Category Archives: Motherhood

Happy Mother’s Day

My youngest brother texted me a nice message this morning as I was waking up, and I’ve received generous gifts from both my children. But the gift “that keeps on giving” is watching their lives unfold in good and sometimes unexpected ways – a true fountain of continual joy!

They turned out well thanks mostly to good genes and their own efforts, only minimally from my halting but committed efforts to raise them with good values and healthy self esteem. Here’s one of my favorite photos when Peter was 3 and Amanda 5:

Precious Blessings!
Author’s Photo

Amanda used to make up poems and songs and loved to draw. She’s an accomplished writer and gifted artist today. Peter was very creative and always building complicated structures from blocks, Legos, sticks, even paper grocery bags. Now he works in construction sales. His room showed military order, while Amanda focused on creating beauty in hers. Both have happy marriages to wonderful people. I can take absolutely no credit for any of this. I believe their own choices in our pre-mortal existence set their path early. Mostly I tried to get out of their way and only wish I could have provided more creative opportunities for them.

My two grandchildren continue the magic. Alex is a deep soul, loves stories, good conversation, playing the guitar and singing in a college group. Taylor has her Dad’s easy going personality, with the work ethic of both her parents. She loves nature, is a good student, and is discovering a real talent for art. She gave me this wonderful pen-and-ink drawing for my birthday last month:

Butterflies Set Free
Author’s Photo

Families are a “slow tango” to borrow a phrase from movie critics – a long period of cultivation but bringing a rich harvest, one I expect to keep reaping throughout this life and the one to come.

Here are my “kids” all grown up:

Amanda and Peter
Author’s Photo

Whether or not you have children, I wish you a Happy Mother’s Day. After all, we all had a mother and can nurture the children around us, as well as the child within ourselves. Take a walk through your album of blessings, and I think you’ll agree we all have much to celebrate!

 

Eternal Life – Part 1 – Grace for This Life

Today is New Year’s Day, a time I and many others refocus our vision forward: a time for fresh beginnings and to be freer from the reach of the past.

One of the greatest blessings of Christianity is the absolute promise of immortality for all mankind and the more conditional promise of eternal progression (shortened to just the phrase Eternal Life), if we live the Christian journey wholeheartedly. This brings an unlimited future of increasingly glorious personal growth, extending into the next life. We will then be rewarded for all sacrifices and trials faithfully endured, and to end up in one of the “many mansions” Christ is preparing for His followers in the hereafter (John 14:2). I don’t know any philosophy or religion whose promises the Holy Spirit will confirm as this was witnessed to me years ago and many times since.

A beloved LDS apostle and scholar, Bruce R. McConkie, named three central Christian doctrines The Three Pillars of Eternity which I described in previous posts. They are the Creation, The Fall, and The Atonement, which are bookended in the Book of Mormon by a preface question, “Do you believe in God?” and a concluding promise of “Eternal Life” as the final state of sincere Christians. Read for yourself: Alma 22:7-15. Here’s the list again with links to the previous posts:

Foundational Concept: There is a God, Part I and There Is a God, Part II
Pillar #1 – The Creation
Pillar #2 – The Fall
Pillar #3 – The Atonement
A Glorious Promise and Reward: Eternal Life – 
today’s and subsequent posts

Furthermore, I believe that those rewards start to appear in this life. Just as there’s a temporal reward for effort in everyday life – think high school graduation, obtaining a fulfilling job after years of training, seeing a child become a happy and productive citizen, or conquering a life-long pattern of dysfunction, I believe there’s divine grace that blesses and enlarges us as we strive to make spiritual and creative growth as well as temporal progress in this life.

As a divorced mother of 44 years, I struggled financially most of that time. I plodded on trying to juggle work with personal growth and service to God and my fellow man. The phrase muddle through most accurately described my progress through life! I even found a picture on a greeting card I adopted as a personal image. The young woman below is walking through a dreary winter landscape (to me, symbolizing adversity), inadequately dressed but resolute with snowflakes of light and affirmation around her, illuminating her path.

Hopeful Woman in Winter
Source Unknown

But now I’ve gotten out of debt, bought a house and rented out my bonus room to my church for the sister missionaries, I have finally arrived at a place of far greater temporal stability than any time since my divorce. As I settle in, establish a garden, and start to sink roots in my new community, I can see the prospect of also being much freer creatively, emotionally, and spiritually. I’ll have time to launch a new phase of real estate work, continue my spiritual writing, give increased community service, and generally have more fun – whoopie!

A massage therapist recently commented that with all these positive changes, I should find another totem image. I immediately thought of the Monet painting my daughter decoupaged on a wooden plaque many years ago. I found it online immediately:

Claude Monet, Woman with Parasol
Musee D’Orsay, Paris
Image in Public Domain

This lovely painting calls to mind a quote by Albert Camus, a French philosopher:

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me
lay an invincible summer. 

I see myself in a delayed but prolonged creative summer, and I plan to bask in that warmth as I sail warm updrafts of inspiration and divine encouragement. Furthermore, I think these triumphs and that happiness is available to all – it’s called Grace. Hopefully we’ll all build our own “invincible summer” within, believing in the next breakthrough.

Mothers Are Forever

Each year I reflect on how my mother contributed to my life and also on what being a mother has brought to it.

My mother was a gifted portrait artist with a long and illustrious career. She was also a dedicated mother of seven, raising six to maturity. She had strong, traditional values, high standards, and boundless energy. She also provided an example of self-discipline, a beautifully run home of peace and order, a great caring heart, and a love of the highest things in life.

At her funeral in 2005, friends and family remembered all these qualities and her many achievements. But I remembered one thing above the others: She empowered me to be fully an individual, a sovereign being in the universe – a subtle but important gift. Both my parents sent the message that I could do anything I wanted in life and they meant it. As a divorced mother of two small children, that helped get me through long years of employment and finally discover my soul’s work – a teacher of eternal truths.

Jim and Cloy, self portrait

Jim and Cloy, self portrait

And also through my parents’ example, I found many ways to make my children a strong priority. I didn’t work jobs that required overtime or odd hours. I limited my social life to one night out a week. I spent time on their level, fully focused on the moment. We rode the city bus around its whole route, sitting in the back and talking to strangers. We walked to the local gas station after 10 o’clock on summer nights to buy ice cream treats, watching our shadows lengthen out before us. We had reading time, talking time, singing time, and prayer time. Many precious memories.

My son Peter is a very clear thinker with a natural sense of order. While my brain often wanders all over the map, he goes straight to the heart of any matter with the precision of a surgeon. He’s a faithful steward and provider over his family, steady as a rock – much like my own Dad. But he also has a killer sense of humor and delights in making me squirm. I’m not nearly as quick on my feet so I’ll need eternity to get revenge.

My daughter Amanda is a combination of my mother and my ex-husband: abundant artistic talent coupled with her Dad’s craftsmanship and love of an orderly, functional home. She carefully paces her activities, once remarking to me as I rushed about, “When we hurry, we lose the joy.” She cares for her husband, her dog Dudley, and her home with precision and affection. She also spends hours each week in her studio and with fellow artists systematically developing her talent.

I don’t know what my kids will say about me at my funeral but I know what they’ve given me: a glimpse into the eternities – how traits, talent and even energy are transmitted through the generations, combining in new and fascinating ways. As I watched my siblings, nieces and nephews, children and grandchildren at my mother’s funeral, for a moment I could actually see her vibrant energy coursing through all of us. I believe in the Christian promises of eternal life, but I also testify that those who’ve gone before live in us now and in all their descendents.

So put on those spiritual glasses and look back at your moms and dads. Then look downstream to your children and grandchildren – it’s a beautiful, energized stream of life that never ends.

Amanda and Peter, Author's Photo

Amanda and Peter, Author’s Photo

Ye Shall Also Reap

Today I went with friends to pick plums for free in a neglected orchard. We all got enough to dry and make into plum jam or plum butter (yum!). I was reminded again of the abundance of nature. One plum seed grew into a large tree with hundreds of plums, which could seed a whole orchard, and from which thousands of plums could be harvested!  I’ll give some away, dry some, can some plum butter for winter breakfasts and Christmas gifts, and just enjoy eating them fresh.

But those plums didn’t just grow without help. The original farmer had to plant the seed, nurture the seedling, then the young tree, prune it, prevent pests, and finally harvest them properly before fruit meets taste buds. The same is true of any project or job we undertake. We had a saying in education about managing student behavior: Get what you want before you give the student what they want. Well, life demands the same: we have to sow and cultivate before we reap the harvest.

I get a lot of joy from my adult children and teenage grandchildren, but there was a price to be paid: hundreds, probably thousands of diapers; late night feedings; whining in stores; and endless meals and snacks. Sure they were fun as children, but they also created what sometimes seemed like thankless work.

I’m currently working on converting my booklet on managing children’s behavior into an ebook. Since it was originally typed on a word processor, I have to retype it, study the Kindle formatting guidelines, and find a cover designer. Then I’ll still have to promote it online and hope it sells – weeks to produce and months til we have a harvest. It’s a bigger project to find a publisher for my phonics readers, written in the 1980s and distributed only minimally since phonics weren’t in vogue then.

We can have a harvest in our characters as well. Quote is from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Sow a thought and you reap an action;
Sow an act and you reap a habit;
Sow a habit and you reap a character;
Sow a character and you reap a destiny.

As I look at my pantry with jars of soup, jam, and chicken broth and remind myself that the harvest is coming on my current projects. I believe there’s a harvest for my writing that will benefit both reader and author, and make the effort worthwhile. I can look for opportunities to say the kind word, not the nasty one, and hope for a better character. And I believe those plums will soon be nestled in jars and bags waiting to delight my taste buds this winter. Then I take heart for another day of cultivating my personal garden.

Fear not to do good, my sons, for whatsoever ye sow, that shall ye also reap;
therefore, if ye 
sow good ye shall also reap good for your reward.
(LDS Doctrine & Covenants 6:33)

Book Review:  When my kids were little, I came across a delightful book that I think I enjoyed even more than they did: The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss.  It’s about a little boy  who plants a carrot seed, and his whole family tells him that “it won’t come up.” But the little boy continues to care for his seed anyway, believing that it will. All you gardeners out there know that carrot seeds are tiny and notoriously slow to germinate. Even though it’s very short, The Carrot Seed packs a real punch, especially if you’re down and don’t feel like the projects you’re nurturing will ever bear fruit!

The Carrot Seed Book Cover Author's Image of Own Book

The Carrot Seed Book Cover
Author’s Image of Own Book

 

 

Moms and Sparrows

Bird feeders are a tradition in my family.  My grandfather was an expert on the birds of eastern Iowa.  We had a feeder right outside the kitchen window growing up and delighted in watching cardinals, blue jays, chickadees and sparrows come to feed.  My daughter gave me the feeder she could no longer use, and I hung it above my back patio.  I enjoy the dapper juncos who come only in the winter and the sparrows, wrens and mourning doves who come in the warm months with their lively chatter and carefree life.

Last July I noticed something new.  While perched on the feeder, some of the sparrows were putting seeds directly into the mouths of the birds next to them.  Then I realized that those were their fledgling babies, and they were teaching them how to find and eat their own food.  What a treat to witness this annual event – and what a testament to devoted motherhood.

© Sander van der Wel 2010 Courtesy of Flickr.com

© Sander van der Wel 2010
Courtesy of Flickr.com

On Mother’s Day, I remembered those sparrows and then my own departed Mom. I was thankful for the many wonderful meals and good talks we shared.

I was asked to speak in church for this occasion, so I rolled out a favorite fictional woman: Dorothea Brooksa frustrated idealist who never had any great achievements.  She was a lead character in Middlemarch, an English novel set in the 1800’s and then a PBS Masterpiece Classic.  The narrator ended by saying:

Dorothea had no dreams of being praised above other women, feeling that there was always something better that she might have done if she’d only been better and known better.  Her full nature spent itself in deeds which left no great name on the earth but the effect of her being on those around her was incalculable.  For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on un-historic acts and all those Dorotheas who live faithfully their hidden lives and rest in unvisited tombs . . . . 

My mother was the opposite, a celebrated portrait artist whose hundreds of paintings graced many homes and public buildings, blessing countless lives. But her children don’t remember all those paintings nearly as much as her vibrant spirit, high standards, and great heart. She truly was the heart and center of our home. Right after her funeral when the family was gathered with Dad at their house, God’s Spirit suddenly opened my mind. I could actually see her vibrant energy literally living on in all of us as well as our children, each in our own way.

I think most of us leave very little mark on the outer world and are more like the humble sparrow feeding her babies one seed at a time.  But I also think we leave indelible hand prints on the lives and hearts of our descendants and thereby make a very real contribution to “the growing good of the world.”