My mother often said, “You only have what you give, and you only lose what you keep.” I don’t remember my mother ever seeming envious of other people’s possessions. I knew for sure that she loved my dad and us children, and because of that, she seemed content with her circumstances.
Even though our means were modest, she gave me a lot of opportunities to be generous. If I were going to a friend’s house or if someone invited me to go swimming with their family, Mother would send fresh tomatoes or beans out of our garden along with me.
She seemed to know instinctively that selfishness never led to happiness. I remember one summer being eager to give a birthday present to a young boy whom I babysat regularly. My mother didn’t give me a lecture on resources. Instead, we walked down to Main Street, where she purchased thirty-five cents’ worth of white broadcloth.
I helped tend my little brother as I watched her cut out a shirt with sleeves, interfacings, and a collar. After she carefully sewed the shirt together, she put on buttons from a worn-out shirt and made carefully hand-stitched buttonholes. The process seemed to take forever, but the new shirt was pressed and wrapped in time for the birthday, I remember the wonderful feeling I had as I presented the gift to the young neighbor. My mother’s gift to me was her time and effort and her support of my own desire to give.
It has been said that as our incomes increase, our needs do too. If this is true, we can go through life feeling needy and consumed by our own wants. But if we are mindful of the needs of others and try to find a way to give, we can go through life with a feeling of having plenty. My mother instilled this feeling in me. It didn’t have much to do with economics; it had more to do with a generous heart.
From the time I was very young, I have placed a high value on my right to choose. By the time I was eight years old, I recognized that it was my life and that I was accountable for my choices, because they were my choices.
One of the best lessons on choice I learned was from my dad. Whenever the carnival came to town, I was eager for one more ride or one more something. One summer day my dad gave me a silver dollar. He said, “Go buy what you want.” That was a lot of money for me because the rides and refreshments only cost a nickel or fifteen cents back then. I remember going with my friends to the carnival. I priced everything—cotton candy, the rides, the side shows—and I figured out how many of each thing I could get. At the end of the day, I came home with my whole dollar. I had realized that it was my dollar, and it had become more valuable to me because it represented choice. By keeping the dollar, I still had the choice. Once it was gone, the choice was gone.
It was true of that dollar, and it’s true of all choices in life. You can spend them any way you want to, but you can’t get them back. You can do something that gives you temporary pleasure, or you can do something that gives you long-term benefits.
Some choices have to do with right and wrong, and others have to do only with style. You need to decide which are which. If it’s between right and wrong, then Heavenly Father has already told us what’s best. If it’s a question of style, He leaves it up to us.
My father was not a member of the Church, and my mother did not attend Church meetings when I was a young girl, but I went to Primary occasionally with my friends. One day after I recited one of the Articles of Faith to the Primary president at her home, she took my hand and asked, “Wouldn’t you like to be baptized?”
I was baptized just before my eleventh birthday, on the same day as my sister, Geri, who was eight years old. This was my choice, and my parents supported my decision. They taught me to be kind, honest, and loving, and they supported me in everything I did.
In order to grow up in righteousness, you have to have experiences that help you develop your ability to choose wisely. You do that by making choices and choosing to be faithful. You need to make choices, see how they work out, then make adjustments. Sometimes you have to change your choice and repent. That’s how we improve.
Making thoughtful choices develops a personal integrity and helps you come to really know yourself. When I was in elementary school, I wanted a chemistry set for Christmas. How I appreciated my parents for respecting my choice, even though it wasn’t a typical one for girls my age.
We each have differences in style and interest. As long as we are obedient to gospel principles, we can make choices that are our own and not make choices just because we think that they will please others. There are so many other people and opinions that if we make choices to please others, we will be confused. Choices based on our own styles and interests, if righteous, will be good choices for us as individuals.