20910_000_016As a young woman, I thought I knew what I wanted out of life. Then I joined the Church and found an even richer purpose.
I was introduced to the Church at the age of 23 as a graduate student in Ames, Iowa. It was 1977, the women’s movement had reached a fevered pitch, and I was on my way to success in biochemistry, a predominantly male field. I charted my course using the compass of the time: women’s rights. A career in scientific research beckoned me with promises of intellectual stimulation, prestige, and recognition. I certainly did not plan to be a mother.
Then I met a member of the Church who introduced me to the gospel. As I investigated the Church, the Spirit bore witness of many important truths. Yet as I considered baptism, I also experienced concern about several issues. I worried that I would lose some of the closeness I enjoyed with my family, that my plans for the future in which I’d already invested so heavily would be forever altered, and that my identity and what I understood my role to be would fundamentally change. It seemed like a lot to give up.
I struggled to reconcile my career goals with teachings about the importance of motherhood. I expressed my concerns in a journal, concluding that “my heart really wants to know if, in truth, the role of wife and mother is my place. And if I find it is, I hope God will grant me the grace to accept and grow in that role.”
My heartfelt desire to know God’s will for me helped me keep searching for the truth. Two months later I wrote in my journal: “Through attending Relief Society and learning more about the Church, I can see that motherhood is a calling to bring Heavenly Father’s children into the world and to raise them in His love and truth. A woman in this Church is actively encouraged to develop and broaden as a person—not only in areas of strength and talent but also in areas of weakness. There is so much room for growth!”
Through study and continued Church attendance, I felt a growing assurance in my heart of the direction I should take, and with that I abandoned the familiar women’s rights compass and the goals that came with it. As the first member of my family to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, my direction now came from a new source: the scriptures and the teachings of the prophets. Leaving behind the familiar patterns and plans of the past was not easy, but the Spirit confirmed it to be a necessary sacrifice on my part. I moved forward with a desire and determination to open every corner of my life to the light of the gospel and find my place in God’s plan.
From the time of my baptism, I planned to be married in the temple if the opportunity ever came. My parents knew how I felt, although we never discussed it. Two years later, while working as a research assistant in Colorado, I met a young man named Stan who desired to take me to the temple. The moment had come, and my marriage clearly defined the distance between my parents and me. I recall standing in a snowy driveway with my father packing the last of the things for my trip to the temple.
“Thanks, Daddy,” I said as I took the long white garment bag from him and carefully placed it in the car. It contained my wedding gown.
With an awkward hug, he said, “Have a nice wedding.”
My girlhood expectations of walking up the aisle on his arm came unbidden. The lacy, glowing illusions of a church wedding I had formed since earliest girlhood danced in my tear-filled eyes. I choked as I turned to hide them. “I’ll call you.” My heart ached, but the gospel compass I had decided to follow filled me with peace, confirming my decision. I wanted the blessings Heavenly Father offered me as His daughter. In my heart I realized my girlhood expectations were made of pomp and ceremony but contained no substance. The eternal blessings that flow through a temple marriage could only be obtained by walking in the light of the gospel.
Our marriage has been a mutually beneficial journey. The high points and magnificent vistas have been worth the sustained effort it has taken to achieve them. Shortly after our honeymoon, my husband and I convened our first family council to discuss our goals and plans for the future. I began by reviewing the items we had on the calendar for the next two weeks. That wasn’t what Stan had in mind, and he tried to direct the conversation to the more distant future. In response, I jumped to the topic of preparing for eternity, and his frustration increased—he wanted to talk about 10, 20, and 50 years out. We ended that meeting early, each wondering what kind of prescription the other needed to correct apparent “vision” problems.
Through years of patient persistence we have shaped a plan for our lives that begins with today and next week, includes the coming decades of our lives, and reaches toward eternal goals. The blessings come as we combine our strengths and learn to appreciate our differences instead of being threatened by them.
Facing My Feelings about Motherhood
When I married I left my career and determined to follow the counsel of the prophets by devoting my full time, talents, and energy to the role of wife and mother. Through the years these roles presented continual opportunities for steady personal growth. In fact, the intensity of the experience often surprised me because I had the mistaken idea that women who stayed home sacrificed their personal development for that of their families. In time, I recognized and appreciated the blessings of growth in myself.
Part of that growth came as I sought to establish healthy relationships with our children, guided by gospel principles. I realized early on that some traditions handed down from generation to generation can be tuned to harmonize with the truth, while others must be discarded or replaced with methods the Creator approves. The challenges I faced demanded solutions that went deep into my heart. Studying the gospel, many parenting books, and the positive examples of other sisters in the Church helped. However, there still came a painful season in my life when I realized that all the behavioral adjustments I had made were not enough.
During one long afternoon I was climbing the stairs in our home with a baby on my hip and fussy twins following behind. My patience had come to an end, and I heard myself mutter, “I can’t stand kids!”
I sat down on the stairs in shock. Those were the very feelings that, as a girl, I had suspected many mothers felt. I had heard some mothers, overwhelmed and resentful, criticize their children and bemoan their own sacrifice. It was this grinding of the gears of motherhood that I had worked so hard to avoid.
With bitter tears of frustration I finally acknowledged that my best efforts had been inadequate to change myself. Working from the outside in, I had done as much as I could do, and it wasn’t enough to become who I wanted to be. I knew then I needed Heavenly Father’s help to change from the inside out.
I sought counseling to help me unravel negative patterns inherited from the past, and I changed the way I prayed, focusing more on my relationship with my Heavenly Father. I asked Him for guidance more than help, for understanding more than deliverance. I went to the temple as often as I could.
Gradually, feeling guided by the Holy Ghost, I discovered that some of the deeply held beliefs that shaped my daily actions were not in tune with correct principles. Over several years of patiently following the still, small voice, I experienced growth and understanding. I was able to relinquish my peace-at-any-price approach to discipline. I learned to balance courage with courtesy as my husband and I set limits for our children that allowed love to flow in our home without contention. I feel that the role of wife and mother has taken more thought, creativity, courage, and skill than my career ever demanded. Motherhood surprised me with its opportunities for great personal growth. By keeping a gospel focus, I’ve been able to embrace my role as a mother and discover the joy of it! Experiencing this kind of joy has filled me with gratitude to Heavenly Father for the role He has prepared for me.
As I dealt with my own problems, I found myself better prepared to focus on my children and was surprised by the joyful, soul-stirring, personal fulfillment I experienced as our many efforts in the home began to bear fruit. Once, during a hike with the family, my young daughter became fatigued, and I lifted her to my shoulder. From her high perch she exclaimed, “Oh, look at the flowers! Who put them there?” When I answered that Heavenly Father made them, she sighed in wonder, and asked, “For me?”
“Yes, sweetheart, for you,” I responded, and in answering her I learned to take His blessings more personally myself.
Another joyful experience comes with each of my children near their eighth birthday. Soon after each one is baptized, I take that child to the Denver Colorado Temple. Dressed in our Sunday best, we leave in the quiet hours of the morning. During the hour drive we talk about baptism, what it means to become a member of the Church, covenants, and Heavenly Father’s plan. At the temple we walk around the grounds and admire the beautiful flowers and trees, focusing on how peaceful it feels to be there. We go to the bride’s bench and talk about getting married in the temple. I take a picture of my eight-year-old standing in front of the temple, which we later enlarge and hang in the child’s bedroom.
Just before leaving the grounds with my fourth daughter, the two of us went inside the temple’s first set of doors and sat in the little entry hall. We did not say a word. I wondered what she was thinking, and as I looked down at her, she turned to me, and I saw a tear slip down her cheek. I knew she felt the Spirit.
Shimmering moments such as these helped me understand the importance of my place in the lives of my children. I could see with clarity how the gospel light would shine into the future through them and bless my posterity. Generations would eventually arise with a strong heritage of gospel living.
A Link with the Past
As we follow the gospel compass, our children and future generations are not the only ones blessed. The light of the gospel also shines back into the past, reaching those who came before us.
The day after the first anniversary of my baptism, I was baptized and confirmed in the temple for my grandmother. During the ordinances I was filled with memories of her. I recalled once as a little girl being impressed by her faith when she held me on her lap and pleaded in prayer for my health. I saw her generosity when people came to the side door of her home and left with paper bags filled with canned goods gathered from her meager supply. I felt such gratitude as her temple ordinances were performed and the blessings of the gospel were extended to her. As I work to make those same ordinances available to more of my ancestors, I know they will have the opportunity to come unto the Savior and to become part of our eternal family. It is a legacy extending back in time.
I have learned that when the Lord asks mothers to accept and grow in our divinely appointed role by devoting our full time, energy, and talent, it is not simply because it helps past or future generations. He asks us to fill the place He designed for us because He knows it is the best way to prepare for our eternal destiny. When “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” (see Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102) was first presented, I thought it odd to make a proclamation on teachings that seemed—to me at least—to be so well established. Then I recalled my experiences in graduate school when these truths were new to me and remembered the faith it initially took for me to accept them. I cannot tell what experiences would have come if I had stayed on the career course I had mapped out. I simply recognize the profound blessings that are mine, my children’s, and my forebears’ because of my decision to walk the Lord’s path. I rejoice in the role of motherhood, for it leads to unlimited growth, development, beauty, and joy.