When I was twelve years old my parents moved us from a small Midwestern town to a larger Chicago suburb. I was nervous but excited, because turning twelve meant that I would be able to attend Sunday School classes with the “cool kids” — the other teenage girls at church. But what I didn’t realize was that the cool kids were taught by the coolest leaders. That’s where I first met Jean B. Bingham. She was one of our Young Women’s leaders. She made me feel welcome. And her example has forever shaped the woman I want to be.
Sister Bingham seemed to have it all. She had a handsome husband, two beautiful daughters, and a lovely home overlooking a verdant forest. We spent many fun evenings at their house for activities and parties. She always seemed to have it together. And her quiet, peaceful nature was reassuring every time we talked.
I even remember when she and her family decided to learn a second language so they could better serve the Lord if they were called on a family mission. But despite the polished exterior, Sister Bingham was humble and kind. She was the kind of woman who asked how you were before talking about herself. And she was never afraid to dive in and get her hands dirty.
I’ll never forget one year at Girl’s Camp we all went on a hike. It was along a beautiful river. The path had some steep ledges and cliffs we had to scale. I was lost in the scenery until I looked down. We were right on the edge of a steep drop, and the rocks were shale – smooth and flaky. My feet felt like lead. I was petrified! I didn’t know before that moment that I was afraid of heights… or death. I froze.
The rest of the group managed to climb around me, and continue up the hill. But my muscles were locked and unwilling to listen. I was convinced that even the smallest movement would send me hurtling over the edge. I remember concerned faces as my leaders tried to talk me through it. Eventually I overcame that moment of abject terror. But I would never have known I had the strength to continue if it hadn’t been for the patience and encouragement of my leaders and friends.
I have many fond memories of those years we spent in the Elgin Ward. Like so many young women my leaders became my heroes. Sister Peterson, Sister Kling, and Sister Bingham will always have a special place in my heart. But to my surprise when we moved away I still got to hear bits and pieces about Sister Bingham. And then yesterday I got to hear her speak in the General Women’s Session of conference. What an amazing moment that was!
I still often find myself trying to emulate the example Sister Bingham gave me all those years ago. There are three specific lessons she taught me that I still often reflect on.
First, she was the one you could always look to when you were giving a talk, and see a smile on her face. It was such an encouraging characteristic, that I still find myself consciously making an effort to make eye contact and smile at teachers and speakers. Being in front of a crowd is nerve wracking. And the smile from the audience makes all the difference when you want to be anywhere else.
Second, Sister Bingham always sang the hymns in church. And it became evident that she had memorized them because she rarely looked at the book. So I decided to do the same. I managed to memorize all but a handful of hymns before becoming a mother. And I never realized what a handy skill that would be until I was trying to juggle a baby, sing, and keep him from eating the book all at the same time. The freedom it affords me, to sing and look around, makes me glad I accomplished that goal.
3- Always speak well of others
And finally, Sister Bingham always had good things to say about everyone. I never heard her gossip or put anyone down. And in our very diverse congregation, it would have been very easy for her to fall into the ‘Us VS Them’ mentality. Instead she sought to include people, and uplift them. It has become my own personal goal to do the same. I can’t say I’m perfect, but I try. And her example shines as a bright light to help me become a better person.
I pray that every young woman will be blessed with her own Jean B. Bingham. Someone she can look up to, whose example will teach her to be more like Christ. And Jean, if you get to read this, you made a big difference to me. Thank you.
Patty thrives on all things creative. You’ll often find her in the garden pretending she is a suburban farmer. She loves meeting new people, and is devoted to her friends and family. In her heart she is a Midwesterner even though life has moved her all over the country. She believes in “blooming where you’re planted” and has found purpose in every place she has been. She has a deep and abiding love for the Savior and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And she loves editing LDS Blogs because it is a constant spiritual uplift. Not many people can say their job builds their witness of the Savior.