"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
October 31, 2012
Callings, Custom Ordered
by Marian Stoddard

I decided that I was going to write my personal history, and as a starting point I sat down to make a list of all the callings I have ever had. It ended up being a long list since I left home at eighteen, and I’m not sure I remembered all of them.

My history of service began with the calling, as a college freshman, to lead the hymns in Sunday School. It was both a relief to have something I felt I could do — lead music — and a challenge to not just stand and direct for sacrament meeting, but to have to get up in front of everyone and teach that practice hymn, which was part of the opening exercises before everyone broke for classes. I would have just hidden quietly in the back of the chapel, left to myself.

That same bishop was inspired to offer me the calling I would have picked first in a heartbeat the following year, teaching Spiritual Living in Relief Society. I wasn’t counting on a perfect service life forever, but this was two for two. I was happy with this principle of inspiration for those who held the keys.

In our married student ward the first thing that happened was that we were assigned to the teacher development class. That took me out of my confidence zone but in a direction I wanted, into better skills in what I desired to do most of all, which was teach. Life made its own plans, and I didn’t end up teaching school, but I have used those lessons all of my life in the Church.

I was offered the chance to use them quickly, as I was called to be Primary Inservice instructor in our first ward out in the real world. I was still teaching adults, who were teaching the children. Then when we moved from Seattle to Tacoma, I was called to teach the seven-year-olds in junior Sunday School — to see if I had learned anything, I figured. You taught about how to teach children, now you get to try teaching them yourself. It was a natural progression.

Skipping ahead maybe two years, with three preschoolers and a major crisis in my life, the calling I never saw coming was Relief Society counselor. The new Relief Society president was a widow, seventy years old and semi-retired. She had been the ward choir director for thirty years, and I don’t think she saw this coming either. The first counselor was close to forty, and I didn’t know her well.

I was stressed at that point with family problems, and the bishop was well aware of that. I wasn’t old enough — experienced enough — to do this! Sure, I had had three callings in this ward at the same time, but they weren’t tough ones individually. How could I possibly deal with my life and do this?

This one was so far out of my league that I was stunned, but the bishop was firm, and said that Sister Broomhead was clear in her mind that I was the one: I was to be homemaking counselor if I would accept. As a well-programmed good Saint, who had seen all along the way, so far, a progression of divine tutelage in my callings to serve, I said yes, still totally stunned.

I learned some important lessons in that service. When I was set apart, I was blessed that I would have inspiration not only for the responsibilities of my calling, but that the Holy Ghost would also give me more insight into the answers for my personal challenges. The message was that I would have more help through this service than I would be able to find on my own. It was a way to answer my need.

I also didn’t have to be fully prepared, primed, and experienced in order to do this. I had to be willing and prayerful, and I would be led through what was required.

We didn’t have a luncheon chairman for five months, and we had a luncheon every month as part of homemaking meeting. We didn’t have a homemaking leader, the sister who coordinates the projects and classes (sewing, crafts, cooking, quilts) provided for the sisters, for a couple of months longer. The homemaking counselor — me — had to fill in for those responsibilities; we had at least immediately replaced me as sewing instructor. But my husband was willing to arrange his schedule to be with the girls; I knew that he could do diapers, baths, and all their routines pretty well.

We did eventually get both of those homemaking department spots filled, but I was wearing extra hats for quite a while, and the calling was demanding even without covering the extra bases.

The first time I had to conduct Relief Society, I took a deep breath and imagined that I was any one of the good sisters I had sat and watched do this greetings and announcements stuff. I pretended I was fine, relieved that all those expectant faces looking back at me were very kind.

I managed not to bolt or make unpardonable blunders, and we all laughed a little, gently. We all felt new at this, even the white-haired new president, and we shared a love of the gospel and a love for the sisters.

I did learn a lot about the Relief Society as I tried not to let these big new shoes fall right off my feet as I clomped along in my responsibilities. Those shoes seemed to fit better as they got broken in; though the calling was challenging, I came to love it and feel like I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.

Then came the day that the bishop called me in to speak to him. He told me that I needed to be released. No, there wasn’t a new presidency being called, just a replacement for me. He told me that I needed to be home.

What immediately popped into my head (but not out of my mouth) was, “But I don’t want to be home!” Oh! Oops. Not good — I guess he’s right, I do need to be home. My children needed me. My husband needed more of me, and less strain on his life filling in for me, and I had come to use the needs of the calling to escape the problems we were dealing with otherwise, without really recognizing it. It was time for that to change.

The next Sunday, after the customary announcements over the pulpit and a vote of thanks, one of the older sisters asked me if the Relief Society presidency had been released.

“No, just me.”

“Oh, so what’s your new calling?”

“I don’t have one. Nothing right now, I guess.” For the first time since I had started school as a newly-minted adult, I didn’t have a calling. I didn’t have one for a while.

The Lord saw what I did not. My time away was done for the moment. He had taught me that there was much I could offer even though I felt unable. But the welfare of our families is always our most important work.

Sometimes, when we think that we couldn’t possibly manage anything else in our lives, we are asked to serve, not as a further burden but as an opportunity. Sometimes, we might be reminded that home has to have all of our attention right now.

Always, the Lord knows and illuminates the difference. It comes down to following the path of inspiration, being in tune, both us and our leaders, and trusting in His wisdom and claiming His help. He, after all, is our Master Teacher.

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About Marian Stoddard

Marian J. Stoddard was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in its Maryland suburbs. Her father grew up in Carson City, Nevada, and her mother in Salt Lake City, so she was always partly a Westerner at heart, and she ended up raising her family in Washington State. Her family took road trips all over the United States and Canada, so there were lots of adventures.

The adventures of music, literature, and art were also valued and pursued. Playing tourist always included the local museums as well as historical sites and places of natural beauty. Discussions at home, around the dinner table or working in the kitchen, could cover politics, philosophy, or poetry, with the perspective of the gospel underlying all. Words and ideas, and testimony and service, were the family currency.

Marian graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, and attended the University of Utah as the recipient of the Ralph Hardy Memorial Scholarship, where she was graduated with honors, receiving a B.A. in English. She also met the love of her life, a law student, three weeks after her arrival; she jokes that she had to marry him because her mother always wanted a tenor in the family. (She sings second soprano.) They were married two years later and have six children and six grandchildren (so far). She treasures her family, her friends, and her opportunities to serve.

Visit Marian at her blog, greaterthansparrows.  You can contact her at bloggermarian@gmail.com. 

Marian and her husband live in Tacoma, Washington. Together they teach those who are preparing to go to the temple for the first time, and she also teaches a Stake Relief Society Institute class.

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