A week ago, one of the members of the Bishopric at church approached me and asked if I would be willing to speak in church that Sunday. Maybe it was because I'd been in town less than nine hours after a trip. Maybe it was because he admitted he asked about eight other people who had all said no and he was desperate. Either way, I was overcome with weakness and/or inability to invent a valid excuse and said sure.
Then about two seconds later, I smacked my forehead and said, "Oh wait, that's the Sunday of MOTHERS' DAY, isn't it?"
"Yeah, is something wrong with that? Are you out of town that day?"
"No, I guess not," I whined.
"Do you not want to talk on that day?"
"No, I can do it. It's okay."
"I just kinda hate the holiday is all. It's fine. I already said yes. I'll do it."
"What's your problem with Mothers' Day?" he asked, concerned.
I decided not to get into it and copped out. "Nothing really. I just think it's a schmaltzy holiday," I said and made a barfing noise.
He laughed and said, "Well then, tell me about it in your talk."
It's a nice thing when people trust you. I wouldn't have gotten that reaction from everyone after that kind of an exchange.
I really did wrestle with it all week. Mothers' Day at church tends to fall just short of deifying certain women and leaves all the rest out completely. It's one of my issues with the holiday. I tried to write something traditionally appropriate but in the end, well... I'm ME... and I cannot seem to say words that wouldn't normally come out of my mouth. So after throwing away the beginnings of many a version of a Mothers' Day sermon, I ended up going with what I know best: just treating the talk like my blog and speaking from the heart. It may not have been what they wanted or expected, but at least it was me. And if they didn't like it, well, then I might not have to speak in church ever again. Everyone wins.
It was actually a little bit amazing how many women came up to me that day and thanked me, which almost always started out with, "I hate Mothers' Day tooooo!" I had no idea I was in the majority on this one. But then one woman approached me and asked me for a copy of the talk to share with her daughter. She related an experience her daughter is going through, which made even me, cold-hearted harpy that I am, tear up a little.
I promised a couple of people I would post this, so I am doing that now. A warning if you don't like religious-y stuff, you might want to skip on by this post. I hereby grant you permission.
Some inside information most people at church aren't privy to: whenever The KingofHearts or I have to speak in church, there is always a secret challenge issued from the other person to use a word in the talk that would be difficult to incorporate. One time he was speaking and I challenged him to use "a pig in a poke" somewhere in his talk. One time he challenged me to use the word "Frankenstein." Yes, we are weird. Yes, it makes speaking in church so much more interesting. This time, my word was "hillbilly." Monica gave me a challenge too, but I hereby cede and declare myself unworthy and instead challenge her to use the word she suggested for me in a PTA meeting about the school curriculum.
Mothers’ Day Talk
Happy Mothers’ Day!
I don’t know about you all, but I was awakened to breakfast in bed on a fish-shaped plate with juice in a Mason jar. Because it wouldn’t be MY family if there wasn’t something weird about it… and because we are really just hillbillies at heart.
I have to confess to you that when I was asked to speak in church today, I said yes without really thinking. Then a second later, I came to the sudden realization that it this Sunday was going to be the Sunday of Mothers’ Day and I almost retracted my “yes.”
I have a difficult and complicated relationship with Mother's Day. It’s a holiday that makes me uncomfortable at best. My own mother had an irrational prejudice against Mother’s Day and I’m afraid she passed that right on down to me. (She passed a lot of irrational prejudices down to me, but this is the only one I’m going to confess to today.) It's not that I think it's a bad thing to celebrate motherhood... maybe it's just that this is a day that tends to get over celebrated and all the “if you love her, you’ll buy her diamonds” commercials on television make me worry that the diamond industry is trying to control my thoughts. Ultimately, my opinion is if you want to show your mother how much you love and appreciate her and you're only doing it once a year on a Hallmark holiday, you may have missed the point.
I happen to know I’m not alone. Mothers’ Day is difficult for a lot of people. Some of us might not fit into the traditional image of a mother. Some of us have painful memories that are brought up today. Some of us are just too tired from doing the laundry to even notice it’s Mothers’ Day. I think that one of the reasons my own mother disliked Mothers’ Day was that she said that it somehow made her feel “less than.” She often didn’t think she lived up to the task of parenthood. She felt like the rest of the world was perfect and she was the only non-ideal out there. Sometimes I feel like that too.
I guess another part of my uncomfortableness with the holiday - especially before I had children - is about not really internalizing that idea that we all are inherently mothers, no matter what our individual circumstances. We all affect one another’s lives in so many ways and that is a part of what makes our femalehood wonderful. Women can do so much in this day and age... I love that about the era in which I live. My girls and I have so many choices. But sometimes I forget that probably the most important choice I have ever made or will ever make is to af-fect and ef-fect the lives of other children, whether they’re mine or someone else's. As a therapist, I've gotten more experience than most, working to help children of others before I had children of my own. But nothing can prepare you for the depth and breadth of emotions and experiences you have when you realize a child depends on you as one of the sole examples of all that is good and right in the world. It's daunting. I guess that why I tend to eschew the label. I'd like for that to be someone else's responsibility. It's not someone else’s responsibility. But the good news is it's not just mine.
And, guess what Men, it doesn't just belong to one sex either.
We all matter in one another’s lives. Like Clarence said in It’s a Wonderful Life,
“Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?”
I came across this essay by a woman named Amy Young last week and I think it expresses a lot of what I want to say today:
The Wide Spectrum of Mothering.
To those who gave birth this year to their first child—we celebrate with you
To those who lost a child this year – we mourn with you
To those who are in the trenches with little ones every day and wear the badge of food stains – we appreciate you
To those who experienced loss this year through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away—we mourn with you
To those who walk the hard path of infertility, fraught with pokes, prods, tears, and disappointment – we walk with you. Forgive us when we say foolish things. We don’t mean to make this harder than it is.
To those who are foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms – we need you
To those who have warm and close relationships with your children – we celebrate with you
To those who have disappointment, heart ache, and distance with your children – we sit with you
To those who lost their mothers this year – we grieve with you
To those who experienced abuse at the hands of your own mother – we acknowledge your experience
To those who lived through driving tests, medical tests, and the overall testing of motherhood – we are better for having you in our midst
To those who will have emptier nests in the upcoming year – we grieve and rejoice with you
And to those who are pregnant with new life, both expected and surprising –we anticipate with you
This Mother’s Day, we walk with you. Mothering is not for the faint of heart and we have real warriors in our midst. We remember you.
We all fall into many of these categories, sometimes unwanted. Like my mother, like me, we all have anxiety about our roles. We feel pressure from family, friends, society…. We compare ourselves to others and come up short in our own estimation. As we strive to improve ourselves each day, we sometimes become discouraged because we haven’t made it to perfection yet. But what we need to remember is that our Heavenly Father loves us and He needs each of us to do the best we can in whichever of the places we might find ourselves. He doesn’t expect perfection; all He expects of us is that we just keep trying.
In his 1997 general conference talk, “Because She Is a Mother,” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said the following:
“If you will strive to love God and live the gospel yourselves; if you will plead for that guidance and comfort of the Holy Spirit promised to the faithful; if you will go to the temple to both make and claim the promises of the most sacred covenants a woman or man can make in this world; if you will show others, including your children, the same caring, compassionate, forgiving heart you want heaven to show you; if you try your best to be the best person you can be, you will have done all that a human being can do and all that God expects you to do.”
Simply said, life doesn’t always go the way we want it to go – or think it will. I have lived a lot of my life so far and still haven’t figured out the answers to all my questions. But here’s what I do know in a nutshell: if you do what you know you should, you will be blessed by our Heavenly Father. It might not be now. It might not be in the way that you want. But the blessings will come. Elder Holland’s advice for when life is hard and you’re discouraged and tired and you don’t know if you can go one step further is this:
“Do the best you can through these years, but whatever else you do, cherish that role that is so uniquely yours and for which heaven itself sends angels to watch over you and your little ones.”
In Doctrine and Covenants 82:3 we’re told:
“I, the Lord am bound when ye do what I say, but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.”
Two things in this scripture stand out to me. 1) He can’t bless us until we do what’s right. But 2) the really amazing thing to me about this scripture is that the Lord wants to be bound to us. It’s not something He’s trying to get out of.
More from Elder Holland:
“You can’t possibly do this alone, but you do have help. The Master of Heaven and Earth is there to bless you – He who resolutely goes after the lost sheep, sweeps thoroughly to find the lost coin, waits everlastingly for the return of the prodigal son. Yours is the work of salvation, and therefore you will be magnified, compensated, made more than you are and better than you have ever been as you try to make honest effort, however, feeble you may sometimes feel that to be.
“Rely on Him. Rely on Him heavily. Rely on Him forever. And press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope. You are doing God’s work. You are doing it wonderfully well. He is blessing you and He will bless you, even – no, especially – when your days and your nights may be the most challenging.”
One of my very favorite examples in the scriptures of faith is also one of my favorite examples of motherhood. It’s found in the New Testament in Mark, chapter 7.
25 For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet:
26 The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter.
Jesus wasn’t there to teach the Greeks. They weren’t a part of his short ministry on earth at that time. So he said to her:
27 But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs.
I don’t know about you, but to me, this seems harsh. She could take this as an insult - to mean that he was basically calling her a dog. I worry that if I’d been in her place, I’d have stomped off in a huff.
But does the Greek woman do that? No. Instead she says,
28 Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs.
I don’t even know what to say about that. I can’t imagine having that much faith – to agree with him and then to go on and say, yeah, but even dogs get table scraps. This woman believed in the power of the Atonement in a way I can’t yet comprehend. She shrugged it off - whatever offense she could have taken - and moved forward with the faith required to receive a blessing of that magnitude.
29 And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter.
30 And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed.
This mother is an incredible example to me. Not because she did lots of laundry, not because she had an immaculate house or hand made plastic grapes to display on the coffee table. But because with a faith and righteous desire like that, she could touch the lives of others to make anything happen. If we all could have that kind of faith in the power and magnitude of Christ’s Atonement, imagine how different our lives would be. Imagine how happy we could be right now if we just believed in our own goodness.
As I look out over this room, I see mothers trying to keep their children still. I see women and men who mother grandchildren or children that are not their own biological children. I see people who in the next hour will be giving lessons to my children in Primary. I see others who will teach adults. I see people helping out with other people’s children. My own daughter is sitting with another family as I give this talk and is quite content to do so. (She’s barely even noticed I’m speaking.) I see people who are helping those who need assistance to get to church. I see families who lean on each other to get through. I see people who have seen friends through trials, tribulations, joys and sadnesses. As I look out over you, I see you each touching each one another’s lives in a way no one else can. I see the pure love of Christ; His charity incarnate.
So today, on Mother’s Day, what I would like to say to everyone, not just the mothers and not just the women either, is what Elder Holland said in 1997,
“In the name of the Lord, you are magnificent. You are doing terrifically well.”