LDSWP: 2023 interview roster

When I started writing and editing for the LDS Women Project in April 2020, my goal was to write and publish 100 interviews, and work with other writers to get the full database to 500. We crossed 300 this past year, so there’s still a long way to go. My personal goal is more manageable and I’m chipping away at it, not as fast as I’d like but still moving forward. I’m up to 32.

The women I’ve talked to – every single one thinks of herself as small potatoes, a person of no significance. Some are certainly more visible than others. I’ve interviewed well-known artists and published authors and the founder of an international charity and the historian who researched copious amounts of LDS women’s history for decades. I’ve also interviewed women who aren’t known outside their families and stakes and small towns.

Everyone has something to share about God’s love, and those are the stories I’m looking for. And finding.

Here are my entries for 2023:

Sheila Prins-Knight, “Working Together in Small Branches,” Lelystad, the Netherlands:

“To me, the gospel is a way of living, it’s just who I am. The most important thing of living the gospel is following Christ, and the best way to follow Christ is to share and to help and to smile. I think what characterizes me is that I love to help others. … I love to see that in my children as well. My two older daughters chose not to go to church anymore, but they are such good people. They want to help, they want to serve. I received a phone call from a friend – she needed help with cleaning her house because she is injured. My oldest daughter volunteered to go do it. My other daughter heard about all the Ukrainian refugees and asked what she can do to help. That’s the strength of the Gospel – we can spread the love of Christ. Charity is so important. It’s not only serving in your calling and serving Church members, but serving all the people around you.”

Mandy Green, “Courage and Faith to Follow Through,” Herriman, Utah:

“One of the best gifts I’ve given my two girls and my son is the idea that you can do everything you feel prompted to do. When I grew up, the line was – you can be a professional or a mom, but you can’t do both. I no longer believe that. I am a much better wife, mom, human, and member of the Church, because I’m fulfilled as a person. Because I pursue things that light my soul on fire. Because I am alive as a spirit child of our Heavenly Parents.

“There are a lot of women who 100% feel called to motherhood and have no desire to go beyond that. I absolutely support that. I’m not saying that there’s one template. But that’s just it – there’s not one template. What I was taught was – this is the one template. But I think a reason I felt so empty and spiritually dead was I had not pursued the things that made my soul feel light and fire and love. I want my daughters and other women to know: you are here for a reason and whatever that reason is, you can pursue it tenaciously.” 

Melissa Tshikamba, “Self-love, Beauty, and Divinity in Blackness,” Utah:

“People paint what they know and it’s a reflection of themselves. It’s so funny – we had an assignment in school when we had to paint eyes. I painted my eye, my husband’s eye, and my dad’s eye. They happened to be of a different ethnicity. I didn’t pick doing that, that’s just me, that’s who I am. I painted what I knew. But I had people come up to me and say, “Oh, it’s so interesting that you’re painting a Black eye.” How is that interesting? I don’t go up to any white artists and say, “It’s so interesting that you paint white people, why do you do that? What makes you so interested in that?”

“It was interesting that people automatically thought diversity and painting different ethnicities was not the norm. Diversity is the norm – this whole world is very diverse, and I feel like art should reflect our world.” 

Ashli Carnicelli, “Seeker of the Divine,” Charleston, South Carolina:

“When I prayed as a little Catholic girl, I prayed to Heavenly Father, to Jesus Christ, and to Mary. I wasn’t sure if it was Mary I was connecting with, but I definitely felt something from a loving female. My little six-year-old self had a witness of a Heavenly Mother.

“When I was a new convert, I was in the Sunday School class for investigators and new people, and we sang, “O My Father.” I was sitting with one of the sister missionaries, and pointed to the lyrics and said, “Wait a minute, we have a doctrine that there’s a Heavenly Mother?” And she said, “Oh, yeah. We believe there’s a Heavenly Mother.” All the bells went off, and I practically leaped out of my chair. “I knew it!!!!! I knew it!!!!!”

Monica Packer, “Finding God By Finding Myself,” Salt Lake City, Utah:

“Making room for the human in myself has freed me up to make room for the human in the Church. I believe that the “true church” will be fully realized when Jesus is here, when He is at the head and humans aren’t in charge of anything. The truth to me is that God lets humans make mistakes, and that has freed me to stay in this particular faith. This is the church I want to be in. When I think big picture, there are so many pieces of the puzzle that we have that I don’t see reflected in other Christian faiths. There are pieces we could definitely work on – it would be remarkable to live up to our own doctrine of Heavenly Parents and have that reflected in how we structure the church, giving women more of a visible part.”

Rebecca Cheney, “Nearer to the Lord Through Music,” Orem, Utah:

“We sing music that by its very nature brings the Spirit because we’re singing about the Atonement, or the peace the Savior can bring into our lives, or faith, things where the Spirit is always there. I have no doubt the Lord is part of this work. We’re a very important missionary function of the Church, and He is part of what we are meant to be doing. The Spirit is what makes some of these songs so powerful.

“Last year in a General Conference, we sang “Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy” – the last verse says, “Trim your feeble lamp, my brother, some poor sailor tempest tossed, trying now to make the harbor, in the darkness may be lost.” Singing that and testifying of the lower lights burning, thinking about the power of being light for somebody else – even our little tiny light makes a difference.”

Esther Hi’ilani Candari, “Connecting Links,” American Fork, Utah:

“The reason I do these things is because of my faith. It’s not about connecting secular practices back to my faith. My faith informs the more secular aspects of my life—the reason I care so much about social justice, about representation in the arts is because I believe to the very roots of my soul that every human is valuable, that every culture is valuable, and everybody benefits from understanding that they are a child of God. They are made in the image of God. They have inherent value, inherent beauty because of that. If I see any lack in that understanding, I feel like it’s my responsibility as a person of faith to help spread that truth. My research and art are missionary work—I am striving to teach the pure doctrine of the eternal plan and help God’s children through what I’m doing. …

“I think there is great significance that one of the first terms used for God is Creator. God is first and foremost a creator. When humans exercise their creative capacities, it is a shadow of the Divine. When we honor that and share with each other, we are honoring and recognizing the divine in each other.”

Marci McPhee, “Go Far, Stay Long, Look Deep,” Baton Rouge, Louisiana:

“It is such a blessing to walk with God, to wake up in the morning and feel like I’m being sent on errands. I love being God’s errand woman. It’s a blessing to learn and grow and help other people learn and grow and heal. I am in a place of unmistakable privilege to have the flexibility and means to do these things, after two financially disastrous divorces. I liquidated everything and live minimally, and have a completely unexpected income that’s portable. My plan is to continue to go wherever God calls me and do whatever I’m called to do until my last breath.”

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