soon!) I’ve had to ‘let go’ a bit too with some of these things. We’re always told the church is the same all over the world and it is, but sometimes we get caught up in those silly ideas of what we think it should be and what way is the right way to do something. Most of the time it could be done a number of ways and we just need to do what’s right for our ward/branch. Good job putting one together. I’m sure all the ladies were happy with it!

  9. Laura · March 27, 2011

    I want to live in Taiwan! 😉

  10. Glen · March 28, 2011

    Aloha Erin,
    I also loved our Ward’s simple RS celebration. The Sisters, in stealth mode, whispered that we should excused the HP early to eat some desserts with the Sisters. There were a few tables set up in the courtyard; everybody joined in eating and socializing (I admit, we didn’t see a whole chicken in a pot…not sure I want to……). I don’t know how long it took to plan; but, in the end, it was the togetherness, sharing, and concern one for another that left me feeling great about the simple, celebration of the RS anniversary.

  11. cindy harris · March 28, 2011

    Hi Erin,
    I miss you! I’m too tired for all the fancy decorations and polished performers. But…I do want a bite of really good chocolate.

    • Erin · March 28, 2011

      Chocolate makes up for a lot, doesn’t it Cindy? Miss you too! I’ll see you this summer.

  12. Heather M · March 28, 2011

    Oh I love this post. It’s so about the spirit of the matter, not the superficial. Having only lived in Utah for college, I still get it, since my home ward is a relatively wealthy SoCal ward. But having been on the east coast for 20 years(oh, and all of elementary school/half of middle school out of the USA) with people from everywhere/all walks of life, I’ve decided for me the spirit of the matter is infinitely more important than the LDS “culture” is. Thanks so much for posting about this. 🙂

  13. Diane Kinateder · March 28, 2011

    I have tears in my eyes feeling the emotions and spirit of your wonderful Relief Society Celebration!

  14. Debbie Andersen · March 29, 2011

    I am all for the cubscout leader motto…..Keep It Simple/Make it Fun!
    Sounds like you had a good turn out and wonderful time. Your ward becomes your family quickly when you focus on what matters…..relationships!….rather than the event itself. Good Job Erin and Erin 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  15. Holly Lake · March 29, 2011

    Hey Erin,
    I loved your post. You are on a mission you know. When I served in the Philippines, I had some very, very similar experiences. I am so happy you are getting to know the Filipina sisters. I love them and I am glad you are serving in Taiwan. Your ward is lucky to have you!
    Love,
    Holly Chatlin Lake

  16. Carrie C · April 11, 2011

    I am the Bishop’s wife referred to above and can I say that we feel pretty lucky to have Erin and her family here!! She did a GREAT job on the party and is an amazing addition to our Relief Society. I also think I will copy this post and put in my journal! You captured this whole experience so perfectly. I had tears of laughter and tears of joy as I thought of all our dear sisters and this wonderful gospel that unites us.

    In defense of Erin’s feelings of inadequacy to Martha Stewart, you should know that the 6 lonely plum colored tablecloths had been lost in a closet somewhere in the building for the past 2-3 years, during which time ALL the tables at ALL the ward functions were clothless. Having tablecloths of any number or color was pretty high class! Yeah Erin (and Erin) We thought it was a GRAND event.

    Love ya!

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