“You’re Like a Mother,” Ensign, Oct. 1975, 57
“The stake president sent me to you. He said you’d understand since you don’t have any children either.” Her tone of voice revealed an attitude of resentment as she stood at my front door, and although we were strangers at that moment, I recognized that seeming resentment as the cover for a troubled and anguished heart. During the several hours that followed, her concerns were spilled out, baring her soul. Tears flowed freely while she spoke of blessings denied.
She came as a stranger, but a sharing of deeply personal concerns made us sisters; and I gave silent thanks for the inspiration of the stake president who directed this sensitive young woman to my door. Upon leaving she turned and there was a brief moment of silence as our eyes met, and then in a tone of gratitude she said, “The stake president was right. You do understand. Thank you.”
As she drove away, I rejoiced in the blessing it is to be able to ease the burden of another, for I did understand. And as I watched her car turn the corner, I was reminded of the words of Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Assistant to the Council of the Twelve:
“Every time we navigate safely on this great and narrow way there are other ships that are nearly lost or which are lost which can find their way because of our light.” (Brigham Young University fireside address.)
My path to understanding had not always been one of light; in fact, on occasion there were mists of darkness. Yet such mists are also necessary elements of our existence. “There are conditions of uncertainty, difficulty, temptations and insecurity—and yet, they are the very fabric that gives mortality its profound meaning. For only under such conditions is it possible for man to reach enough, search enough, and yearn enough for real growth of the spirit to be possible.” (Bruce C. Hafen, associate professor of law, Brigham Young University.) It is possible, and yet there were times over the past years when I really wondered.
A typical time of darkness was a Sunday morning some years ago. Sunday School was a time for rejoicing—except on Mother’s Day. But this year I told myself it would be different.
The organ music was playing softly as the young girls moved quietly down the aisle, passing the small plants—begonias—along each row to the mothers left standing. This year I had vowed that I would be braver than all the years before, but as each of the mothers received her small tribute and the girls approached my row those old familiar feelings returned, and I wished I hadn’t come to Sunday School—at least not on Mother’s Day.
The little pots in silver wrapping were passed along each row until all the mothers were seated and then, as before, one more plant was passed. And once again I heard the usual whisper, “Go ahead, you deserve it. It’s okay, we’ve got plenty” and then forcing the little plant into my tightened fist someone whispered, “You’re like a mother!”
The meeting ended and my escape through the cultural hall and out the back door seemed blocked with numberless unidentifiable objects. I must not cry; I must set a good example, especially since my husband was in the chapel carrying out the responsibilities of his calling and showing such genuine concern for others, never thinking of himself. But how could I forget myself when the pounding in my ears “You’re like a mother” seemed to mock the beating of my heart, as my hands resisted the weight of the little begonia.
This year was no different. I thought of the saying “time heals all things,” but years were passing and there was no healing, only anguish and heartache. My mind flooded with too frequently asked questions: Were not my eternal companion and I commanded to multiply and replenish the earth and to have joy in our posterity? Was there to be no posterity? No joy?
My steps quickened as I hurried to the shelter of my home just a few blocks from the church. But even there the echo of loneliness was challenging as I tried to ignore the dinner table set with love and care but with only two plates. Another day and I would try again, harder.
Weeks later the doorbell rang and a little lad new to our neighborhood looked up with eager eyes asking, “Can your kids come out and play?”
A coldness seemed to creep over me as I almost whispered, “I don’t have any.”
The child in a somewhat questioning tone asked, “Aren’t you a mother?”
With a quick and somewhat abrupt response my voice cracked, “No, I’m not.”
The little boy’s eyes squinted and with his head cocked to one side in the innocence of childhood he asked the question that I had never dared to put into words. “If you’re not a mother, what are you?”
Behind the closed door with my back against the wall my whole soul cried out, “Dear God, if I’m not a mother, what am I?” And again the searching question—what was the divine plan for my husband and me? What would the Lord have us do?
Several of our closest and dearest friends had adopted children, bringing the joy of parenthood into their lives. These precious children were not like their very own, they were their very own. Through the sealing power of the holy priesthood, they were sealed in an eternal family unit.
We, too, desired to adopt and continued to inquire of the Lord through prayer and fasting, striving to know if adoption was his will, seeking divine guidance as spoken of in the scriptures:
“But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
“But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought.” (D&C 9:8–9.)
But why the stupor of thought when we yearned so for that burning in the bosom that we had come to rely on through past years of experience, that quiet confirmation that gives assurance of the Lord’s will? We struggled with the desire to experience increased faith, that we might receive a positive response to our desired decision, but in our minds we could hear the words: “Whatsoever ye ask the Father in my name it shall be given unto you, that is expedient for you; And if ye ask anything that is not expedient for you, it shall turn unto your condemnation.” (D&C 88:64–65.)
Like a bird flying through turbulent winds, I experienced many highs and lows during the following years. Then, finally, perhaps because of a readiness to receive, like a divine echo the message came:
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (Prov. 3:5.) The words were not new but the message came as an answer to a fervent prayer. “Trust in the Lord.” Surely this was the key.
Almost with excitement thoughts came flooding to my mind. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ—was this not the first principle of the gospel? Faith in a loving father, a divine purpose, an eternal plan. Faith that all things shall come to pass in the due time of the Lord.
I waited anxiously to share these feelings with my husband, Heber. I always waited up until he returned from his meetings, even on late nights, because that “sharing time” had become so special. A reservoir of limitless power from which to draw strength exists in a home where a faithful, obedient servant of the Lord endowed with the holy priesthood of God honors that priesthood and magnifies his calling. This night I would ask for another blessing at the hands of my eternal companion through whom God would speak, and with increased faith we would know God’s will concerning us.
Heber had a way of sensing when I needed to talk, and when he arrived home he knew this was one of those times. As we shared our feelings, the quiet hours passed until only embers were left glowing in the fireplace. Having entered into the patriarchal order of celestial marriage, I was able to have a blessing pronounced upon me through the power and authority of the priesthood by the patriarch in our home.
A bridge between heaven and earth was spanned through priesthood channels; and never again would there be that seemingly unquenchable thirst, for we had partaken of “living waters.” Guided by the inspiration of the Lord, together we found the direction that would become our purpose for life. We recalled the words of President David O. McKay as we remembered them—the noblest aim in life is to strive to make other lives happy. I listened to my righteous companion, ever drawing strength from his counsel: “You need not possess children to love them; loving is not synonymous with possessing and possessing is not necessarily loving. The world is filled with people to be loved, guided, taught, lifted, and inspired.”
And finally, together we reread the words of the prophet Joseph Fielding Smith: “If any worthy person is denied in this life the blessings which so readily come to others, and yet lives faithfully and to the best of his or her ability in striving to keep the commandments of the Lord, then nothing will be lost to him. Such a person will be given all the blessings that can be given. The Lord will make up to him the fullness after this life is ended and the full life has come. The Lord will not overlook a single soul who is worthy, but will grant him all that can be given which …” (Doctrines of Salvation 2:176–77.)
I didn’t hear Heber’s final words as he quietly closed the book, for my soul was at peace, with my head resting on his shoulder.
Things were never quite the same after that. From this source of strength came a quiet peace like the rising of the sun when the warmth of its rays moves upward until it encompasses the entire sky and there are no clouds of darkness in any direction.
This eternal union would be preserved and we would grow toward perfection together as we made a vow to trust in the Lord and his timing, knowing that “all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.” (D&C 84:38.) There would still be questions but there would also be answers. “What should we do in the meantime?” and “what is the purpose of life?” were the questions I asked the patriarch in our home, who holds the keys to our eternal family unit. His answer: “The noblest aim in life is to strive to make other lives happy.”
I cannot recall just when it happened, but our cookie jar was just not large enough to contain all the cookies that were dispensed from our door in one day. And so it became a cookie drawer, familiar to the entire neighborhood, young and old. Even the priests would come, using the excuse “we need a cookie,” hoping Heber would be home and would have time to listen to them, to have fun, to “throw in” a little “fatherly advice,” as they called it.
My rewards for waiting came at many unexpected times, like at the grocery store when the boy bagging my groceries said very spontaneously as he tossed in the last item, “Your husband is a great guy to talk to.”
And the letter to Heber from a grateful mother: “Thanks for talking to my boy; it has made all the difference. It’s hard without a dad, but now he’s decided he wants to go on a mission. Thank you for the time you spend with my son.”
One day a little boy brushed past me at the kitchen door, coached by his friend who led the way. “Bradley sez ya get one in both hands” was the comment as his more experienced companion eagerly pulled the cookie drawer wide open to better choose. With a concealed smile I responded, “Bradley’s right,” as I observed their careful selection. Once made, the little scavengers bounded from the door with their treasure, and as I stood watching, my heart rejoiced.
A small miracle was beginning to take place. “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12:27.) An eternal union strengthened through seeming adversity and disappointment can be the foundation for eternal bonds of love, binding a companionship against all the threatening powers that beset the lives of mortals.
Blessings seemingly denied are often just delayed and only in matters of great consequence do souls become closely bound together as they reach upward to God. And he is there: “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” (Matt. 28:20.)
Years passed swiftly, bringing fulfillment of carefully laid plans as we shared the joy of seeing the sons and daughters of our friends leave for missions and plan for temple marriages. We even eventually shared that special excitement reserved only for “expectant” grandparents. While Heber became a power of unwavering strength, on occasion I would experience a fleeting yearning that would each time be quietly softened. At one such time a kind Father in heaven who knows and understands all things put into the mouth of one of his appointed servants during a setting apart blessing those words that would reconfirm and bring to our hearts that “peace that passeth all understanding.” “Your desires are known, your Father in heaven is pleased with your patience, and every righteous desire will be fulfilled in his due time.”
Through the years we have been blessed with boundless opportunities for growth and development—opportunities to serve our fellowmen, young and old, and to rejoice in the gift of life. We have been able to see God’s handiwork in all that is good, to love deeply and grow spiritually, and “to strive to make other lives happy.”
During the week following one Mother’s Day, when sorting through the mail, I recognized the California return address and rejoiced in another letter from “one of my girls.” Such letters usually came with the announcement of an important event, maybe a new little baby. But the message was different this time, like the answer to a long forgotten prayer:
“I would like to share with you some of the feelings I have at this Mother’s Day time. When I was a small girl I can remember other Mother’s Days—the passing out of carnations to the mothers in the ward and how special it seemed. Some day I could stand too, perhaps, and be honored along with the rest. This Mother’s Day came with special meaning to me as my mind reflected back on a sweet, but frail, 96-year-old grandmother, the sacrifices and love of my own mother, a sweet mother-in-law who always listens, and now my own tiny, special daughter smiling trustingly at her awkward mother’s handling.
“But not only did my thoughts reflect back to mothers of blood but to a special, beautiful person who so touched my life as to make me always love and respect her as certainly a mother to me in all the special qualities that go with the word. If you would only know the number of times just thinking of you softened a sometimes hardened heart or helped me to my knees when our Heavenly Father’s guidance was so needed.”
My heart was full to overflowing as my eyes filled with tears of gratitude and so blurred my vision that I could read no further. As the tears quietly rolled down my cheeks, I thought of the privilege that had been ours to touch in a meaningful way the lives of Jim, Karen, Becky, Paul, Mark, Mindy, Wanda, and the many other precious souls we have loved so deeply. And then I reflected on the many lives even yet to be reached and taught, loved and guided, and a silent prayer escaped my lips. “Thank you, dear God. Truly my cup runneth over. Thou hast allowed thy humble servants to be used as instruments in thy hands.” “Be it unto me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38.)
With the tears brushed away, I continued reading:
“I love you so very much and I pray often that the Lord’s guiding spirit may always be with you so that you can continue to bless the lives of those around you.
“You’re like a mother to me. Love, Cathie.”