Sunday, May 14, 2017

My Mother’s Day Talk from 1999

My Mom, Leah, happy with her first baby, Richard. 

Before my first child, Anna, was born, I would have nightmares. In these terrifying dreams, I would be trying to diaper the baby or swaddle her in a blanket and have no idea how to do it. The tiny infant would gaze up at me impatiently, and cry out, “Mom, don’t you know how to do anything!”

I would wake up, horrified. How could I possibly be a mother; I didn’t know the first thing about how to do it.

When Anna was born, I still didn’t know anything about taking care of babies. But I instantly knew I loved every bit of her perfect little pink body, from the tiny long toes to her fuzzy miniature round head. I didn’t know how to care for a baby, but I knew how to love, and that is the main thing, I learned. 

With each new baby, I worried and wondered how I would manage with another child. As we walked into the hospital, fully in labor, I would tell Paul I changed my mind. Our family is just right as it is, and anyway, I could barely care for the ones I had.

But then, when that wonderful little being lay in my arms, I was filled again with that great love and I knew this was right. I was blessed to have this child in my life and all the other children too.

There’s joy in being a mom. When the children were little, early morning began with all the children piled around Paul and me on the queen size bed. Here’s an excerpt from my journal when there were just four little children.

First three-year-old Mark clambered over Paul, snuggling between us, announcing in his surprisingly deep voice, “I sleep, OK? I have good nap.” Then five-year-old Emily came padding in, eyes scarcely open. She climbed right in beside me, curling into a ball beneath my arm as if she belonged there. Soon baby David started to complain from his crib and Paul brought him in, the baby looking so like a fat sausage stuffed in blue blanket sleepers, we all laughed. In bed with everyone, David commenced climbing over our quilt-covered bodies like mountains, until all of us were wide awake and giggling. Seven-year-old Ann then appeared in the doorway, elegant though rumpled, appraising us all from beneath half-closed eyes before dropping into a ball at the foot of the bed. Before long Mark started begging for pancakes, and we all tumbled out of bed and raced for the kitchen.

The joy of motherhood is full and real. I could go on with stories of Saturday trips –“high adventure” we called them--traveling “wherever the hood ornament took us”; of working together in the yard and then going out for a “workers’ treat” of ice cream; of sitting at the dinner table talking and talking and talking, until David slid from his chair to lie on the carpet and continue the conversation from there.

But motherhood is also hard. There is the work, of course, which is not to be minimized. Though Paul is good to help, and most fathers are, there are always things that only a mother can do, or thinks to do. Henry Ward Beecher said once, “There is no slave out of heaven like a loving woman; and of all loving women, there is no such slave as a mother.” Mothers are up early making lunches, fixing breakfast, finding books, signing notes. They’re up late, tidying the house, helping with school projects, listening to teenagers. And in between, mothers are driving children to soccer games and piano lessons, and shopping for groceries to fill the magically emptying fridge.

And perhaps hardest of all, mothers worry. Mothers are some of the best worriers around. I myself am a world class worrier. I have been known to worry through most of the night because a child hadn’t completed the fourth-grade county report. Before the night was out, I was sure this act foreshadowed juvenile delinquency, drug addiction, lawlessness, and imprisonment. And of course, if these events came to pass, I had no doubt who would be ultimately to blame. Me, the mother, of course. My favorite cartoon shows a pro football player dejectedly heading for the lockers, having just lost a game. From the stand his mother leans over his head calling, “Don’t worry son. You couldn’t help it. It’s all my fault!”

We take a lot of responsibility on ourselves, and that is difficult even when things are going well. When they’re not, that responsibility becomes almost unbearable. One mother told me, despairing over children who had made poor choices, “If I had known it would end here I never would have become a mother.” Another sorrowing mother once asked, “Where did I go wrong? I tried so hard, and yet, look.”

So what do we do to be good moms, to raise our children in righteousness and joy? We can look at Heavenly Father’s example. (Remember that he also has trouble with his children from time to time.) We can never stop loving. In Jeremiah we read, “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3).

If the mission of the church is to bring souls to Christ, mothers (and fathers too, but more about that in June) are the main missionaries. We are on the front lines as we strive every day to teach these spirits how to live, how to love, how to have faith. Certainly, we mess up. (Don’t ask me to tell you about the time I left David at a bathroom in Wells, Nevada.) And kids mess up too, and make their own choices, as they have every right to do. 

But most of the time we do just fine. We do fine because we love our children, we love them more than we love ourselves, and we show that by the way we act.

So this is our day. Let’s celebrate mothering. Be thankful for your mother, and your mother’s mother, all the way back. Be thankful for the mothers of all the good people that have brought light to the world. Be thankful for all the mothers alive now, trying so hard to do right by their children. Be thankful for the young women who will be the mothers of the future.

And if you happen to be a mother yourself, count your blessings. Be happy now, remember happy times, and think of happy times to come. Tell yourself you’re doing fine. You are. Remember your Heavenly Father and Mother are by your side, supporting your every effort. They are pleased with you, for all your love and caring and trying. With God’s help and your own great love, you are doing great.

Have a happy Mother’s Day.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Christ on the Carport

“I had this really weird dream I think I should tell you about,” Shelly commented in our Relief Society class a few Sundays ago. It is indeed a weird dream; I keep thinking about it. Though I hate to tell someone else’s dream, I’m going to give it a go.

In this dream, Shelly was in a car with her good friend Debbie, driving around the neighborhood. They would pull the car into someone’s driveway, and Debbie would start telling Shelly about all the hard things in that person’s life. As she told the story, Shelly made clear that the people in the dream were not real people in the neighborhood and she couldn’t remember the details—she just said that the people were suffering greatly and as she heard their stories she just felt so bad, so sorry, so dejected. What could ever help these poor people?

Though Shelly couldn’t remember the details of the sorrows Debbie told her, you and I know what they were. We see such sorrows all around us. The widower adrift and lonely after losing his wife of over sixty years. The parent distraught over a child’s heroin addiction. The mom diagnosed with cancer. Those suffering from mental illness: from depression, panic attacks, paranoia, and schizophrenia. The family without income and wondering how to pay the mortgage or the rent or to buy groceries. The mother who lost a son to suicide. The wife or child suffering silently from abuse. There is such sorrow all around us. If we were to stop in front of any home, and somehow see the sorrow faced within, we would indeed feel compassion and sadness.

And that doesn’t even begin to touch the sorrows beyond our neighborhoods--the tragedies we see every day in the news--the incredible sufferings of war, famine, oppression, epidemics, poverty, and more.

Shelley explained that each time Debbie explained the sadness behind the walls of each home, Shelley felt overwhelmed by despair. “How can these people manage? What sorrow to live with! What can I ever do to ease their pain?”

Then, as they sat in the driveway of yet another house, she felt compelled to look up, which she had never done in any of the other houses.

There, sitting on the roof of the carport, she saw the Savior sitting “Indian style” As she said it, Shelly stopped, and smiled, “How random is that?” On his face was an expression of great suffering and compassion, and he was sitting in a pool of blood.

That is, of course, how the people in the houses--how each of us-- could bear the sorrow. If we look up, we will find the Savior suffering with us. He suffered on Gethsemane and on the cross. He suffered 2000 years ago and he suffers with us now, aware of every pain and willing to bear it for us.

One of my favorite descriptions of the Savior’s atoning sacrifice is this one from The Book of Mormon: “And he . . . will take upon him the pains and sicknesses of his people. . . that his bowels may be filled with mercy. . . that he may know. . . how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:11-12). To me this means that he has suffered and does suffer the very pain that I suffer, and because he does, he understands my pain and he understands me. What is more intimate than that?

And because He knows my pain and knows me, he knows just how to help me in my pain and suffering.

But to receive that help, I do need to ask diligently, in faith believing, willing to act upon my faith.

Here is another Easter story that I think of.

I think of Mary Magdalene and her great sorrow, as she watched her Savior suffer on the cross, watched him buried hastily in a borrowed tomb.

I think of Mary crying in despair, her world seemingly at an end, through that lonely Sabbath of mourning. Then, the Sabbath over, I think how she must have washed her face and thought, “What can I do? How can I reach out to my Lord? How can I serve Him still?”

She knew what she could do. It wasn’t much, but she knew she and her friends could do it. They gathered what they needed--the linens, the oils, the spices--and walked steadfastly toward the tomb, to honor their Savior with their loving service, to carefully prepare the body. They did not even know for sure how they were going to do it. They wondered among themselves, “Who shall roll away the stone from the door?”

But they stepped forth to do what they could do.

Then, there at the tomb, the stone was rolled away, the body missing. Mary, as we often do, assumed the worst: “Oh no! They have taken even his body away from me. I cannot do even that small service for him.”

She must have felt that her act of faith had been denied. Why was her prayer unanswered?

Her friends left her there, sobbing, feeling there was no way out of her sorrow.

Then she heard a voice. “Mary.” She turned and saw her risen Lord, glorious before her.

Her sorrow turned to joy as she saw his pain and suffering turned to victory.

I keep thinking of these two images of Christ. Christ on the carport, bleeding and suffering for and with our sorrows. And the glorious risen Christ, who overcomes all pain and sorrow. Christ offers us both—the bleeding Christ suffering with us, and the great and radiant Savior who will turn all our sorrow to joy.

Even in the depths of sorrow, as we look up, we can find our loving Lord suffering for and with us. As we step forward in faith to do what we can for Him, even in the midst of our suffering, we will find what he offers: help and hope and joy.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

My Easter Dress

When I was a child, Easter was all about the dress. Weeks before the big day, my mom would go to the fabric store to buy a pattern and cloth for my new Easter dress. My sisters also got new dresses and sometimes mom even made one for herself. My sisters were much older than I and more sophisticated, so I don’t think we ever had matching dresses. But once at least Mama made matching dresses for her and me—a lovely chartreuse check. I remember asking mom what “chartreuse” meant and her explaining as she held up the yellow-green fabric.

My mother was very frugal and we didn’t spend a lot on clothes, but she always made sure we had complete new church outfits for Easter, which would become our summer Sunday clothes. The days before Easter were busy for her as she sewed in the evenings and on the weekends, in her spare time when she wasn’t teaching school.

The Saturday before Easter we would die hard-boiled eggs. We would put a color tablet in each cup (or sometimes drops of food coloring) and add vinegar and hot water. The sharp smell of vinegar still makes me think of Easter. I loved the colors, especially the deep robin’s egg blue.

Then, sometimes, that Saturday afternoon, we would go for an Easter picnic on a sunny spring day. Daddy would say, “Mommy, make us some samwiches and we’ll have a picnic!” So Mama would quickly mix up a can of tuna fish for sandwiches, find a half-eaten bag of chips in the cupboard, and maybe a sack of homemade, possibly stale, cookies. When my mom made tuna fish sandwiches, they were mostly mayonnaise. She could make a can of tuna go further than anyone could imagine.

Then we would load the food and the newly died eggs into the car, and dad would drive off into the country. I don’t think we had any particular destination. He would just drive until he found a likely destination—a place with a big tree for shade and some flat ground to spread the old green plaid woolen picnic blanket. Sometimes it would be a pasture, and we would hope there wasn’t a bull in it. I seem to remember that once there was—and we had to make a run for it.

After eating our tuna “samwiches,” we would have a little Easter egg hunt, taking turns hiding the eggs, finding them, and then hiding them again. Hiding eggs was as fun as finding them. Since they were just hard boiled eggs, it was all about the game, not the what was in the eggs. We would egg hunt all afternoon on Sunday too.  

Saturday night was always bath night, and we made special efforts to make beauty preparations for Easter Sunday. After my bath and shampoo, Mama (or sometimes one of my big sisters) would wind my hair around the curlers. My hair was stick straight and I usually wore it in braids, but for Sunday we would make heroic efforts to get some curl into it. The curlers were hard metal, with a spring clip to hold the hair in place as it was rolled, and then a metal fastener that swung over to hold the hair securely.

These curlers were hard and they hurt when I tried to sleep. But we must sacrifice for beauty, I learned.

Easter morning, when I awoke, there by my bed was my Easter basket. I don’t remember ever believing in the Easter bunny, though of course he was a character in the Easter festivities. I knew the basket was from my parents.

Right on top of the basket were the accessories for the dress—which was, as I said, the big event of Easter. There were new white socks with lace around the top and white gloves, of course, because every young lady had new white gloves to go with her new Easter dress. A lovely Easter bonnet was essential. Sometimes there was an actual hat, made of straw with a little elastic attached to hold the hat on my head. Most often it was more like a headband with flowers glued on. Another favorite accessory was a real purse, maybe white shiny plastic, with a latch that fastened with a twist. New shoes were also included, usually white leather mary janes with a strap. The white shoes would be polished many times over the summer to come with the chalky white polish that was more like paint to cover over the inevitable scuffs and grass stains.

Also in the basket were a couple of simple toys. I remember play-dough as being a regular toy and sometimes a little plastic chick you could wind up to make them hop. On rare occasions, there was even a stuffed rabbit.

I suppose candy was also in the basket, though I don’t really remember much about the candy. I know some of the eggs I had colored the day before would be in the basket.

I don’t remember a special breakfast, though maybe that happened. We would be busy that morning getting ready for church, getting into our Easter finery. At long last the beautiful new dress would go over my head and Mama would fasten the buttons down the back and tie the big sash. A big “stick out slip” would go underneath, to make the full skirt stand out in a wide circle from my waist. I would twirl to make it even fuller!

I would put on the new lacy socks and the new white shoes, which maybe pinched a little, but that was OK because they looked great. At the very last minute, Mama would take the curlers out of my hair, in hopes that the curls would last until we reached the church building. She would carefully brush out my hair and position the new Easter hat or headband in place.

Now it was time for that most important of occasions, the Easter photograph. My dad would get out his old Brownie box camera, which probably still had the same roll of film in it he had used to capture the Easter photos. The girls would line up in front of the house, squint into the sun, my dad would hold the box in front of his chest, look down into the viewfinder, click the shutter, and the glory of our Easter finery would be preserved for all time.

Finally, we piled into the old blue Buick for the ride to morning Sunday School. There were no seatbelts, of course, and we were careful not to muss or wrinkle our lovely dresses.

At Sunday School, as we all gathered for opening exercises, we craned our heads to look at our friends’ Easter outfits. All the children looked clean and shiny and beautiful in their new clothes. I remember once a family who had recently moved from Utah showed up in matching dresses and all the girls even had shoes that matched their dresses: blue shoes to match their blue dresses. That seemed just a little excessive to me. I was happy with my white Mary Janes.

In Sunday School, we learned about Jesus, how he had died, was buried, and came forth the third day, alive again, with a resurrected body that was new and fresh. Sitting there on the pew, in my new, fresh Easter clothes, I also felt resurrected and new and filled with anticipation.