Thursday, August 04, 2011
I bet there are not many LDS women of my generation who do not know whom I’m referring to when I say the name “Chieko.” I believe that Chieko Okazaki, who died this week, had a huge influence on the women of the church and thus, I believe, on women of the world. At least, she had a huge influence on me, on my understanding of how to apply the principles of the gospel to daily living, and particularly on my self-definition as an LDS woman.
In conjunction with the presidency of Gordon B. Hinckley, the presidency that Chieko was a part of presided during a time of change in the church in regards to public rhetoric by and about women. It was during those years that what my husband and I refer to as the “wife talk” became a common staple of the priesthood session of General Conference—that is, the general authorities began to emphasize the correct (and point out the incorrect) usage of priesthood power within marriages, condemning abuse and encouraging emotional support from husbands to wives. At the same time, Sheri Dew and Chieko Okazaki were establishing a new and powerful model of what an LDS woman could be in terms of non-traditional (one was single; the other had been a working mom) and the ways (powerfully) and subjects about which (meaningful applications of gospel principals) and she could speak.
Most people remember Chieko’s talks in General Conference because she used visual aids for her object lessons. But what I will always remember her for are her writings, which I read, re-read, marked up and quoted (and still do). I’m proud that the organization that I serve, the Association for Mormon Letters, gave her a rare award in devotional writing. Her writings motivated me like no other devotional book ever had (or since has), because she was a truth-teller whose desire to increase unity and charity among LDS women was obvious, even as she bravely pointed out the ways we fall short. Just off the top of my head, I can remember several of her stories. For example, there’s the one about the visiting teachers who, when greeted by a child at the door of a woman they meant to visit because the woman was too sick to answer the door, said, “Well, tell her we’ll come back when she’s feeling better.”
I know that Chieko always thought of herself as a teacher. I have a relative who was blessed to have Chieko as an elementary school teacher who says she was fantastic. I’m grateful that the Lord arranged for Chieko to be given opportunities to teach many more than just the children lucky enough to have her in school. I’ve heard from a friend who was in her ward for years that Sunday School wasn’t boring with Chieko in the classroom. I imagine! Lucky ward!
I’m not embarrassed to say that Chieko is one of my role models. I will miss her; I think many, many people will miss her. I’m grateful to have known her mind; she changed my life.