I Struggled but I Grew

“I Struggled but I Grew,” New Era, Oct. 1986, 31

“I Struggled but I Grew”

Young Women in Excellence

There are times when the feeling of love and closeness is so real that you hardly dare breathe—a feeling of warmth and caring so vivid that it seems like a loving embrace drawing everyone together.

There are times when the first few notes of a special song that you’ve rehearsed early on Saturday mornings now send electric tickles down your spine and fill your eyes with tears as the words speak your innermost thoughts.

There are times when you become so much a part of the group that you feel like you’re seeing only the best, the finest, the most beautiful in each person. It is exhilarating when you meet each other’s glances and exchange knowing smiles because you’re all sharing the same sensation.

Such rare and precious times are the Young Women in Excellence programs to be held on a stake or ward level churchwide to present the seven values as they are incorporated in the lives of Young Women. The seven values—Faith, Divine Nature, Individual Worth, Integrity, Good Works, Knowledge, and Choice and Accountability—are the basis for programs that can include displays, performances, dramatic presentations, and workshops. The programs, whether held in the evening or on a Saturday morning, are a time for joy in each young woman’s accomplishment. It is a time for recognition of achieving goals. It is a chance for each young woman to examine where she is going and what her life means.

Lisa Ward of Long Beach, California, instinctively understands what the Young Women values mean in her life. “The Young Women program is not just a meeting you go to on Wednesday night or something you do on Sunday. It’s about your whole life, everything you do.”

Jill Ensley, also from Long Beach, agreed. “The values help us to teach ourselves.”

“The values help us learn how to set our goals,” said Edie Hess, Long Beach California East Stake, “to show us that there are things you can do on your own initiative.”

Several stakes have already planned and presented their Young Women in Excellence programs. The results were especially gratifying as parents and leaders saw their young women stretch and grow. Each girl had a chance to give some deep and searching thought as to what the values meant and how they affected her life. As Melodie Lamm, a Young Women leader in the Meridian Idaho East Stake, said, “These girls had experience in the values. It went deeper than just making something with your hands. It went much deeper than that.”

The Young Women in Excellence programs were organized in a variety of ways in individual stakes. The colors, representing the seven values, were used in flags, in banners, in ribbons on displays, in streamers on a maypole, and in decorations at luncheon tables. Some stakes held workshops that addressed the dilemmas facing the young women in their area. Some had a combination of displays and talent performances that illustrated values in the lives of each young woman. Others had each ward present one of the values in any way their creativity dictated.

In the Bountiful Utah Central Stake, a symposium introduced the morning’s activities and workshops. Wendy Wiscomb and her mother were assigned to organize the symposium. “My mother and I passed out sheets of paper to the girls in the stake asking them to honestly identify their concerns. Then we took the main problems and wrote them into the script. Some of the dialogue was in the exact words of the girls. For instance, one girl said, ‘I don’t even know what I’m going to wear to school tomorrow let alone what I’m going to do with the rest of my life.’ We talked about these problems. A number of girls told me afterward that it was really wonderful to hear relevant issues presented and later discussed in the workshops.”

Displays were another way that girls were able to illustrate a value. Amberlee Stephenson, a Beehive in the Nephi Utah Stake, used her waterski to represent her efforts at gaining a feeling of individual worth. On a tag attached to her ski, she wrote, “Waterskiing helps me learn that sometimes it takes more than one try to be successful. We can learn from our attempts and failures, and when we succeed it is that much better.”

Tara Cowan, in the Nephi Utah Stake, illustrated her special singing talent with a collection of her favorite music and the story of how she started singing to her mother’s clients as they sat under the dryer or were getting their hair washed in the beauty parlor. Then she performed as part of the talent segment of her stake’s program.

Lihann Jones, of Long Beach California East Stake, used muffins she had baked to talk about integrity. One set of muffins were light and appealing because all the ingredients were used. The others were dismal failures. She wrote, “These muffins reflect a lack of integrity because certain ingredients were left out, making them incomplete, unfinished, and awful.”

Families were certainly involved as young women began planning and preparing for their parts in the programs. Often, working with the values led fathers and daughters or mothers and daughters to have meaningful, enriching conversations. Margaret Miller, stake Young Women president in the Long Beach California East Stake, said that one father told her his daughter and wife sat up late just laughing and enjoying being together as a result of working on the girl’s display.

Jonne Wheadon, stake Young Women president of the Meridian Idaho East Stake, said a woman reported that her husband and daughter had a special experience talking about and researching more information about her great-grandmother.

And families sometimes gave a little sigh of relief when the event was over. One father from the Nephi Utah Stake, obviously pleased by his daughter’s efforts, was overheard at the conclusion of the program saying, “That was great, and now we can have the kitchen table back.”

Participation was excellent, often more than expected. As girls thought about their projects and began work on them, the excitement seemed to spread and the more reluctant ones were drawn in. Vicki Jackson, stake Young Women president of the Nephi Utah Stake, said that one young girl tagged along with friends who were practicing with the chorus to sing “I Walk by Faith.” The girl asked if she could sing with the group. Then as she became more involved, she volunteered to participate in the talent presentations.” The stories of girls who were not participating fully in their wards yet became involved with the projects or displays were the ones that helped leaders see the great value of the program.

But most importantly, the Young Women in Excellence program was a catalyst for growth and introspection. Girls took each value, at first holding it cautiously, a little unsure of just what to do; then with increasing confidence turned it over in their minds as they probed for ways it worked in their lives. It seemed that each girl who participated could say, without hesitation, “I struggled, but I grew.”

And then there was that feeling, that sense of oneness, the all-encompassing embrace that validates the effort and the work.

Sister Wheadon put her arms around some girls after their program as they together treasured the feeling. She told them, “If things start to slide and life seems to get too tough, you call me and we’ll talk about this day and remember how we felt.”

“For my project on Divine Nature, I prepared a special book that included memories of my father. He was killed in an accident when I was three. I talked to people who knew him and came to understand more about him. My family was sealed in the temple, and I am thankful that I know about the eternal plan and that I’ll see my father again.”

Jamie Taylor
Nephi Utah Stake

“I chose Good Works. Service means you do things for people. We went to the hospital and put on a puppet show for the children. They really liked it, and we felt good because we were helping someone to be happy. They smiled a lot.”

Deborah Del Bello
Long Beach California East Stake

“I’m the only LDS person on the swim team. When this program came along, it seemed natural to set a goal in swimming. I frequently set goals in competitive swimming. I decided I wanted to work hard and swim the 100-meter freestyle in 1:06. I had been doing a 1:09. I worked and worked. When we had invitationals, I was in a relay and I did a 1:06:91. This helped my feeling of individual worth.”

Shawna Ulmer
Long Beach California East Stake

“About a year ago I started bringing my best friend, Tami, out to church, especially Mutual activities. I’ve brought other friends to church, and they were interested in the activities, but Tami was more interested in the gospel. I knew that she would believe. It added to my faith as she gained hers. Pretty soon she started asking me questions, and I couldn’t answer them all. So the missionaries taught her the lessons, and she set a date and was baptized.”

Cami Criddle
Long Beach California East Stake

“Cami asked me if I wanted to go to church. At first I thought, no, I didn’t really want to. Then I decided that since I hadn’t been baptized into any church, I ought to start looking around and seeing what I believe in. I went with Cami, and the things I was taught I believed, so I started going to church more often. When I had the missionary lessons, I felt I was ready to be baptized.”

Tami Howell
Long Beach California East Stake

“For the value, Choice and Accountability, I made a game called, ‘The Choice Is Right, or Is It?’ I used my sticker collection to add pictures to the board. When you are consciously thinking of right or wrong, it’s much easier to make a right choice. Although it took lots of time to make my game, it was worth it. My whole family got involved in discussing decisions that teenagers have to make every day. And my mother and sister have noticed that I think more carefully about the consequences before I make decisions now.”

Cheri Everett
Meridian Idaho East Stake

“I love to write about the things I love. One night I wrote about my horse, Missy. I had been having a hard time keeping her in the pen. The dogs were barking, so I went out to check on Missy, and she was out. It was a beautiful night with lots of stars. I could see her clearly, and she stood quietly while I put the halter on. I started to cry, I was so disappointed. It was like I was seeing how my parents feel when I disobey. I just hurt inside because I don’t like to tie her up. I explained that to her, and I felt she understood me and was sad that she had disobeyed. I forgave her and told her how much I love her. I know that my Father in Heaven loves and cares about me and how I feel. I am grateful to have Missy to help me learn the things I need to learn in life. I am grateful Heavenly Father has given me the family that he has and am grateful for each one of them and all they have done for me.”

Camille Kenison
Nephi Utah Stake

“Since I am the oldest with all sisters, we have lots of dolls without too many doll clothes. I started designing and making doll clothes for my sisters. Then for this project, I decided to try to make a dress from a pattern. I made a pink dress for my littlest sister, Molly Sue, with a fluffy skirt that she can twirl. It turned out really well and made me feel good about trying. I wanted to know that I could do it to increase my feelings of individual worth.”

Stephanie Howard
Nephi Utah Stake

“I encouraged my brothers and sisters to participate in a bike-a-thon for cancer research. We also did it to remember our friend Stan Miller. He died last year of leukemia. We rode around Rossmoor Park, and our sponsors donated money for every mile we rode. Among us we earned $250 for the hospital. When we got done, I felt good. I want to do it every year.”

Kacie Seamons
Long Beach California East Stake

“Each week for several weeks I gave a lady with five children in our ward a few hours to herself. Babysitting five kids is not easy. At times I could have pulled my hair out, but I survived and without losing my temper. I helped the children each transfer one of their drawings onto a quilt block, and we made a special quilt for their mother. Doing good works for someone else gave me a warm feeling inside.”

Heather Bell
Meridian Idaho East Stake

“For my project on Knowledge, I tape-recorded my grandparents telling their stories one evening. I was interested to know things about their lives; what trials and struggles they had and what joys. I learned things I hadn’t known before. It was a neat evening.”

Susan Fannin
Long Beach California East Stake

“To represent Faith, I drew this picture of my Savior. I looked into his eyes and his kind, compassionate face and gained a better understanding of the tremendous sacrifice he made for us.”

Holly Peterson
Meridian Idaho East Stake

“I wanted to put something together out of wood so I could work with my dad. We cut a piece of walnut from a tree at my grandfather’s home. His land was formerly the old Wells Fargo station. My grandfather, as well as my own father, is a great example of the meaning of the word integrity. This plaque will always be a reminder of integrity to me because of where the wood has come from and the talents my father has shared with me.”

Tammy Farmer
Meridian Idaho East Stake

Photography by Janet Thomas, Richard Romney, and Eldon Linschoten