"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
July 2, 2014
My Secret Sister
by Emily S. Jorgensen

In our ward this year, the Young Women leaders asked some Relief Society sisters to write letters to those girls attending Girls Camp. We were assigned for our first letter to tell them what we were like at their age. This is the letter I wrote to my secret sister.

Dear Sister,

I am typing this letter because I have HORRIBLE hand writing.

In this first letter, I’ve been asked to tell you what I was like at your age.

I grew up in the deep inner-city in a large city on the West Coast. I was in a branch, not a ward. I was the only young woman my age in 7th grade. In fact, when I first got to Young Women I was the only young woman at any age. But luckily in 9th grade, they changed the boundaries. However, there were still only about ten young women total at any point during the time I was growing up.

Seventh grade was one of the hardest years of my life because I was going to a school clear across town (the junior high near me was a truly frightening place with gang violence and drug use common). So, my parents helped get me into a better school.

However, this meant I knew almost no one. I was the new person, a Mormon (which was pretty weird there), and unfortunately also wore a larger bra size than any other girl in seventh grade. I felt pretty lonely and isolated most of the time. As if seventh grade by itself wasn’t bad enough!

I had one particular teacher who was really good for me. She taught English and history (at our school, you had to take the same teacher for both). She was truly terrifying. Her name was Mrs. Snell, and she had this fierce way of looking at you that shut you up immediately.

She never changed due dates, she always demanded better work, and if you got a good grade on an essay, you really deserved it. Although she scared me, I learned so much from her.

I remember one day we were reading each other’s essays and giving feedback in small groups. She had this stinky, old, nasty shoe. If you said something that was in any way hurtful about someone else’s work, she stuck the shoe in front of you on your desk.

I was commenting on someone’s essay, and she plopped the shoe in front of me. I was mortified. I hadn’t realized that I was saying anything rude — I thought I was just being honest. I learned then that you can still tell someone they need to do better or fix something without saying it in a hurtful way.

This has helped me try to find ways of saying things to my children and others I work with that help them improve without hurting their feelings.

On another note, I want you to know I loved girls camp at your age. It was my second year going when I was your age.

At our camp, there was a lake that we could go swimming in. Each morning they would do a “polar dip.” It was totally optional, but if you wanted the special polar bear bead at the end of the week, you had to go to the lake first thing in the morning when it was freezing and go in up to your neck. You could get right out afterward, but you were wicked cold no matter what.

I found I preferred to just stay in the water — it was worse to face the air outside the water than to just swim around, so I would stay in until everyone else did their dip. They started calling me the polar bear. They thought I was crazy. But I earned that bead, all right! I never did it another year, though. I’m not that crazy.

I especially loved being in the peace in the woods at camp. I loved just taking big breaths of the fresh air and thinking what a beautiful world God made. I enjoyed walking through the short trails between destinations by myself when I could just enjoy the beauty of nature.

The one thing I regret is not being a better friend to a particular girl that year. This was a girl who went to camp with us largely because my mother had invited her. She was a friend of mine from elementary school, and she was not a member of our faith. She had a troubled home and was sometimes a difficult person to be with.

I admit that although I never excluded her, I also didn’t try very hard to include her either.

She felt lonely enough while we were at camp that she tried to walk out of camp and hitchhike home. The leaders helped bring her back and helped her have a good experience. They also helped set up missionary lessons with her afterwards. She went on to join the Church and even become seminary class president.

She later wrote me a letter thanking me for my involvement in her conversion, but I have always carried some guilt knowing that I could have done better, been a better friend, sacrificed what I wanted to do at camp for what would help her feel included.

I hope you enjoy your time at camp; I hope you use the time to build others up and not tear them down; I hope you try something brave or uncomfortable so you’ll have good stories to tell later. I hope you see God in the beauty around you and in the love from your fellow young women and leaders.

Your Secret Sister

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About Emily S. Jorgensen

Emily Jorgensen received her bachelor's degree in piano performance from Brigham Young University. She earned her master's degree in elementary music education, also at BYU. She holds a Kodaly certificate in choral education, as well as permanent certification in piano from Music Teacher’s National Association.

She has taught piano, solfege, and children’s music classes for 17 years in her own studio. She has also taught group piano classes at BYU.

She is an active adjudicator throughout the Wasatch Front and has served in local, regional, and state positions Utah Music Teachers' Association, as well as the Inspirations arts contest chair at Freedom Academy.

She gets a lot of her inspiration for her column by parenting her own rambunctious four children, aged from “in diapers” to “into Harry Potter.” She is still married to her high school sweetheart and serves in her ward’s Primary.

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