A sister missionary shares lessons in becoming a leader

By Sharon Belnap Seminario

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, March 16 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

The linoleum squares went from muddy, to hazy, to white during Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s “Hope Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ” (see Ensign, November 1998). Somehow, the physical labor I did as I listened helped me to concentrate on the words, and they lingered in my mind long after the duration of the chore itself. Elder Maxwell, then a member of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve, gave the talk while bald from cancer treatments: instant context to every word he spoke. He taught me that often “we who wear wristwatches seek to counsel him who oversees cosmic clocks and calendars.”

As I moved the rag across the floor, he testified to me, teaching me about my role as house manager with applications the stretched much further in my life. “Because God wants us to come home after having become more like him and his Son, part of this developmental process, of necessity, consists of showing unto us our weaknesses. Hence, if we have ultimate hope we will be submissive, because, with His help, those weaknesses can even become strengths.”

As I followed the Spirit down a new path of leadership, I began to feel my weaknesses fade and to see strengths develop. Springing out of better relationships with my sisters came new ideas.

I had a thought one day to have Christmas in July. The words no sooner left my lips than everybody jumped on the idea. Together we infused the holiday with excitement and merriment, stockings and carols and expressions of love. It was a wonderful, unifying day that made a lasting memory.

In general, I stopped over-worrying about the house and the rules and made the most of our time. At the end of many hot and hurried days, we sat out on our porch looking over fields (filled with sleeping mice), wrote poems, sang songs, giggled and watched fireflies waltz through the air and fade into the stars.

I also decided to listen more. Every day an opportunity would arise to walk or sit or cook or study with one of the eight sisters. I was able to laugh and think with them — to learn more about the life and struggles of each one. It gave me the chance to know these amazing daughters of God in a deeper way.

I learned so much from the wisdom with which they handled their problems and in return, I received advice from them on how to face my own challenges. I felt how important it was to each one to please her Father in Heaven and to do His will no matter what.

I had the opportunity to sincerely compliment them on the spiritual gifts I saw in them that blessed my life, the lives of the other Mormon missionaries and even the visitors to Nauvoo. I look back in time and these moments of one-on-one listening and sharing are treasures in my memory: crystallized and glittering and sacred.

I came to feel that each sister could truly say I was her friend, at least. In retrospect, those relationships became so much more important to me than any great act as a leader. Instead of saying “lead one another,” Jesus says, “Love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (John 15:12-14). Any degree of effectiveness I had as a leader, as house manager in Nauvoo, was directly proportional to the love I had for my friends and the ability I had to let my love for them eclipse myself and my will.

By the time we tearfully sang “Farewell Nauvoo” before flying home, our sound had changed so much from that first night. Some of our more timid singers now sang with confidence. Many of us had learned to improvise new alto or descant lines with each other during our many hours of service together. Our opera-singing sister could easily meld her vibrato with the other voices so that it was unrecognizable, adding richness to the texture of the whole.

We weren’t thinking about words or tone or pitch. We felt the music. We were in tune. There were no soloists, but there was one voice. We sang in harmony in every way, and it was as natural as the steady flow of the wide Mississippi River

Sharon Belnap Seminario graduated from BYU and has a master's from Utah State University. She loves to travel with her husband, Fernando, home schools her four children, teaches English composition and is a new member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

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