I have hated church on Mother's Day ever since | was a teenager. Do you think Bishop would have still asked me to speak had he known?
When I was single (starting even as a young woman) it felt so awkward to receive a flower or chocolate on Mother's Day when I was so clearly not a Mother or trying to be a mother. As a married woman I appreciated the spirit of inclusion more but it still felt inauthentic and a little embarrassing. When I was striving to become a mother, it was a painful reminder | was not a Mother and I felt guilt and shame being praised for the motherhood I wanted so badly. I felt like an imposter.
After a long and traumatic infertility battle, My first mother's day as a mom I triumphantly walked into church ready to finally enjoy my potted geranium. They didn't mention a thing about mother's that day. The years leading up to that moment I would have rejoiced but that year I was a little let down. I thought I was ready to embrace Mother's Day, finally!
These days, the Mother's Day talks are a mixed bag of emotions for me. So when bishop asked me to speak I decided I would give a Mother's Day talk I would want to hear.
Mother's Day can be a hard time for many. Those who have no Mother, who have lost their mother, who have a strained relationship with their mother, had a "bad mother;" those who want to be a mother or even a wife; and even those who are mothers but who may feel shame, guilt, or inadequate to receive the praises heaped upon them every May.
Whatever your Mother's Day baggage (if you have any or not), I hope to talk more what I have learned about mothers in my own personal journey.
First, you don't have to have any children or birth children to be a mother. Eve was called the "mother of all living" before she ever begat Cain and Abel. (She also wasn't presumably less than a mother because her oldest slain her younger son! Talk about Mom guilt!) Our motherhood is eternal and the divine qualities of womanhood can be fostered and used in this life regardless of our actual parental status in this life. We are all promised we will have all our righteous desires granted in the eternities and God will wipe away all our tears (Rev 21:4). Elder Anderson taught in the most recent general conference, "The unrealized dreams of life are difficult to understand if viewed only from the perspective of mortality. As the Lord's servant, I promise you that as you are faithful to Jesus Christ and your covenants, you will receive compensating blessings in this life and your righteous desires in the eternal time line of the Lord. There can be happiness in the journey of mortality even when all of our righteous hopes are not realized."
While it is natural to be heartbroken over the disappointments that come with broken dreams of a perfect motherhood, God wants us to be happy and live full lives. Women are that they may have joy!
We can foster our maternal gifts in all aspects of our lives. Developing our talents, providing service, and reaching our divine potential are all important in our womanhood. I recently learned while visiting "This is the place monument" in Utah that Brigham Young sent many women to medical school in the 1850's because he felt women were more compassionate and fit to be doctors. A woman started one of Utah's first hospitals to help women and children, especially with the delivery of babies. What wonderful mothering she must have provided through her career! Im not sure if we know about whether she was a parent or not, but Esther acted like a mama bear and the true mother of a nation when she courageously defied her husband, the king, to save her people! We can all bring light and love to the world like good mothers do every day at home, regardless of how many children we call our own.
Secondly, your ability to bear children has nothing to do with your worthiness in the eyes of the Lord. It is easy to mistake empty arms and hearts as a sign of unworthiness but in my studies I have found many or even most of the chosen women in the scriptures were "barren." One of the most painful things to watch while infertile is babies being born to unfit mothers or being terminated for being unwanted. Clearly a barren womb can't mean anything about worthiness when Sarah the mother of nations had to wait until almost her deathbed to bear a single son while some mothers bring their babies into the world without the desire or ability to care for them. Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel were all mothers to the nations and God's chosen people despite years of heartache and paradoxically small families. Elizabeth bore the precursor to the savior in her old age. Sometimes we have to wait to see God's promises fulfilled whether in this life or the next or have them fulfilled in a way different than what we had hoped. Hannah asked for a child and in return gave him, Samuel, back to the Lord for His service.
Emma Smith bore 9 children, 5 who died before adulthood and her twins through adoption died as infants after a mob attack. Sister Wendy Nelsen was single until well past her childbearing years when she married a prophet and now has a family of over 200. I fully believe these wives of the prophets have many blessings to receive in the eternities for their sacrifices and patience.
Women are vital to God's work. You dont have to bear 5 or more children, homeschool your children with homemade lesson plans fit for a mini Harvard, or make gourmet organic non processed meals every night. Your house doesn't have to be as clean as the temple. your children impeccably behaved, or your abs flat as a washboard. God needs women, even with dirty dishes and stretch marks! The prophet has told us we are vital to his plan.
Next, Embrace your current stage of life. Look for ways to learn and serve and grow no matter where you are! And look for ways to give yourself a break, some well-deserved kudos, and the confidence you are on the right track. Stop living with regret. Stop forgetting to live because you are waiting for the next baby, or until you get married, or until your kids are in school or your house is clean or you lose 12 lbs. You are enough. You are God's child, His divine daughter, and a daughter of a Heavenly Mother who must be one fierce Goddess! Take the picture, wear the swimming suit, say the nice thought, have the party even though you have dishes in the sink, and learn to say no!
Sometimes we think we have to fit a certain mold to be good enough. Whether it is cultural or church expectations, it is easy to think we need to marry by a certain age, have a set number of children, and look and act a certain way to be enough. It is easy to compare ourselves and feel less when we don't look like the picture we have in our mind of how things are supposed to be or the ones we see on instagram.
Ruth was a Moabite woman, an outsider. And a widow. She essentially had no status in her society but had confidence to follow God's path for her by lying at the feet of Boaz, a prominent citizen. Mary was a virgin and became pregnant while betrothed. She could have been cast out of her community but like Ruth, she followed God and bore the line of Jesus. They trusted in their revelations and moved forward in faith and changed the world.
I did'nt expect to leave BYU unmarried. I thought | would be a stay at home mom with 5-6 kids living in Utah and done bearing children by 30. Instead, I went to 9 years of training after BYU, married in dental school, suffered through years of infertility, had twins at 32 after hundreds of shots and multiple failed medical treatments, and live in the Midwest working as a surgeon. My life is nothing like I pictured but so much better than I ever imagined because I was willing to let Him guide my footsteps. A religion professor told me God wouldn't tell a 20 year old girl to go to dental school. Luckily, that wasn't true and God can tell you where to go if you are willing to listen, even if you are a girl!
Finally, love and support other women. The Relief Society is a sisterhood. We are stronger and better together. As the song says, "Let us oft speak kind words to each other!" It is easy to let jealousy, judgmental attitudes, and comparisons fracture our sisterhood. As Elder Uchtdorf said, "Stop it!" I believe the pure love of Christ has a cleansing power and as we offer it to others we receive it back to ourselves. Conversely, having love and confidence in who we are as children of God helps us feel the love He has for others. We are less likely to gossip, criticize, or judge others when we feel secure in ourselves! The world is hard enough to navigate as a woman sometimes, we need to do a better job mourning with those who mourn, supporting and believing our fellow sisters, and speaking up for what is right or when we need help. I know our RS has been a great example of service and love to me.
I know God loves his daughters, no matter your story or path. He wants you to feel His love and the confidence He has in you. He wants you to be celebrated today, even if it can be a painful reminder of loss, wishes, insecurity, or even guilt.
Go forward with faith! Move mountains. Accept the power you possess as His daughter and live your life fully without regret or stagnation. Be willing to go off plan to find something even better. He wants to bless you. Receive His blessings and return them to others! That is what true motherhood, or shall I say Womanhood, is really about!