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.
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?
*(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.
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?
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!
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?
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. . .
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
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!
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
One of the greatest tender mercies I have experienced as a mother has been perspective–those insights particularly needed to help me understand and love my children better in a given moment. When I have felt annoyed, impatient, or exasperated with my children and then have taken the opportunity to pray for help, invariably I have received help in some way. Often, it has been by gaining a brief glimpse into their experience.
I remember running on a wooded trail several years ago and having the toe of my running shoe catch on a root. I literally fell on my face. I thought, “Wow! I had forgotten what that feels like!” Luckily as grown-ups we don’t often experience that, but my toddler experiences it multiple times a day. It can be easy to forget what it feels like to fall down, to have a prized possession wrecked by a sibling, or to be an exhausted teenager getting nagged for not doing a chore. Sometimes God grants us the tender mercy of remembering or more accurately imagining what it might feel like to walk in someone else’s Stride Rite’s (or Vans). Suddenly we are blessed with empathy where we may have otherwise criticized or been impatient or harsh. Acts 9:18 teaches of Saul having the scales of darkness removed from his eyes–new perspective can bring a dramatic shift in us like that.
See this link on how a little love changes everything: “As I Have Loved You” by Thomas Monson Feb 2017