(Set scene: background noise of soft violin music playing by a babbling brook….)
I often look back to the perception I had of my mother, my aunts and my friends’ mothers growing up: watching them raise their children, serve in the community and fulfill their callings. I saw graceful, poised, sweet spoken sisters teach and care for those around me.
Relief Society was the ultimate ladies’ club where demure elegance propagated class and refinement. Where the the latest recipes and make-up tips were shared and preserved. I thought the home-economic inspired mutual nights of sewing, crafting, and cooking were insights into my future with the League of Ladies. I could’ve sworn there’d be an initiation week—testing our nurturing skills down to our skillet skills.
What I saw was a clear path to sainthood.
Then I went to LDS Girls Camp.
In a matter of minutes I saw what had been the Young Women’s presidency of skirts and heels transform into dirt-laden, overall wearin’ “don’t mess with me” mamas! Long gone were the aprons, curls and manicured pianist’s hands, and in came their alter egos.
These women were rambunctious, they were determined, and they were loud!
This camp was no finishing school. It wasn’t about sewing, it wasn’t about event planning and it sure wasn’t about grace and poise. It was a week of getting your hands dirty and your spirit cleansed. Where best to teach the next generation of hard-core women than in God’s country with God’s strongest army?
These were the years that I learned that what you see isn’t always what you get. That the calmest and most serene of sisters had a thunder cloud they were keeping at bay. Each of them sharing words of strength and wisdom through survival skills, hiking, and exploring. For the first time I saw a raw glimpse into what my future held for me: blood, sweat, tears and sisters.
Re-learning what I learned in LDS Girls Camp
- Women’s history and its future. What better way to educate and encourage the youth than to inspire them with historical women figures? From Esther, to Mary, to Emma Smith we have a legacy of devout women. Devoutly loyal to their God, to their families, and to their testimonies. But it wasn’t just the same stories being told over and over again. Here I heard the intimate stories of these women—their vulnerabilities, their flaws—what made them human. After learning of Emma’s own doubts she became real to me—someone I could relate to. When we humanize our heroines, we are able to face our own self-doubts head on. How many times have I looked to the past to help direct my future?
- Modesty in our behaviors. I’m not referring to how girls need to wear potato sacks so as not to incite young men. What I learned at LDS Girls Camp was that modesty starts from within. When I am focused on my own spiritual progression and not competing outwardly with those around me, I can find my own inner confidence. This confidence exudes my own unique strengths and virtues. Arrogance in how we act (and in how we dress) ignites competition with those around us, a rating scale to be frank—but when we focus in on self-assurance and self-respect we are taking away the scales and enacting modest behaviors which God has asked all of His children to emulate.
- Spiritual self-upliftment. The week of nature, one-on-one with leaders tackling both physical and spiritual obstacles helped me identify the difference between believing and wanting to believe. Taking yourself off of your parent’s testimony is a big step and often goes unidentified as the transition is long and personal. Here is where I started taking responsibility for my own faith, and if I didn’t fully believe something, it was up to me to learn, to understand and to apply those principles. When you work for the reward, you appreciate the journey.
- Emotional maturity. Spiritual engagement is key during camp. The leaders try to develop lessons and activities that help foster spiritual development without forcing emotional angst. Sometimes simply taking a night hike, star gazing and a song can uplift and nurture. This is where I learned to separate emotional baggage from spiritual up-liftment. How I was able to determine divine intervention from the interruptions of my inner voice. Here I realized that I not only needed to spiritually grow, but emotionally grow as well. My leaders had been through tough storms that I myself would eventually face, but it is the emotional strength that carried them through with the faith and guidance of Heavenly Father. Emotional immaturity runs rampant among teenagers and cause more grief then needed. Starting on emotional development was paramount in my growth process.
- Appreciation for Gods creations. I remember sitting in a field overlooking wild flowers when my friend next to me thought out-loud, “I wonder which flower I helped create…” thus ensued a long and poetic conversation of how we each contributed to this masterful creation while we lived with our Heavenly Father. That maybe the tulip was made with me in mind, His own way of saying hello to me while on my journey on Earth. It’s not just about the hiking, star charts, and forestry, but taking the time to thank Him for all of this beauty that surrounds us. Our own constant reminders of His love for each of us.
- Building intelligence and ambition. New challenges in a different environment help entice our intelligence and excite our imagination. Out of the classroom and church walls and out in nature is where children of all ages can re-engage and find the excitement in learning new things. The ambition comes from meeting those challenges head on and charging our confidence to do more and be more.
- Finding your own quiet place. We aren’t all able to live in the woods or by the beach. Finding quiet places in our own worlds to help us meditate and reflect can be as calming as the forest and its surrounding beauty. It doesn’t just help us to escape, but to recharge and refocus.
- Adventure. When you are out of your comfort zone and taking on new risks, you learn to listen to your instincts. Once we tune in to those instincts and have faith in ourselves we can truly start to live. Always seek out adventure to not just engage with life—but to create new life.
These girl-camp lessons continue to give life to me today. From the confidence, appreciation and adventurous aspects I have inherited from the generation before me, I cannot wait to teach them to the next generation of strong and noble sisters.
So it’s no wonder that in today’s society every time I hear about those “submissive, quiet, oppressed Mormon women” I throw up a little in my mouth. Where are these unicorns you keep referring to?
I know these women, I work alongside them every day in the workforce, at home and at church. All I see is a power house of humble strength that has been given the privilege of leaving their legacy to the next generation of empowered women.
Not what you see?
Well, maybe you should go to Girls Camp.