Thursday, May 27, 2010

Long-awaited blossoms/blessings

Growing up, one of the earliest things I remember about Mother’s flowers was the hoya carnosa vine. To most of you, that will be a completely foreign term, one that sounds slightly threatening. But it was one of the “solids” in my youth.

Every once in a while, bunches of flowers appeared, looking much like a down-shooting fireworks display. The flowers are amazing, having faintly pink velvety petals, waxy little red stars in the middle with (as I recall) another white star in the middle of that, and a fragrance that fills the room. [NOTE: This description was written before the flowers on my vine opened.]

When I moved away, I tried several times to take a cutting of the vine. I remember that one attempt failed when the hot summer sun scorched the leaves of the poor little plant sitting in the back of the car as we drove across the country.

This last cutting survived, but barely. Our home doesn’t have a lot of window sill space, so it struggled along with only a few leaves. Once the children got old enough that I could put a plant on a low window sill, it put out some new growth.

When my husband renovated a corner of the basement for my office, he blessed me with a deep sill for the window right in front of my computer. So I brought my plant down and put it there, right where I can see it every day.

My mother’s plants (hers has multiplied also) continued to flourish and bloom. The cuttings my siblings had started did the same, producing blossoms so consistently that they didn’t even bother to mention it in family e-mails.

Meanwhile, it was enough of a subconscious concern to me that I had dreams about my plant’s blooming. One dream in particular said that there were two sets of flowers.

Although my vine was surviving and sending out runners every spring, there was still nothing resembling a flower. In consultation with the other family experts, the diagnosis was a probable lack of light. Indeed, this window has a northwest exposure, which is not ideal. However, it does get a little dose of sun from the east early in the morning.

Then last year something unusual appeared on one of the vines. I thought it looked a lot like the stalk from which the blossoms grow. Although I watched it very closely, nothing more happened last year.

This past spring, another stalk appeared on this year’s vine. But it was even smaller than last year’s. Still, a few weeks ago the little bud stems started to grow on last year's, and then on this year's. You can imagine my excitement at that development.

But you can possibly also imagine my surprise when another stalk appeared on a vine end that I assumed was dead. That stalk developed almost overnight and almost immediately started sending out the bud stems.

This morning, as I survey the progress, I see that the last group of blooms is very close to opening. Right behind it is the group on last year’s stalk. And still moving along but way behind is the stalk that appeared earlier this spring.

As I thought about this situation this morning, before beginning another day of steady work, I thought that my plant might be trying to teach me some lessons. The first is that the deadest looking wood may still be viable. The second is that seniority may have nothing to do with maturity. And the third is that dreams do indeed come true, if we have patience and hold out hope long enough.

So whatever long-held dreams are fueling your progress through life, grasp them tightly. If they are worthy of Heavenly Father’s sanction, they will come about someday. I have an undying assurance of that, which I would like to share with you.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Gathering in

My current scripture study is in the Old Testament chapters where many prophets describe the challenges of the latter days prior to the Second Coming. Much of it, of course, I don’t understand completely. But the general message is one of pending difficulty.

Our children are now grown. Our time for preparing them against those times of sifting (some of which are undoubtedly already upon us) is probably just about past. Now they have to go out and fend for themselves—battle their own battles and deal with both victory and defeat.

Our second child is already married and has begun the raising of the next generation. Her next-youngest sibling will be married in a little over a month. The rest are in various stages of preparation.

My impression this morning was to petition Heavenly Father (as I have often done previously) to send strong spirits to be companions for these souls who are so precious to us. The one we already have qualifies; the one we are soon to have join us does as well. May they all be strengthened from outside and recommitted from within to face the battles that will continue to escalate until the One who is worthy to rule will calm the strife.

And for however long I get to accompany them, may my voice be one of encouragement. May they know that, even after I have left this mortal realm, I will be just out of sight cheering them on.

Random thoughts

One of the most interesting experiences of raising children for me was to try to teach them the concepts of “you” and “me.” Somehow, that gets terribly confusing. Unlike a table or a door, you can’t put a label on yourself and say “This is me,” because for the child observer it is really “You.” And you can’t put the “me” on the child and the “you” on yourself because then it is no longer true for you.

Is this one of the first “relative” concepts a child learns? Isn’t it essential that the sense of self be internalized before it makes sense? And the self has to be seen as separate from Mom or Dad or sibling?

Which brings back another memory from what were probably my early teen years (because my late teen years were so consumed by thoughts of boys and future that the time for introspection was generally squeezed out). Long before I knew anything about the dual nature of mortal beings, I remember looking in the mirror and being kind of freaked out that the “me” that was looking back was somehow something more than the face that was being viewed. There was something behind the eyes that was thinking about seeing those eyes. It suddenly became logical after the explanation arrived!

Now years later, although the aging process has been relatively kind to me so far, I can project myself into the future and imagine the day when the physical body becomes a torture chamber or a prison. Not a terrible positive thought except for the fact that eventually—inevitably—the spirit will be released and allowed unfettered movement again for a time. And then, when the physical body is retrieved in the resurrection, a marvelous renovation will take place which will turn that body into a magnificent and compliant tabernacle.

So maybe these thoughts are not so random after all. Just as the child needs to begin to see him/herself separate and distinct from all other entities in his/her world, so too do we need to see ourselves as an infinite being (who had a past even before being born), as part of the great human race that has populated this Earth (many noble ones among them whom we would be proud to claim as kin), and as one of Heavenly Father’s precious children for whom He would do almost anything (except violate law) to help to return home to Him at the end of the process.

But too many in our day have been encouraged to view themselves more on the mortal plane, descending closer and closer to the animal realm all the time. (In saying that, I unintentionally denigrate those animals who show a greater devotion and commitment to partner than many humans!)

And perhaps those of us who understand that dual nature, that ultimate destiny of the human soul (paired as it will be with a perfected body), should be a little more diligent about petitioning for opportunities to share that expansive eternal panorama.

Most of the world probably isn’t ready to hear it, but some might be. May we be sensitive to potential.

Friday, May 14, 2010

One last parting shot

before I finally get to bed!

Having successfully repaired my husband's watch, I've decided that while duct tape is the fix-it choice for many, mine is the paper clip. Amazing what can be done with a little wire and a couple of needle-nosed pliers!

They liked my macaroni and cheese...they REALLY liked my macaroni and cheese!

Made a second batch of a new recipe I created for macaroni and cheese since that was the menu item requested by the birthday boy. In the past, they've always loved their dad's creations so much that he was constantly asked to make his version. But tonight, they said they really liked this one.

And, as if that weren't enough, they also liked (and raved about) the dessert I so carefully chose at Sam's Club. I'd never seen it before and there was only one left. It seemed like it was meant to be. And it was pretty durned good.

So nice to hear positive reviews floating around the table!

I yelled at my daughter today

It was one of those tense moments when you just lose your mind. Our 22-month old granddaughter had climbed up on the bench in the nook by herself. I was busy preparing a birthday dinner and kind of half realized that she was probably doing exactly that. When I asked Grandpa to check on her, he had barely made it around the counter before she took her nose dive.

Somehow, I flashed back on all the times the kids have made fun of me for being a worry-wart. And here was evidence that my anxieties were justified. Oh, and there are so many anxieties!

Every time someone goes down the basement stairs, it's a breath stopper for me (with memories of my own rolling trip down those same stairs a couple of weeks before child #4 was born). Edges of high places drive me crazy for myself (being just clumsy enough to imagine falling off for no reason at all), but especially for children (who don't realize the danger). Our family's last visit to the Luray Caverns terrified me at one point where there was a terrible drop and only a double-pipe handrail to keep people safe. And I've seen too many kids tumble off those kitchen benches in a split second to be comfortable when a little one is sitting on them.

To her credit, my daughter didn't respond in kind, though she could have. Her youngest sister came and explained why my behavior wasn't helpful (in the tone of voice she will probably use one day when my mind is gone for good).

But when I apologized for my outburst, my daughter said it was OK. (I don't think it was in "that" tone of voice!) She explained that her take on things is simply that those kinds of bumps are part of life and her daughter's going to be having her share of them. She doesn't want her to be afraid to explore and to try new things.

So where did THAT wisdom come from? Certainly not from her maternal genes. I am at least a second-generation fretter.

But she's probably right. Perhaps we parents try too hard to prevent all the hurts and wind up buffering too much. If we look back in our own lives, sometimes the lesson's not learned until there is enough pain that alternative choices become enticing.

Oh well, as I remind myself very often these days, we all probably do the best we understand to do and pray that our efforts will be good enough. Perhaps someday they will have been. In the meantime, we all keep learning and keep climbing.

And I promise to try to do better the next time there are bumps and tears.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Thank you, Mr. R.

As a result of Mother's Day, I found myself remembering what it was like "in the beginning."

My oldest daughter was probably less than a year old, but I had already bumped into enough inadequacies that I was feeling pretty fragile.

This particular morning, we had turned the television on to watch Mr. Rogers. I was only half listening as I tried to get some work done. But all of a sudden, my attention was fully riveted to the screen as he looked earnestly into the camera and said, "I like you just the way you are." That seemed like such an unlikelihood right then that I promptly burst into tears.

After the kids got a little older (and a lot more "sophisticated"), they would laugh about Mr. Rogers and make fun of him. I always remembered that moment and felt more to thank him for a moment or two of comfort in a difficult time.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

In honor of Mother's Day

This is a talk which I presented a couple of years ago on Mother's Day. (I still say that one of the biggest challenges is to ask a woman to speak on Mother's Day, but I'm sure it will continue to happen.)

* * *

I suspected I was in trouble the other night when I walked in the house only to hear my husband telling someone on the phone, “Yes, I’ll have her call you as soon as she gets in.” May I ask you sisters if it is typical that around the middle of April we all begin wondering who will have to endure the experience of being called upon to give a talk on Mother’s Day? Well, my fears were confirmed when Johnie told me what the phone call had been about, and the rest of you sisters are safe for another year. Any pity will be appreciated!

[In presenting the talk, I actually used another introduction. Johnie had read me a story from The Reader’s Digest about a mother of three small children who was having a really bad day. She said that even counting to 10 wasn’t working. So she decided that she would go in her closet and scream until she felt better. It seemed to help . . . until she opened the closet door and saw all three children standing there with fearful faces. Then her five-year-old son said, “Mom, I kept trying to tell you there was a monster in there!” Told the congregation they were free to make any comparison they wished between that story and Brother Cooper’s asking me to speak on Mother’s Day.]

I sometimes think that Mother’s Day from a mother’s perspective is somewhat like being forced to sit at the front of the chapel for your own funeral. People are saying really nice things, and you see your children and other close friends looking at each other as if to say, “Are we at the right funeral?”

Latter-day Saint funerals are a little better than others, and many of us were privileged a few weeks ago to attend Sister Mary Harman’s funeral. And there we learned that even that sister, who seemed to me to approach the epitome of great motherhood, also had a difficult time getting through Mother’s Day.

I’m sure the woman who founded Mother’s Day didn’t intend for it to be an ordeal. I’m sure President Lincoln didn’t wish his tribute to his mother to become a phrase that echoed through the minds of countless women who don’t really see themselves in the angelic role. Actually, I’m sure there must be mothers out there somewhere who deserve the tributes and really are so close to perfection that we would add our standing ovation to the applause.

However, I also wonder, as she stood in the spotlight of attention and adulation, if each of those women wouldn’t also have been uncomfortable with our praise. Even Mother Theresa, everyone’s example of honorable self-sacrifice, may have had her doubt-filled darker side.

Well, as I pondered what I might say on this most anguishing of days for those of us who struggle with our “mother image,” I began to wonder what it was that makes it so difficult for some of us to get through Mother’s Day. And in my wondering, I began hearing phrases, scriptural phrases. And I went looking. I found them in Jacob’s allegory of the wild and tame olive trees.

The Master of the vineyard is wrestling with nature. He and his faithful Servant are trying to get nature to do “the right things,” “the best things,” the things that will be most advantageous for him and the most healthy for the vineyard. Even as the chapter opens, the beloved tree has already grown old. I think it is safe to assume that the Master has not been an absentee caretaker during all of that preceding time.

Then we have a record of four additional visits to the vineyard, during which the Master makes at least six references to the length of time he has been caring for his vineyard. In verse 12, the Servant is admonished to watch the tree and nourish it, even in the absence of the Master. I suspect that even though this is the only reference we have to that kind of a directive, it was not the only time the charge was given.

We know from King Benjamin’s teachings that anything in its natural state is an enemy to God. And the vineyard is no exception. In spite of the care the tree and its offspring are given, it doesn’t turn out well very often.

And in the responses of the Master of the vineyard to this disappointment, we see into his very soul. Seven times in 77 verses, he repeats the plaintive phrase, “It grieveth me.” During one particularly difficult time, his cry is the cry of all parents who watch a loved one suffer for poor decisions: What could I have done more for my vineyard?

We see this anguish again in the conversation Enoch has with the Father in the Book of Moses. (7:32-37).

So, brothers and sisters, this is parenthood. This is parenthood for the most perfect, the most intelligent, the most powerful Being we know! Not a terribly pretty picture, is it? Maybe that’s why we sometimes feel a little ambivalent as we congratulate those who have just learned that they are going to become parents. It’s kind of a mixed bag of experiences.

But maybe it also gives us a little hope as we struggle with our own internal natural man and woman, as we struggle to help our children overcome the natural boy and the natural girl they each have to learn to conquer.

In the continuation of that interview with Enoch, we get an insight into the relationship of the Master with his Servant. Think back to Jacob’s allegory for a minute. Have you ever noticed that the Servant plays the role of petitioner in behalf of mercy? In the record, the Master initiates most of the conversations. However, five times we have the phrase “the servant said.” Four out of those five times, the Master is ready to give up, to destroy the unsuccessful vineyard. The Servant suggests new horticultural methods, begging the Master to spare the tree a little longer. In Moses 7:39, the Father tells us that “That which I have chosen hath pled before my face.”

Did you notice that the one thing the Master and the Servant did not do was give up? Even when the Master expressed feelings of discouragement and yes—even anger, he and his Servant eventually went back to tending the vineyard. Even when it became necessary for the Master to destroy all but eight of his creations, yet he spared those eight and did everything he could to give them a new start. And if we begin to see the dysfunctional branches of the tree not as decayed cellulose but as beloved offspring, we begin to know how painful that destruction was for him.

So back to Mother’s Day... For myself, part of the discomfort of the accolades is that I know how imperfect I am. I have vividly before my face the recollections of the hurtful things I’ve said and done to my children, most of them completely unintentional. I remember as if it were yesterday losing my temper multiple times, many of them with one particular child who knew exactly how to cultivate that response. Unlike the Master of the vineyard, I can easily enumerate the things we “could have done more” as parents.

And yet we have the promises. Even in Jacob the tide turns, the perspective changes, as they labor for the last time before the end comes. The Master has instructed the Servant to go out and gather other laborers so they can do everything possible to help the vineyard be productive before the harvest comes. (71-72).

Finally, note that in most of Jacob’s allegory, the Master refers to the object of his affections as “this tree.” But beginning in Jacob 5:54, it changes. He begins to call it the “mother tree.”

And what is most significant about this mother tree? That its roots are good, strong, healthy, nourishing. In addition to the regular processes of absorption and transmission of nutrients for that which is part of its normal system, it is asked to undergo the process of grafting. In that process (as far as I understand it), a cut is made into the main trunk of the tree and an adopted branch is secured in that wound. If it is successful, the adopted branch is also nourished by the mother tree and becomes a part of it. I suspect that is not a painless process for the mother tree.

A side note: that grafting in of the wild branches preserved and strengthened the roots. I’ll let you ponder on that for a while.

So what are the principles?

■ Agency is essential

■ The natural being is the most frequent result of agency

■ The love and mercy of the Father as manifested in the atonement of Jesus Christ and the mission of the Holy Ghost is the only way to lift mankind out of that natural state

And what are the lessons?

● Parenting is not painless, even for perfect parents

● Our role—whether natural parents or those who serve in the role of parent through their stewardships—is threefold:

○ to nourish our own roots so they are strong

○ to provide nourishment for whomever the Father sees fit to include in our stewardship system

○ and NEVER, NEVER, NEVER stop doing that until the final harvest is over and the last possible soul has been saved.

I plead with us all, brothers and sisters, no matter what our past performances, no matter how flawed our record, KEEP LABORING, KEEP OBEYING, KEEP TRYING. Most of us will not achieve perfection here. But we will keep our covenants if we keep trying, if we never give up.

After all, we have the promise that “the Lord of the vineyard labored also with them.”

We have the assurance that He loves us beyond anything we can comprehend. And the Servant of the Master, that beloved Advocate and Initiator of mercy, has not ceased to plead for us as individuals, for us as parents, or for our children—no matter how far down the wrong roads we or they may have traveled.

I think Heavenly Father has great confidence in and hope for the mothers of His children, for their parents in general. And I pray that He will bless us all that we may keep our own roots strong and continue to nourish whatever branches He entrusts to us.