Ten years ago, I never imagined where life would take us, nor that I'd have seven kids so close together. I didn't understand how hard some seasons of life would be, nor the devastation of certain events in my life.
But I also didn't understand the incredible growth and joy I'd feel in my work as a mother, nor the blessings of following this quiet path.
I've always been smart and I've achieved a lot of academic success. In high school, I interned at the Idaho governor's office and was one of just a few high school students chosen to intern at Hewlett-Packard after school. I've always been a good test-taker and I got near-perfect ACT and SAT scores. I had two colleges I really wanted to attend. I was one of 24 students who earned the top scholarship at one university and was one of 24 finalists for the top scholarship at the other. I passed every AP test I took and was a T.A. for a calculus class in college.
If I hadn't met my husband and gotten married at age 19, I'm sure I would have continued on my academic path, probably studying something in the hard sciences or business, and definitely going on to graduate school.
But I did meet DH. I hadn't planned on getting married after my freshman year of college, but it was the right path for me and God confirmed it to me. DH and I took a full load of classes and worked part-time to make ends meet, going to school in the summer so we could graduate two years later. I changed my major to Family Science, so I could prepare better for my role in the home, raising our children.
Four days after I graduated, I became a mother. DH still had years of schooling left, but we sacrificed so I could be home, devoting my energies to our children. We didn't have a lot of money, but we had love and commitment.
The transition to being a full-time mother wasn't easy for me. I felt lonely and had to work to make friends in this new stage of life. It was hard work being a mom sometimes. And those night-feedings? No one really warned me about how tired and exhausted one could become.
What was also hard was I was doing such a wonderful job, and no one noticed! DH did fine supporting me and letting me know he loved me for what I did for our family, but even he didn't really understand all that I did in surrounding our daughter with love, reading to her, singing to her, filling our world with good music and good experiences.
I'd been used to getting rewards and recognition for my efforts. An A. A top score. Magna Cum Laude. A paycheck. An excellent teacher evaluation. Being surrounded by my peers and enjoying the camaraderie of learning together.
The rewards of motherhood are real, but they're not so tangible, and I've had to learn to see them in my life daily -- "the fruit of the Spirit," after all, "is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance" (Galations 5:22-23) None of these gifts can be printed on a trophy or handed out at an awards ceremony. They are internal.
One of my favorite scriptures is in Matthew chapter 6, in Christ's Sermon on the Mount:
2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
Most of the alms I give as a mother are unknown to those outside our family. Even my husband knows little of the work I do in the middle of the night, for instance. He sleeps peacefully while I tend to the needs of our children, rocking the one with an ear infection, nursing another, comforting the one who has a nightmare. Years ago, I used to count up all the times I was awake at night and report it to my husband or to a sympathetic friend: "I was up 3 times last night!" "I'm so tired." etc. But I've learned in the years since that it is best not to count the cost of the service I render. I simply need to have faith that God, who loves me more than I comprehend, sees all.
After all, nothing I give or do could ever approach the service the Savior has given us:
20 I say unto you, my brethren, that if you should render all the athanks and bpraise which your whole soul has power to possess, to that God who has created you, and has kept and cpreserved you, and has caused that ye should drejoice, and has granted that ye should live in peace one with another—21 I say unto you that if ye should aserve him who has created you from the beginning, and is bpreserving you from day to day, by lending you cbreath, that ye may live and move and do according to your own dwill, and even supporting you from one moment to another—I say, if ye should serve him with all your ewhole souls yet ye would be funprofitable servants. (from Mosiah chapter 2 in The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ)
I got an email from my mentor at Hewlett-Packard a month before my wedding, urging me not to get married. This good woman, who always loved me even though she didn't understand me, was worried that I was throwing away my potential. She warned me I'd lose myself when I got married. "And then will come children," she wrote, "And that's a whole other level of losing yourself." She was sure I was making the biggest mistake of my life.
She was right in one point: being a wife and a mother does involve losing yourself. It involves sacrifice. I have put aside many of the things I would like to be doing in order to give myself more fully to my family. I have lost myself, but it is not the calamity she worried about. She didn't know -- how could she? -- that it is in losing ourselves that we grow.
Sometimes people gasp when they realize how many children I have, "You're one busy lady!" "What a lot of work," "You've got your hands full." "How do you do it?" or my favorite, "but isn't that . . . hard?"
Matthew 16:25 aFor whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will blose his life for my sake shall cfind it.
It IS hard. But here's the secret: Everything worth doing involves sacrifice. Everything worth doing is going to be hard. Some things as a mother get easier as I learn and grow, and as my capacity to serve grows as well. But there are always new trials, new levels of exhaustion, new parenting challenges to face and overcome.
I've long since lost contact with that mentor who wrote me with concern. I'm sure if she saw me now, she would just shake her head, unable to fathom why I would choose this path for my life. She might lecture me, again, about what I might have given up.
And I would talk with her about what I've gained: an opportunity to, in some small measure, pay my Savior back for the lonely road he trod, for the gift of salvation and eternal life he offers me. A chance to use the small talents He has given me to serve the children He has graciously given to my care.
Matthew 25:40 Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have adone it unto one of the bleast of these my cbrethren, ye have done it unto me.There are seven little children in my home. Seven opportunities to serve God and share His love. There may be more children in your home, or less, but all of them are a gift from God:
Matthew 18: 5 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my aname receiveth me.
We sometimes think we need to do great things or be wealthy or well known to be important. We want the whole world to praise us and hand us awards. But God's gifts are so much better than the world's.
In my journey, I've had the opportunity to KNOW God by serving His precious children. I've felt His support and His love. I've felt peace, joy, and confidence. Yes, there are days when I cry, days when I feel the tasks are too heavy for me, when I pray simply, "Father, I'm tired, please help." And yes, there are days when I wish my life wasn't quite so hard. But I've found the words of the hymn to be true in my life:
When through the deep waters I call thee to go,God has been good to me. He is my loving Father, and I'm thankful for the privilege of nurturing His children.
The rivers of sorrow shall not thee o’erflow,
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee, and sanctify to thee,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
(How Firm a Foundation)