This is a talk I was asked to give in the Oak City 2nd Ward for Mother’s Day Sunday School Program on May 9, 2010
I think it might bear repeating.
Imagine with me, that we are in the middle of a stormy sea. We are guiding a very large ship through howling winds and pelting rains. It takes all our strength to keep the ship workways with the wind and the waves. We are its very small helm. The ship holds everyone and everything we hold dear, and it is our job to get them all safely home. It is a daunting challenge.
Joseph Smith said, in D&C 123:17 that “A very large ship is benefitted very much by a very small helm in the time of a storm.” We are the helm. We are mothers in the last days of the dispensation of the fullness of times. We know that by small and simple things, great things are brought to pass, and so we attend to our duties with all the courage and strength we possess.
We hold family home evening with squirming toddlers and their older siblings who have the attention spans of the 30-second commercial culture in which they are being raised. We kneel at their beds at night and listen to their prayers, helping with the big words. We kiss their bruised heads, often on the wrong spots. We make them green pancakes and heart-shaped sandwiches on holidays. We follow the ritual of a nightly routine that would challenge the photographic memory of the most noted scientist. We cut toast into triangles, make ghosts and ballerinas from old prom dresses. We cheer at soccer games, clap at clogging performances, and cry at graduations. We help with homework, handle works of kindergarten art as though they were priceless artifacts, and we watch the same Disney movie a thousand times because we know it will make the children happy.
In other words, we do the small and simple things that keep the ship on an even keel and true to its course.
We are mothers in Zion. We are the mothers of the mighty and magnificent spirits saved for the last days. We are the mothers of toddlers, teens and twins. We are the mothers of daughters and of sons. We are the mothers of step-children and foster-children. We are the mothers of the mothers of grand-children and great-grandchildren. We are the mothers of addicts and the mothers of athletes. We are the mothers of sinners and the mothers of repentant souls. We are the mothers of doctors, lawyers, farmers, and artists. We are the mothers of soldiers, and social workers. Of missionaries and young women’s leaders. We are the mothers of modern day Stripling Warriors and Esther’s and Eves. We mother the lost and lonely, the loved and the left behind. We mother students and soccer players. We mother princesses, bug-catchers, dancers and dreamers.
We have been righteous mothers in Zion, and we have been mothers full of weaknesses. We have lifted up the heads that hang down, and we have been the cause of the hanging of heads. We struggle with the thorns of the flesh. We have momentarily given up, and then we have wiped the slate clean and tried harder. We have set goals and achieved them. We have set others and felt disappointment. We have learned patience, lost it and found it again. We have wished we’d known then what we know now about being a mother.
We have not been perfect mothers, and sometimes that is a hard pill to swallow. But we have tried our best, and our Savior has been there to make up the difference; to atone, before we make them, for the mistakes that sometimes haunt us still.
I realize, with the benefit of being of a certain age, that this is exactly how Heavenly Father intended motherhood to be. If He wanted wise and practiced perfect parents, He would have waited to give us children when we were expertly trained in the process. Instead, for most of us, we receive these innocent babies when we are almost babies ourselves. We nuzzle their marshmallow warm cheeks, and whisper promises we believe we will keep when we don’t realize how hard it is really going to be. We try hard, we love well, and we make mistakes. We repent, we try harder, and we have glorious successes, disappointments, and ordinary, everyday triumphs. As did every single mother on the earth before us, and as will every single mother to follow.
It is part of the grand and glorious plan of eternal families that there will be opposition, and in dealing with that opposition, we will be knocked about a bit, smoothed, refined, and polished. We will work through our issues with our parents as our children will do for us. And we will grow closer for those struggles. It will make us love each other all the more. Our being less than perfect, (while striving for perfection of course) will be part of their process; a gift they will someday thank us for.
It’s probably not a surprise that I didn’t always have a perfect relationship with my mother. She had a stroke when I was young and communication was sometimes difficult as a result. I will never forget a discussion we had when I was age 36. I had matured enough to realize that she, too, was a mortal parent who had done her best. I put away my childish perceptions and learned to love the big-hearted, wise and wonderful woman she is. She isn’t perfect, but she is perfect for me. And my small struggles with that relationship have been the impetus for personal growth I would otherwise never have gained.
I have seen that pattern repeat with my own children. My mistakes have sometimes caused them pain. Sometimes just their perception of my actions, and not my intentions, have wreaked havoc in our relationship, but the Spirit has born witness to me that I am the mother He has chosen for them. And many of the qualities that are their best, are also mine. Their struggles have forged heroic spirits who have advanced against great odds and will help them lead their children through the great and terrible days to come. I have a strong testimony of that fact. And I am not the only one for whom that is true.
Every mother wants to love her children well, bless them with her words and serve them with her hands. Even the best mothers will struggle, and even the worst mothers will want to do better.
Recently, I had an experience with a daughter where she expressed a great deal of hurt and anger she felt I’d caused. It was a time where she was not open to my response, or my love. I spent a lot of time on my knees begging Heavenly Father for a turning of hearts, for answers, and for opportunities. For what seemed a long and painful time, my answer to her could only be carried in my heart. I found my words to her in 2nd Corinthians 12:6 “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved”.
Through a great deal of fasting, prayer and humbling, that relationship has begun to heal, and to develop into something much more deep and beautiful than it might otherwise have been. She is now at the helm of her own ship as the beautiful cycle rolls on like wave after wave on an ocean beach.
Even the best mothers will struggle, and even the worst mothers will want to do better.
President Gordon B. Hinckley stated that “God planted within women something divine.” 6 That something is the gift and the gifts of motherhood. Elder Matthew Cowley taught that “men have to have something given to them [in mortality] to make them saviors of men, but not mothers, not women. [They] are born with an inherent right, an inherent authority, to be the saviors of human souls … and the regenerating force in the lives of God’s children.” (Sheri L. Dew, “Are We Not All Mothers?,” Ensign, Nov 2001, 96.)
It is our nature as women to be mothers, and it is our nature as mortals to struggle with pressure to be perfect. We need to be more gentle with ourselves. We need to care for and nurture those divine attributes gifted us by a loving and omniscient Heavenly Father in order to fulfill our divine mission as mothers.
My mother often thinks she’s failed me. She doesn’t remember all of the blessings I received at her hands, but can’t forget the times she lost her temper; the things she was unable to do because of her health; or the ways she believes she let me down.
I love her for every single one of those things and more. She is the woman who taught me to love a thunderstorm. She birthed my interest in reading, even though she sacrificed her own ability to read above a 5th grade level to a stroke. I have her eyes, her laugh, her smile and her arthritic thumbs and bad knees. She gave me the gift of her rock-solid faith, and the heritage of a strong maternal line of family in Oak City. She thinks I have the most beautiful children and grandchildren ever born. She loves my dad and has taught me what a good marriage must have to survive in today’s world. She believes I am a gifted writer. I know she can’t really understand my writing, but love her for believing in me anyway. I recently wrote this poem to honor the many small and simple things she doesn’t realize she’s done to make me who I am today:
and I am again a girl
sofa-sitting as you sew
and we are watching rain
through the picture window pane...
...watching little boys
Sting-Ray surfing down streaming streets
spitting and spraying yet staying upright
puddling in flooded gutters drenched with joy
each little boy
dripping and sliding and riding and wet
here we stand,
your arm around my shoulders
while you say
“I really love a rainy day”
In a while,
I am grown again
knowing why I stand here
smiling, loving rain
through a picture window pane.
If you are a mother who is struggling; if you are a mother who feels the pressure of not being perfect; if you are a mother who does not see your love reciprocated at this time; if you are a mother who makes mistakes, but does her best…
Hear this: Heavenly Father loves mothers. Heavenly Father honors mothers. Heavenly Father hears our prayers and helps us. Heavenly Father loves us despite the weaknesses He blesses us with.
You are a good mother. We are good mothers.
We are all good mothers.
To A Child Too Soon Grown
When you were very small
with thumb and tricot never far
from your lips
I would brush the hair
that tangled in your lashes
with my fingertips.
You would smile with chubby-cheeked
delight, throwing stubby arms
around my face
and, giggling, kiss my nose and eyes
in an open-mouthed, wet,
I would hold your squirming
to my heart, and you would start
to pull away,
your little brain already chugging
toward the next stop-plop
like a two-year-old diapered train.
If I had only known you’d travel
faster than a baby’s breath
from those days to these...
If I had known you’d glide
from child to woman like a breeze
from earth to trees...
I would have held you close
a moment longer trying
just to make it last
long as a lollipop. I wouldn’t stop
even to breathe as
precious seconds passed
but you would be already off,
bouncing baby fat from my lap
to the floor, to the door,
to the day
To all those children who will go too soon from our laps to the door to the day, and to all you mothers who give them the courage to stand tall and wings to fly,
May the Heavenly Father and Mother of us all bless you and I in our efforts, and may we hear, even in our weakness, His voice in our hearts saying, even on the most challenging of days: “Well done, thou good and faithful servants. Thine offering is acceptable unto me.”
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.