Tender Mercy #15: Growth conditions

One morning, my young son Ezra very politely asked, “Mom, after you finish nursing Nathaniel and after  you eat your own breakfast and after you feed grandma, could you read me a story?” I just stopped and looked at him and almost cried. How could this three-year-old have such patience and awareness? How had he grown so accustomed to waiting for me? I never would have purposefully asked so much of him, but our situation had required it of him and he had developed an amazing patience for one so little (or one of any age!). I thought about how, despite the difficulty, we had all grown by having the opportunity to care for my elderly mom in our home. Her struggle and our struggles had given us a gift that we never would have sought for, but it was a great gift nonetheless. As Isaiah 61:3 states, those who experience suffering will be given “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” Though I do not see God as the source of suffering, our mortal conditions do allow for it. In the Book of Mormon, Nephi’s words capture my sentiments: “I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Ne 11:17). I am thankful that even difficulty can be made productive and useful.

     

The photos above show Ezra and his grandma. In the second picture, two-year-old Ezra is lying down by his grandma about a year after her stroke.

In doing this series on tender mercies, I have learned that tender mercies come in greater concentration in times of need. Looking back at my posts, I see that most of my examples come from the years I cared for my mom after her strokes–one of the hardest times in my life so far. To me this is evidence of a responsive, loving God that truly is aware of His children. He is aware of you; He is aware of me. What a comfort to know this!

Now I plan to steer my blog again to parenting issues, but it’s all related, isn’t it? All parts of life affect our parenting.

This is #15 of the 15 part series The Tender Mercies Project. See the initial post here.

Tender Mercy #14: A significant personal interaction

Many people have made a difference for me–inspired me or taught me significant lessons. I have held onto certain conversations, certain observations for years and years, often without the other person ever knowing what a help or example they have been.

I remember several years ago when I received a piece of needed advice from my good friend Sharon. She is witty and wise and old enough to be my grandmother. I called her one day as an overburdened caregiver about to give out. In addition to caring for my own children, I was taking care of my elderly mother who needed total assistance. On this particular day, my mom (out of desperateness and confusion I assume) had pulled my hair and pinched me as I tried to do her routine turning and changing. I felt so hurt and angry, but at the same time felt angry with myself for taking it so personally. I cried to Sharon over the phone and she told me something I’ll never forget. She said, “Mary, why are you being so hard on yourself? Saints and heroes become such not because of how they feel, but because of what they DO!”

Of course I wanted to feel consistently loving and positive while I cared for my mom–I usually succeeded in this–but Sharon helped me see that even in my lapses, I could rise up to care for my mother anyway. These were not moments of personal failure, but moments of triumph and nobility. Yes, it was important to acknowledge my feelings and arrange rest and help as I could, but I didn’t need my judgment of my feelings to add to my burden. That phone call blessed me in the moment and continues to strengthen me when difficulties arise.

When has a specific personal interaction been a strength or inspiration to you–a “tender mercy”?

When have you been an inspiration to someone else? (Many of these instances you may not even know!)

Related quotes:

 "God does watch over us and does notice us, but it is usually through someone else
 that he meets our needs." --Spencer W. Kimball

"By small and simple things are great things brought to pass." --Alma 37:6

“It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. . . . It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

On ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux. ( It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye). — The Little Prince by Saint Exupery

# 14 of a 15-part series: The Tender Mercies Project (click HERE for the introductory post)

Tender Mercy #13: An answered prayer

This tender mercy encompasses most others. So many specific blessings begin with the seed of prayer. . .

The possibility of prayer is a tender mercy in itself! Think of it–the Creator of all personally knows and tends to His creations, including you and me (see Matthew 6:26). Beyond that, our prayers do have an effect. The scriptures state that the “fervent prayer of a righteous man [or woman] availeth much” (James 5:16)*.  This can be you praying for strength as a mother, you praying for a struggling child, or someone praying for you; this can be a prayer uttered years ago or the prayer in your heart this very moment; this is faith layered on faith with a measure of patience and grit.

My prayers have been answered in various ways–some right away (or even before I got the words out) and some after a long, long time. (In fact, I have a few prayers out there still pending.) Invariably, however, the answers have come “in time.”

In 2015, I was pregnant with my eighth baby. My sister and I were taking turns caring for my mom who suffered a stroke the previous year. There was a 6-week period near the end of my pregnancy when my sister was not available to do the care. I felt stuck. There was no way I could step in. No way. My mom needed to be tube fed, turned and changed every few hours, and transferred with a Hoyer lift. We explored all the options we could think of and there seemed to be no easy solution. After a few anxious days, I stopped. I set down all my worries and questions and prayed for help. A brilliant, hopeful idea came to me–an inspiration. I realized that the tasks required could be broken up. Some I could do, but the ones I could not do I could hire my lovely, strong teenage sons to do. It was summer and they were around anyway. They were happy for some extra spending money. I was happy to have the puzzle solved. They provided a meaningful service for their grandma and everyone benefited. Divine genius was at work–all because of a little (but very fervent) prayer!

Sometimes we don’t get answers right away–that can be divine genius too.

When has an answered prayer blessed you?

~MW

*(A little qualifier to James 5:16: Though we “know perfectly well we are not perfect,” we can still access God through the grace of Christ. See the conference address “Latter-day Saints Keep Trying” by Elder Renlund).

This is #13 of a 15 part series, The Tender Mercies Project.

Tender Mercy #12: Enhanced meaning

The following excerpt (from Faithful Nurturing: Mothering from the Heart to the Heart, chapter 12) tells of a time when a particular line of a song gained personal meaning to me:

“An awareness of God’s personal care can bring great solace and comfort. Specific experiences that demonstrate His involvement in our own lives are at least part of the “tender mercies” spoken of scripturally. Once I was up late at night going through a book of hymns. As I sang through one line of a certain hymn, the words were highlighted to my heart so powerfully that I knew God was assuring the truth of them to me personally. On that particular night, I needed desperately to know: “As thy days may demand, so thy succor shall be” (from Hymns of the LDS Church # 85, “How Firm a Foundation”). If it is true that “to suffer is to be alone,” the corollary is also true: the moment we find we are not completely alone, our suffering is at least partially, but often profoundly, alleviated. . .”

The above experience occurred during a time where I was struggling with balancing my time caring for my kids and my elderly mom. Both were all-consuming and I wondered if I was up to the task. The words to the hymn came like a promise and assurance that gave me great peace at the time and stays with me still. I know it is true that whatever difficulty comes at us, God will provide an adequate measure of “succor” (help, support) as we turn to Him. Just as the words to the song seemed “highlighted to my heart,” I have had a similar experience with scriptural verses or even wise things people around me have said.

When have certain words or experiences gained enhanced meaning and guided you in your life?

(Part 12 of a 15 part series: The Tender Mercies Project. See the original post from Feb 2107).

* See the following links: “The Tender Mercies of the Lord” by David Bednar Ensign, May 2005; see also How Firm a Foundation 

Tender Mercy #11: Extra strength/enablement

An excerpt from Faithful Nurturing: Mothering from the Heart to the Heart (chapter 17: “Multiplicity and Miracles”):

“God is a multiplier–a God of miracles. Because of this, with divine help we can navigate creative paths that allow more to be accomplished than seemingly possible. . . .

During the first few weeks of pediatric residency, I became so exhausted I felt like I was walking in a fog. I wondered how I could endure three years of a schedule requiring little or no sleep every 3-4 nights, especially since I wanted to interact with my family when I returned home rather than just disappear to sleep. Also, as a member of the LDS church, I do not drink coffee or use caffeine-containing or other stimulant products. I prayed for natural stamina. My residency miracle was that the fog lifted. I was able to glean the small amounts of sleep possible during call nights, come home post-call and stay awake with my family until bedtime, and still feel functional and relatively rested. When tired, I felt giddy rather than crabby. In Mosiah 24:14-15, the Lord says, “I will . . . ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as a witness for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.” After residency was over I tried a few times to stay up late for personal projects, but as the true need for it had expired, the miracle was over.”

I have experienced divine help and enabling power several times, but getting through residency as a mom was a central “tender mercy.”

When have you been blessed with strength greater than your own?

Tender Mercy #10: a need met

There is a hymn with the line, “Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, uttered or unexpressed . . .” Often we do need to go through the formality of asking, but I like how the song refers also to those unexpressed prayers–our deepest wishes perceived by a loving God.

Though I have had specific prayers answered, I’m not saying things always turn out rosy for me. Sometimes things go like I hope and plan, other times not. (Like there was the time I took off another volunteer mom’s bumper in the school parking lot prior to a class field trip–but that’s a story for another post. . . .) My faith is not contingent upon a constant feed of divinely orchestrated moments or perfectly packaged outcomes. And yet, by the mere fact that even sometimes I distinctly feel God’s help and blessings, this does build my faith. There have been specific times when I’ve had a need–even without realizing it or praying about it–and that need has been perfectly met. If you think about it, I bet you can recall times like this too.

Now for some examples:

  • Before traveling for residency interviews, it began to dawn on me that I’d need a double stroller to navigate the airport with a baby and toddler (this was back in the day when clunky strollers were allowed in airports!). I hadn’t even begun to brainstorm about where I could get one, but as I walked through my neighborhood, a lady I barely knew dashed out of her house and told me she had a double stroller for me. She was pregnant with her second baby and had found a stroller at a yard sale. She said, “I can’t even use it for months, but I’ve been thinking of you and wanted to lend it to you until I need it.” I had barely acknowledged this need to myself and had not yet prayed over it, but the blessing was right there. It gave me the assurance that God would be with me in other ways too, as I faced the difficult task of residency interviews, residency itself, and balancing all that comes with being a mom.
  •  Once our freezer stopped fully freezing ice cream (basically, a minor emergency!) and we didn’t have money for a new one. It made me concerned that possibly other foods were not being kept at safe temperatures. That same week our next door neighbor called to ask if we happened to need a new fridge/freezer. She was getting married and in merging two households they’d have an extra. Another time we needed a new bathroom sink. Just after having done the preliminary browsing to pick one out, we saw a nearly identical sink on the curb with a “free” sign. It was used, but it was perfect.
  • I could go on, but instead, what about you? When have you had a personal need met?

Are these miracles? It has been said that, “There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.”* Maybe some good things just happen, but all goodness derives from God. All goodness has a divine fingerprint. Miracles and mercies are part of the evidence that God is there.

*Some attribute this quote to Albert Einstein, but whoever said it gave us something to think about!

Happy Mother’s Day!! And the video contest winner is . . .

I’m sharing my Mother’s Day wishes now because on the actual day, I just want to quietly savor my family (and I hope the same for you!). First of all, I want to give you and all women out there permission to really have a happy Mother’s Day. A hearty celebration on Mother’s Day (or any day) has no prerequisites. Happiness in this very moment does not require perfection of us, our children, our our circumstance. I, for one, am going to accept any crayon-traced handprints, wildflowers from the backyard, job coupons (that may or may not ever be redeemed), best-mommy awards, love notes, or homemade treats wholeheartedly despite having no claims to perfection as a mother.

This is our special day as women to receive some extra thanks for the mothering and nurturing we do, so let us be gracious about it! A blog post I read recently acknowledged how we sometimes vacillate between the “good mom/bad mom” extremes as we characterize our parenting efforts. This dichotomy is unnecessary and inaccurate. In reality, we are dedicated moms who are developing  and learning and growing alongside our children.

A friend of mine recently faced life-threatening complications following the delivery of her 4th son. She acknowledged that her focus quickly changed from the “good mom/bad mom” question, to the simple wish to just “be there”–period. She wanted the gift of watching her children grow and being there with them. Her insight inspires me to let go of my constant self-evaluation and gently replace it with appreciation.

This is my first Mother’s Day without my own mom around, so there may be tears amid the celebration. My posts keep being about my mom, though I keep telling myself, “This is supposed to be a parenting website!!” But our day-to-day parenting is so wrapped into our underlying emotional experience; right now my life is about processing and coming to terms with the loss of my mother. I just ran across an amazing book entitled, “Motherless Daughters” by Hope Edelman (she also wrote another called “Motherless Mothers,” which I’d also like to take a look at).

OK! Now for the moment you have been waiting for . . . (drum roll) . . .

The 2017 Video Contest Winner is: “Journey of Motherhood” submitted by Elicia

In this video, Elicia captures her mothering journey, which involves joyful moments she has shared with her children, as well as the loss and sadness of losing a baby. Though Elicia acknowledged that she has not had a mother involved in her life, she honors her grandmothers (who both recently passed away)–one who helped raise her and the other who taught her she could be happy and upbeat despite the difficulties of life. Elicia’s video spoke to me because it shows the richness of her experience–both joys and sorrows.

Here are pictures of Elicia with her grandmothers.

    

Thank you, Elicia, for sharing your beautiful video! I hope you enjoy the yummy fruit bouquet that is coming your way 🙂

Tender Mercy #9: Specific guidance or direction

There are many experiences I could relate here. I see prayer as an ongoing conversation. When I have asked God a question, I have received an answer, in time. Sometimes I feel clearly guided right away; more often clarity “emerges” and I begin to feel more peace associated with one particular course of action. The chance for divine direction doesn’t erase life’s challenges, but does make them easier to navigate.  In motherhood and in all areas of life, we need this help!

Two years ago, after complications from an emergency surgery, my mom was on a ventilator. While on the ventilator, she had a massive stroke. The doctors were questioning whether we should continue in providing life support. They asked, “What will her quality of life be? Surely she would not want this!” My sister and I deliberated to know how our mom would define “quality of life” and prayed about the decision. At the time, we were in process of cleaning out her home so our family could move back there with her. That very day I visited the house and found a piece of paper in her handwriting. It said, “Happiness is:” and she had listed “Family” and “Music.” It was our answer. We decided that as long as there was the possibility for her to experience and enjoy these two things, quality of life for her would be achieved. We decided to pursue continued medical care and rehabilitation. She came off the ventilator and my sister and I were able to care for her at home.

Though my mom required a great deal of care during her last two years of life and my sister and I stretched ourselves nearly beyond capacity providing it, this was a sacred time. Though my mom’s communication was very limited, even to the last few days of her life she could sing songs with us. She demonstrated awareness of us and her grandchildren as they bustled around her. Sometimes several weeks went by without her being able to say a word, but then suddenly she would speak. A few weeks before she died, I asked her, “Are you doing okay, Mommy?” I didn’t necessarily expect a reply, but (despite enduring two years of requiring total care and tube feeding), she said, “I am doing okay. I’m doing just fine.” That confirmed to me that she did have a sense of well-being and that we had represented her wishes accurately when, two years before, we had prayed to know what to do.

When has God guided you? How can you be guided now, in your current situation?

 

Tender Mercy #8: A special comfort given

Sometimes before going to bed I make rounds and pull the covers up over my boys’ shoulders. I think all parents have done this at some point, though their kids sleep on unaware. Similarly, how often is God stepping in and making things a little better for us, His children? Perhaps more often than we could ever know.

When I completed my first full draft of Faithful Nurturing, I needed to find readers to provide feedback. The reality was that most of my friends were busy moms–they had snippets of time to read a good or useful book, but not necessarily time to pore over one that was in process. My own mom had recently had a stroke and could only communicate in a very limited way. Though she had always been so wise, articulate, and supportive, I could no longer ask for her input or opinions. Though the book was influenced by her and even partly about her, it was too late to share it with her as I would have wished. With this sad realization, I had to go forward relying on what my memories and past experiences taught me* about what her input might have been. Also, God blessed me with two wonderful friends named Sharon and Pat.

Sharon and Pat are in their eighties and knew my mom for several years. They are spunky, educated, wise and faithful, and they generously gave me hours and hours of their time. They had no little kids to chase around or put to bed, but still they had plenty of things they could have been doing besides reading my book. These ladies stood in for my mother in surrogate. It was almost uncanny how much they did and said things like my mom would. I was noting this to myself one afternoon when we had met at Pat’s house to discuss the book. I almost cried then when Pat announced that it was time to break out the Dove bars. Though Pat had no idea, these delicious treats were my mom’s favorites. It may be impossible to eat a Dove bar without feeling comforted in some way, but that day it went beyond ice cream and chocolate. It was as if God Himself tucked a blanket around me.

*This reminds me of the song Wanting Memories by Sweet Honey in the Rock https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vW2TpW4gCt8

What special comforts have you received from God? Pray to see them. . .

Tender Mercy #7: A meaningful connection

I look for lessons everywhere, and often I find them–at just the right moment. This is more than just being showered indiscriminately with God’s goodwill toward all creation; this is personalized guidance and nourishment that is available to each of us.

There have been so many times I have heard just the right quote, read just the right scripture, ran into just the right person to help me in my journey of parenting and life. I have entitled this mercy “meaningful connection” referring to the meaning I have found and the connection I have felt in such occurrences. I certainly don’t always get answers and help falling in my lap, but as I am seeking  for them in high-yield places, they eventually come.

For me, one of those high-yield places has been the biannual LDS Church conference called “General Conference.”  Certain addresses apply more to my life than others, but there is always something there. I distinctly remember one evening feeling so burdened and inadequate caring for my mother who by then needed ongoing care. Her physical weight that I leveraged multiple times a day in caring for her felt like a literal weight upon me–one I balanced with the responsibilities within my own growing family. I broke away briefly to attend a conference session after throwing on a skirt and quickly running a brush through my hair. I sat in the back, sort of hoping to hide, but simultaneously wishing for someone to rush to my side, miraculously sensing how much I needed to be rescued. One of the talks was entitled “The Caregiver”–it was my rescue. And as the meeting progressed, I found myself surrounded by friends and lovely people who reached out to me and buoyed me up. It was a message and a moment just for me, just at the right time, there on a folding chair in a church gym.

“The Church is designed to nourish the imperfect, the struggling, and the exhausted.” Dieter Uchtdorf Gen Conf Oct 2013