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Women share stories of strength

The Time Out for Women in Cincinnati was Victoria Fellows' first.

"I'm used to being in an area with a lot of Saints," said Fellows, who is from Utah. "It was nice to feel that I was around a lot of Mormons again."

At one point, the mother of three was really nervous.

Presenters at Time Out for Women include authors and musicians from Deseret Book. But another speaker was added to the program this year — a local presenter.

In Cincinnati, that was Fellows.

"I was really, really scared," she said. "I was shaking and I was terrified. I was worried I would be emotional."

Time Out for Women organizers solicited essays on the event theme "Sweet Assurance: The Certainty That Comes When You Know Life's Truths."

Fellows' husband died in a motorcycle accident last year. Her youngest was 6 months old, and they had lived in Ohio for only a few months. She was asked to send in her experience by someone who was aware of her struggles.

"I almost didn't turn it in," she said. "I had to decide if I could get up in front of people and read it. … Being widowed in the Mormon church at 25 is not normal."

At the Orlando, Fla., event, Angela Haddock shared how she found peace after one of her young children drowned.

An essay from Sherrie Cope, which was published online, focused on how her son's longtime desire and prayers to serve in China were answered when he received a mission call to Hong Kong. She wrote that when her son opened his call, "he looked at me and then around the room. He couldn't contain his feelings: 'If there is anyone in this room who doesn't believe that God answers little boys' prayers then you talk to me!' "

Chrislyn Woolston, coordinator for Time Out for Women, said the local presenter "was added because we wanted to create a way for the local women to be represented.

"There is something about having 'one of their own' share their story that makes it unique from any other presentation," Woolston said. "This has been a great success to our Time Out program. We have found that many women can relate to these experiences shared and come away feeling that they were represented in the program."

Local teams of volunteers help invite women to submit their work, Woolston said. Essays can also be submitted online.

Fellows only told a couple of people she had been selected to read her essay. While everyone was getting excited about Time Out for Women, she was getting more apprehensive as the May weekend approached. She figured the worst-case scenario was that she wouldn't be able to read it and Laurel Christensen, one of the Time Out for Women organizers, would finish it for her.

"I did OK, and I didn't pass out," Fellows said.

During the lunch break, she was feeling pretty self-conscious, knowing that a thousand-plus women knew some very personal things about her.

"People kept telling me it was inspiring," Fellows said. "Hilary Weeks told me I was an inspiration, which was kind of cool."

Ward members were proud of her.

"It signifies a level of healing to write the essay and share it," said Fellows, who is going back to school to finish her nursing degree. "I'm getting there."

Haddock, of Gainesville, Fla., wasn't as emotional as she thought she would be while reading the essay about losing her 23-month-old son in a drowning accident and dealing with the ensuing grief and healing.

"It was a positive outlet for me and to talk about my grief in a way that through the Atonement all things be healed," Haddock said. "It's difficult on a lot of days. … It's OK to talk about these people and it's OK to talk to us."

There were quite a few women who found Haddock during one of the breaks to share their own experiences. Haddock has been involved in community organizations supporting a children's hospital and advocating swimming safety.

"It was comforting for me," said Haddock, who has four other children, including a newborn. "These women had been strong and came up to me. They still miss their child."

Essays from the events are featured on deseretbook.com/time-out/friends, and guidelines for submitting essays are also found on the Web site.

e-mail: crappleye@desnews.com