A Wonderful Adventure: Elaine Cannon
April 1983

“A Wonderful Adventure: Elaine Cannon,” New Era, Apr. 1983, 6

A Wonderful Adventure:
Elaine Cannon

She unfurled her standard on a mountaintop when she was 16 years old, and it’s still flying high.

Sister Elaine Cannon is a master of communication. A gifted author, editor, and speaker, she has a talent for sharing her heart with those who listen or read. The following article includes excerpts from Sister Cannon’s books, talks, and interviews. How better can we meet a master of communication than through her own words?

“Life is a wonderful adventure. Experience it deeply. Get involved. Record it in your journal. Live it all the way. Make friends with the seasons. Experience snow in your face. Breathe the spring, and press petals of summer; caress a baby’s softness, but stroke the wrinkles of age while marveling at the plan of life.”

Sister Elaine Cannon, General President of the Young Women, knows how to follow her own advice. She has lived the kind of rich, full life she recommends to others, and she has recorded it in her journal.

In fact, her journal held prophetic echoes of the future. When she was 11 years old she wrote: “I’m writing this down so that when I’m a grown-up working with youth I will remember what it felt like to be young.”

Understanding the feelings of others is among the finest of Sister Cannon’s many talents. She has a rare gift for recognizing and understanding the sorrows, concerns, and troubles of her fellow beings and providing the comfort they need. A multitude of people can testify that she gave them selfless and compassionate service when they needed it desperately, with no thought of recompense. She has taken many young people into her home and her heart to help them weather crises in their lives. She has shown an uncanny ability to recognize the unexpressed concerns of those around her. Her present calling constantly demands this gift of love and insight.

“I love these girls so much. I really feel that I’m an agent of Christ in loving these young women. And they need it. They need approval. It’s as if they’re saying, ‘I need someone to love me anyway—no matter how I look or what I’m doing or what I’m listening to.’ I feel that if I can love them, then maybe they will believe that Heavenly Father and the Savior can love them. It moves them a step closer to that faith. One of the great opportunities of this job is being in a position to perceive the need of people and respond to it, to validate people in their own minds.

“I feel that I have been called to use everything I am and everything I have ever learned to help Heavenly Father’s children. And I take this responsibility very seriously. I try to stay close to the Lord, and I find that he really does care about the individual. I feel his guidance in the decisions I make. I am very much aware that this is not my program, and so I must always try to know what he wants me to do.”

Sister Cannon’s greatest hope for the youth of the Church is that they will come to know their Savior. “You must come to know Christ. There just isn’t anything so relevant. Some people say to me, ‘What does anybody who lived 2,000 years ago have to say that could mean anything to me today?’ and the answer is ‘everything.’ The gospel of Jesus Christ is always relevant. The answers are there. Christ’s teachings really work. They work for every one of the concerns of youth today. Our challenge is to come to know what Christ is saying. I say to kids, ‘You’ve got to find out for yourselves. Does Christ live? Is he the Son of God?’ There is a plan that operates. God is at the helm. We cannot be happy unless we know this. It is sometimes the one thing that will keep a young man and young woman from making serious mistakes. They must love the Lord more strongly than they are drawn to each other.

“You can talk yourself out of anything, but if you’ve got real faith in the Lord, it will work when mother isn’t there, when the Church system isn’t there, when embarrassment doesn’t apply anymore and conscience may have gone sort of dead. If you love the Lord, you’ll say, ‘I can’t hurt him. He loves me. He cares.’ This was a marvelous thing for the dejected little girl I held in my arms in New York recently. She said, ‘nobody cares.’ I helped her to understand that the Lord cares. And suddenly she could care about herself when she knew that the Greatest of all cares.”

Sister Cannon is a busy executive, responsible for many thousands of young women and adult leaders. She is an officer in both the National and International Council of Women. She has traveled many thousands of miles in fulfilling these responsibilities.

As she travels about the Church visiting the young women, she tries to see the world from their point of view. “When I go to a country I ask them to take me where the youth are, where they hang out. How do they get to church from school or from their homes? Then I ask the leaders to take me that way. In one place in Germany they showed me the route the young people would have to take from their high school over to the ward for an activity. The only route they could take went right through the worst part of town—the part where all the pornography was. That short drive told me that we had to strengthen certain kinds of armor for those young people.

Under Sister Cannon’s leadership, the young women of the Church have literally raised banners symbolizing their faith and reached out their hands in service. Stuffed stockings have gone from Denmark to Poland, dolls from Utah to Bethlehem. Unasked, a young blind girl translated the personal progress program into braille. These are a few examples of the caring that has brought forth light in the midst of darkness under the direction of a woman who cares.

Sister Cannon’s great love for youth stems partly from the rich and varied experiences of her own youth. Here, in her own words, are some of the events that shaped her young life.

“Our family home was on the foothill of a solitary, beehive-shaped mountain that was a moving force all of my young life. I could see it from my bedroom window and felt a certain security in its closeness. As our family sat at the kitchen table, we watched winter skiers mark herringbone trails in fresh snow, and after the first thaw we’d note the progress of spring hikers. I had climbed its bald dome with my family, with Church groups, and with a gang of kids (our sack lunches squashed down into the sweaters we wore tied about our waists). Then one day—driven by desire to go to the mount, like Moses, to commune with God, to consider who I was and what I was going to do about it—I set out alone to climb that peak. I was 16, and this day my aloneness on that mountain was exhilarating. It was a most spectacular spring morning at sunrise when I made my way to the top. This was no small hill, so the perspective of my neighborhood below reminded me of the soap model I had carved of Salt Lake City when I was 12.

“With fascination I sat looking down at the houses I knew so well and at their people beginning to stir with the sun. Cars backed out, sprinklers splashed on, the trolley clanged up from town. I watched the achingly familiar scenes as an extension of myself. I followed the paths of my life, from home to a friend’s house, to the church on the corner and the school down the hill, to the neighborhood store, to a teacher who had touched me. Finally, I let myself look upon our own stucco house, the scene of my most tender times, my most important learnings. Almost in panic I realized how small it looked, and with a wrench of my heart I felt childhood slipping from my grasp.

“Everywhere I looked was someone who had touched my life. At 16 I was the sum of them—parents, school chums, storekeeper, Church leader. My heart flooded with a new awareness. Suddenly I realized I had some debts to pay. In 1847 Brigham Young had led a band of pioneers to the top of the mountain and raised an ensign to the Lord, according to the plaque mounted there. Well, I raised my own standard that day. I vowed that I would try to be useful. I knew I needed the help of God, and when I turned to him, my soul filled with an awareness that he lives, that he cares even about a little person sitting on a mountain thinking she can make a difference in the world. When I came down off the mountain the world seemed beautiful, and I was glad to be alive.”

The standard she raised that day is still held high. “My prayer,” she has said, “is that I may never be found wanting in the moment of someone’s need.”

Even as a child, Elaine was sensitive to the needs and feelings of those around her. Her heart went out to those who suffered pain or sorrow, and she helped in whatever small way she could.

“A parade up and down the blocks to see what was beneath each tree was an annual Christmas tradition for the children in our neighborhood. How parents permitted such a desecration of the day, such a trial-by-comparison trauma, I can’t understand. But year after year the parade persisted.

“The gifts beneath the trees in the homes of my friends were as different as the income and situation, as the taste and concern for the celebration would allow. And in the difference there was always pain for somebody.

“There was a friend in that pitiful parade whose father gave her a pair of shoes every year. Period. Shoes. Every year he would choose them himself without her counsel, and every year they’d be sturdy enough to last forever, ugly enough to ruin a girl’s chances at life. She hated them of course, and we hated him for what it did to her. Christmas after Christmas. Each year I told her they were okay, cute, neat, or great (whatever was the appropriate vernacular of that year), hoping against hope it would help.

“Then there was a girl who didn’t even get a gift as grand as shoes. Except for maybe an apron her aunt made, she seldom received anything at all. As we neared her house, she’d begin talking grandly about how she had all her gifts put away already. There was no point in even going to her house, she’d insist. But everybody else persisted just the same.

“‘Let’s go to your house last,’ I’d suggest, hoping we’d all have to go home by then. And sometimes it worked.

“I loved this friend with a protective passion and gave her the best gift on my list. And each year I told her that all I wanted was a bottle of her mom’s applesauce. And that’s what she gave me, ribbon tied.

“I think of that each canning season now, wondering why my own applesauce never tastes like the memory.”

Sister Cannon tells these stories from her childhood not to praise her own charity but to help others understand how easily the human soul can be wounded and how gentle we must be with one another. She well understands what a small thing can tip the balance of an entire life.

“Once I met a successful businessman who smiled slowly when our introductions were over.

“‘You don’t remember me,’ he said.

“‘I’m sorry. No. Should I?’ I regretted the oversight, however innocent.

“‘No problem. We were depression kids when our paths crossed before. I was poor folks from the shack at the top of the long wooden steps where the hill slopes into town. Remember the place?’

“I remembered.

“‘I lived there all during my high school years and didn’t have a friend in the world. No one would even dance with me. One winter’s night at a church function I mustered my nerve to ask you to dance with me. I knew I was in over my head, your being one of the “in” crowd and all, but I decided to go for broke.’

“‘What happened?’

“‘We danced! Not only that, but you were nice to me. Maybe this sounds crazy, but it’s true. That day hope came back into my life.’”

Sister Cannon grew up on Capitol Hill in Salt Lake City. The capitol, with its dome and columns, its grassy slopes, formal gardens, stone lions, and cherry trees, set the mood for a neighborhood just made for growing up in. Ensign Peak towered above it. A canyon ran down one side. Streetcars rattled up the hill. When Sister Cannon writes of Capitol Hill in her books, it becomes a magic place filled with fascinating people. We find ourselves wishing we had grown up in such an enchanted spot. But the magic was not all in the capitol dome nor the stone chapel. Wonder is found in the heart of the beholder, and for this young girl, any neighborhood would have been a place of wonders.

Capitol Hill was a good place to learn important lessons though:

“One day I sat guarding our lemonade stand while Marilyn went for more ice chips. The streetcar would be along soon, and we almost always got some customers at this stop if there were ice chips in clean tin cups for the drinks. I passed the time watching the gardener. He looked so hot, even from where I sat, and he moved like he hurt more than usual. Oh, I felt so sorry for him! Then I had a great idea. I’d treat him to some of our lemonade—free. It wasn’t very cold but it was wet, and he’d know somebody cared about him. For safekeeping, I pocketed the pennies we’d taken in. Then I crossed the street with the cup of lemonade.

“‘Well, thank you,’ he said, sipping it carefully. ‘You’ve added just enough sugar.’

“Some people downed their drinks in one gulp, so of course they couldn’t tell if our mix was good or not. The gardener tasted it. He knew. Just as he knew which plants had the softest leaves and that my eyes were brown and not blue. He finished drinking and said that since I had done him such a favor, he was going to do one for me; he was going to show me a kind of miracle. We walked over to the colorful bed of coleus plants, all dark red and green trimmed and velvety. He troweled one up and put it into my hands after interlocking my fingers so the soil wouldn’t spill off the roots. I was to pot it, water it just so, and place it in a sunny window where I could watch ‘the miracle.’

“He took one ruffled leaf gently and, lifting it with his knobby fingers, said, ‘The coleus plant will lean to the light. Turn your plant every two or three days and the leaves will turn right around again and lean to the light. Try it, Elaine. You’ll see the miracle. And maybe it’s something you’d like to do with your life.’

“No wonder we held him and his handiwork in a kind of reverence!”

It was here on the hill that she also discovered the love for literature which has enriched her life ever since:

“One day in my early teens a remarkable boy slipped me a coverless edition of English verse with pages torn, worn, and soiled, but it changed my life. This passage was marked: ‘Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?’

“So wrote Browning decades before I read it fresh that day and took it personally, appropriate to my season for self-discovery, of hopeful idealism and firming philosophy. And I might never have reached if I’d been stopped by the cover.

“That is the blessing of summer—time enough to read and to know what you’ve read. I’d pick a few Italian plums from our tree and rub off the powdery white until the dark skins glistened red-purple. Then I’d retreat to the capitol slope and read in the cool of sprinkler spray splashing off the trunks, soon oblivious to the ka-chugging sound the rainbird made.

“In my summers I had romped through the Anne of Green Gables series and plowed through a Tarzan book or two just to please my brother. I had discovered the Lloyd C. Douglas books and dreamed of my own magnificent obsession. And I had fallen down Alice’s rabbit hole and climbed Heidi’s Alpine height seven or eight times by the time I learned of heaven’s reach and the truth, once again, about covers.

“Worn leather volumes containing Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Longfellow, and Chaucer were passed into my hands by this boy who understood the grasp-and-reach theory. The public library provided me with ugly, stiff, practical new bindings of Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson and Emerson’s essay ‘Friendship’ with the library number perforated across random pages. Then came the sharing of a simple maroon book called Larry, named after the remarkable young man whose letters and journal notes to Girl, his girl, were collected therein. We read that, and when he died in the end, almost before he had really lived, we wept.

“I loved all these books unabashedly.

“This boy and I couldn’t understand everything we read, but it was so exhilarating trying to understand that it was like coming in with the tide. Stretching our minds in the reading and then struggling to say it back in our own words to each other kept our relationship going one swift summer and was the basis for a lifelong friendship.”

As Elaine grew in intellectual understanding, she also matured spiritually:

“It was late spring when I received my patriarchal blessing. The season was at its best, and I wanted to be too; so I prepared myself to receive what Heavenly Father would have to say to me personally. There had been some repenting, some fasting and praying, and deep discussions about the meaning of it all with my parents and with a very special boyfriend. I remember well the night before my appointment with Patriarch Jones, up there on Capitol Hill. I felt a strong need to gather myself together with Heavenly Father, and I went outside through the screen door and stood there for a time listening to the years of my childhood sift by on the night song of the crickets. I felt very grown-up that moment. Then suddenly I felt once again the pull of the stars. Kind of self-consciously at first, I stretched down on my back on the prickly grass, as I had done so often as a child. Then once again I took a deep breath and turned my face skyward. I studied the heavens; I found the familiar constellations and got placement with the North Star. And then there came to me the mind-stretching, soul-searching experience of feeling lifted up into the universe—almost into the presence of God, it seemed to me. It set my heart to pounding. I knew my prayers had reached home in heaven. The witness of the Spirit that God lives and was mindful of little me warmed me to tears.”

The influence of her parents during those growing and learning years is also a warm and cherished memory for Sister Cannon:

“My father was a loving man. He thought everything I did was marvelous. You can imagine what that does to build confidence in a young girl! There was love, love, love. He gave it to everyone, the stranger included. He had a marvelous personality, full of humor. He came home with fun jokes every night. There was much laughter around our kitchen table, where the heat from the furnace attracted us until the wallpaper was worn out in spots. I became comfortable praying to my Heavenly Father very early because I felt my earthly father and my Heavenly Father must be very much alike.

“When daddy prayed, he always blessed everyone up and down the street by name. Often I couldn’t follow what he said because the words were unfamiliar and the style unlike our comfortable conversations. He’d say things like, ‘Father, we thank thee that all is in accord and that the personnel of this family is complete and accounted for.’

“Once I visited his office and heard him dictate letters while I waited for a ride up the hill. That was it! His prayers were like he was giving dictation. That night when he prayed, I risked the wrath of heaven and sneaked a look at daddy’s face. I was startled. He was weeping! The language he spoke was formal like his letters to important people, but the tears running down his cheeks spoke volumes about the tenderness of his heart.

“My mother was very much involved in the Church. She was committed, dedicated, disciplined, and directed. Two words she used frequently were duty and obedience. She had a quick mind. She was well-read, She was always saying, ‘Let’s look it up in the dictionary,’ or ‘I’ll get the encyclopedia,’ or ‘Let’s see what the scriptures have to say about that.’

“We were carefully controlled, and I think we all had ruffled feathers on occasion. Mother would simply stand up and say, ‘Every single one of you will be obedient to your Father in Heaven!’ There seemed to be no free agency in it, but I have been thankful for her firmness. Like most of us, I have had to pray to find out for myself if the teachings of the Church are true. The knowledge didn’t come just because my mother believed and made me obey. But because of her teaching I have escaped many traumas. I was a fiery young girl, and my mother said I had to be a good girl. I am thankful to her because it was far better for me to be controlled then and become independent later than to have to overcome terrible sins and heartbreak.

“I think this combination of tenderness and commitment in our home was a very good thing. We see this in the life of the Savior. He did his duty, but at the same time he forgave with great tenderness. These two facets of life were blended together in the examples of my parents and provided a natural and meaningful learning experience for me.”

The day came when Sister Cannon married and left Capitol Hill. The love in her marriage seemed like a natural extension of the love in her childhood home:

“My mother prepared me to do what is right and let the consequence follow. My father gave me love. Jim increased my confidence. He helped me become what I am. Isn’t it lucky to have a man like that? He is a blessing to me. I may be a leader, but in our home he is in charge, and that’s good.”

From her office on the 25th floor of the Church Office Building, Sister Cannon can now look down on Capitol Hill, but in her life it will always be a towering symbol of love. Still, all cannot be happiness even on an enchanted hill. A gifted writer, Sister Cannon has often used the seasons in her books to symbolize life’s changing fortunes. Of winter she has written: “Winter comes not by solstice, not even by the first snowfall. Winter comes when the heart breaks, regardless of the season. And often the heart breaks because of what we do to one another.”

One of young Elaine’s early winters came on the baseball diamond:

“Nobody should be chosen last. Every time. When you are playing baseball and join a side simply because you are the last one left, it is no good. It’s terrible. Humiliation. Rejection. Heartbreak. Winter.

“And that’s what happened to me for one whole school year.

“Baseball was our life. Whenever the ground was somewhat dry during the year, we played baseball at recess, baseball at lunch, and baseball after classes. Maude and Virginia were sisters and the most incredibly good baseball players you could imagine. We worshipped at their feet and declared them undisputed captains of our two teams.

“Each time we played, the opening ceremony was repeated. We would choose up sides for teams, with Maude and Virginia ‘eagle-clawing’ the bat to determine who got first choice. After a while I realized there were never going to be any surprises for me. Out of all the regulars who raced to the playing field, I was always chosen last. After a while it wasn’t who was chosen last that interested me, it was which of the sisters would have the last choice, because that made all the difference to me.

“If Maude eagle-clawed the bat, that meant she got first choice and Virginia got me. That was just fine, because Virginia would pass off this crisis to her team with ‘Oh well, I can hit hard enough for both of us,’ and beckon me after her.

“If Virginia eagle-clawed the bat, Maude was left with me. And that’s where the trauma came in. Virginia would choose her last team member and then, inevitably, Maude would turn and walk out to the playing field, as if I didn’t exist. Not a sign! Not a beckon or an instruction! Not a comment or even a complaint! Nothing. As if I didn’t exist.

“Whenever things turned out this way, I would shiver, even if the fall’s last warmth still hung over the school grounds.”

Instead of running away from the humiliating situation, as she was sorely tempted to do, Elaine stuck it out. She kept getting picked last, but she stuck it out anyway. Fortunately, baseball wasn’t her only dream.

“My mother had taken me to an elocution teacher. Our family was very fortunate because my father had a good job and could afford to give us that kind of training. Then a wonderful opportunity came. Someone in the sixth grade was to be chosen to speak in the great Tabernacle on Temple Square for the school festival. I just knew it was going to be me.”

It wasn’t. In her disappointment, Elaine had no way of knowing that one day her voice would not only be heard in the great Tabernacle on Temple Square, but would be broadcast from that very spot to the nations of the world. But without the advantage of knowing the future, how did she handle the present?

“Well, at first I thought, ‘What good does it do to work and train and prepare? People just choose their friends.’ But I got over that. I’ve always been a true believer in the Lord, so I could go to my Heavenly Father and say, ‘How come? Didn’t I work hard enough? What did I do wrong? How did I blow it?’” She was learning at a young age to pour out her heart as she would to a loving father and expect answers to come.

“But you know, sometimes you think you have learned something, and then you have to relearn it again and again, and then finally you really learn it. As a child I thought that if you tried out and you didn’t win, you were a failure. By the time I reached college, I had really learned to seek the Lord for direction and comfort.”

Sister Cannon came to realize that being distracted by the selfish aims of position, prestige, power, and popularity may gradually ease you away from what you really want ultimately; they will lead you away from that sometimes discouraging climb towards heights never dreamed of in the beginning.

“This is what I learned: When I simply did what was at hand for me to do and did it the very best I could every day, not worrying about other things, those very experiences that were important to my preparation for other opportunities down the line came into my life naturally.”

She also learned that personal disappointment could be cured by service to others:

“I ran for president of my high school Women’s Association and lost. I felt that losing left me out of everything, and I really wanted to be in. But instead of feeling sorry for myself, I worked with one of my teachers to plan a marvelous party for the girl who beat me.

“When you lose and you’re really hurt, you can just reach out. If someone offends you or gets the honor or the award or job that you wanted, you just say to someone, ‘What can I do for you?’ And then you try to reach out to another and away from your own hurt.”

Early in her life, Sister Cannon established her own measuring rod for determining her progress. Her overriding question was, and is, “How am I as a person becoming more like Christ?”

“When the heart breaks, when our tranquility is threatened, our loved ones lost, our dreams dashed, our regrets engulfing, a pall comes upon us. It is only endurable finally when Christ becomes part of our being. If we did to others as he did, the tide of error in man’s relationship with man would soon be stemmed. Christ is our model. He asked forgiveness for those who crucified him. He gave the sop of friendship to his betrayer and took the basin to wash the dust of pride from the feet of his disciples. He spoke of casting the first stone, of beams and motes, and of how to treat prodigals. He blessed the unclean and comforted the mourner. He defended Mary before the bustling efficiency of Martha. He labeled loving others as the great commandment and warned that because of iniquity the love of many would ‘wax cold.’

“To keep our own love from waxing cold, we can strive to be more like him. We can be a light and not a judge, caring about others enough to save reputations, protecting the innocent, sparing heartbreak by what we do or do not do to each other.

“If we haven’t bridled our passions—if selfishness, hate, envy, jealousy, self-pity, unmitigated grief or sin still fill our beings—then there is no room in our heart for the love of Christ to sweeten us. It is as if he were never born … as if he never died for us.”

Sister Cannon knows well that life’s trials can’t be limited to losing elections and doing poorly on the baseball diamond. Sometimes there are blows so crushing that they seem impossible to bear. But heartaches and trials often reveal to a person the sure strength of his or her convictions.

“One of the most significant moments of my life came at my daughter-in-law’s funeral. I learned a lesson in faith from our son. He stood with his aching, empty arms reaching out to the coffin of his young wife and said, ‘This isn’t the way I thought it was going to be. But it’s all right because God’s principles suffice.’”

The path upward from the valleys of such sorrows is not easy, but it is clear.

“He took the principles of the gospel and applied them. They work! They always do! That is the key to getting over whatever challenge or disappointment we meet in this life. It you do things the Lord’s way, whatever way it comes out is all right.

“The secret of getting through life is coming to know our Father in Heaven and his Son. If you don’t know the Lord and feel his power and influence, if you don’t feel the promptings of the Spirit, if you don’t know the Lord is your friend, then everything else is like building your house on sand. You don’t have a sure foundation. When trouble comes you don’t really understand who Christ is and whom he represents and you don’t understand what he is trying to do for you.”

And how do you arrive at this sacred knowledge?

“You pray all of the time. I have profound respect for the Savior and our Heavenly Father and want to be close to them, but I have tried to train myself not to get cozy or think they are on my level or put myself on theirs. When I get in a tight situation, there is a mental bending and bowing of my head as I seek God’s will, because I know how important it is to have his Spirit with me. I can honestly say that the worst mistakes I make are when I go charging off on my own, or lean on the arm of flesh, or get to feeling confident in my own experience or wisdom. Fortunately, the Lord is very patient with us while we learn, isn’t he?

“With the knowledge we have, we may mourn, but we need never despair. We have a little loved one in Seattle. There the daily rain keeps the sun and stars alike hidden much of the time, so she hasn’t really seen stars. We think there is magic in stargazing and lessons to learn from them; they are brighter in winter’s night, you know. I explained this to this little girl when we stood on a clear night looking into heaven. I smiled at her wonderment at first seeing stars crowd the nighttime.

“‘Are they there every time it gets dark, even if I can’t see them?’ she asked. I assured her they were, even behind the clouds.

“‘Then darkness isn’t so bad, is it? If you know the stars are there.’

“It has application to life, doesn’t it?”

Sister Cannon’s years of experience have made her a wise and compassionate counselor of youth. They listen to what she says because they know she knows their problems, and they know she cares.

“You can go along, for a time, as a sweet innocent, fresh from baptism and radiant as the dawn. You can cling to your parents with proper obedience, for a time. You can memorize the words of God and recite them at family gatherings or shine in seminary and Sunday School. You can fold your arms in prayer at church and feel virtuous inside. You might even marvel at the might of one like David when it is story-telling time. All is well, for a time.

“Then one day, life is upon you. You are out in the big world, thinking for yourself. The time for decision, for action, now can’t be thrust back upon the prophet or the parent or anybody else. Dad isn’t beside you in the car. Mom isn’t part of the scene when the crowd gets wickedly lively. God won’t interfere when you are being sorely tempted. Life is testing, you know. Sabbath-day sermons are forgotten. The word of God seems to have little to do with passing exams or falling in love or running a business. And when peer pressure or stark ideologies surface excitingly, it’s REALITY uppercase.

“After all, David’s first problem was only a giant. Your foe might be your best friend whose ideals aren’t as high as yours. Soon we learn that good intentions aren’t going to win the battle with self. The dilemma is shifting from depending on the arm and mind of others to self-accountability with one’s hand in God’s. This is what the battle is all about.

“You are a daughter of God, a member of his family. Being a member of a family usually means you do what the family does; you keep the family’s standards; you live as the family lives; you speak as the family speaks. You love after the manner of the family. Your kindnesses are done in the name of the family. And while all of your dreams haven’t come true yet and the growing pains are often grim, still it helps to remember that the head of this heavenly family is a patriarch who, with his great, caring, infinite wisdom and superb capacity to love, loves you—loves you anyway! While you are away from him, wandering here on earth, experiencing and learning, he’s watching. He’s waiting. He wants you to make it. He wants you to come home again one day.

“No doubt you have had moments when you’ve felt a kind of inner longing, a loneliness even while surrounded by people. You’ve felt a kind of eternal homesickness—a vague remembrance that you do have some special link with Heavenly Father. Knowing who you are ought to make a difference in how you are—in the things you do and the choices or decisions you make. When each of you begins developing a sweet and saving relationship with God, everything else will begin to fall into place.

“I’d like every youth in the Church to know that worldly accomplishments don’t matter one whack if you don’t have the Spirit of the Lord with you. My personal goal is to be more effective in recognizing when the Spirit is working upon me and when my own desires are getting in the way. That’s what makes all the difference. I am learning to give thanks immediately when I feel the sweetness of inspiration. I think that’s very important. I am coming to know personally the workings of the Spirit and have seen miracles happen.”

The personal standard of self-evaluation that Sister Cannon set years ago is the same one that guides her life today: “Am I as a person becoming more like Christ?” As a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and now General President of the Young Women of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Sister Elaine Cannon draws upon her experiences of the past to bring her best to the responsibilities at hand. She knows that there is yet an eternal future for which this moment in time will help prepare her. She continues to serve the Lord and his children each day of her life, hoping in turn to instill in the lives of all those within the circle of her influence the desire to seek first the kingdom of God, knowing that in the Lord’s due time all else will be added.

Illustrated by Jenae Westhoff

Photo by Eldon Linschoten