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 #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?

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

Tender Mercy #6: A humorous occurrence

Have you ever experienced an inside joke with God? To me these are sweet moments when I know that God knows my situation and that He has a sense of humor. It is like a wink from heaven.

Once I was visiting historic religious sites with my family. Unloading a car full of little boys onto sacred ground after hours of touring, I could only expect a very active (okay, downright rowdy) bunch. We had stopped at a proposed Garden of Eden spot. The kids ran around amid the trees. I stood and wondered, “What if this really was the site? These trees could have come from seeds that came from seeds that came from seeds that were from those original trees!” Then I got to thinking: my kids and my husband and I–we too traced back, by necessity, to that original event! Wherever the Garden of Eden really was, it was part of my history. After the kids ran around some more we finally called to them to gather and load up in the van. I said, “Come here boys, I have some sliced apples for you!” They came and clamored for their snack. And then a small black snake slithered over my foot. There I was, passing out fruit, seeing one of only a few snakes I’ve ever come across in my life (maybe this was the Garden of Eden!) and then we packed up and left. On to the wilderness that is life!

Tender Mercy #5: Personalized rescue

An excerpt from my book “Faithful Nurturing” p 263:

“An elderly friend named Queta once told me of her experience walking down a dusty road in Mexico on a hot day. The sun was beating down and shining in her eyes, so she prayed for a cloud to come shade her. The sky remained clear, but as she turned the corner, there in the road was an old straw hat. She picked it up and put it on, offering a prayer of thanks as she continued walking. Her story reminded me of a morning I walked to work and was caught in a sudden downpour. I prayed that the rain would stop, but instead, a city bus pulled over and the driver offered me a free ride. In such experiences we find joy not only in the blessings themselves—the shade, the dryness or warmth, the need met—but in the central reminder they give: that God is there. Though tangible or immediate rescue does not always come, remembering past glimpses of God’s awareness and love will carry us.”

When have you experienced divine rescue?

Not only do we ourselves require rescue at times, but we can participate in the rescue of others. This can be very deliberate–heartfelt praying, pleading, or fasting for another–or almost incidental, because we happen to be in the right place at the right time and are open to the needs of others. I know God can guide us to see others’ needs, but sometimes it can be as simple as asking a person directly. A quote I ran across recently said, “[One] effective way of obtaining an accurate concept of a man’s experiencing is to ask him what he is thinking and feeling. If he tells us honestly, there we have it: the basis for perfect empathy.”*  And perhaps the basis for action. . .

*The Transparent Self by Sidney Jourard

A surprising thing

One afternoon as I was sitting at my mom’s bedside at the hospital, the chaplain asked me, “You are taking care of your mother, but who is taking care of you?” That night, almost “by assignment,” I decided to take a bubble bath.

I don’t have much experience with Jacuzzi tubs, but the house we recently moved into has one. I poured in shampoo as the tub filled and a few bubbles formed. Then I turned on the jets and the bubbles rapidly multiplied. Suddenly, I was giggling at the tower of bubbles surrounding me and soon to overflow. This was a surprise.  When my underlying emotion was sadness over my dying mother, a moment of delight and happiness had sprung forth. What a healing gift, but also a lesson.

Though I have often been a “purist” when it comes to emotions, feeling a sense of loyalty toward my pervading emotional state, I was reminded of the complexity of human experience. I was reminded that healing laughter at a time of grief is okay.

I had noticed another seeming incongruity earlier in the week. As I drove my kids to school I thought, “How can it be that the world just goes on almost callously like any other day when a person I love struggles for her life?” I stopped in the drop-off area and, since the boys were a few minutes late, the loudspeaker carried the voices of the children already reciting the school mission, “We are a community of learners . . .”

It was true. People get born and die. There is reading and arithmetic, as well as other very hard life lessons. The world turns. We are a community of learners. Perhaps it is more of a godlike perspective to see it all at once: happiness and sadness, suffering and celebration, overlapping and simultaneous, all in one view.