Monday, May 12, 2014

My Mother's Day Talk

I was asked to speak in church on Mother's Day. While sitting on the stand, I was so nervous I broke my glasses. I caught my daughter's eye and showed her what I had done. My husband, ever resourceful, looked around and noticed Walt Clyne's reading glasses perched on his head. Walt handed them to Larry, Larry passed them up, and Brother Duffy gave them to me. Things were a little fuzzy for me, and by the end I was more than a little dizzy, but I'm extremely grateful I was able to give the talk I prepared. (For those who were there--how did I look in Walt's glasses?)

I will admit that Mother’s Day has often been painful for me. I admit that because I know I’m not alone—many others share my feelings of inadequacies and regrets.

But, because I have high aspirations, I look to Mary, the mother of our Savior, as the perfect mother. Luke tells us that when she was approached by the angel Gabriel, her response was: “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord.”

And Gabriel told her, “For with God, nothing shall be impossible.”

Often times, as I struggle to be the person I feel God wants me to be, I keep those two phrases in mind. I have faith, not so much in myself, but in God, that if I try to be his handmaiden in every situation, that nothing— whether it is raising a child to adulthood, or staying married for married for thirty plus years— is impossible. Improbable sure, but not impossible.

The comedian Jim Gaffigan once said that his five children made him a nicer person and that maybe by the time he has 34 he will actually be a decent guy. I feel the same way. I am a better person because I had children and I’m incredibly grateful the Lord has blessed me with my children. I have struggled to teach them, but they have taught me so much more.

Today I want to share with you a few things that I have learned from my children.

When Adam was a baby, I remember looking at him and thinking, I made him, he is perfect. I love him completely. But as he grew, he became less perfect. In fact, sometimes when he was little, if I would hear his voice after he had been put to bed, I would be so exhausted, so done, my eye would twitch. Knowing my Heavenly Father didn’t want me to be a twitch, one night in utter frustration I knelt and prayed and has I did, thoughts and inspiration flooded my mind and heart. I learned then that the Lord knows and loves my children even more than I do. In fact, He knows them better than I ever will, because He has known and loved them longer.  I was reminded of the words of Jeremiah: Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee.

Shortly after Bethany’s birth, she was whisked away from me. Because of complications, she had to remain in the hospital for two weeks after I was released. This was really hard for me. I realized that should there be an earthquake, a fire, or a terrorist attack, no one—no matter how loving, dedicated kind the doctors and nurses—not one of them could possibly love Bethany has much as I did. I knew that I would gladly risk my life to save her, and I also knew that no one else could ever say the same. This insight helped me to appreciate how difficult it must have been for my own mother to die while I was still young, and it also gave me a glimpse of the pain our Heavenly Father must have felt to send His perfect son to suffer and atone for our sins. The scripture, For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have ever lasting life. For God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world: but that through him the world might be saved, became more real to me during that difficult time.

When I was expecting Nathan my doctor discovered I had a large uterine cyst. This later proved to be ironic, because at first they thought the cyst to be twins, and when I was expecting the twins they thought I had another cyst, but I’m getting ahead of myself. At this same time Larry was offered a really wonderful job opportunity and promotion in New York City. We had just bought our first home, a small yellow house, and I was totally in love with it and our life in Mission Viejo. But because the job was too good to pass, we put our house up for sale, and prepared to move across the country. I tried to mentally grasp the reality that I could have cancer, the same disease had destroyed my mom.  Although the odds of the baby surviving the surgery were not great, the odds of my carrying the cyst and the baby were much, much worse. The night before the surgery Larry and I went to the Los Angeles temple. As we left, I paused on the temple steps and overlooked the LA basin. The stars and city lights were beautiful and I was filled with an overwhelming sense of happiness. I wondered how, in the midst of so much uncertainty, I could possibly happy, and I realized then that happiness has really nothing to do with circumstances, people, possessions or even really cute little yellow houses. Happiness comes from loving God and knowing that He loves me. I carry that memory around with me, and now, when I’m facing difficulties or trials, I think back to that frightening time and that love I felt from my Heavenly Father. I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul,  whose troubles were so much greater than mine will ever be, who said, We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.

When Jared was a baby I served in a Relief Society presidency. One morning at a meeting a sister in the stake relief society presidency apologized for being late, explaining that her son had just been in a car accident. Because I was young and much more judgmental then than I am now, I thought: that’s terrible. She should not be here at this meeting. She should be with her son. If my son was in a car accident, I would not attend a meeting, I would be with him. Fast forward twenty years, it’s a Thursday morning and I’m in a stake relief society presidency and I’m preparing for a meeting. I get a call from my daughters. On their way to school they were in an accident. After assuring that they were okay, they went to class and I went to my meeting. It struck me then that I had come full circle. I had become that woman I had criticized so many years earlier. But I didn’t rush to the school to be with them, they went to their classes and I went to my meeting, because I knew then, just like I know now, they have their lives and I have mine.

I learned so much during my difficult pregnancy with my twins and their seemingly endless babyhood. But maybe the most important lesson I learned came shortly after their birth. At 27 weeks I was placed on bed rest. When the doctor told me I would need to lie down for months, I hyperventilated for the first and only time in my life. I had four children under the age of 12. I didn’t see how I could possibly do this. But thanks to an amazing abundance of loving friends, I did. Even though we moved four days after the girls were born. Shortly after the girls arrived, and we moved into our new home, my saintly sister-in-law took my four oldest children for a week. I was stunned to realize that all of my children, including 4 year old Jared, were completely self-sufficient.  They all bathed and shampooed themselves. They made their own meals, packed their own backpacks and got themselves ready for bed and out the door for school. I decided then that this was my main job—to raise my children to raise themselves.

And sometimes this hurts. As much as I would love to hold my children forever close, they need to go into their world and I need to continue in mine. Remember how I thought, when Adam was a baby, that I made him, that he was perfect, and that I love him? Now I know that I he will make himself—because we all make ourselves, one decision at a time—and he is imperfect—because we all are—but I still love him. More now than ever, because I know him better now than I did then.

The poet Kahlil Gibran wrote:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Last year when the girls left for school, I lamented to a friend. She chastised me, saying, Your children are not your reason for living. Your children are a blessing from God and He is your reason for living. This friend who has never married has not been blessed with children.  (Also, she is not of our faith.) She taught me a lesson that I still struggle to learn. To be happy, God has to be the center of our world.

Nephi taught this in the book of Helamen,
And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.

No other person or activity can be our reason for living—not our children or our spouse, not our church calling or our profession. Elder Neal A Maxwell wrote: “Since Jesus is at the very center of it all, we must make Him and His ways the light by which we steer and the light that we hold up for others.”

As a mom, as a wife, as a child of God, I need to emulate Mary, and not only say as she said, Behold the handmaiden of the Lord, be it unto me as thy will. But also, as Mary said, I need to say, My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God, my savior. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things: and holy is his name. Luke 1:47

All of us, whether we have children in our homes or children in our hearts—can learn to know and feel the love of God. I truly believe that there will never be a greater lesson learned. And some of you, like me, will be blessed to learn from children.

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