Monday, July 30, 2012

Our Calling as Parents

“And a Little Child Shall Lead Them.” ~ Isaiah 11:6 

My parents moved to Highland from Salt Lake City just before I began my third year at BYU. I had a waitressing job at the Alpine Country Club, but due to finances that year, I decided to live at home and carpool to the Y with a group of freshmen boys in my ward who needed another driver. The year was 1971, and there was only one Highland Ward––the Highland 1st Ward across from Strasburg Park. We were part of what was then called, The Highland Alpine Stake. It was in this ward that I received my first calling in the church––a call to teach the Sunbeam class. I was very excited. I was an Elementary Education major with an English Literature minor and I was excited to try out the creative new teaching ideas I had been learning. I arrived on that first Sunday feeling confident. I had carefully prepared visual aids. I had a fun opening activity to get their attention, and I’d made a coloring activity sheet to reinforce my lesson. I arrived early and arranged the chairs in a semi circle, as I had been taught in one of my Teacher’s Ed courses, so I would be able to look into the eyes of every child. Following the opening prayer and my activity, I begin to tell a story with my visual aids. I was thrilled to see all the eyes in my little class looking at me. They appeared to be spellbound—focused on what I was teaching. I was thinking, Wow! This really works! I have these children in the palm of my hands, completely mesmerized! Then remembering that I needed to encourage class participation, I asked a question. Hands shot up high in the air! I called on a cute little girl in a ruffled dress with curly pigtails. Katie was eager to comment. Lifting up her dress for all to see beneath, she said excitedly, “Guess what teacher? I have a brand new slip. And you know what else teacher? My mom makes the best chocolate chip cookies in the whole world!” I think it was at that point that I suddenly realized that it was ‘not me’ that would be doing the majority of the teaching. That year I learned far more from my little primary class of three year olds than they could have ever learned from me!

During April's General Conference Elder Boyd K. Packer reminded us, “One of the great discoveries of parenthood is that we learn far more about ‘what really matters’ from our children than we ever did from our parents. We come to recognize the truth in Isaiah’s prophecy that, ‘A little child shall lead them.’” 

My husband, Dale, and I have reflected many times over the years about how much we have learned from our children. What would our lives have been like if not for the opportunity to learn selfless love from that emotional bond.  In our Father in Heaven’s eternal plan, we have a sacred calling as parents to teach His children.

Elder Packer said, “The ultimate end of all activity in the Church is to see a husband and his wife and their children happy at home, protected by the principles and laws of the gospel, sealed safely in the covenants of the everlasting priesthood. Husbands and wives should understand that their first calling—from which they will never be released—is to one another and then to their children.” 

The Lord’s plan is a Plan of Happiness—a Plan of Unconditional Love for families. During General Conference, Cheryl Espin, 2nd councilor in the General Primary Presidency, reminded us of the importance of “Love” when teaching our children. She said, “In every teaching situation all learning and all understanding are best nurtured in an atmosphere of ‘warmth and love,’ where the Spirit is present.” 

My mother used to sing a song around our house when I was growing up called, Love is a Many Splendored Thing, from one of her favorite movies. To quote another famous movie musical she loved, “Love Makes the World Go Round.” The Beatles said it all when they sang, “All You Need is Love.” And our Hymns council, “There is Beauty All Around When There’s Love at Home,” and “Love One Another as I Have Loved You”––reflecting the teachings of our Savior. In every General Conference we are reminded of the importance of “Love” as the main ingredient in the recipe of teaching our children.

Elder Robert D. Hales said, “The greatest missionary work we will ever do will be in our homes. ... Our children and grandchildren are our most important investigators. ... The greatest love and the greatest teachings should be in our homes.” 

I was the middle child in a family of five children, with two older sisters, and a younger brother and sister. There was 20 years separating my oldest and youngest sisters, with all of us born five years apart. Yet, despite the distance in our ages, we knew we were loved because our parents spent time with each of us and our dreams became their dreams. My parents grew up during the time of the Great Depression, before World War II. Both of their families were poor. In fact, everybody was poor in their Logan, Utah town. My mother’s family especially struggled to make ends meet. Growing up she only had two dresses. Think about how many outfits you have in your own closet. It’s hard to imagine having only two dresses. She had one that she wore to school, and one that was saved for special occasions and church. Every day when she came home from school she and her sisters helped their mother wash their school dresses and hang them up to dry so that they could be ironed for the following school day. There were no modern washing machines and electric irons. Water was heated on a coal stove and poured into a wash tub, and the iron was also heated on the stove.

I asked my mother once what it felt like to be so poor. Did she feel bitter and sad, wishing she could have pretty clothes and toys she saw in store windows and catalogs? She said, “Of course there were things we wished we could have, but we never felt poor. Everyone in our community lived like we did. “But more important,” she said, “we felt rich, because we knew how much our parents loved us.” She told me that her mother, the grandmother I never knew, who died before I was born, referred to her children as, “My Little Blessings from Heaven”—all eight of them.

Sister Cheryl Espin said, “What a sacred responsibility Heavenly Father places upon us as parents to partner with Him in helping His choice spirits become what He knows they can become.” 

Dale and I have six children, five girls, two of which are twins, and only one son, just like in the family I was raised in. The days that each of our children were born were the closest I have ever felt to Heaven. I remember the details of each of their births like it was yesterday. I remember thinking about where they had just come from and who might have been there to bid them farewell. I wondered if the grandmother I never knew, had kissed them goodbye. As a new mother, when our first child was born, I especially felt the enormous responsibility of parenthood, to raise my baby boy, a son of God, in righteousness. I wanted to be a perfect mother for him, and although I was 22 years old and a college graduate, I felt inadequate and unprepared.

Having grown up mostly around girls, it was difficult for me to understand little boys. My sister-in-law and I had baby boys about the same age, so for fun, when they were two years old, we decided to take a “Mommy and Me” parenting class. One afternoon a week our boys would spent a couple of hours in a very creative nursery school atmosphere, while the mothers watched through a one-sided window as we attended a mommy class. We were all new mothers and we all had a lot of questions for the teacher. I remember asking the teacher about my little boy. I remember wishing he’d arrived with a set of directions, and telling her it felt like he was smarter than I was. Sometimes it felt like he was out to get me! I remember the teachers kind face when she asked me to think about what my child saw in my face when he looked at me. Did he see a stern, worried face, always in the teaching mode, instructing, and perfecting his behavior? Or did he see in my eyes “Love.” I wondered to myself, Does my son see the love in my face that I feel for him? Does he see the kind of unconditional, pure love that my Savior has for me? It was a great lesson to me and I decided that day that I would try to be the kind of mother whose face would light up when my children entered the room—that no matter how many parenting mistakes I made, I wanted them to see in my eyes and in my smile, how much they were loved. 

Brothers and Sisters, even though it would be nice, we don’t need our children to come down with a detailed set of instructions, if we have Faith in His plan for our family. He knows exactly what our children ‘need to know,’ ‘what they need to do,’ and ‘what they need to be’ to come back into His presence. 

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “The success of the gospel message depends upon its being taught with LOVE and then understood, and then lived in such a way that its promise of happiness and salvation can be realized.” 

I am grateful for my own children—my “Blessings from Heaven.” When I return to my Heavenly home, I hope to be judged as good a mother as my own earthly mother. Like you, I want to hear those words “Well Done” from my Heavenly Father. Recently I held a new grandchild in my arms—a perfect little glimpse of heaven for me. The next time you cradle a newborn child, may you, as Elder Packer has said, ‘have an inner vision of the mysteries and purposes of life.’ May you better understand why the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is as it is, and why the family is the basic organization in time and in eternity. May we teach our children to feel His Spirit, and radiate His Love, so they can experience the warmth of His arms around them as they travel life’s journey.

I bear witness that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true, that the Plan of Salvation, which has been called the Plan of Happiness, is a Plan of “Love” … A set of detailed instructions to help us raise His children. It is a Plan of Unconditional Love for families.

1 comment: