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Ally Isom

By December 17, 2018 10:40 AM
Ally Isom
With expertise at the nexus of communications, public policy and politics, Ally Isom is passionate about helping organizations bring people together to tackle tough issues. Ally is currently the Director of Institutional Messaging for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with responsibilities for integrated and global communications. Previously, she worked in state government for ten years, including time as deputy chief of staff, communications director and spokesperson for Utah’s governor, and as a state agency administrator and a legislative liaison.

Aurora Schuler quoteAlly Isom quote

It is such an honor and a privilege to be with you today, I have been praying for you and about you for weeks and I know out Heavenly Father is mindful of you and it is truly my honor. Victor and Aurora and the bc singers have done a great job of inviting the spirit to be with us today.

I’m a planner—an OCD, define every step, every strategy, every risk, every contingency, every message, every channel kind of planner.

So, raise your hand if your life has gone exactly according to plan. Really? ME, TOO!! No really, thank HEAVENS! I truly thank my Heavenly Father, the eternal father of my spirit.

For God has had a much better plan than I EVER imagined. A plan that has stretched me in every way, and driven me to my knees when it seemed there was no way.

As a small child, my daddy told me I could be anything I wanted if I only put my mind to it. And my inner voice ignited. I KNEW he was right. I knew there was a better way than being so poor. I knew there was a better way than my mother working three jobs. And I knew education was my way out.

I set my sights on college, law school, power suits with big shoulder pads and a sleek car. Except every time I thought I had figured out what I wanted and how to get there, we moved. Another Plan B.

Every grade of elementary school we moved. Then junior high. Even in high school. Thirteen times in all—Plan B.

Now, plan B made me resilient. Plan B helped me accept change. Plan B helped me see the opportunity in new friends, new ideas, new horizons. Plan B meant my parents couldn’t write a check, so I approached every service organization in the greater Mesa, Arizona, metro area and sought sponsors to help me attend Jr. Statesman Summer School at Stanford University, or debate camp in Washington, D.C.

Plan B made me resourceful. Plan B meant I chose the Harvard debate tournament over playing high school basketball—and eventually became a policy debate state champion. I learned there that my voice has power.

Plan B meant I attended Provo’s Brigham Young University—the bastion of Molly Mormons and marriage clichés—instead of Chicago’s Northwestern University as I planned—and I found my own identity could resist those very clichés and I also found my intellect ignited.

Plan B meant marrying a Jimmy Stewart-type Idaho farm-boy right after my freshman year of college, rather than after law school as I planned—and I found there, stability and a foundation for greater faith by trusting that inner voice and the voice of the Spirit.

Plan B meant running political campaigns between four difficult pregnancies, jumping into state government as an agency administrator—Where I negotiated flexible hours to assure work-life balance and be home when my children were home—and learning I LOVE good public policy—the process, the outcomes, the partnerships—and I found there is opportunity in conflict and there is opportunity in controversy.

Plan B meant a post as the Governor’s deputy chief of staff, communications director, and spokesperson—what some in my industry actually consider a dream job—There I felt a duty to speak for those without voice,I felt a responsibility to allow those in power to have safe space, to be themselves, to be human, to be fallible, to explore solutions.

Moreover, I felt a CALLING to speak truth to power—diplomatically, and directly, but candidly. My voice—that TRUTH—became a big part of my identity.

At the Capitol, In that beautiful, historic building just up the hill, I was in my groove. And I hit my stride. My voice made a difference. My ideas made a difference. It was the ideal convergence of all my academic and professional preparation—the nexus of politics, policy, communications. I was wired for that job. It started to feel like Plan A.

But then…just as I was running full throttle, with sixteen hour days, late nights, incessant media, constant motion, my brain always ON—Plan B again.

Plan B meant the passing of my beautiful, smart, faithful, diligent 21 year-old daughter through life’s veil—a transformational experience— to say goodbye to Alyssa.

In a complete fog, I bent to pick up the countless pieces of my shattered heart, scooping them into my exhausted arms, and other pieces would silently tumble and splinter—It felt like a futile but essential part of moving forward.

After time on my knees and a lot of time in sacred spaces. I found my ability to trust God completely and the courage to act when the Spirit said it was time to leave that “dream job,” time to heal, and time to realize I had actually been prepared to do something else. The Spirit said, “November 22 shall be your last day.”

Then, just the week after I left the Governor’s Office, the precedent-setting Utah court case on gay marriage was decided and it consumed the holidays for the my team of Governor’s staff. I was home enjoying Plan B with my family, in my slippers, with a little hot cocoa. God knew I needed Plan B.

And two weeks later I had three meaningful job offers. Then that same Spirit—that same distinct voice— told me to take the post with the least clarity, the greatest uncertainty, no advancement path, no resources and the least pay —wasn’t exactly IDEAL for one’s career trajectory.

But by then, I’d learned to trust Plan B, To open my head and my heart, To open my eyes and ears, To see the opportunity, To see the meaning,
To trust my inner voice and use my voice for truth. To feel true joy. I am so very thankful to Heavenly Father for Plan B!

Plan B led me to that role in Public Affairs for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—a place where my job description never perfectly aligned with my actual portfolio. Some days, I wasn’t sure they knew what to do with me.

I had responsibility for local community outreach, local interfaith relations, and non-profit organizations, as well as matters of concern to women, LGBTQ saints, and race. For two years I was the lead on the design of— a labor of love, a labor on beautiful and sacred ground.

Now, after five years in Church employment, I’m the first-ever director of Institutional Messaging—where I get to tackle the way the Church talks to the world— and—some days— it starts to feel like they just may have figured out what to do with me. Honestly, however, some days, I’m still trying to figure out what to do with me.

The first attribute listed in my job description: comfortable with ambiguity. I don’t fit in a box. I don’t have a predictable career path. But I KNOW there’s a plan. I trust there’s a plan. And it’s not MY plan. But it is a plan uniquely suited for ME. A plan where God has guided me through every new frontier and every new opportunity.

To be perfectly candid, my experience as a mother and my journey of faith has been the foundation of my professional opportunities. That might sound a little strange to some who think of themselves as true professionals. But I believe that when we place our educational pursuits and career on the altar, when we recognize those gifts God has given us, As well as the opportunities He provides, He will guide our path. And he will make more of those gifts and opportunities than we ever envisioned.

I could not have known those small sacred moments rocking a baby at 2am would cement in my heart an appreciation for things that matter most.

I could not have known those agonizing moments on bedrest with a threatened pregnancy where I TRULY trusted God and rely on my Savior as my rock, as taught in 2 Nephi 4, Would provide the footing, faith and courage I needed to move from one job to another. I could not have known that figuring out my own way of co-parenting with my husband and determining what parenting approach best aligned with my personality and strengths would one day provide the framework for my organizational leadership style and my management paradigm.

My mothering moments attuned me to the Spirit, and I know what truth and light feels like because I was listening and practicing and learning in my own domestic laboratory.

And twenty years later, as I struggled and wondered, WHAT am I doing HERE, Father?—I felt familiar guidance---principles like…

  • You are here for a reason. God will show you what that is—be patient and watch for it.

  • Learn all you can and prepare, so you are ready to step through the door when it opens.

  • Be true to yourself, for your gifts are divine, and there are many places and many ways to contribute to God’s work.

  • Seek not to do things according to the designs of human beings, but according to the Spirit.

And I wrote those principles down in a little black book I carry with me.

Shortly after I came to work for the Church, I came across an Ensign piece authored by Elder Robert Gay, entitled, "Your Journey of Giving," based on a commencement address he gave at another school up north, “Continuing Your Life’s Journey,” given at Brigham Young University–Idaho on July 23, 2013.

He referenced Nephi's construction of a ship and then said:

“In the days ahead you will find many occasions to murmur. But remember that God is in control and is never absent. Remember that your call is to work after the manner of the Lord, not after the manner of men, and that by following His voice, you will become a powerful instrument in His hands for doing good.

True success is to accomplish what the Lord sent you to earth to do. Never doubt yourself. You are a child of a loving Father in Heaven. He has given you great blessings that He expects you to recognize. When you reach a game-changing crossroads, He asks you not to shrink but rather to act with deep faith to revolutionize the world in which you live.

Don’t fret at how irrational the voice of the Spirit may seem. God is in control and knows what is necessary and right. Always be guided by the Holy Ghost.”

It’s a little bit long, but I put that statement on my wall, I framed copies for my team, I re-read it often.

“To act with deep faith to revolutionize the world in which you live.”

Revolution is no small thing, is it? It's an overthrow in favor of an entirely new system. And sometimes, Doesn’t the revolution have to happen within us first? Sometimes we need a new system WITHIN—a new way of seeing things, a new way of doing things.

As I prayed to see with spiritual eyes and pled to hear with spiritual ears, a revolution took place within. I came to understand living life is facing one frontier after another, the end of one thing, the beginning of another. I call it my “constant new normal.” I came to understand two other principles --

Adversity is preparation for deep learning.


Repentance is bidding your former self farewell.

Over the past six and a half years, since Alyssa passed, I have experienced deep learning and moved beyond my former self over and over again.

One of my favorite philosopher poets is David Whyte. He speaks of Moses in Exodus 3, when the Lord tells Moses, "put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground."

The Hebrew translation of put off thy shoes is actually more like "shed your shoes," much like a snake shedding its skin and becoming a new self.

Sacred ground transforms us into something new. We learn to do things a new way, in the Lord's way, and we are changed, we are transformed.

Whyte says we are always changing. We are constantly at the beginning AND the end. Middle is nothing but an illusion, he says. We are never really at rest.

In my words, we are ALWAYS growing. It’s innate—that desire to grow, To become your best self, To become all that God intends. If you study Moses 1, you’ll see it teaches a powerful concept. Satan comes to tempt Moses, to tempt him, AFTER Moses sees God, when Moses' strength is spent. Satan offers a counterfeit version of deity. But God's spirit had not altogether withdrawn and Moses responds, “Get thee hence.” “Deceive me not.”

Moses began to fear exceedingly He calls upon God and receives strength on that sacred ground. Moses says, "I can judge between him and thee.” And in the name of the only Begotten, Moses tells Satan to depart. As he stands on that sacred ground, Moses is changed And Moses is empowered. Moses recognizes his identity. He recognizes he is more powerful than Satan.He recognizes his power comes through the Son of God. Moses has a new way of seeing things, a new way of doing things.

In my first position at Church headquarters, I have to admit, it took a while to start to feel settled—At first, it was as if they were not quite sure what to do with me and I felt I was supposed to be doing more. About six months into my Church employment, during that July lull when leaders take their vacations, I experienced a period of serious questioning.

I found myself wondering, “WHAT AM I DOING HERE?!?” You see, it had been a bit of an adjustment coming down the hill. I experienced what you might call a number of cultural collisions. I felt like I was from Mars. I came from a political realm where I could say what I thought and I was valued for it. But in Church employment, it seemed difficult to feel like some valued my contribution. In some settings, conversation felt strained, My credibility felt questioned, some men would not make eye contact. I found few female role models in the workforce to mentor or coach me.

Those cultural collisions seemed pretty regular and, truthfully, enormously discouraging. It resulted in unexpected self-doubt and professional frustration.

Fortunately, the Spirit helped me and guided me, one day at a time, one situation at a time.

During one particular episode where someone seemed to avoid eye contact with me for the better part of an hour while seated directly across the table, the Spirit gently whispered, “Be patient. They're just getting used to you." But if I’m going to be honest—and maybe even a little vulnerable—about it, it was a difficult time.

Mentally, I wrestled with figuring out how I could make a meaningful difference. Spiritually, I wrestled with what God wanted me to do.

Let me share one story that might illustrate how I felt. From my office window in Public Affairs, I looked out onto the Main Street Plaza and the east side of the Salt Lake Temple. It was an inspiring view! I enjoyed watching the people milling about and bridal parties rejoicing as loved ones exited the temple as newlyweds. I studied the spires and other architectural features, as much for their instructive symbolism, as for the sheer miracle of their construction. One day, I came back to my office from a meeting to find this enormous mud splatter on my window. Upon closer examination, I realized it was actually the perfect outline of a bird—one who had obviously collided at high speed with the large pane of clear glass. The bird’s wingspan was nearly two feet across, and I saw the imprint of small feathers at the tips of those wings. I could see its feet and even the outline of its eye—the poor thing. I looked out to see if it had landed on the wide ledge beneath my window, or even upon the ground below, but there was no sign of the bird.

That splatter remained on my window for a few months, until the next scheduled cleaning. I grew accustomed to studying that bird, just as I’d studied the temple spires, wondering about where it came from, how old it was, if it survived, if it had a nest of babies somewhere. Eventually, I started to relate to that bird, realizing it was becoming a metaphor or my own perceived reality—one in which I felt I was colliding with culture, one where I was doing my best to move forward, only to run smack into a hard surface at full speed, not sure what hit me or where I was going in the first place—completely disoriented and even a little stunned. I faced many questions:

Was God guiding my path?
Did my voice matter?
Could I make a meaningful contribution?

Could I be effective in this environment?
Where in the world did I think I was going?

It was a difficult time. I turned inward and experienced real self-introspection. I looked upward and spent more time at the temple and in sacred texts. I looked forward and tried to take the LONG view— to see as God sees.

Elder Gay's words often came back to me:

“... you will find many occasions to murmur. But remember that God is in control and is never absent... True success is to accomplish what the Lord sent you to earth to do. Never doubt yourself... Always be guided by the Holy Ghost.”

I found myself on a journey of deeper understanding.

One passage of holy writ that inspired and instructed me was 2 Nephi, chapter 31, where Nephi says: “Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life” (2 Ne 31:20).

As I sought answers, the guiding principles came, but I want to share one in particular. It illustrates how the Spirit will communicate beyond simple words, with layered and very personal impressions.

In my Public Affairs portfolio were several assignments, one of which was chairing the Women’s Outreach Committee, where we worked to elevate the voice, visibility and perceived value of women, both within the church and externally. Too often, the concerns of women are framed in artificial binaries.

The easy default is women vs. men. But I believe strongly that meaningful and durable solutions are found when we all engage.

And as I asked, “Why am I here? What am I to do?” the image that came to my mind was two hands, both left and right, cupped together. The Spirit said, “You are here to help men and women work together. We hold more Living Water together than we do separately.” It doesn’t matter who is the left hand or who is the right hand; what matters is that we work together, in partnership with Heaven, to share the Living Water and Light of Truth with others that all might feast upon the words of Christ and have eternal life.

For me, it went back to what Elder Gay said:

"...your call is to work after the manner of the Lord, not after the manner of men, and that by following His voice, you will become a powerful instrument in His hands for doing good... act with deep faith to revolutionize the world in which you live."

Let me end by telling you about a "she-ro" of mine: Alice Merrill Horne. As a generous educator and diligent legislator, a mother of six, a feisty clean air advocate, a tireless champion of the arts, Alice was extraordinary in so many ways, including the way she engaged in very faith-centered public dialog and recognized the gifts of others in that public policy arena.

She was known to leave flowers on the desk of all other legislators, by the way. She wrote:

“Every spirit which enters mortality comes stamped with Infinity — with a power to reach out and grow inimitably. This heaven-given possibility is intensely individual in character; since that identity comes from the fact that each soul has within it a gift, a possibility, a power, a characteristic, what you will, which distinguishes it from any other soul…”

Within you are infinite possibilities. Within you are the seeds of divinity. The next time you find yourself asking, Why am I here, Father? Seek guiding principles.

And if you need to borrow some of mine for a bit—

  • Adversity is preparation for deep learning.

  • Repentance is bidding your former self farewell.

  • You are here for a reason. And I know God will show you what that is—be patient and watch for it.

  • Learn all you can and prepare so you are ready to step through that door when it opens.

  • Be true to yourself, for your gifts are divine, and there are many places and many ways to contribute to God’s work.

  • Seek not to do things according to the designs of human beings, but according to the Spirit.

And one more:

  • Be patient, they are just getting used to you.

Be open to another Plan B. 

Trust God. Have courage. Be still and know, you can be ANYTHING God wants. I bare that witness with you in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


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