Sunday, May 17, 2009

Imitating Mother

"But we all, with open face beholding as in a a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." (2 Corinthians 3:19)

My daughter-in-law celebrated her birthday on Saturday. Since May 16th is also my mother-in-law's birthday, I spent the day wishing Bri had known her. And then I realized...

if you know me, you know something about LeOra.

When my father-in-law first laid eyes on me, he was stunned. I flew down the street with youthful exuberance and landed in his arms. All he could think was: “LeOra! She’s LeOra! ” Sweethearts since childhood, he remembered her well at the same age: eighteen.

I am a lot like her, or so people have told me. One of those times was on the day of her funeral. Elisa watched me flutter around Mom’s kitchen, trying to take care of things. Though she’d been married to Mother’s brother for nearly fifty years, I’d only met Elisa-from-California once before, so we were something of a revelation to each other. With wonder, she finally articulated what she was thinking.

“Ramona,” she said, “You are LeOra.”

Mom was raised in a less active home, as was I. We both married young: at 18. Each of us was the only (pampered) daughter in a family of boys. Our children were of the same number and gender. We shared shoes, wardrobes, music, and theater.

But it was more than that.

She was my mother.

In the most classic sense of the role, she nurtured me through young adulthood and young motherhood. She taught me overtly. She taught me by example.

In my first year of marriage, I watched with awe as she just talked to people. How did she do that, converse with so much ease? Each person she spoke to was touched and uplifted by the simplest comment, the most ordinary communication. How did she do that? I wanted to be that.

She taught me how to cook chicken soup from scratch. She taught me how to make homemade noodles. She taught me how to put a Sunday roast on the table.

"Mom,” I often phoned, “How do you...” and then I’d ask a question so basic it would be embarrassing to ask anyone else.

She explained a lot through the years as she pruned a rose bush, trimmed the shrubs, fertilized the trees, pulled the weeds. I know she hoped some of it was sinking in, but mostly I watched her puttering around the yard.

I gradually absorbed her good taste. As a young wife, without a comparable bank account, I couldn’t shop from the same upscale department stores that she did, but I tailed along anyway, and learned loveliness.

Though Mom wanted to be a writer, most of her writing is in her journals; a spiritual pursuit she wanted me to learn. She loved the gospel, the work of the Kingdom, the divine principle of family. I watched how she honored, respected, sustained, supported, and cared for her eternal companion and the Priesthood. I experienced firsthand her employment of patience, long suffering, charity and forgiveness. She taught me how to have faith in people who seemed not to want it or deserve it.

She taught me to love spirituality. She taught me to love the Brethren. She taught me to love the scriptures. She taught me to love the Church. She taught me to love the temple and family history.

She taught me to not be afraid of missionary work, or trials, or repentance.

She showed me how to turn my kitchen into a concert hall, how to sing old tunes and dance jigs with babies. She held my hand when I gave birth.

The phone rang on an August afternoon. Dale said Mom had suffered a stroke. As I prepared to meet him at the hospital, I knew that I would not leave her side.

The last words she heard were mine: "I love you Mother.”

Her funeral was nothing less than majestic with nine-hundred people filling the chapel and cultural hall; yet I knew, in the midst of it all, that I was special to her. I felt the Spirit assign me to remember her, by representing her, for the rest of my life.

I’m not worried about what happens after that because when the Lord releases me from mortality she will come for me.

And then all I will have to do is imitate mother.

Muse with me: Who have you tried to emulate? Who are you trying to lead to Christ through your example?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Match Made in Heaven

Happy Mother's Day! This Musing was written for you and all the mommies at Mormon Mommy Blogs! MMB’s invitation to share a Mother’s Day Musing was lathered in butter…how could I resist? And who would want to? MMB is “the place” for Latter-day women...and THIS day is a “akin to a holy day" there! (You will forgive me for not mentioning Daddies this week – especially if you will read The Final Test of True Manhood.)

Mother, I love you.
Mother I do.
Father in Heaven has sent me to you.
(Primary songbook, #207)

“Shall we excuse the Sunbeams early today?”

The whole Primary looked relieved. With Singing Time on pause, teachers (whose hard-day-on-the-ranch had just begun) rounded-up thirteen three-year-olds and headed out. The culprit behind the banditos starred me down as he brought up the rear. He’d really outdone himself that day, exciting the herd into a frenzy. I’d caught on and dismissed them just before they would have stampeded anyway. As soon as the dust settled, we went back to practicing our Mother’s Day program.

Twenty-four hours later I had a run-in with Bandito at the town saloon (Applebees at lunchtime.) Instead of shooting me, he lit up like the stars of Wyoming. His mommy said that he had come home from Primary on fire the day before.

“Mommy!” he whooped, “The Curly Lady said Heavenly Father sent me to YOU!”

His delightful interpretation of lyrical doctrine gave my curly head lots to muse about this week: Does Heavenly Father send specific spirits to specific women for specific reasons? What about my own four children?

In youth, I felt impervious to adversity; that is, until my first baby grew physically -- but not mentally. I had sensed an impending challenge for months, even when everything seemed perfectly normal. Slightly more experienced friends had laughed when I confessed my fears. But mommies are realists, not mythmakers (contrary to popular thought) and I knew before the doctors knew. Twenty-nine years later, I bathe, dress, transport and feed her, aaannnd don’t-u-know: that’ll mold or melt a person.

A second baby arrived, and though thrilled with a healthy boy, my intuition kicked into high gear. I sensed a call to brace myself. His super-charged intellect has taken me through so many hills and valleys and twists and turns, I have felt upside-down for most of his twenty-seven years. It took me almost that long to get my heart on straight; its capacity for charity has grown at least “three sizes”. I love him in a way that I can love no one else.

During a third pregnancy, I discerned a different sort of personality. Even prenatally, this child soothed and comforted me. Like a warm blanket, his humility, consistency, and sweet creativity have calmed my heart. Following close behind came his compatriot - and mine: a daughter who shouldered the responsibilities of a firstborn in cheerfully caring for her sister and leading an exemplary life. I felt our team spirit by the time she turned two.

Musing on these things, I couldn’t help humming “Mother I love you…” over and over this week. With each repetition of “Father in Heaven has sent me to you…” I felt the Spirit bear testimony to its truthfulness. THERE IS A REASON.

Our omnipotent Father planted me in my circumstances. He also planted them. I am THEIR mama because of what I, in particular, can do for them; that is the more obvious truth. My every breath is for their sake. What has not always been so obvious is that they are my children because of what they can do for me. My character burst out of the ground when those particular personalities sprang into my life. I grew as they grew; our individual strengths and weaknesses intertwining in a garden that is our own. I am the fruits of my children.

Leading the banditos in their Mothers Day presentation will have more meaning, now that I have mused over their song… I’ll be thinking how little cowpokes, under all those wild-west wiggles, are very much at home on their particular range…

BECAUSE that IS exactly where they are supposed to be.

Muse with me:
How do you see a Heavenly Hand in the making of your family?

DEEElightful...for you AND the kiddos!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Final Test of True Manhood

“When one puts business or pleasure above his home, he that moment starts on the downgrade to soul-weakness. When the club becomes more attractive to any man than his home, it is time for him to confess in bitter shame that he has failed to measure up to the supreme opportunity of his life and flunked in the final test of true manhood. ... The poorest shack in which love prevails over a united family is of greater value to God and future humanity than any other riches. In such a home God can work miracles and will work miracles.” (Pres. David O. McKay, 2005 PH/RS Manual, 148-149)

There! I thought with satisfaction, surveying the clean garage. Winter has a way of piling up stuff, but at last it is spring and time to liberate the cement floor and fling open the cabinets busting with Miracle Grow, slug bait, and gardening gloves. Spring is also the time to celebrate my honey’s birthday, so this year I decided to combine a clean garage with a happy birthday, since it was all I could think to give him.

Now, that last statement is a true one and a significant one. It means we have passed through the “accumulation stage” and have embarked on the “give-it-to-the-kids” stage. I honestly could not think of a single meaningful “thing” to give my honey this week. He has books and music and electronics and ties coming out of his ears. His sock drawer is bulging and we just beefed up his shirt collection.

‘Twas not always thus. We have done our time crawling like beggars through the muddy trenches of unemployment, the battlefield of under-employment, and the mine-field called corporate America. At this time, we are balanced on a tight-rope of uncertainty (like everyone today), but at least we have a rope.

My heart filled with charity last night as I listened to a very dear friend who lost his job recently. Hearing his fears and frustrations awoke poignant memories, one in particular…

It was a season of unemployment for us (not the first time), the result of corporate down-sizing, and after many, many weeks, we had exhausted our resources, our list of contacts, and our initiative. Like mountaineers gasping for air with the summit just behind the clouds, we had no idea how close we were to being delivered.

Then it came, the last proverbial straw; a certified “threat” from the electric company, delivered by a guy with a logo on his shirt, wearing a tool belt. With deep foreboding, I handed it to Dale at his desk. He slit open the envelope and starred at the contents. The red print bled through so that I could make out the numbers, even from the other side of the desk. I knew they could not be matched by what remained in our bank account. Our eyes met, searching for some inkling of hope and faith in the other, but instead, a terrifying realization overcame us both; we had nothing left. We were paupers, temporally and emotionally.

Then, the strangest thing happened. My husband fell forward, his forehead to his arms, and he wept. He wept and wept and wept. The Spirit waved over me, followed by a tidal wave of compassion. All of a sudden I comprehended, like I never had before, the immense burden my husband carried being wholly responsible for the lives of six people.

That eye-opener established a new empathetic undergirding in my relationships with men; husband, adult male family, and Priesthood brothers. My claims upon their time, or evaluation of their performance in familiar roles or church callings became much more liberal. I took great care, ever after, to express my sincere appreciation for what they do for me, for my family, and for others. Particularly in the church, as I served with Bishoprics, High Council and Stake Presidencies, I made a concerted effort to respect their many obligations and lighten their load whenever possible.

The birthday wish I gave Dale yesterday reflected the understanding I gained all those years ago:

“…you provided beautifully and at great strain and sacrifice through the decades,” I wrote, “…so that our children are raised and providing essentially for themselves now. You did it. They never went cold or hungry or felt deprived in any way; quite the opposite. And our sweet Ashley has had an amazing life for an individual with her severity of disability. She has been well fed, well loved, well dressed, and well serviced in the schools and community. Last night, you credited me for that, but the truth is that you always did whatever it took so that we could keep her close to us and expose her to every advantage.

"As for the future, it doesn’t really matter. I believe the Lord will prepare the way and orchestrate our lives so that our remaining time on earth will be productive and safe. Our union is so complete we can weather anything and live anywhere and in any situation together. This is perhaps the most important outcome of your 32 years of devotion.

"So on your birthday, I want you to know that our family’s success, even existence, has been entirely dependent on you for a very long time, and you have not failed us. You have blessed us, like a true Father in every way. I pray that God will bless you with continued joy and progress in your career at this point, for your OWN sake, as you so richly deserve.”

He was touched by that of course. I got a doozy of a hug and kiss for it. And the surprise party I threw later than night didn't hurt.

But the tidy garage comforted him most.

“After all,” he said, “if worse comes to worse, at least we’ve got the space now to hold a moving sale!”

Related Musings: What You Don't Have or Have Lost
and Belonging

Muse with me SISTERS:
How does your husband or the men in your life contribute to your family in a positive way?
(And send your husbands to comment too please -- we would LOVE a man's point of view on this...)
Muse with me BROTHERS:
How does your wife or the other women in your life (daughters, mothers, sisters in the church) sustain you? What does that mean to you?