Monday, May 06, 2013

In Which I Spoke to Women about Womanhood and Motherhood

Dear reader,
This is the talk I gave at BYU Women's Conference. Please note that my talk is not to be used for widespread distribution (or pay, of course), so please do not print it to pass out (not like you would, but still!). Also, BYU has not endorsed what I've said, although I did seek their permission first to post it to my blog. These are my words, given to a very specific audience at a very specific time. What I wrote may not even apply to you, nor should you assume what I say is representative of all people. What I did write, however, was from my heart and with the guidance of the Holy Ghost. I have changed some words to protect our last name and the names of some of our children. If it seems long, it is because it is! I spoke for almost 26 minutes exactly.

So. There you go! I hope you like it. 

If you don't, just look away. No need to tell me! Seriously!


Copyright by Cheryl S.S.
BYU Women’s Conference Presentation
Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 12:30PM 
de Jong Concert Hall, Harris Fine Arts Center

TOPIC: "The World's Greatest Champion of Woman and Womanhood is Jesus the Christ" (James E. Talmage)"There is nothing in this world as personal, as nurturing, or as life changing as the influence of a righteous woman," said Elder M. Russell Ballard. How do we rejoice and enjoy this sacred role and responsibility of being a woman? How can we find joy in every season of womanhood and motherhood? How can we embrace the opportunities and challenges that each season provides?

This is my family. Aren’t my kids beautiful and perfect? They look pretty great (ad lib). However, 

we’re are not always serious, 

or perfect, or happy, but we are pretty hilarious at times.

I have 2 girls and 4 very crazy... boys… We’re pretty silly!

As you can see by the ages of my children, I am in the midst of what has been dubbed as "the trenches." I am in the midst of the messy, physically demanding years. From dawn to dusk, and even through the night, I am on call. I am nurturing and teaching. I am fighting off evil that would capture and harm my children. I am a soldier of epic proportions! I am in a war against Satan and the world. This is my stage and my season. I am a warrior!

And it is exhausting! 

But what I am doing is awesome. I know this because President David O. McKay said: "Motherhood is near to divinity. It is the highest, holiest service to be assumed by mankind. It places her who honors its holy calling and service next to the angels."

I'll be honest when I say that my days in the trenches do not quite often resemble angelic feelings. However, I know what President McKay said to be true! I will be referring back to this season of womanhood --namely, young motherhood --because I was told once to write what I know. And this, dear friends, is what I know!

If you have young children or have raised young children, I would like you to think about that stage of life. If you do not have young children personally, please think about your influence with the young children around you, whether they are neighbors, family members, or children you teach at church. 

I have a tendency to see things in a very overarching, all encompassing, big-picture kind of way.

I really love this quote by President Boyd K. Packer. He said: “True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior." 

So, I often think in terms of the Plan of Salvation. Why are we here? What is the point? Where are we going? How do we get there? The beautiful part of this is that we know the answers! We know that we have a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother. We know they are our spiritual parents. They love us. They loved us so much, in fact, that we are sitting here together, today, in our amazing, beautiful, incredible bodies. With our amazing, beautiful, incredible testimonies of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And, I might add, with our amazing, beautiful, incredible desires to BE better people. Why else would you exist, let alone be at this conference? 

Heavenly Father has shown us, through Adam and Eve (and everything they experienced to get this Plan rolling), that what He wants for us is to become like Him and our Mother in Heaven. Our job --our test --our reason for being here --is to become like Them. To be Husband/Wife and Father/Mother for eternity.  

However, in order to do this, we had to pass through sorrow to know the joy, we had to sin to know repentance, we had to understand evil to keep the good. Thus, we have a Savior. An amazing, beautiful, incredible Elder Brother who sacrificed His life (and His will) in order for us to make it Home.

Now, I'm going to assume you know all these Big Picture, Plan of Salvation details, mostly for the interest of time. And you could be asking: "Well, what does this have to do with the topic of finding joy in my life right now? As a woman?" Truth is, everything, really. 

This is where our messy mortality comes in. Because although we are amazing, beautiful, and incredible people, we are very, very forgetful. We forget all the time. This is why we have to be reminded constantly about the Plan of Salvation and about our Savior. Repetition is simply a part of our religion and instruction because we forget so often. We are also weak, tired, mortal, sinful, tired, gloomy, lonely, tired, sad, angry, and tired. Mostly tired. 

Seriously, I am tired. 

I will be the first to claim that womanhood comes with it's own set of messy mortality and it's own set of exhaustion and pain. Women and men have the blessing of needing each other, the capability of helping each other, and the commandment to be as one with each other. And I am a huge fan of men! But it is also true that women have unique challenges that messy mortality has given them. 

Women are unique because they are the vessels in which immortal spirits in this Plan of Salvation inhabit mortal bodies. Women are unique because they have been asked by Heavenly Father to nurture those immortal spirits inhabiting mortal bodies. Women are unique because of the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual ties that bind them to those immortal spirits inhabiting physical bodies. Women truly sacrifice themselves in almost every respect in order to bear and raise children. 

But women are also unique because Satan seems to have a particular desire to see them fail. He targets them on every side and we see it every day. Women are told they are not beautiful enough, smart enough, talented enough, or strong enough. Women are told to use their bodies to dominate men and in the same confusing message, they are told they are less than men *and* better than men. Women are told they do not need husbands or marriage, and if they choose to marry, they don't need children. But in the very next breath, they are told that if they do have children, they don't need to raise those children. Women are told the conflicting message that they own their bodies so completely that abortion is embraced and encouraged, while at the same time being sexually promiscuous is a sign of strength. And when women are strong and see through his lies, Satan has convinced the men of this world to do the damage for them. Sexual slavery, pornography, abuse, unrighteous dominion -- Satan has done his best to destroy women --to destroy us --these unique and powerful vessels in which immortal spirits inhabit mortal bodies. Unfortunately, he's done a great job of it. Even amongst those who have known better.

But, Jesus Christ is stronger than Satan and his lies. He also understands this messy mortality better than anyone who has ever lived on this Earth. We know this. We know He was and is a God, we know He created this Earth, provided a place for us to exist in our messy mortality and broken souls. We know that because of His Atonement, He understands everything. It does not matter that He was a male, sisters. The Atonement covers everything. Everything. From sexual slavery to childbirth to feelings of self-loathing. You, your dreams, your fears, your hopes, your disappointments; He understands your pain, your joy, your fatigue, and your efforts. He even understands all the tiny minutiae of your very mundane, normal, run-of-the-mill days. Those days in which you feel that what you are doing makes no sense and is helping nobody. Those days where when you write down what you did, it seems as if you did absolutely nothing at all.

And what is happening in your day? 

Let's shift gears and look at one of my normal, run-of-the-mill days, shall we? Here is a photo of my kitchen, when it is clean. My home is clean for about 3 minutes each day. Sometimes 5. My days are usually spent inside of this home, doing home-y and children-y things. My run-of-the-mill days are a contrast of sorts. I spend many hours doing many seemingly nothings, and yet they consume my entire existence. My checklists usually end up with the following: 
1. Diapers changed!
2. Kids are alive!
3. Made many, many, many mistakes where I lost my temper too often, and I didn't get to any of the chores I felt were important!

And in between those things, I seem to find time to do some dishes, sweep a few floors, read too many novels, ignore the piles and piles of laundry, fulfill my callings, write blog posts, "discuss" issues online, and occasionally take a shower (maybe!). 

And it's funny because you understand, right? You know what I'm talking about. You probably have very similar days. We all have days where we feel we've accomplished nothing of much importance --*even when what we are doing is the most important work of all.*

Because from the world's point of view, I haven't done anything. I haven't earned income. In fact, by society's standards, I have wasted my day, my college degree, and demeaned my entire gender. Unfortunately, it isn't only coming from the proverbial "society," either. I've heard this from family members and friends. I've heard this from members of our Church. With each child I bear and raise, with each nose I wipe, with each mess I clean up, with each diaper I change, with each carpool I drive, I'm told that I have wasted my life.

[Let me pause here to say that I know not all of society is wrong or bad. Please assume, however, for the sake of time, that the society I *am* referring to is the one created by secular philosophies of men.]

In fact, just yesterday, I was looking around my kitchen. I was anticipating giving this presentation today, and my house was pretty disastrous. I was still in my pajamas, the bigger kids had left for school, my husband was on a conference call for work, we had run out of milk, the baby was teething, and the kitchen was a huge mess. I was thinking about all the lists I had been making for sitters and for the anticipation of being here with you. I got a phone call from my daughter --"could I run up to the school with something she forgot?"  And honestly? I was ready to just crawl back into bed. 

Sometimes, I can see why the world tells me my life is wasted. It is so mundane. It is so full of self-sacrifice for my children. It is difficult to feel as if I measure up to any expectation clamoring to define my worth as a woman. And I won't even mention what society is saying about how my physical BODY should look --nor how I've completely destroyed mine by bearing children and taking the time to raise them. 

But you know what? I don't want to measure my worth nor my day by society's standards. Because they are wrong. I know the Plan of Salvation, and in it, we are taught that the *world* will never view my trenches life for the divinity it truly is --they can't see what is of infinite worth. They can't see the Big Picture. Satan is doing his best to make sure they don't even believe it exists! And even in my moments of "sighing" and "why me-ing?" yesterday, I knew what I was doing was awesome. Sure, my house was a mess. Sure, it's still a mess today. But I still made breakfast, I still took my daughter her forgotten item, I eventually got dressed, I made it to the store for milk. And I saw, in myself, the ability to ignore satan's temptations. 

Because sisters, let's look at this with the Big Picture: our children will not always be small. Our children will not always be teenagers. Time passes away, and each season we have, we have only for a moment. I didn't have milk in the house yesterday --today I do. My kitchen was a mess yesterday, today it will... eventually get clean.

And so in those moments when we feel we can't possibly find joy in "this," we can remember that in a few short years, it will be gone. And we'll look back and see what it was we DID miss. 

I have heard women tell me for ages that I need to enjoy all of my mothering moments. That I will miss it so much when it is over and I will regret not loving it all. At one time, I spoke with my friend, Allison. I said, "You know, it's not true. I will not miss the messes. I'm not going to miss poopy diapers and fingerprints on the walls, the broken items, the whining and tantrums --I'm not going to miss all the crazy messes." And she replied with this wisdom: "It's true, you don't actually miss the physical messes, Cheryl. But I do miss what those messes represented. I miss those small children that made them." 

And see, society doesn't tell you this! They tell you that it's all just a huge waste of time, so why do it? And if you DO have children, why in the world would you raise them yourself? Why in the world would you have more than one? Why?

A good friend of mine, Stephanie Dibb Sorensen, recently wrote a book called "Covenant Motherhood: Reflecting the Role of Christ in Our Lives." In it she stated:

"The world today celebrates the concept of love when it meets individual needs but discounts the personal growth that comes through sacrifice. The battle cry of individualism is "Find yourself," rather than the Savior's call to lose ourselves in the service of others and, surprisingly, thus fulfill our emotional and spiritual needs. There is a growing opinion that the price of motherhood is far too inconvenient to pay. The sad result of this sentiment is a society that increasingly fails to invite God's children into the world and then forgets to honor the mothers who make that brave choice. I feel inspired by the idea that the difficult choice to bear and raise children actually facilitates our becoming the person our Heavenly Father designed us to be." (p. 55)

Elder M. Russell Ballard said: "There is nothing in this world as personal, as nurturing, or as life changing as the influence of a righteous woman." 


President Gordon B. Hinckley said, "You are the guardians of the hearth. You are the bearers of the children. You are they who nurture them and establish within them the habits of their lives. No other work reaches so close to divinity as does the nurturing of the sons and daughters of God." 
(General Relief Society Meeting, September 1995)

If we measure ourselves against society, we will never find true joy. But when we measure ourselves against what Christ has done, does, and will do for us, we will not only find the joy we seek, but we will be able to find it all around us.

Why, then, is it so hard?

I love another thing Stephanie pointed out. She said: "Loving your children is easy. Enjoying all of the responsibilities that come with actually mothering them is not easy. Motherhood is a messy symphony of joy and discouragement, satisfaction and guilt, determination and exhaustion, faith and fear. Raising children well stretches all of our feelings and all of our abilities, sometimes in painful ways." (p. 3)

Now, I have a confession: I am trying my best to be a righteous influence in our home, but I'm really not that great at it. I am not a very great homemaker. It's true! I stumble and fall many times. In fact, I'm pretty sure if you were to spend a day at my side, you would be surprised at how often I mess up. And amidst my seemingly weakness in nurturing and homemaking, there are more unspoken things hidden underneath, things that make running out of milk seem so trivial: 

I have health problems, including Depression and asthma.  

I have experienced miscarriage, loss of friendship, and moving a long distance away with four children under the age of 5, including a 3 week old newborn. 

I have experienced the loneliness that came when my husband was working full time while pursuing his MBA. I have had hopes and dreams that turned into "maybe laters" and even "nope, not gonna happens" as I have followed the promptings of the Spirit.

I have family members, whom I love, who have faced all kinds of pain and frustration, too. There has been cancer, heart disease, mental illness, job loss, and divorce. There has been suicide, loss of testimony, and so much fear. 

It's all messy. And very, very, very mortal. 

That sounds hopeless, though. And it would continue to be hopeless if it wasn't for something absolutely fantastic: How we find joy in this messy mortality. How we find joy as a mother, as a woman in the trenches. We are told in 2nd Nephi that "men are that they might have joy." (2 Nephi 2:25). We know, because of the Plan, that we are able to find joy and happiness here and now? 

And the answer is simple. We find it in Jesus Christ. Armed with the knowledge of the Plan of Salvation, we turn to He who makes it all possible to find joy.

Let me tell you something fairly personal --as if what I've been saying hasn't been personal enough! There was a time when I honestly felt that if I wasn't being awesomely righteous all of the time, then I was failing my family, my covenants, and my God. I truly felt that in order to be loved, and in order to be the type of woman Heavenly Father wanted me to be, I had to overcome all of my imperfections as quickly as possible and succeed in staying practically perfect. 

Years of depression later, agonizing guilt and loss of self-confidence included, I learned something that has stayed with me for a long time and it was summed up very well by Elder Craig A. Cardon at General Conference last month. He said: 

"after we do all we can do, His compassion and grace are the means whereby “in process of time” we overcome the world through the enabling power of the Atonement. As we humbly seek this precious gift, “weak things become strong unto [us],” and by His strength, we are made able to do that which we could never do alone."

Sisters, how could I assume that I didn't need Jesus Christ? He has never expected us to be perfect right now --He has only asked us to let Him help us and to keep trying to learn and be better as we go, because this is messy mortality! Why did I spend so much time rejecting His offers to carry my burdens? How much happiness could I have had if I had just let Him help me?

How often to I refuse to ask for His help even now?

One time, I was enormously pregnant with my sixth child. I was sitting on the floor inside my 2 year old son's bedroom, helping organize clothing with my 8 year old daughter. My 2 year old, "#5" (who is now almost 4), had been in some kind of accident and was crying for me. He was standing in the doorway, calling my name, asking me to come to him. He was crying uncontrollably, and I could see he was not physically hurt, just upset. I asked him to come into my arms, but he refused. He would not budge. He cried and screamed, rooted in place, and would not move! Because of my physical situation, getting up was hard and I knew he could walk the three steps it would take to find comfort in my arms. I kept saying, "#5, come here! Just a few steps --come here into my arms, buddy!" and I could see the stubborn look in his eyes. Finally, after about five minutes, I saw his conviction fall, and he stumbled, sobbing, across the room and into my arms where he found immediate comfort as I soothed his pain. 

The Savior said, "Ask, and ye shall receive. Knock and it shall be opened unto you." Just like how my little #5 needed to take a few simple steps to find comfort in my arms, our Savior is waiting for us to take a few simple steps to find comfort in His. 


I decided to ask several faithful friends of mine who have experienced --or are experiencing --the trenches of motherhood. I asked them how they were able to find joy and were able to embrace their role. With their permission, here are just a small sampling of their answers (accompanied by pictures my family members and stuff):

Ruth said: 
"For me it is prayer. There are so many ways to use prayer in our lives. For example when my nerves are so frazzled I just want to scream or cry I pray, very fervently sometimes, to be slow to anger. This becomes a constant prayer in my heart and then I notice a change in me --not necessarily the kids. I love the peace and joy that come from frequent prayers and they seem to be the best tool. I find I am a much happier and loving mom when I cling to the basics of the Gospel. Prayer, scripture study, Temple attendance. These things truly are my life boat in these turbulent times.

Andrya said: 
"The only thing that comes to mind is when my husband was in law school, I was just beginning my master's program and we had just had our third baby --the oldest was just three years old! I remember one day I packed all the kids in the car to go get my husband from school. I scraped my hands pretty bad because cars aren't really designed to fit three car seats. It had been a really rough day at home. I don't remember the details. I was completely stressed out. When my husband got in the car, I was crying. I told him that there was no way we could possibly have any more children. He listened to me and then said something like "So, what you're saying is that having three children three years old and younger is really hard and you don't think you can do it." I nodded my head. He said, "You know they won't all be three years old and younger forever."

…Time changes things. That is probably the most undervalued parenting tool. Time… When I'm frustrated about things, it usually just takes time."

Liz said:
"I feel I've been really blessed with amazing women as mentors and examples of all the seasons of womanhood. Hearing women in their 80s talk about the new things they're doing or learning is encouraging; having my mother's journals during her young motherhood to read during my young motherhood was eye-opening. Loving and knowing women of all ages has given me perspective for the different things I've encountered, and that's been tremendous.

I have really been enjoying the adventure so far. Every season has something amazing in it; even the hard seasons bring wonderful things to see and do…

…Heavenly Father sends me sisters to mother me through all the seasons of my own mortal span. It's flat-out amazing."

Michelle said: 
"In many ways, motherhood did not come naturally to me. I knew I always wanted to be a mom because it was the right thing to do, but I was scared about my ability to be a mom. In the middle of the early years, I sometimes thought that my children deserved better. As such, over time (I remember starting to feel something different about 10 years in) I could see and feel that I was making progress. It was slow and almost imperceptible, but I knew the Atonement had worked on me as I simply just tried to give my heart to the role as best as I could. During those years when I doubted myself, I held onto the teachings of prophets about the importance of motherhood. And now I can see and feel that God sees the big picture. That it's ok that I'm not perfect. That, in fact, it's part of God's plan to be raised by imperfect parents... (P)art of motherhood is about growing and learning more about God's plan. I'm learning right along with them as I learn in the process of this wonderful plan. I LOVE being a mom."

Becki said: 
I'm still trying to embrace the fact that much of my day with young children involves cleaning and making food and cleaning and lessons and cleaning and more food and cleaning! It's not my favorite season in many ways, but I'm trying to remember it is a season that will end. I'm trying to embrace it and enjoy it, and I usually do when I forget what I think it should be and enjoy, instead, the happiness that comes from my children."

Britt said:
"I'm still working on this, but I see so many great examples in the scriptures. One fabulous example for me is Mary, the mother of Jesus. Her story reminds me that I need to fully receive the whole miracle...both ends of it. She saw an angel-she could have been stoned to death for accepting his invitation. She gave birth to the Son of a stable. She raised the son of God-in all sorts of countries. She was visited by wise men, and had to run from Herod's soldiers to save Jesus' life. She felt the love of Christ in her life every day and she had to watch Him die. Life is like that. Miracles are like that. It's a wonderful sort of hard."

Laura said: 
"I am a firm believer that we need…to be… right with the Lord. …When I was single, it was a linear relationship between the Lord and I. However, once I was married, being right with the Lord now included another component - the sacred covenant I made with my spouse in the Temple; now there was a triangular relationship, but the Lord was still at the pinnacle. I have found that when my husband and I are in a full partnership and are united as one - spiritually, physically, emotionally and mentally - it is much easier for me to face the challenges of motherhood and womanhood.

And finally, another quote from Stephanie Dibb Sorensen:

"We are mothers. We are enough. We are everything our children need in order to become all they are meant to be... with His help. However we fall short, he will make up the difference. He has given us His children because He trusts us to rely upon Him for their care. Our covenant relationship with Him sets up a contract where, despite our failures, Jesus Christ will make us whole if we seek His help and forgiveness. This covenant does not exclude motherhood. When, like Hannah of old, we promise to raise our children up unto The Lord, He accepts our offering and does His part to help us fulfill our promises. I believe that help can even come by angels, whether living or beyond the veil. He meets our needs. By the grace of God, we become the mothers He wants us to be. We participate in His work and His glory, and both we and our children are blessed." (p. 85)


Sisters, can you see the joy in your life? Can you see the influence of Jesus Christ, of faith, of hope --can you see it working in your hearts? It is my testimony that through our Savior, we can have joy in all of the messiest of messy mortalities during our time on Earth. It is my prayer that you will be able to hold onto that joy, even while you are working in the trenches --*especially* while you are working in the trenches. Your work is divine! Remember the Big Picture. Allow the Savior to help you. Find your joy and never forget it. 

I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


Christy said...

love. that is the best word i can use to describe what a wonderful talk you put together...i love it.
thank you for posting it - it makes me feel like i made it to one session :) you are amazing!

chercard said...

really really wonderful Cheryl! It spoke to me in so many ways!

Amanda D said...

Marvelous. Just what I needed to read. You are amazing!

Jocelyn said...

Great job, Cheryl! What an incredible experience. I would have loved to have heard you speak, but I'm glad I was able to read your talk

Jenny said...

Beautifully expressed. Thank you for sharing. For me the things that bring joy are watching them develop their talents, seeing them play nicely together (they don't always, but it brings great joy when they do), reading to them and talking about books, and finding ways to serve others...and include them in this service when possible.