The hallway that leads to the women’s change room in the Salt Lake Temple is lined with photographs of women who have served in general Relief Society presidencies. The last photo on the right hand side is a portrait of Zina D.H. Young. When I was there last, I spent a long time gazing into her dark eyes, trying to imagine what she experienced. Today is the 105th anniversary her death.
Zina is one of my favourite actors on the stage of Mormon history. She has been praised for her obedience and sacrifice, for her generosity and compassion, for her hard work and soft heart . For me, one of the most intriguing things about her was her approach to the gifts of the spirit.
Not too long after she was baptized in August of 1835, Zina experienced strong manifestations of the gift of tongues. She wrote:
…I was somewhat alarmed at this strange manifestation, and so checked its utterance. What was my alarm, however, to discover that upon this action upon my part, the gift left me entirely, and I felt I had offended that Holy Spirit by whose influence I had been so richly blessed. One day while mother and I were spinning together, I took courage and told her of the gift …and how …I had lost it. Mother appreciated my feelings and told me to make it a matter of earnest prayer, that the gift might once more be given me. I walked down to a little spring in one of the meadows, and as I walked I mused on my blessing and how I had turned away the Spirit of God. I knelt down and offered up a prayer to God and told Him if He would forgive my transgression, and give me back the lost gift, I would promise never to check it again, no matter where or when I felt its promptings.
It would seem that she kept her promise. Perhaps one of the most poignant scenes of her honouring her gift occurred shortly before she died. Aging was difficult for Zina — her health failed. She had to have all her teeth pulled in 1889. She habitually overworked herself, administering in the temple. In 1898, her brother noted in his diary, “Zina’s memory was very much broken so that in many instances she appeared almost unsound — a little demented, so that my heart was melted with pity and grief.”
It was at her last public appearance in Cardston, Alberta that her commitment was once again affirmed. Her daughter, Zina Presendia Young Williams Card arose and was moved to speak in tongues before a meeting of women in the Relief Society Hall. Her mother was to be the interpreter. Zina “gave the interpretation, but feeling she did not have it quite clear, humbly knelt by her chair and quietly offered a few words of prayer, then arising gave the interpretation fully and beautifully, to the blessing and comfort of all.” She died a few weeks later.
In her final years, Zina wrote, “I have kept this vow, but it is has been a heavy cross at times, for I know that this is the least of all gifts, and it is oftentimes misunderstood and even treated lightly by those who should know better. Yet it is a gift from God.” The image of an eighty year old woman, once so vital and strong, kneeling before a congregation and knowing that age and infirmity are clouding her connection to God humbles me beyond measure. If only all of our spiritual gifts were protected and honoured with such integrity.