The Joy of Motherhood
Sharon Stake Conference December 5, 2009
And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our
transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and
evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the
obedient. (Moses 5:11)
Brothers and Sisters, today I will speak on the Joy of Motherhood.
I was born the oldest of 10 children and consequently began changing diapers while
some of my peers were still wearing them. After a chaotic childhood, I looked forward to the solace and self awareness that college life could bring. Therefore I was not prepared to meet my eternal companion at the tender age of 19. I had dreamt of
serving a mission for as long as I could remember. Getting married would forever take away my chance to serve as a young, single sister. This thought caused a hole in my soul.
When we knew our relationship was serious, I asked my future husband if he would wait for me to return from a mission. With integrity that he has carried throughout our marriage he said, "the prophet told me to come home from my mission and not delay getting married. I will be anxiously engaged in finding a wife while you are gone, should you choose to go. However, if I am still single when you come back I will gladly marry you the day you arrive home." I didn't like my odds. Although I questioned the timing, the Holy Ghost whispered just enough to let me know my path. I knew I'd never met a finer, more Christ-like man, and I knew he loved the Lord more than he loved me. I also knew he'd be married to some other lucky girl if I put off our marriage for 2-3 years.
Thus I experienced my first sacrifice for the sake of motherhood. I chose eternal marriage and put behind me forever the mission dream. Years later, with four little babies, I recalled that decision and experienced again the pangs of sadness. I had felt so close to my potential investigators! Like they were waiting for me to come. But my husband taught me, "cheer up! You already have four converts!" He was of course referring to our children. I had never thought of that before. It was years before I realized that my most important convert was myself. Brothers and Sisters, I am a convert to the Joy of Motherhood.
I admit that growing up I was not much interested in domestic things. I loved school and devoured any chance to learn. I took summer school for several years just for the fun of it. I also loved music and acting. Bro. Jerry Elison, now of the 8th ward, and othersgave me opportunities to live out my theatrical dreams. I also learned choral conducting by watching Margaret Brown and Preston Woolf in the 3rd ward. Through sacred music I found great joy and peace. I also took many dance classes. I was an English major and I also fiddled in the folk band. These were righteous endeavors and I excelled. Guess what I didn't know how to do? Cook, clean, organize, bottle food, manage, make decisions, budget, beautify, or discipline children. I was terrified to start our own family. All I could remember from eighteen years at home was a blur. The endless monotony of changing babies, piles of laundry, vats of food, always feeling too cold, or too sweaty, never enough room on the couch, never enough time alone in the bathroom, and the constant fatigue of waking in the night to newborns' cries. Nope it didn't sound too appealing. I wanted some vacation from the "Joy of Motherhood."
Now my lack of homemaking skills was not my parent's fault. They made us work very hard and I'm sure they assumed that all of it was "sticking" in my brain, but mostly I was part of an assembly line at home. There was always another person
helping with this and that such that I did one part, but not the whole. We did have daily early morning scripture study without fail, family dinner every night, kneeling family prayer twice a day, and FHE faithfully. Still, being the oldest, I experienced mostly the fertilizer of these experiences and not much of the fruit (which came years later). I am ashamed to say that I did not begin to value these experiences or the habits they instilled in me until many years into my own parenting journey. My noble parents were tireless in their efforts to raise 10 righteous children. I never imagined how their example would influence my life and subconciously shape my decisions. Their sacrifice is beyond compare and the pattern of their lives is the lamp that now lights my feet. Because of them I can have faith and hope on a daily basis that, as Pres. Hinckley was fond of saying, "everything will turn out alright." Because I have witnessed first hand how my siblings grew out of their childish ways and became marvelous people, I have hope. I could not thank them enough for the greatest gift they have given me, namely my siblings, each one a cherished friend, confidante and counselor.
But as a naive almost 20 year old, my youngest sister, now on a mission, was but three years old. She repeatedly jumped down the stairs at our elegant wedding reception and apparently destroyed some antique candles by biting them. My conversion to the "joy of motherhood" was a long way off.
But my sweet companion shared his vision of how it could be. He was the second of two, four years apart, and the only son. His longing for more siblings matched that of his parent's for more children, but it was not to be. Instead he was left with a yearning and a feeling that there were in fact many spirits waiting to come to his home. AHH!!!!! Out of the frying pan and into the fire! Gently, but with conviction, he shared his testimony of family and parenthood. He share the following with me: "After marriage,young wives should be occupied in bearing and rearing children. I know of no scriptures or authorities which authorize young wives to delay their families or to go to work to put their husbands through college. Young married couples can make their way and reach their educational heights, if they are determined." (Kimball, 328) It took me eight years to finish my undergraduate degree. I had three children and was expecting the fourth when I finally finished my undergraduate degree. I testify that this promise is true! My husband is still going to school. He hopes to finish his PhD later this year. It's only been 18 years.
At many times in our marriage I thought that I would be better off in the work place. I was so much better suited for it. I knew I could make a nice income. Maybe he could stay home and be mister mom. There were many ideas, but we continued to follow prophetic counsel: "Come home, wives, to your children, born and unborn. Wrap the motherly cloak about you and, unembarrassed, help in a major role to create bodies for the immortal souls who await." (Kimball, 327). Elder Scott says this: "Of course, as a woman you can do exceptionally well in the workplace, but is that the best use of your divinely appointed talents and feminine traits? As a husband, don’t encourage your wife to go to work to help in your divinely appointed responsibility of providing resources for the family, if you can possibly avoid it. As the prophets have counseled, to the extent possible with the help of the Lord, as parents, work together to keep Mother in the home. Your presence there will strengthen the self-confidence of your children and decrease the chance of emotional challenges. Moreover, as you teach truth by word and example, those children will come to understand who they are and what they can obtain as divine children of Father in Heaven." (1994) Still I worried about our meager income and remembered hardships when I was young. I wanted better things for my children, but then I read this: "Of course, it will be harder to get your college degrees or your financial starts with a family, but strength like yours will be undaunted in the face of difficult obstacles. Have your family as the Lord intended. Of course it is expensive, but you will find a way, and besides, it is often those children who grow up with responsibility and hardships who carry on the world's work." (Kimball, 324).
We tried to do what we could to make it when times were tight. At one point we actually moved into a one bedroom apartment with three little kids. We had a marvelous time. We were in the first ward then. We loved it! The children slept in the one bedroom and my husband and I slept on an
old, uncomfortable pull-out couch in the front room. We lived there for a year.
We just did whatever we had to do to make it work for me to stay home. I have learned much from this. We know that sacrifice is what produces faith. “A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power proficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for, from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things. It was through this sacrifice, and this only, that God has ordained that men should enjoy eternal life.” Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith #6 . I can testify that as we have constantly tried to obey this counsel, we have been blessed beyond reason financially. Also, our children have grown up working hard. They amaze us with their goodness and strength.
"Yes, men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace. Whoever will lose his life in the service of God will find eternal life." (Ezra Taft Benson)
Is it hard? Yes, but I have learned that with the Lord, I can do hard things.
And I believe that it is joyous precisely because it is so hard. I have learned to embrace the sorrow because I know it is bringing great things, great joy. We can only know joy because we know sorrow.
Over the years, my skills have improved and I have had many moments of great joy with my precious family. I actually love to cook now and it is a joy to me to have my children join me. I love to hear, "Wow, how'd you get to be such a good cook mom? When I get married, I'm going to make this stew for my husband!" I love how my girls talk to me about boys.
And I also love my boys. When they were younger, we knew that family home evening was working because one day, while we were living in Philadelphia, the neighbor boy came over. When he began to be unkind to my little daughter, her four year old "big" brother came to the rescue. He immediately pounced on the boy and started choking him and said, "you have to be like Jesus!"
There has been humor and the tears over the years, I want you to know that whatever I didn't know how to do the Spirit taught me how to do. (As we lived away from family for many years in both California and Philadelphia). I could share countless stories and scriptures that have shaped my life and guided my efforts as a mother, but we just don't have time here today. I will say that I learned to "feast upon the words of Christ, for the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do." (2 Nephi 32:3)
One very sacred experience I would like to share came when we were living in Philadelphia. My husband was the bishop of a very busy ward. This was aninner city ward with 26 different nationalities represented. He was also working full time and going to school full time. We had six children under seven at the time, including one year old twins. I had been teaching seminary in the ward and was also doing cub scouts and the primary music.
I was due with the seventh child in just a few weeks and I had been home schooling the oldest three children. I was very worried about the new baby coming because I just didn't think I could handle a newborn and the other six as well as home school at the same time. However, I was very frightened by the "environment" at the public schools. I was worried about the language they might hear or other worse things they could be exposed to. This problem weighed heavily on my mind one evening just after Christmas. My husband had taken the children for a drive while I was trying to carefully put away the Christmas ornaments. I was listening to Handel's Messiah while doing this. Suddenly I felt a prompting, "turn the music off." I thought, "It's the Messiah, why should I turn off the music?" I kept working, but then I felt it again, "Turn the music off, I want to talk to you." This time I obeyed.
I turned off the music and went to a secluded room. I knelt down said, "I am here Lord.'' Nothing happened. I began to pour out my heart concerning the school situation. I expressed my fears for my children and my dilema about the new baby. I told the Lord that I wanted to protect my children. How could I send them to school if I couldn't be there with them at all times to watch over them? The answer was quick and clear. He said, "They were mine before they were yours. You will not be with them at all times, but I will be." I knew then that they needed to go back to school. I knew that no matter what they would experience there, it would be for their own good. I also knew that the heavy burden of parenting was lifted off my shoulders that night. I learned that I was not alone in this task. I was yoked with Him. He would always be there and He would swoop down and intervene as needed for my children just as he had done for me at critical moments in my life. I realized that in a very literal way, He was their Father. It took a great deal of trust, but I knew in whom I trusted.
I sent them back to school, the spirit returned to our home in greater abundance as I was better able to focus on eternal things and creating the environment at home with better balance.
All throughout our marriage, the Spirit has been my tutor. Now the joys are
overflowing. I wish I could share more, but the time is gone. I am very grateful for this assignment. I am very grateful for Sharon Stake. I love you all. I love my Savior, my exemplar, Jesus Christ. I say these things in His name, Amen.
*As a side note: The whole reason I started this blog was because I had such a divine experience preparing for this talk. In the end I realized that many mothers and even I do not realize that the greatest joy possible on earth comes through our marriages and our children. We hear that, but it does not always penetrate to our hearts. After researching and working on this talk for weeks, I was given an undeniable witness of the joy and magnitude associated with the sacred role of Mother. I want to share this message of joy, hope and faith to as many women/mothers as I can in the whole world. I hope you'll help me share the joy! Thanks so much for reading.