So my process is to take the topic, pull out anything from the lesson book that MIGHT be helpful or inspiring, then read all I can about the topic in the scriptures and conference talks. It takes a long time, and I usually use about 1% of all I study, but thanks to the mixed blessing I've been granted of being able to remember pretty much anything I read/see, if I need to retrieve more than I put into the actual lesson outline, I can do so. As a result, the girls get the benefit of more scriptures, gospel resources they can study at home, and, let's face it, a less than typical point of view from Sister Stevens. The standard compliment I receive from the other YW leaders is, "That was an interesting way to present that topic. I'd never considered it quite like that before." Which I suppose is a euphemism for, "Wow!! You totally screwed up the lesson! What were you thinking???" But I really don't care...I teach those things I feel are confirmed by the Spirit, and I assume that as long as my sources are scriptural (which includes conference addresses), I'm okay.
I haven't always been this brave, and I think it's good for me to chart my progress because I could use a little boost right now. I was called to be in Young Women (2nd counselor) when I was 19. I had been married a couple of months. Darrin was called to be the Young Men's President, as well. So we were both young, working with the youth, trying to figure out our mixed-orientation marriage, trying to go to school and work, trying to make ends meet... it was a lot.
I served in YW until I was 27. In those eight years, I was less than effective. My three younger siblings were in my ward and in YW when I was called. That was weird. I had several troubled young women who came to me for help or advice. I had nothing for them. One young woman shared with me her personal story of being molested repeatedly by her step-father at age 6. You'd think I could give her some help and support. But my own abuse was only seven years old. It still ached even though I refused to acknowledge it. I had nothing to give her. Another young woman struggled with an eating disorder. I looked at her, thought she was very silly to indulge in such a habit, and continued with my own eating disorder. Again, nothing to give her, either.
I continued to teach lessons, plan activities, be physically active in my calling, but emotionally unavailable to all the girls. Interestingly, there are quite a few who have come to visit me over the past years. Many have said they thought I was a good leader--I was "fun". Maybe that's okay...perhaps there's a place for "fun" leaders somewhere.
When I was 27, I was a Miamaid leader. I had 17 young women (14-15 years old) in my class. They were bright and beautiful. I went through the motions of entertaining them on Wednesday nights, and being with them on Sundays. We had a new young woman with us that year. I'll call her Gina. Her family was somewhat odd. Darrin called them the Adam's Family, because they ALL wore black to church each week. I felt oddly drawn to Gina. She was extremely intelligent. She was pretty. But there was more. I knew there was more. I noticed that her hair was always strategically placed so that it fell across her face, but not always on the same side--not usual for girls--the part is always on the same side. I watched her carefully, and one day, the hair fell back, exposing a multitude of purple bruises on her jaw and forehead. I felt sick. I saw more signs of abuse as time went on. I know now, I should have gone immediately to my bishop, but I didn't know that then. I didn't know what to do.
As I watched Gina, I noticed more about her. She was definitely sexually attracted to other girls--and she seemed very confused by those feelings. I wanted to talk to her--I didn't know how. She stayed away from the group, never mingling. She stayed at my side during activities, and I allowed her to do so. I wanted to protect her--again, I didn't know how.
The violence in Gina's home seemed to accelerate that spring. She was often absent from church meetings, which, prior to this, was unheard of. I called her. I told her I missed her, and hoped she'd come to the next activity. She came sporadically over the next month, always with evidence of abuse on her arms or face.
One day I got a telephone call from a member of the Bishopric. He asked me to come to a local safehouse. Gina was there with her sister. She was asking for me. She said she needed me. That day, Gina's father had shot her mother, then shot himself while Gina watched. I went to the safehouse. Gina came to me immediately and wanted a hug--this was the first time I had known her to allow anyone to touch her. She was laughing, giddy. She was experiencing terrible sadness (loss of mother), accompanied by intense relief (death of abuser), and horrible guilt (over the relief she felt that her father was dead). I held my Miamaid. I listened to her slightly hysterical laughter, and as I wiped away her tears she told me I was the only friend she had ever had. After a couple of hours, the social worker in charge of Gina's case told her she would be going to live in another town, about 350 miles from here, with her older, married sister. She was to leave right away. I hugged Gina once more, and watched her drive away. I have not seen her since.
I went home, consumed with my own guilt. I was her only friend--but I never helped her as a friend should have. I was aware of the volatile family situation, the physical abuse, the SSA. I said nothing to anyone. I was the worst sort of friend. I was not a responsible leader--and I knew it. I called my Bishop and asked to see him immediately. I went to his home, and asked for a release from my calling. He protested, wanted to know why...I said, "I've been working with young women for eight years, and I'm tired. Please, let me be released." I was released the next day in Sacrament Meeting.
For ten years, each time a member of the the bishopric has asked to meet with me about a calling, I have prayed that it would not be in the Young Women. Thankfully, the Lord has granted my request. Two years ago, I decided to stop praying for that. I was over 35. I was past that "Young Women Leader" age. When my bishop extended my calling to me (Laurel Advisor) in January, I sat in his office and wept. I was emotionally raw already, as I was trying to resolve my issues with past abuse with a therapist FINALLY. I didn't understand why the Lord would want me to go back to a calling where I was so haunted by my past.
I told the bishop everything about my experiences with young women. I told him I didn't want to accept the calling. I had been working as a Primary teacher, and I loved my class. The bishop said I was welcome to accept the new calling, or keep my old one--he was grateful for my service wherever it came. I went home, relieved that I wouldn't have to work with the YM. I tried to prepare my Primary lesson. I couldn't think. I prayed for help. It didn't come. All week I tried to prepare my lesson, with no success. I was panicking, because my Primary class was large, with many "active" seven year olds. I needed to have every moment planned.
Finally, Sunday morning, I knelt by my bed and told Heavenly Father I'd do as he'd asked--I'd serve in the Young Women, if he'd just help me finish preparing this last Primary lesson. I went to the church building, knowing my bishop would be there. I met with him, and told him I'd accept the Laurel Advisor calling, then I left his office. Immediately I knew what I should do for my young Primary class. I was able to put everything together in an hour. As I taught my class for the last time, the Spirit confirmed that I was making a good choice, and the Lord would lead me as I tried to fulfill this new calling.
I had a very difficult time meeting with the young women, at first. I was worried about making mistakes, about not doing the right thing. I was welcomed with open arms by leaders and youth, alike. That same welcome was extended to me from youth throughout the Stake. Within a month, I was working in my calling as if I'd been there for years. It was truly amazing.
When I was set apart, I was counseled that I should allow myself to love the youth. I have tried to do that. I was counseled to allow them to choose, but to offer them support and advice as they came to me. I have tried to do that, as well. I was told that as I fulfilled this calling, I would be healed of the emotional wounds I have carried for years. I pray that this might come to pass.
I still don't want to make a mistake, and somedays I'm still afraid. I know my life is not one that any of the youth should emulate. I'm very aware that I'm weak, that my words are not always followed through by my actions. I see so many other adults who would strengthen the youth in ways I cannot. But I also understand that it was time for me to stop carrying around my baggage--it was time for me to heal. These young women of mine are strong enough that they can deal with a less than stellar leader for a few more months. And they are amazing, sweet, and kind as they heal my broken heart.