Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Talk I Didn't Give

Well, Stake Conference is over. It was uplifting, humorous, wonderful, and even fantastic! Last night at the Adult Session, Bishop Edgley (our visiting General Authority) even held a question and answer session at the end of his talk. The choir that sang was out of this world! We got our kids ready and we arrived a little earlier this morning so we could get a bench seat (I'm so uncomfortable sitting anywhere now, and the thought of sitting in the gym on hard chairs?? No, thank you!) and one of the only spots left was the front row. The front row! Brandon about died when I made us all sit there. But it turned out to be even better than I had hoped. The kids were so well-behaved and it was nice to be so close to the speakers and the choir. Truly wonderful!

[Side note rant here: If you train your children, from infancy/toddlerhood, that meetings like Sacrament Meeting are important, a place for reverence and a lot more fun than being in the hallway, I guarantee you that they will be good for you. No, we don't bring food past 18 months old to Church. No, they do not play electronics. Yes, after the Sacrament is passed, they can color, draw, or show board books and small quiet toys to #5. If they act up, Brandon takes them out and holds them in the corner until they decide that sitting on the bench and coloring is more fun. Yes, sometimes our kids are tired and have meltdowns. Yes, sometimes it's hard to deal with kids. I get it. But the consistent practice of providing consistent consequences and expectations creates miracles. Like this Stake Conference!]

Needless to say (because I've already said it), Stake Conference was nice. No, we weren't asked to talk. :) I was surprised at how few people were asked. Only two were asked last night at the adult session, and only two (or three??) were asked at today's session. That surprised me. But it was cool to see how prepared everyone in the Stake was for the possibility!

I finished my talk, though. I was shocked at how badly I wanted to share it! *shrug. But it's okay that I didn't get that chance, because maybe one day I'll need to speak on the subject I wrote about in our ward. Whoo-hoo! Already prepared talk!

Anyway, since only about a handful of people in my ward read this blog, I figured I could share it here and still give it another time. Why not, eh? It's long (not nauseously long, I hope), but it goes at a pretty good clip. I had to write it down word for word (like an essay or how I would speak it) because I just can't wing it off bullet points.

If you take the time to read it, enjoy! If not, I understand!


In 2 Nephi 28:30 we read:
"For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have."

Doctrine and Covenants 64:33 says:
"Wherefore, be not weary in well doing, for ye are laying a foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great."

One more: from The Proclamation on the Family --
"The Family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bounds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity."

What do these scriptures have in common? For me, they represent a constant and diligent effort to remember the eternal nature of my roles as a Wife and a Mother. I want to speak about each role, how they have influenced my life, and what I've learned thus far. In doing this, I want to be upfront and very clear that I am not judging anyone else's situation in life. I know that we are all at the crossroads of different times in our lives and many of us are facing situations we have not personally desired or even brought upon ourselves. I understand how easily some can become victims of another's agency. The doctrine, however, doesn't change, despite challenging situations. So, what I will be speaking about are my own experiences and how they apply to the scriptures and doctrine I just mentioned. I am not a scholar, nor do I claim perfect knowledge, so if you could please forgive my weakness, I would appreciate it.

First, I'd like to talk about my role as a wife.

*My 8 year old daughter asked me recently if I loved her father more than her. I answered her this (although my answer to her was not nearly as long or as complicated). I said: "It's not that simple, sweetie. When a child is born, the love a parent has for that child is instantaneous and eternal. There is no other love quite like it. You don't really choose it --it chooses you. See, you don't get to choose who your parents are, who your children are, your brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, etc. But marriage? It's a choice. You make the choice to be with your husband or wife --it is a bold choice, too, because for the rest of your life, you will have to make that choice over and over again. This is why the relationship between your dad and I is the most important. Our marriage created our family. Our marriage is eternal. One day, you kiddos will grow up, leave the house and hopefully find marriages of your own. Who do you think I'll be left with, living my life with? Who will I be spending eternity with? You better believe that one day in the Celestial Kingdom, I'm going to be having bazillions of spirit babies with your dad --you kids will be doing your own thing and hopefully having spirit babies with your eternal companions as well. So, I'll put it this way: It's not that I love him more. It's that our love is more vital. It's more important. That's why I choose him over you so often. Not because I don't love you, but because he is my choice. And in a way, it's also showing you and your brothers and sister love, too --our marriage is just as important for you guys as it is for us."

She seemed satisfied with my answer. As did I.

My husband and I, from the beginning of our courtship and throughout our marriage have made a concerted effort to make it work. Personally, I believe it stems from his own parents' divorce and my majoring in Marriage, Family, and Human Development at BYU. But whatever the case, we have tried to face our challenges head on --something not easy for two very stubborn and head strong people. But from premarital counseling while we were engaged, to the date nights, doing sealings in the Temple, several trips away alone, and daily communication, I believe we're doing pretty good. It has definitely been an example of learning "here a little, and there a little."

Recently, we attended a marriage workshop at Aspen Grove Family Camp and the speaker was Dr. Douglas Brinely. It was a fascinating weekend and I took away from it several truths about marriage that have inspired me to work harder at being the kind of companion my husband deserves. Here are just a few truths we learned and re-learned:

1. We have Heavenly Parents. They are married. They have had spirit children (us).
2. Until we received our bodies, we could not marry or conceive children. Now we can. This is the first time ANY of us have been married.
3. If we are sealed and rock it here in mortality (meaning, we keep our covenants and love each other and forgive each other and apologize and communicate and endure our trials together, etc. and so forth), our marriage will endure forever, and like our Heavenly Parents, we will be able to have all those billions of spirit kids. But we can't make it without our spouse. We need each other.
4. We need to view our spouses in that light --as our eternal companion. As our co-parent. Our co-creator.
5. Perspective and "doctrine understood" will change hearts, and thereby marriages, and thereby, lives.

I'm grateful to my eternal companion for choosing me when I chose him, for being worthy to go to the Temple with me, and for being a wonderful companion. He has made my life incredible. Even with all of our ups and downs --I wouldn't trade him for anything.

Moving on to my other role: Motherhood.

To set the scene for you, I probably should mention that I have been very fortunate to be a stay at home mom. I know this is not the choice that many can or will make (my mother has worked as a school teacher for 34 years, and she was amazing as a mom), but I wanted to point it out so you would know where I'm coming from.

The world doesn't make it easy. On every side there are voices telling women --especially mothers --how to be, what to think, how to change, where to go, what to strive for --and rarely, of those voices are found in society, do they help. They are merely distractions from the calling of motherhood. Elder Neil L. Andersen said in the most recent General Conference:

"Many voices in the world today marginalize the importance of having children or suggest delaying or limiting children in a family..."
He also said, "Having young children is not easy. Many days are just difficult."

When we had four children while living in northern California, I was met with the question "Are they all yours? You must be soooo busy! You are so brave!" constantly. In fact, it was literally every time we went out in public. And all I could think in my mind was, "I ONLY have four! Four. That's not that many!" But to our society, it has become many.

Elder Andersen also said: "It was not in the Garden of Eden that Adam and Eve bore their first child...It was not in their Jerusalem home, with gold, silver, and precious things, that Lehi and Sariah, acting in faith, bore their sons Jacob and Joseph...In the most beloved story of a baby's birth, there was no decorated nursery or designer crib --only a manger for the Savior of the world."

Like Elder Andersen said, having young children is not easy. Especially when life's difficulties come. It's also not always easy to start having children when faced with student loans, small apartments, sometimes-working cars, and having to take trips to the laundromat (that list was our situation when we had our first child). But trials always come. No matter when children come. Or how they come. For one couple, children may not come biologically, but through adoption. For another, it could be years of intensive and intrusive IVF procedures. And for those who can bear children biologically, just choosing to have another child could be the trial. Because life is hard and we are mortal, right? It doesn't matter if our situations aren't the same --we all suffer and feel pain.

Two years ago, I found myself in the midst of a pretty big difficulty. My husband was 5 months into his Executive MBA program in which he traveled to San Francisco every other weekend. He was also working full time in a great job that unfortunately took him away internationally frequently. He also fulfilled two callings in our ward. We had just had our fifth child and I was teaching piano lessons after school. I was an editor for a purely voluntary website that was used as a missionary tool for the Church, and I was an online marketing strategist and writer for a local company. On top of this, I also had two callings. Add in the demands of 5 children under 9 years old, the laundry, the bathrooms, the house, the meals, the absolute support I needed to give to my husband and the fact that I have suffered from Depression for nearly a decade and you can probably already guess the result = I was drowning. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I prayed daily for help. I asked Heavenly Father constantly to buoy me up and keep me strong.

I was so surprised when I finally stopped long enough to pay attention to the quiet answer Heavenly Father was trying to give me. The answer was that I needed to stop being what I thought I was supposed to be. Yes, I needed to fulfill my duties as an LDS woman, but I wasn't even doing that --I couldn't, because I had filled up my life, and that time of my life, with so many outside things that weren't helping me or my family.

So I stopped. I quit. I stopped teaching piano lessons. I stopped editing and I quit my job. I spoke candidly with the Bishop at length, and after much prayer, I was released from one of my callings. I asked my husband for a blessing during that time. I eventually hired a housecleaner to come twice a month to help me. And I did the things I knew I was SUPPOSED to do at that time in my life: I was a mother. I was a wife. That was it. I limited my time to my most important and vital roles. Initially, it was a very hard thing to do --I felt I was stripping away my individual identity. But when the dust settled, I realized I had actually found it.

And, as we all learn, life is about times and seasons. So it makes sense that since then, life has calmed down a lot. I do have two callings again (which I greatly enjoy), my husband has graduated, he doesn't travel for his job nearly as much as before, he only has one calling, and my Depression is under control. But! I still maintain that doing less has given our family more. My children have my attention after school. I have more room for prayer and scripture study; music and laughter; baking cookies with my daughter and reading books to my toddler. I have moments of quiet and peace --even now, as we are frantically getting the rooms in our home moved around and ready for our sixth child who is due to come in a few months. I find this peace amid the mundane and grueling moments of frustration; during external trials, during internal struggles. I feel comfort even when I find myself exhausted because of my pregnancy. I have learned that I am, indeed, "laying the foundation of a great work." I may not be receiving compliments or money or awards for my writing, musical skills, or volunteer work --I may not be the focus of social validation or in the news. But --I know I'm doing God's work. And when I see the happiness in my children's faces when I turn off the computer to talk to them; when my toddler kisses my face; when I hold my husband's hand; when I feel this baby moving around inside of me --I know that no amount of worldly accolade could ever make up for or replace this type of joy. Because this is joy that comes from the Holy Ghost, from God, from eternal truth.

A good friend of mine wrote a profound blog entry on womanhood, the Gospel, and positive feminism not too long ago. (For your pleasure, dear reader, it was Steph at Diapers and Divinity!) In it, she said the following:

"Let’s start with an anecdote, shall we? Approximately one hour ago, my daughter woke me up to tell me she peed in her bed. Her sheets were wet, her clothes were wet, and she was cold. I helped her change out of her clothes, washed her body with a warm washcloth, stripped the sheets, started the laundry, and tucked her into a new bed. She asked me to wrap her in the blankets “like a burrito,” and I did. I kissed her on the head, she snuggled down into the mattress, smiled, and said “good night.” As I walked out of the room, I turned off all the lights, and in the dark journey back to my bed, I was given some thoughts. (Sometimes thoughts are given, not just thought.) I reflected on recent news stories of children who are abused or neglected. I thought of people in the world who would have yelled at or beaten their daughter for wetting her bed. I imagined how someone who was caught up in the after-effects of drug or alcohol use might have ignored her and left her to fend for herself or spend the night in urine-soaked, cold sheets and clothing. And in the middle of all those heavy thoughts, I felt a keen sense that my Heavenly Father was happy with how I just treated his little child. I knew He noticed it, loved it, honored it. It felt like I did exactly what the Savior would have done if he were here. I knew that my role as a mother, a woman, and a nurturer was important. But even more than important. It felt divine– God-ordained and God-beloved– even in all the apparent simplicity of the moment. Like all truths, this truth about the divine role of women is often buried in the details of daily living, and certainly often drowned out by the voices of a noisy world."

I truly believe that when God gives us these moments of clarification, we need to notice and embrace them, just as my friend did.

My specific solution to stop doing things outside of my family as I did those two years ago may not be everyone's solution or answer, but I do believe that learning about our roles as parents and spouses, sisters and brothers, and as children of God will not only give us strength and perspective, but can make our lives easier. Knowing WHO we are and WHY we've been given these roles helps just as much as knowing WHAT we are expected to do. As President Uchtdorf stated in his talk "Forget Me Not" :

"The "what" and the "how" of obedience mark the way and keep us on the right path. The "why" of obedience sanctifies our actions, transforming the mundane into the majestic. It magnifies our small acts of obedience into holy acts of consecration."

It is my testimony that our roles as men and women of God are vitally important in our lives, specifically those pertaining to the family. When we align our hearts with what He has asked us to do, we can be happier and be given more strength to face the challenges that will inevitably come our way. I'm grateful to Heavenly Father for His plan and for His Son, Jesus Christ --for Their love, Their guidance, and for Their trust in us.

I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


Jocelyn Christensen said...

Great talk, Cheryl! Really really! I can't believe your Stake did that!

Anonymous said...

I am glad that we are cousins :)
That was a wonderful and moving talk. And I actually did happen to read your friend's entry on womanhood, the Gospel, and positive feminism. It was good, too.

Anonymous said...

I love this talk Cheryl! I would love to talk with you sometime. I've been struggling with severe depression and Satan's wrath from bad choices :( I love your sweet spirit!

Handsfullmom said...

I enjoyed your talk. Thank you for sharing it!

Cheryl said...

wonderful talk filled with great doctrine! I agree with you on Sacrament meeting behavior, it is taught and kids can behave and be reverent.

Cheryl said...

Thanks, you guys! You never know how one's heart will be received, and this talk was definitely from my heart. :)

P.S. Mr. L, I'm glad we're cousins, too!

Amanda D said...

Great talk, Cheryl.
You know that since you have a talk written on motherhood/wifehood that you wont ever be asked to speak on that though, right? I was getting asked to speak all the time so I wrote a talk on forgiveness and since then I haven't been asked to talk unless it's been on mother's day or something else. :)

I love what you had to say about loving your husband. You are spot on!