Sunday, May 10, 2015

Happy Mother's Day!

For the second time in recent years, I was asked to speak in Sacrament Meeting on Mother's Day.  Happy Mother's Day to my mom, my sister, my sisters-in-law, my friends, all the women that I know!  I also hope there are at least three little girls in this world that are being taught to understand their worth.  I'm going to keep sharing this message because the more often my boys and I encourage others, the stronger we all are.  

I am acutely aware that Mother’s Day is painful and awkward for most of us. Each Mother’s Day of my life I’ve spent somewhere in that awkward place. Sometimes it was just an uneasiness, sometimes it was jealousy, sometimes it was sorrow, and a few times it was tentative happiness because of how much I had been blessed.

Mother's Day is devastating for many, many people. I know it's unpopular to shine a light on loneliness and grief. Especially in sacrament meeting.  But Mother's Day is very difficult for many childless women, women with difficult children, birthmothers, children and adults without a mother, mothers who have lost children, and children who don't feel loved by their mother -- to list just a few.

I’m assuming you didn’t want to come to church today.  You don’t want more advice about how to be a “good mom.”  You don’t want to feel like a failure.  You don’t want to feel overwhelmed by what you should be or could be doing better.  You don’t want to compare yourself to all the “good” mothers in this room.  You don’t want motherhood put up on a pedestal.  You don’t want to feel your empty and aching arms.  And then…. Some of you don’t want to come and hear the rest of us whine and complain today.  You DO feel grateful or feel satisfied with your role as a mother.  I’m right here with you.  I’ve felt all of these feelings plus more. I will do my best to make sacrament meeting a safe place for you today.

Last year was an interesting Mother’s Day for me.  I finally had my family.  I had prayed daily for almost 15 years for God to have mercy and give me children.  They slowly and painfully, and miraculously came.  Finally, when my youngest, Andrew, was born, I thought Mother’s Day would start to feel good.  I no longer had that dark cloud of unfairness hanging over my head.  I was excited to get pampered and honored by my adoring children.  I always ask for the same thing every birthday and Mother’s Day.  All I really want is Peace and Quiet, and strangely, my kids are incapable of delivering. 

But the uneasiness I felt last year wasn’t caused by hyper little boys.  The week leading up to the big day, I felt overwhelmed by how difficult motherhood was.  I felt it was wonderful and rewarding, but it was so, so difficult.  I was failing in many ways.  And everyone seemed to point out my weaknesses.  And all the other mothers around me seemed to have it all together. 

Rather than spend another holiday feeling inadequate, I have spent the last year learning about who I am.  I am a mother, yes.  I am so eternally grateful God heard my prayers and three brave women chose me to be a mother.  But this year I learned that I am more than that.  I am a daughter of my Heavenly Father.  I have divine nature.

We weren’t just created by God, but we were created from Him.  Each of us is a literal offspring from the most loving and intelligent being in the universe.  I have learned that God knows my name, He has compassion for me, and He has a plan for me to return to Him. I have inherited divine attributes from my Father. He loves me every minute of the day, no matter what choices I make.  Nothing separates me from His love (Romans 8:38-39).

President Boyd K. Packer said, “You are a Child of God.  He is the father of your spirit.  Spiritually you are of noble birth, the offspring of the King of Heaven.  Fix that truth in your mind and hold to it.” 

I have learned that if I never had children, or if I lose my children to death, I still have my divinity.  If I yell at my children, feed them McDonalds for dinner, let them watch too much TV, if I work outside the home, if I sleep all day, or even if my children fail at life, I still have my divinity. 

You can take my role as mother away and I am still divine.  Mother is my role.  But it isn’t my identity and doesn’t define my worth.  When we are focused on external factors that really have nothing to do with who we are or what God thinks of us, we so easily feel inadequate.  Roles come and go.  I am so much more than tasks, or circumstances, or responsibilities, or my children’s behavior.  There is no checklist of things that a good mother should do.  You can’t ever earn the Motherhood Merit Badge.  I know when I keep my heart knit with my Heavenly Father and Mother, and focus daily on who I am, I feel so much more capable of fulfilling the responsibilities I do have as a mother of three boys. 

So often we think that if we mother well, we’ll be closer to God.  Or if we do a good job as a mother, we’ll be happier with ourselves.  But I think it’s the other way around.  When I align myself with God, I mother so much better.  And when I’m aligned with God, it doesn’t matter how good I am as a mother.  I feel good about myself because I know who I am. 

Take for example several of my friends.  I’ve been talking with a close friend all week because her ex-husband has filed a petition with the court to take away the custody of her children.  Because of some mistakes she’s made, he feels he has good reason to do this.  She is terrified and overwhelmed.  But she is close to God.  And no matter her status as a mother, she still has her divine nature. 

I also texted with another friend this week.  From the outside, she looks like the perfect mom.  But her kids are struggling and the principal at their school is out of options to help her son.  She feels like a failure and a fraud.  But she is close to God and knows that her kids’ success at school doesn’t change who she is. 

We are so blessed to have relationships with all three of our boys’ birthmothers.  Each one is so different but they are all strong and brave and full of so much love for our family.  It is heartbreaking and humbling to walk this path of motherhood with them.  Their role as mother changed dramatically when they terminated their rights, but no signature or court decree can terminate their divinity.

Satan wants us to be confused about our roles.  He tempts us to look longingly at the world and feel insecure about our contributions.  He tempts us to feel inadequate about how we do at our responsibilities.  He tempts us to feel worthless if any of God’s blessings are withheld for a time.  And he tempts us to feel responsible if any of our children stray from the gospel.  Remember, he wants us to be miserable so he fills us with shame.  But God’s message is clear.  We are good enough! 

Elder Holland said, “If you try your best to be the best parent you can be, you will have done all that a human being can do and all that God expects you to do.  … 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.”

I read an article in the BYU Magazine this week that mentioned that the teenage brain is the reason we needed an atonement.  Brilliant insight!  But actually, it’s probably the mom brain that required an atonement.  We forget things, we over think things, we lose our patience, we feel anxious, we feel overwhelmed, we compare, we say the wrong things much of the time, and we don’t have any idea what we are doing because each child is different from the next. 

But God is OK with that.  He knows you aren’t capable of doing it perfectly, so he just wants you to do your best.  And even if your best isn’t that great, that’s OK too.  Elder Holland said, “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.” 

The Savior’s atonement will fix all of your mistakes.  Your mistakes can be the gateway for your children to learn about the atonement and learn to access it while they are young. The Savior’s atonement is a miracle.  I am so thankful that when I ask the Lord to heal my children of the mistakes I have made, I can have faith that he can and he will.  Elder Holland said, “Know that in faith things will be made right in spite of you, or more correctly, because of you.” 

I stand amazed that because of my strengths AND weaknesses, my children will come to know Jesus Christ. 

In addition, my testimony is strong that God gave me children so I could practice humility, faith, patience, and love -- daily.  These children give me an excuse to pray to God often for help and strength.  And my weaknesses as a mother have given me frequent opportunities to access the Savior’s atonement to heal and change me as well.  I am beginning to see that God gave me motherhood so I could develop, become better, and become more like my Savior.  I do believe that children need a mother and the success of our world hinges on that fact.  But I need my children more than they need me.  God knew that the most effective and efficient way to transform me, was to make me a mother. 

We must understand how much the Savior cares about women.  Howard W. Hunter said, “It must be comforting to you beloved sisters of his Church to remember that this same Jesus, our Savior through the Atonement, demonstrated his love and concern for the women of his time. He enjoyed the company of women and had close friends among them. One of his great parables was about ten virgins. He blessed children. He honored the poor widow who gave two mites. He taught the woman of Samaria and revealed to her that he was the Messiah. He cast out seven devils from Mary Magdalene and forgave the woman taken in adultery. He healed the daughter of the Greek woman, the one stooped and bent for eighteen years, and healed Peter’s mother of a fever.  He restored the dead son to his mother, the daughter of Jairus to her parents, and Lazarus to his grieving sisters, whom he counted among his closest friends. As he hung on the cross, his heart went out to his mother, and he placed her in the care of his beloved disciple, John. Women prepared his body for burial. It was Mary to whom he first appeared as the resurrected Lord, and it was she to whom he entrusted the delivery of the glorious message to his disciples that he had risen.  President Hunter continues, “Is there any reason to think that he cares any less about women today?”

I also am so thankful that I am learning that God approves of me as a woman and as a mother.  I don’t need to be perfect.  He is proud of the hard work I do and the efforts I make each day to connect with and teach my children.  And as I become more confident in God’s love for me, I have realized that my children also approve of me.  I have all these weaknesses that I’d love to overcome, but my children don’t seem to notice or care.  They want me and need me just as I am. 

Besides mothering children, we can mother each other.  We can stop judging and criticizing.  We can encourage each other and support each other through the many different stages and struggles we each face.  When we feel like we are the only one who struggles, we isolate ourselves.  And interestingly, when we feel good about motherhood, we assume everyone else does too and we don’t offer to help. I have a quote by Marianne Williamson, a spiritual teacher, taped to my wall.  She said, “When I’m in the valley, I’m not helped by those who think I’m pathetic.  I’m helped by those who think I can.”  Who needs you to believe in them?  Who needs your influence?  Who needs you to help bear their burdens?  In most cases, our needs aren’t apparent, so give everyone the benefit of the doubt, like God does.

We can also learn to mother ourselves. We can forgive ourselves for our faults and mistakes.  We can let go of the need to please or impress others.  We can ask for help. We can feed ourselves good food, and encourage ourselves to play and do things we love.  We can tell ourselves affirmations about how strong and good we are.  Sometimes our own voice is the only voice we’ll hear all day saying we are good enough.  We can give ourselves breaks when we need them. I give myself a lunch break every day.  During that time I do something that relaxes or fills me up.  I have done this since Noah was born and I think it’s one of the very best things I do for my kids, to take time for myself before they come home from school. 

I feel lucky, blessed, and that it is a privilege to be a mother.  It is more to me than a role with duties and responsibilities.  When I think over the past 20 years and where the Lord has lead me, I am both humbled and in awe.  I could never have imagined how much joy would come to me in teaching my children to love who they are, or how much joy I would feel to be the ONLY person on this earth that can understand everything my 2-year old says, or the joy of discovering the unexpected gifts each of my child has.

2 Nephi 2:23 says that if the fall never happened, we wouldn’t have children, we would have remained in a state of innocence, and we wouldn’t have joy.  I love that scripture.  Having children has brought a type of change and joy into my life that never could have come any other way.  Motherhood, especially when shared with my boys, is a true privilege. 

I am also thankful for a husband who supports me as I study these issues.  He has confidence in my abilities to nurture our children, and he believes that eternal life by my side will be worth it.  With his support, I believe in myself as well.  This is a tremendous blessing in my life.