As I was pondering how to best honor mothers today, I found myself remembering my own childhood and the influence of my own mother.
I remember a song that used to be sung on Mother’s Day quite often.
“M” is for the million things she gave me,
“O” means only that she’s growing old,
“T” is for the tears she shed to save me,
“H” is for her heart of purest gold;
“E” is for her eyes, with love-light shining,
“R” means right, and right she’ll always be,
Put them all together, they spell “MOTHER,”
A word that means the world to me.
One Mother’s Day when I was a teen, a young man stood up and sang the same song, but with these words:
“M” is for the million things she told me,
“O” is for the other things she told me,
“T” is for the thousand things she told me,
“H” is for hundreds of things she told me;
“E” is for everything she told me,
“R” is for the rest of what she told me,
Put them all together, they spell “MOTHER,”
The one who told me EVERYTHING.
This got me to thinking, and the funny thing is, I can’t remember very much of what my mother told me.
I don’t remember my mother telling me she had a testimony.
But I do remember her taking me to church every Sunday of my life. I remember fasting on Fast Sunday as a young Deacon, trying to pass the sacrament and feeling like I was going to pass out from hunger. I remember going to primary in the middle of the week, and every function the ward held. I remember hoeing sugar beets, weeding sugar beets, and harvesting sugar beets on the stake farm.
I don’t remember my mother teaching me to listen to the Still Small Voice of the Holy Spirit.
But, I do remember sitting beside her in the Ogden Tabernacle for Stake Conference when I was a brand new deacon. They announced that they were going to call a few Aaronic Priesthood holders up to bear their testimonies. I was terrified as the first few names were read. The, I remember feeling peace. Words came into my heart. Words I wanted to say when they called me. I began to hope they would. My mother sensed this change in me and leaned to whisper to me.
“Are you afraid they’ll call you?” she asked
“No,” I replied, and turned back to listen to the names being read.
“That burning feeling you have right now,” she said, “That is the Holy Ghost. You should always remember how that feels.”
I don’t remember my mother telling me she had a testimony of Jesus Christ and of priesthood blessings.
But I do remember the day my little brother fell into the irrigation ditch that surrounded our home on two sides. I remember that it took a long time to find him floating in the ditch. I remember my mother and father giving him CPR for a long time. I remember my father telling my mother it was time to quit, and the determined sound of her voice as she told him “no!”
As this little drama unfolded there were a dozen neighbors standing in a semicircle around us. I remember the look on my mother’s face as she looked up between breaths. Her face was white and her lips were swollen. Her expression was something between despair and demand. “I need one of you priesthood brethren to give my son a blessing.”
She returned immediately to CPR. I looked at the group of brethren, who reacted to her words as if they had been slugged in the chest. Every one of them took a step back. The only one who remained was an old pig farmer who lived down the street. He hadn’t been to church for most of his life.
When mother looked back up she glanced at the men who had retreated, and then very calmly said. “Rulen, I know you are an Elder. I need you to give my son a blessing.”
Rulen stepped forward, twisting his hat in his big hands, whispered, “Ann, I am a wicked man. I ain’t been to church for 30 years. I ain’t worthy to give your boy a blessing.”
My mother looked back up after another breath and said, “Rulen, I just need you to say the words. God will bless my son.”
I will never forget as Rulen knelt beside my little brother’s head. I can still see his big old pig farmer hands trembling as he placed them on my brother’s head. His prayer was brief. He simply said, “God, I am a wicked men. Please don’t hold my sins against this little boy’s life. In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come back. Amen.”
He didn’t even get the words right. My mother looked up with tears streaming down her face and said “thank you Rulen.” He stood and stepped back, then turned and walked home across the field, his head on his chest.
A few minutes later my little brother took a breath, and another. They bundled him into an ambulance and sped away. My little brother was alive.
I don’t remember my mother telling me to be gracious and giving to others who were less fortunate.
I do remember her leaving every day for weeks to clean and cook at another woman’s house. They had ten kids as I recall. Her husband was out of work, and she was sick and pregnant. I remember her lugging bags of groceries into the car, and large bags of laundry home day after day.
I don’t remember her teaching me to open my home to those in need.
But, I do remember a half-dozen foster kids who came to be my brothers and sisters. These were not wards of the state. These were lost kids, kids who had been kicked out of their homes, abandoned and often abused. My mother wrapped her arms and her love around them, and loved them back to normalcy.
I will never forget one Christmas eve when I was about seventeen. We were sitting around the lit tree reading the Christmas story in Luke when the phone rang. In those days you didn’t just let it ring. Every call was important. My sister answered it. My mother left and there was a whispered conversation. I finally heard her say, “well of course!” My sister drove off into the night and my mother returned to us.
“You may not remember Jeanne. She’s an inactive girl. She just called from a gas station about a mile from her home. She has been kicked out of her home, and Cecile is on her way to get her. She’s cold and frightened, and we’re going to let her stay with us for as long as it takes. OK?”
We all nodded. My father suggested we go through the presents we had purchased for each other and each of us find one we could relabel and give to Jeanne. We immediately began naming the things we had purchased for each other. We found many things suitable for our sudden guest.
When Jeanne arrived I was surprised to see that she was my age. She was shivering and wet. She had no coat and only thin slippers on. She was clutching a paper bag to her chest with everything she owned in it. My mother whisked her upstairs where a hot bath was running. We didn’t see her again that evening.
Christmas morning Jeanne did not come down. She didn’t want to interrupt our Christmas. My mother brought her into the room pulling on her arm. She sat as far away from the tree as possible and hung her head so that her long red hair hid her face.
I will never forget the look on Jeanne’s face as Dad read the tag on a large gift “To Jeanne from Santa” and handed her the first gift of Christmas. She shook her head so Dad set the package in her lap. Another gift soon followed, then another. She didn’t open them. She just sat there with a stunned expression on her tear-streaked face.
“Why don’t you open them, dear?” My mother asked her.
I still remember her reply. “This is the first Christmas I can remember where I have had a present to open on Christmas morning. I don’t want to open them and have this moment end.”
I also remember that Jeanne lived with us for years, and how beautiful she was the day she left our home to be married in the temple.
I don’t remember all of the things she told me.
I just remember who she was, and how she lived, and I believed every word she didn’t say.
It was Saint Francis of Assisi who said, “Preach the gospel always, if necessary use words.”
This is the power of mothers everywhere, not what you say, but what you are.
We lead our children to where we are, not where we tell them to go. You make them people of faith because you are people of faith. You teach them to be children of Christ because you are children of Christ.
This is the lesson my Mother taught me best and loudest, and I don’t recall her even using words. She was fearless in following the promptings of the Spirit. She lived her life that way. She was and is a true disciple of Christ. If it is right – she is going to do it no matter what.
I have been blessed to know two great Mothers in my lifetime. The one I have been speaking of gave me life, and set my feet upon the straight and narrow way because that was her chosen path. She didn’t send me – I followed her there. I fully expect that when I enter the celestial kingdom, that she will already be there, still showing me the way.
The other Mother I wish to honor is Terri, my wife. Terri has taught me the most important thing I know, which is how to love unconditionally. It wasn’t until I experienced her love, that I could understand why Christ could love me enough to die for me.
Terri is a creature of the Holy Ghost. She constantly amazes me as she receives insights, promptings, direction, answers and guidance hour by hour. She has taught me, and our children, to be fearlessness in doing what is right. She is the most obedient and serving person I have ever known. I have watched her walk in light and truth even when it caused her pain and sacrifice. I’ve watched her give up dreams and ambitions, opportunities and personal joys, all to be obedient to a prompting from the Lord. I have also watched her overcome great obstacles, and walk in hope and peace when she only had her faith to guide her. Everyone who knows her well senses this in her. Her devotion is absolute, and her greatest teaching is who she is.
I honor mothers everywhere. I honor you mothers here today. I do want to disagree with something that was said earlier. It was said that men and women are equal. I believe I can speak for every believing Latter-day Saint father when I say: In matters of faith and family, tenderness and devotion to God, we consider you far superior. We may all be equal in God’s eyes, but in our eyes, we look up to you and admire you and depend upon you.
I thank God for you, for your tender hearts, for your service and faith. I honor you most whose hands are directed by God, whose ears hear the whisperings of the Holy Spirit, whose eyes see into the eternities, and whose hearts are devoted to Christ. What you are is the greatest teaching your children will ever receive. Your faith and love paints glorious views of eternal things youthful eyes see first and see best.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
© May 2011, John M. Pontius, all rights reserved. Non-commercial reproduction permitted.