Thursday, May 29, 2008

On Being A Full Time Mom

Being a full time mother is an amazing occupation. If you have the privilege of being one, give thanks now! Not everyone is so blessed. I am extremely grateful that I was able to stay home with my children and am even more grateful that all of my daughters and my daughter-in-law are also full time moms. But that doesn’t mean I don’t remember or know that like every other career mothering has a down side. There are definitely frustrations, mundane and even tedious aspects to mothering, but one of the things I realize more and more is that as mothers we often make the job more mundane and tedious than it needs to be.
For one thing, too often we define what it means to be a mother by what our mother did or by what the mothers around us do. We think we have to replicate their methods. But as a mother you are in charge and should run your home like a good business executive runs a business. And how is that? You run it according to your strengths.
My mother was very disciplined and loved a spotlessly clean house. She, in large part, defined her role as a mother as that of a housekeeper. That served us kids well in many ways. For example, I was never ashamed to bring friends home. I knew the house would always be clean and inviting. As a matter of fact, our home was always the gathering place for friends (besides being a great housekeeper, Mom was a social person who enjoyed having people around).
When I first had children, I thought I had to keep house like Mom did which meant doing what most people do for Spring cleaning on a monthly basis. Again and again I tried to keep the discipline and schedule that mother maintained, but I hate house work. It didn’t give me the pleasure it gave Mom to see myself reflected in all the kitchen appliances. For years I felt depressed and like a total failure as a mother because my house wasn’t as clean as hers. What I wasn’t taking into account is that I was doing things she hadn’t. When I finally accepted that a certain level of cleanliness is essential and that I could maintain that level but didn’t have to maintain Mother’s level I gained an enormous amount of peace and it allowed me to concentrate on things like taking my children to the library and playing the piano while they sang–things my mother never did.
What I realize now, is that the best mothers are the ones who recognize their strengths, build their family lives around those strengths and enjoy what they are doing without worrying about the mother next door who is putting every tiny thing the children bring home into a scrapbook. If you like scrap booking-fine. If you don’t–then don’t scrap book. You don’t have to. Identify your own strengths and nurture your children through those strengths. That’s all you have to do!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

On Watching My Daughter Mother

I am in Maryland. Since Saturday we have been at our daughter Patrea’s house staying until last night when we came to the University of Maryland University College where Carl is attending a conference. Yesterday we visited the Huntley Meadow’s Nature Preserve and Mt. Vernon with Patrea and her two little boys. She is expecting a little girl in August. Being with her brought back so many memories of my mothering days–the delight of unexpected hugs and kisses, the drain of tired, cross children, the joy of a child’s new feat, the giggles, the whining, the magic, the mystery, the frustration. Everything that comes in the parenting package.
Sadly, I find that my long days of quiet study and solitude have made me impatient with incessant questions from an adorable five year old. Yet, I watched my daughter as she patiently and gently dealt with each question, each concern, each challenge. Her love spills over into the answers she gives even when it is the fourth time a question has been asked. Even though she is pregnant she has much more energy than I have to keep up with the boys physically, and I realize why it is wise to have children while we are young. But besides the physical, maybe another reason we have children when we are young is so that we have time to watch our children parent. It truly is a delight to watch my daughters and son nurture and love their children. They are doing a much better job than I ever did. And to all of you out there raising children, a great big hooray! You are doing God’s work and even though the frustrations are many, the payoffs are incredible.
The child that now saps your energy will someday spend that energy to give someone else love and life. So invest well. Give them all you can, while you can. The child rearing days are over faster than you think and life moves on. You won’t miss the whining and the crying at bed time. But you will miss the hugs, the giggles, the prayers, the whispered secrets, and even the knock-knock jokes.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Blessing of Time

Happy new day! Isn’t time wonderful! Yes, it has its down side, there is never enough of it and it goes way too fast. But, let’s concentrate on the good stuff. Time is cyclical. Day follows night and night follows day and day follows night. Likewise, Monday will come again and so will April and another year will begin. Why am I excited about this? Because it means we get a new start each day. Even if yesterday was a terrible day, today is new. No matter what happened last week or last month or last year, you get to live in today and it is all new!
Think of one wonderful thing you want to do today and do it. Don’t let your mind wander into the past. The past is gone. In the past, you may have been unhappy or hurt or frightened or any other negative thing, but unless you bring that negative baggage with you into today, it is over. Think about that for a minute. The past is over. Today is new. You may have been the victim of some terrible thing at one time, but unless you continue to relive it over and over in your head, you are no longer a victim. Time has moved on and it is over. Rejoice! Shout for joy!
Celebrate today by doing something wonderful. Smell the lilacs. Soak up the sun or feel the rain on your checks (which ever is available to you today). Really taste your breakfast cereal. Feel the silkiness of a toddler’s hair in your hand. Listen to the birds sing. Breathe deep and experience the air filling your lungs. Call a friend just to listen to the music in her voice. Sing your favorite song. What ever you choose to do, be present. Don’t let your mind wander into the past. Stay present–experience today in all its wonder.
Time really is amazing. No matter what last winter brought you, this is a new spring and there is going to be another summer. If you let go of the past, you can enjoy the present.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

More Scripture Power

I was twenty-eight years old when I began a daily scripture study habit. I consider the day I began this habit my birth day. I might have come into the world twenty-eight years earlier, but I came alive that day.
I never would have been able to mother my nine children without the daily intake of spiritual vitamins and minerals the scriptures provide. I never would have made it through my undergrad and graduate school programs without the cardio-vascular exercise I found in the scriptures. I never would be able to navigate the vicissitudes of life without the emotional stamina and psychological strength training the scriptures give me.
The scriptures have given me personal mentors such as Peter, who fills me with hope that change and growth are possible. Moroni who teaches me about endurance. Esther who infuses me with courage. Miriam and Deborah who show me how to lead and influence. But most of all, my daily visit with my Savior through the scriptures is what sustains me. Besides the stories and examples from His life, the great speeches throughout the scriptures all teach me of Him and keep me focused on the most important things in life.
Even after thirty two years of studying, I continue to be surprised by how the scriptures were written just for me. I can be reading about young David escaping King Saul and someplace between the lines the Spirit whispers that I need to find and read a certain article. I can be reading about Abish running to tell the people about the miracle that was happening to the king, and the Spirit whispers what I need to do that day. I can be reading about Nephi building a ship and the Spirit whispers exactly what I need to do for one of my children. It never ceases to amaze me how the tender mercies of the Lord work through the scriptures.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Injecting Hope

It is surprising what a simple gesture of kindness can mean in a person’s life. As I look back on my life, I realize that there were a few people who greatly influenced me. The amazing thing is that in every case the things they did were small simple things–so small the people have no idea what an impact they had on me. But even though they don’t remember what they did, I do.
Growing up in what was then the small town of Centerville, my friends and I used to visit the older ladies that lived on our street. Two of these especially influenced me by their kindness. Mrs. Torrey once gave me an old book, Heidi, with the simple words, “I have only sons and so I want you to have this.” It made me feel so very special and important.
When only five years old, I’d write “books” of my own, illustrate them and go door to door selling them. Mrs. Torrey and Aunt Nora would praise my books so much that it felt like they filled me with helium.
Later, in high school, an English teacher, Miss Lee, encouraged my writing. She wrote at the end of one assignment words that I memorized. “Sherrie, You’ve got it–whatever it is. Don’t ever stop writing!!!” I can’t even count how many time those two sentences saved me when encountering editors who rejected my manuscripts and even a few other bumps in life.
Other friends such as Lucille Reading and Laurie Thornton warmed, encouraged and bolstered me, again without knowing what an impact they were having on my life. They just did what was natural for them. They loved me despite my faults. Whenever I’d get discouraged, I’d go visit Lucille and I’d come away lifted. When I went, I didn’t talk about my problems. I just knew that being in her presence for a little while would “cure” me. She was that kind of person. Laurie was the same way. Laurie was blind, but she had learned to laugh with life despite the fact that life had handed her some bad cards, and her laughter was infectious.
Often we read about people who have a mentor that takes them by the hand and plays a major part in their lives the way Anne Sullivan did in Helen Keller’s life. That does happen. But in my own life the most impactful influences have been brief, small occurrences like my young women’s leader, Barbara Davis, who despite the fact that I was being a brat during the lesson one night, patiently put up with me. Her love and kindness that night changed me.
I bring this up, because I think we underestimate the power we have to impact others. We never know when something as simple as a smile, a hug, a phone call, or an encouraging word is just what someone needs to send them on their way injected with hope–a hope that can last a lifetime. We are more influential that we realize, and we need to be more aware of the power we have to encourage others and use it.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Dancing in the Rain

Now that my children are grown and all have children of their own, I look back on my days of mothering with different eyes. I do remember the overwhelmed feelings caused by laundry, getting meals on, disciplining, bathing, diapering, finances, homework, and so many other things. But what comes to mind most often now are the good times–the camping trips, sitting around the table after Sunday dinner visiting, snuggling, reading together, and gathering around the piano to sing, I miss those times a lot.
There is one memory that I especially love. Late one night after all the kids were in bed and asleep it started to rain–not just a sprinkle. Water poured down in great streams. I watched for a few minutes out the window as I was getting ready for bed. Light coming from the street lamp on the corner shined magically through the cascading rain and reflected in the large puddles forming on the lawn.
Suddenly, without giving it much thought, I woke up the children and marched them out into the rain. In our pajamas, we lifted our faces to accept the rain’s kiss. We opened our mouths and drank in the heavenly water. We danced, we ran in circles, we splashed, we played airplanes, we laughed, we sang, we joined hands and played ring-around-the-rosies, falling into the puddles and feeling the tickle of wet grass against our legs.
Hearing the laughter Carl joined us and we played until everyone was soaked to the skin. Then we went inside, changed into dry pajamas and drank hot chocolate–still giggling. It was way past bed time and that wasn’t the only family rule broken, but none of that really ever mattered. I can’t remember if we were on time for scripture study the next morning or even on time for school. I don’t remember any burden from washing all those pajamas and towels. All I remember is the love and joy I felt for my children and for my Heavenly Father as we danced in the rain.
Lookingback on my days of mothering, the only regret I now have is that I worried too much about things such as bed time and laundry. I wish I had spent more time dancing in the rain.

Please leave stories of the memory making things you've done with your family for others to see!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


In the first five verses of Psalm 103, King David praises the Lord and urges us to “forget not all his benefits.” The author then lists some of these benefits saying that the Lord forgives our iniquities, heals our diseases, redeems us from destruction, and crowns us with love, kindness and tender mercies. That is an impressive list that causes much gratitude and rejoicing, but King David goes on to state one more benefit that is not as commonly thought about. His last benefit is that the Lord satisfies us with good things so that our youth is renewed like an eagle’s.
Eagles are referred to in the Bible more than any other bird which may be related to the fact that an enormous amount of eagle mythology has been perpetuated throughout history. Ancient myths claimed eagles could fly close to the sun, burn off their feathers, then regrow new feathers. Modern myths are just as absurd claiming that eagles come to a point where they can choose to die or to undergo a five month reclusive period where they lose their beaks, talons, and all their feathers but emerge younger than before.
Perhaps David was drawing of the ancient myths when he used the metaphor of being renewed like an eagle, but more likely he realized that eagles live longer than most birds and molt yearly so that they constantly are growing and replacing their feathers. This is, after all, a kind of rejuvenation which keeps the eagle a flight and looking young. Whatever source David drew upon for his metaphor the important thing for us to realize is that the good things that come from the Lord will renew us.
Many people today pay a lot of money to look and feel younger, but as King David recognized, when we draw close to the Lord and partake of all the goodness he offers we feel and act younger and more vibrant. Like the eagle who yearly grows new feathers, we are literally rejuvenated by partaking of the Lord’s goodness!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

They That Be With Mothers

My mother, sister, daughters, friends--all of us mothers!

I delivered ten children and raised nine of them to adulthood. I know all about the pains of motherhood. I know the hurt of losing a child. I know the helpless feeling of caring for a sick child. I know the after curfew anguish of waiting for a late child. I know the humiliation of children making wrong choices. And as you all know there is more pain than that.
But I also know all about the joys of motherhood. I know the delight of hearing a child’s first word. I know the expectant look a toddler gives only to her mother. I still can feel the warmth of small arms around my neck and the words whispered in my ear, “I love you, Mom!” I know the joy of watching my child ride a bicycle for the first time. I know the fun of Saturday mornings with nine kids jostling on our bed for a giggle session before breakfast. I know the deep joy of children learning to do things I can’t do. And there is more joy, much more.
But the most important thing I have learned about motherhood, is that it is part of godhood. Mothers are gods in training and you can’t be in training without there being mentors, teachers, and trainers to guide and help you.
In 2 Kings chapter 6 we read the story of Elisha and his servant awaking one morning to find themselves surrounded by a large army sent by the King of Syria to take them prisoner. Upon seeing the multitude of chariots, horses, armor, and soldiers, the servant was mortified and exclaimed, “Master, what shall we do?”
Elisha was not the least worried and comforted the servant by saying, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.”
The servant must have wondered about Elisha, but not for long. Elisha prayed for the Lord to open the servant’s eyes so that he could see that the mountain was covered with a heavenly army and that chariots of fire were all around Elisha.
After forty years of mothering, the one thing I know most is that despite the pains that have to be endured, the overwhelming adversity that seems to plague motherhood, the many moments when you throw up your hands in despair thinking, “What shall I do?” you are not alone. If God sent an army to protect one prophet and his servant as they went about doing His work, He is certainly sending you an army to help you raise His children.
The greatest lesson I’ve learned in mothering is to trust in that heavenly army. It is there. Don’t despair. Don’t fret. Don’t give up. Instead, open your eyes and know that the hosts of heaven are helping you. As you accept, trust in, and rejoice in that fact the answers come. The help arrives. The miracles occur. Raising children is God’s work. We as mothers get to help.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

No More Tears!

One of the most amazing gifts our Father in Heaven has given us (among the many in the plan of salvation!) is the gift of justice. Jesus Christ is a just God. This is why we can place our faith in him. He will make everything right. According to the prophet Alma, “The plan of restoration is requisite with the justice of God; for it is requisite that all things should be restored to their proper order” (Alma 41:2). While this means that there is a penalty affixed to all wrong choices we make, it also means that when we have been wronged through no fault of our own it will be made up to us. We will be restored to what would be fair.
If we trust in Jesus Christ, every unjust experience, every unwarranted abuse, every hurt inflicted on us through no fault of our own will in some way be made up to us. Some day our mortal bodies which cause us pain because of disease, wear and tear, birth defects, genetic disorders, accidents, or other things will be made perfect–without defect, without pain, without blemish–because of Jesus Christ. But more than that everything we have ever suffered through no choice of our own, will be made up to us if we trust in Jesus Christ. As John tells us in Revelation, “The Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed [us], and shall lead [us] unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from [our] eyes” (7:17). If we trust, God will heal.

Monday, May 5, 2008

On Learning and Breathing

"Learning" by

Last week I spoke at the BYU Women’s Conference on lifelong learning. My first thought when they gave me this assigned topic was “What? That’s like trying to teach someone how to breathe. Doesn’t everyone just do it?” But as I stopped to think about it, I realized that not everyone does. I remembered once hearing a man say that when he graduated from college he promised himself he’d never read another book as long as he lived. That, to me, fit the old adage about not chopping off your nose to spite your face. Learning makes life interesting and fun! It lifts us out of the mundane details of life. Learning opens windows and doors of opportunity and vision. But as I reflected on the topic I realized that one of the saddest things is that some people for one reason or another feel like they can’t learn. That is absolutely not true. Anyone who wants to can learn–we just need to discover in what ways we best learn.
I shared some of the things I’ve learned about my own learning style in my talk. When I want to memorize something, I have to be in motion. I get on the tread mill or I walk up and down the hall. I also learned that when reading I focus better when I place a piece of colored cellophane over the page and read through it. The man who taught me this said the color didn’t matter as long as it was your favorite color. I also know that for me, repetition is necessary, so I type out things I want to learn and tape them all over the house so that I see them often. But the most important thing I’ve come to understand is that the Holy Ghost is an amazing teaching. He has guided my study not only in spiritual matters, but secular. One of the things I did that has been most beneficial is to pray for the Spirit to guide me as to what books I should read. In this way I’ve discovered some books that have changed me in wonderful ways. The Spirit has also guided me to people who have taught me what I needed to know when I needed to know it. President Monson recently said, “Beyond our study of spiritual matters, secular learning is also essential.” It is my firm conviction that God wants us to learn all we can and that anyone can learn if they have the desire and let the Spirit tutor them. Learning makes life more interesting but it also makes us more interesting! Maybe breathing lessons isn’t such a bad idea!

P.S. If you don't know anything about fractals, that is a good place to start learning something new. They are fascinating.