March 30, 2016

Because I Believe in MOTHERS

I was choosen as 2016 New York Mother of the Year.  

I'm not someone who seeks after recognition, in fact it makes me quite uncomfortable.  But, I accepted the nomination because I felt in my soul that this would be an honor that would allow me to use my story to inspire others.

I believe in mothering!  I believe mothers have a sacred work to do, and I believe we will not know our power until we learn to mother our offspring and mother our nation.  

Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother.

Oprah Winfrey

Mothers nurture, heal, nourish, create, comfort, organize, inspire, and love.  This mothering begins at home but if mothering ends at home our nation will perish.  

I truly believe the only way we will ever have peace in the world, heal sickness, banish poverty, or unify our communities is if good mothers expand their nurturing.  A mother's love heals scraped knees and  aching communities.  What power is greater than the unified love of mothers to heal our nation?

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle Rules The World
    Blessings on the hand of women!
    Angels guard its strength and grace,
    In the palace, cottage, hovel,
    Oh, no matter where the place;
    Would that never storms assailed it,
    Rainbows ever gently curled;
    For the hand that rocks the cradle
    Is the hand that rules the world.

    Infancy's the tender fountain,
    Power may with beauty flow,
    Mother's first to guide the streamlets,
    From them souls unresting grow--
    Grow on for the good or evil,
    Sunshine streamed or evil hurled;
    For the hand that rocks the cradle
    Is the hand that rules the world.

    Woman, how divine your mission
    Here upon our natal sod!
    Keep, oh, keep the young heart open
    Always to the breath of God!
    All true trophies of the ages
    Are from mother-love impearled;
    For the hand that rocks the cradle
    Is the hand that rules the world.

    Blessings on the hand of women!
    Fathers, sons, and daughters cry,
    And the sacred song is mingled
    With the worship in the sky--
    Mingles where no tempest darkens,
    Rainbows evermore are hurled;
    For the hand that rocks the cradle
    Is the hand that rules the world.

    William Ross Wallace
Mothers create and sustain life.

A mother's body literally creates the cells of her child.  A mother's breast nourishes her child.  A mother's mouth preaches the first sermons her child will hear.  A mother's love warms her child's soul.  A mother's neglect is foundationally damaging for a child, and a mother's nurturing is foundationally stabilizing.

"When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women in homes and in neighborhoods? Will what happened in cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling than what happened in congresses?"

Elder Neal A. Maxwell

Mothers are our best national resource.

As we have moved across the country and lived in the East, West, North, and South, we have found strong families, loving communities, and devoted mothers.  

When I feel my own inadequacies as a mother, I thank God for neighbors, teachers, coaches, bus drivers, authors, musicians, preachers, and friends who help to guide and nurture my children and me.  

Mothers give life and save lives.

Two years ago, I almost died giving birth to my grand finale little boy.  Being diagnosed with Placenta Percreta, I knew that choosing to carry my son meant risking my life and that was a risk I chose.  

During weeks of hospital bed rest, I would scoot my wheelchair to the rooms around me getting to know other mothers who were carrying high-risk pregnancies.  I have never walked the halls of a veterans' hospital, but I saw that type of bravery on that mother-baby floor.  I felt that bravery in the NICU and saw hero mothers and soldier children on the pediatric floor.  Hospitals are brimming with brave, enduring soldiers who nurture and endure to save lives.

I was not the only mother in the operating room when Ben was born.  Brave nurses, doctors, and surgeons literally held my life in their hands and fought for over twelve hours to keep me alive.  There were complications and one of my main arteries was accidentally cut.  A surgeon later told me.  "It was one of the worst days of my life, you were dying in our hands and we loved you."

My heart kept beating as the blood from over 200 strangers was pumped through 5 different ports into my body.  That day my life was literally saved by 200 strangers and hundreds of hospital workers, community and family members, and strangers who read my blog and offered a prayer for me.  

Perhaps this experience made my heart grow two sizes, because today it explodes with love and gratitude for good, good people who bless the lives of others.  This was just one traumatic and beautiful day in my life, but this is their everyday.  

My life was saved by a community and I feel compelled to pay that forward.  My story is the story of our nation.  We are a nation of caring families, friends and strangers.

Mothers triumph over difficulty.

The Statue of Liberty boasts her grand proclamation in the immortal words of Emma Lazerus, 

Give me your tired, your poor, 
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: 
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Ground Zero stands as a monument to good rising from evil, where etched in stone is the promise, "Terrorist attacks can shape the foundations of our tallest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America.  We will not tire.  We will not falter.  We will not fail."  G. W. Bush

Both monuments represent the power of goodness to triumph over difficulty through community.  Mothers, not governments, are best suited to welcome  these huddled masses and mothers lay America's indomitable foundation.  The spirit of America is the spirit of motherhood.

Mothers unite to do good.

I have come to know and love many powerful organizations nationally and locally.  PTA, The Red Cross, Hope for Accreta foundation, InterFaith Works, Women Transcending Boundaries, the Relief Society, and even my local book group has made a difference in who I am today.  These organizations have expanded my home and improved our community.  I feel that a nationwide organization of American Mothers has the possibility to do great things.

Mothers need more children and bigger kitchen tables.

This past year, I participated on a committee to develop community-wide sessions focusing on interfaith dialogue.  While at one meeting a friend said, "It is easy to say you are not racist, but when was the last time you had someone of a different race or religion over for dinner in your home."  This statement changed me.

Mothers can expand their influence. 

Over the past year, opportunities were presented to me where I would serve outside of my comfort zone.  Initially, I was surprised and embarrassed by my feelings.

I felt fear driving to dialogue sessions in small churches in downtown Syracuse at night.  I felt nervous entering a gated Muslim Mosque.  I felt inadequate representing Mormonism on TV and Radio programs focused on African American family history and discussing religion on a panel at a Catholic school.  I felt unsure coordinating a booth of very white Mormons in the NAACP PanAfrican Village of the NY State Fair.  

My heart broke as I loved a young teenage girl who wouldn't smile because she was embarassed by her teeth.  It broke again when a dear friend told of spending hours online with a missionary who was helping her with family history.  She was so grateful for this service  provided by my church, but then said, "I didn't tell that woman that I was a married lesbian, because I still wanted her to help me."  

Maybe these opportunities would have been easier for others, but for me, they were stretching and life changing.

Mothers know healing hurts sometimes.

With intense health challenges I learned not to fear pain, because often feeling pain means you are healing.  I feel this healing as I intentionally diversify my community.  Temporary discomfort is followed by growth and expansion.  

My fear was transformed into love as stereotypes faded behind real people with real stories.  As I have purposefully sought to enlarge the boundaries of my community, I have felt my heart swell, and my already large family has grown more colorful and more diverse.

My young friend who wouldn't smile was introduced to a community who worked to get her the dental care she needed.  She told me she wants to be a dental hygienist someday.

My daughters wrapped their heads in silk scarves and knelt beside me to pray with our Muslim sisters in their mosque.

My husband and I helped to drive, feed, and house refugee families arriving off the plane for their first night in America.  No matter what politically charged headlines say, I will never forget the moment those tired mothers first learned to fill a bathtub with warm water to bathe their children. Looking into their grateful eyes, I knew our hearts spoke the same language.  We were different colors, different religions, different nationalities, but we were both mothers. 

My seven year old performed at one event with a theatre club holding signs that said, All Lives Matter. As the only white child in the group, Lily said, "First I was afraid because I felt alone.  And then I realized they were all my friends, so it was really fun."

And really, that is what I have learned as a mother to my own children and as I expand my mothering to include those in my community.  We are alone until we look outside ourselves to see friends.  

We mother our children best when we help them to know that our family extends beyond our home into our communities.

I am a mother.  My life centers on eight of the most precious, smart, beautiful, sassy little spirits on Earth.  But I would not be here if it weren't for the love of strangers, the power in community, one dear mother who literally gave of herself to create my life, and many surrogate mothers who nurtured me along the way.

Yes, I am the NY Mother of the Year and I believe in New York mothers.  I believe in American mothers.  I believe in the mothers of the world.  I know that a mothers love can heal our homes, our communities, and our world.  

I have held eight of my own, perfect, precious newborns and in their eyes I have seen greatness.  I've prayed that God would expand my heart to love more, my mind to know more, and strengthen my hands to serve more for them.  I've seen greatness in your children also.  I've offered that same prayer that God would help us to love them.  God answers those prayers, because God believes in mothers.

Every woman is mother of the year to those she nurtures.  Let us all mother more, mother further, and mother greatly.


Sallie said...

I teared up reading this because you said many unsaid feelings of my mother heart. Thank you for being a light to all.

Tiffany said...

Um, just, wow. This is SO beautifully written, so poignant, so affirming, and such a call to action. I adore you & all you stand for... thanks for being YOU!! (hugs & smoochies from KS :-))

Shelly said...

This is wonderful! As Tiffany said, so beautifully written and inspiring! Thank you!

Linn Walker said...

Beautiful, Jen. Thank you for representing mothers in such a powerful way.

Aflyonmyhomeschoolwall said...

My own inadequacies as a mother are so glaring to me right now that I want to run screaming from this post. I can't do/be all of these things that you've described!

But every day I'm getting up, pausing to seek the Lord, and doing what I can . . . praying desperately that He will fill in my gaps and cracks and fix my mistakes.

You really are a woman of faith and power. I am grateful to have stumbled across your blog one day long ago.

jenifer said...

Aflyonmyhomeschoolwall- you are already doing the things I describe! I think it's a mis perception that the best way to love more is to attend a meeting or donate money or do more. Sometimes, loving more is as simple as doing less with a smile. When we're quiet we notice the elderly lady in the grocery store who needs help reaching the top shelf or the tired mother who needs a smile. Teaching your own children to be kind impacts generations. I love the talk I heard once where Elder Uchtdorf said that when you look at tree rings, during difficult years, the tree grows less than in years where the conditions are optimal. I spent years in hospitals and at doctors appointments and I loved those I came in contact with. I know it made a difference. I'm sorry this is a tough time. Take a walk in the woods and feel His ability to compensate and then call a friend and download. You are better than you know, and I probably sound better in print than I am in real life. 😘

Aflyonmyhomeschoolwall said...

You are kind to take the time to respond to my comment. :) I got a wonderful and very personal answer to one of my mothering concerns during Sister Durham's talk in General Conference yesterday. I had opportunity to follow that prompting within minutes, and I'll continue to do so for years to come. What a blessing it is to listen to the Lord's servants and receive personal revelation!

cheryl cardall said...

I completely understand your feelings! I too have had those feelings when reading about or talking to other mothers. However through prayer and study I know that we aren't supposed to be the same. We all have different sizes of "plates" and some have large plates and can fit much on it, some have smaller plates. At different times of life our plates may be larger or smaller. For me all of the things I have read that Jennifer does would make me a stressed out and crazy Mom. I do much better with a slower pace. It doesn't make me any less of a person or mom it just makes me different. I love the teddy Roosevelt quote that says, "Comparison is the thief of joy." Pray to find out what your influence and mission needs to be right now. Don't run faster than you have strength!

Lynn Starzl said...

So glad I had the privilege of meeting you at the American Mothers conference in DC. You have a talent for writing and love how you put my thoughts into words. We also have 8 living children and 4 lost in miscarriage. As soon as you know you "may" be pregnant, you already have a place in your heart for that baby! You have a beautiful family and your title as Mother of the Year was well deserved!

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