Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Mother's Heart

I've been to my share of Mother's Day talks where I've come home feeling less that worthy of my "divine calling", so when I was asked to speak on Mother's Day it was with some trepidation. I put this post up after my talk last Sunday, and then took it down. But I'm putting it back up because of all the response I got from it from people who heard me speak. I had young mothers, seasoned mothers, grandmothers and even fathers telling me how much they were touched by the talk, even up to a week later. I don't say this to brag. My prayer was that I could give a talk that women could connect with and come away feeling that even though we are less than perfect mothers, it's what's in our heart that counts; and that the hopes and dreams and desires and especially love that we have for our children far outweigh the mistakes we make in raising them. What came out on paper was what came out of my heart. Those thoughts were put in there by the Lord and probably with the help of my mother!

This is a very long post, but I hope you will find it worth your while.

When I was growing up, my home was not an orderly home. In fact, it was one of those kinds of homes that would have been a candidate for that TV show, “Clean House”. You know, where they find the messiest house in America and clean it up for them! We had clutter everywhere. The kitchen table was so piled up, you couldn’t eat at it. Walking through the living room was like navigating through a mine field. To get to the garage you had to go through the laundry room which was like trying to scale Mount Everest. If you did make it over the summit and down the other side, you then entered a jungle of boxes, broken furniture, old car parts and other discarded and forgotten paraphernalia. One day I had a friend over and we were in my bathroom primping as girls do. Below the vanity there were a couple of deep drawers. For some reason she opened one and sitting inside was a plate with a piece of bread and a slice of cheese. She looked at me quizzically, I shrugged and she closed the drawer. About a month later she was over and we were again in the bathroom primping. She opened that same drawer and guess what was still there?! Only this time the cheese was a little moldy and the bread was dry. We looked at each other, laughed, and again she shut the drawer. Who knows how long it stayed there!

My mother didn’t know how to keep a clean house. My mother yelled. And she swore! Sometimes she even chased me around with a wooden spoon. And although she was a good cook and was famous for her homemade bread, we didn’t have regular mealtimes and I never really learned how to cook. In fact when I got married the only things I knew how to make were nachos and quesadillas!For years I was very judgmental of my mother. I wasn’t going to be anything like her when I got married and raised my children. My house was going to be clean and organized. I would have regular meals. And I would certainly never yell and swear at my children!

Then a funny thing happened. I had some children of my own and I began to understand a little of how hard it was to keep a clean house when you have a toddler following right behind you messing it up. I understood how hard it was to control my temper when I walked into the kitchen of our new home one day and saw my 4 year old son sitting in the sink, spraying down our hardwood floor (that was not supposed to have standing water on it!). And I understood how hard it was not to swear when I took a breather on the front porch to regain my sanity only to come in and smell something burning and found that the child had decided to cook a piece of bread and brown sugar in the microwave for about 10 minutes. During this time his younger brother had emptied the container of brown sugar on himself and then I guess he decided that he wanted to play the violin because I found his sugar coated body standing in the living room with a broken violin bow.

I would like to tell you that I smiled sweetly and patiently through all these trials and countless others, but I would be lying!

Young children demand so much physical energy. When my kids were small more often than not I found myself wandering the halls with them during church. Sometimes I felt that it was useless to be there because I wasn’t learning anything. I would stand against the wall hoping that I would absorb some of the teaching that was going on in the classrooms. I was so tired so much of the time. Many times I would be in the foyer trying to calm a crying baby with one hand while simultaneously holding a squirming toddler with the other. Inevitably someone would say to me, “Oh, just enjoy them while they are young because you will miss this time when they are older.” I would smile sweetly, but inside was glad that both my hands were busy, or I might have just punched them in the nose! I thought many times how much easier it would be when my kids grew up because dealing with the mental would be so much easier to handle than the physical.

Then a funny thing happened. I got teenagers. And rather than sharing experiences that might embarrass my children I found a few quotes that I thought adequately describe that period of life.

“Mother Nature is providential. She gives us twelve years to develop a love for our children before turning them into teenagers.” 1

“Adolescence is perhaps nature's way of preparing parents to welcome the empty nest.”2

“Adolescence is a period of rapid changes. Between the ages of 12 and 17, for example, a parent ages as much as 20 years.”3

One of my favorites is by Mark Twain:
“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”4

And finally:
“Little children, headache; big children, heartache.”5

My mother’s goal in life from the time she was a young girl was to be a mother. She entered into motherhood with joy and enthusiasm. She had all kinds of hopes and dreams for her children. But life didn’t turn out the way she anticipated. She had a troubled marriage and was easily overwhelmed with the amount of work a large family created. The relationship between her and her children was often full of anger and turbulence.

When my children became teens was when I began to understand my mother. I understood the hopes and dreams she had for her children and the anguish and disappointment she felt when those dreams were not always fulfilled. I understood the frustrations that a large family produced and the tenuous relationships between a parent and teen. I understood the feelings of guilt for the mistakes she made in raising her children.

Elder M. Russell Ballard says, “There is no one perfect way to be a good mother. Each situation is unique. Each mother has different challenges, different skills and abilities, and certainly different children. The choice is different and unique for each mother and each family. What matters most is that a mother loves her children deeply and, in keeping with the devotion she has for God and her husband, prioritizes them above all else.”

My mother was not perfect. My mother made many, many mistakes throughout her life. But even while she helplessly watched the consequences of her actions play out, she owned up to them and often told me that her only desire was that her children would do better than she at parenting. However, I believe that the true nature of motherhood doesn’t lay in the outward appearance, but dwells within a mother’s heart.

Sister Beck said, “A woman with a mother heart has a testimony of the restored gospel, and she teaches the principles of the gospel without equivocation. She is keeping sacred covenants made in holy temples. Her talents and skills are shared unselfishly. She gains as much education as her circumstances will allow, improving her mind and spirit with the desire to teach what she learns to the generations who follow her.”

I don’t think we could improve any better than my mother in the love she had for her children. While we all struggled with various aspects of our upbringing, we all knew she loved us unconditionally. She had a mother’s heart. She kept her covenants. She attended the temple as often as she was able. She studied her scriptures. She had a strong testimony of the gospel and she shared it with her children and her children’s children.

My mother loved to brag about her children incessantly. I doubt she ever had a conversation where she didn’t bring up one of her children and tell the poor listener how wonderful they were! She wanted each and every one of her nine children and loved them with a passion. My mother gave wonderful, warm hugs. She had wonderfully soft hands. She delighted in babies. When she became a grandmother she could hardly contain herself. Each grandchild that came into the family was the most beautiful one yet!

She suffered great heartache. Several of her children chose paths that took them away from the church for a time. She watched them make unwise choices that broke her heart. She blamed herself for many of their choices because of the mistakes she had made while raising them. But she never gave up on them. She prayed for them constantly and always talked about what good children they were and how she knew in her heart that they would return to the gospel someday.

Most of them did, but sadly she didn’t live to see that happen. Six years ago my mother died. I was up in British Columbia at the time and my family had a difficult time getting the news to me. I found out about it through the coast guard while out on a boat on the ocean. I remember clearly what a beautifully calm day it was with the sun sparkling on the water. My mother had come with us on a couple of our trips there and she loved that part of the world more than anywhere else. When I think back on it, I’m sure it was planned that way. She wanted me to remember her and think of her in that beautiful place. I was deeply grieved and my grief was compounded by the fact that I still felt anger towards her for my turbulent childhood. I didn’t want to feel that anymore. I wanted to remember her for all the good things she taught me. That night as I lay in my bed, I told Heavenly Father how I felt. I told him those feelings of anger had no place in my life anymore. My mother had lived out her life and had tried her best and I wanted forgive her. Slowly I felt like a rock was being lifted off my heart. The anger left and was replaced with remembrances of how much my mother loved and treasured me.

I think the most important thing my mother passed on to me was to love and treasure my children. Sister Beck said, “Female roles did not begin on earth, and they do not end here. A woman who treasures motherhood on earth will treasure motherhood in the world to come, and “where [her] treasure is, there will [her] heart be also” (Matt. 6:21).

And Elder Ballard said to “Recognize that the joy of motherhood comes in moments. …amid the challenges, there are shining moments of joy and satisfaction.”

Shining moments like when a daughter asks, “Will you please pray that I will do good on my test, because I know He answers your prayers,” and the satisfaction of knowing that your testimony is making a difference in her life. Or when a son, who loves to argue comes up with some really good points which blow you out of the water and you suddenly are in awe of how intelligent he is. It’s seeing a daughter express herself in fun, outlandish, yet modest apparel. It’s watching another daughter singing her heart out on stage. It’s catching your breath when your baseball playing son falls while making a catch, but then rises up to quickly throw out the player running to first. And it’s getting hugged and kissed and told “I love you” a million times every day by a freckled faced child. These are the joys of motherhood. Each child is unique and wonderful and, in fact, I am blessed with six of the most beautiful, wonderful and talented children in the world and I dare any of you to differ with me!

I believe the enduring test of motherhood is what children remember when they are grown. What I remember is that my mother took joy in the small things—the things that made her children happy. Just after she died I was finally able to obtain a piano. I had wanted one for years, but had been unable to afford one. The one we found was used and not the best quality, but to me it was a piece of heaven. My mother loved music, she could sing like an angel. She wanted us to be a musical family and wanted her children to play all kinds of musical instruments. I took piano and violin lessons when I was very little, but for various reasons was unable to continue, however I have always longed to play beautiful music on the piano. When we got our piano situated in the living room I pulled out the hymn book and found the hymn, “God Be With You Til’ We Meet Again.” It was the closing hymn at my mother’s funeral. I played it for her in my halting way and I know that she was there with her hands clasped in joy at watching one of her children doing something that made them happy.

How grateful I am for a loving Heavenly Father who sent me into a home with a mother who loved me and who taught me the gospel of love and acceptance and forgiveness. The gospel of peace. The gospel of Jesus Christ.

1 William Galvin
2 Karen Savage and Patricia Adams, The Good Stepmother
3 Author unknown
4 Mark Twain, “Old Times on the Mississippi” Atlantic Monthly, 1874
5 Italian Proverb