This was my Mothers Day talk:
I was asked to speak on honoring and sustaining our wives, which is fitting for Mother’s Day. As a prelude I’d like to take some time and reflect on some of the women who shaped me into the man I became, or at least refrained from killing me until I did so.
I was rambunctious as a child, much as I am now, though somewhat less restrained in my manner. I have no doubt that raising me presented its own set of challenges, but I imagine no more than being married to me. I never considered then that it might be less than a joy to have me around all the time, or how daunting the challenges I presented may have been. I briefly entertained the thought that my fourth-grade teacher might even want to adopt me, as I overheard her say to one of the other teachers, “I wish that kid was mine for just one day!” In retrospect, perhaps I misunderstood her intent.
I lived with my mother’s parents for most of my formative years, so my grandmother played a large part in my life; at 4’ 10” and around 80 pounds, she was the disciplinarian of the family and last word of authority. Her name was Christina, but I never heard my grandfather say it. He just called her ‘woman’ for all the years I knew them. I can still see my grandparents’ house, though it has long since been torn down. It was tall and white, with horizontal board cladding, and a perpetually rusty metal roof. I can remember painting that roof several times with that vile silver paint when I was growing up, but it always seemed to look the same. They got indoor plumbing in 1973, thankfully before I moved in with them. Behind the house was an open well, where you drew water from the ground in a bucket. I had a bit of a fear of falling in, but the water was always sweet and cool. The well never went dry that I know of, even in years of drought. It was a good place for a kid to grow up, with 64 acres of hills and woods to roam.
My grandmother was fair, and had a sense of humor, but took zero guff from anyone, ever. When we kids got too far out of line, she’d reach behind a door or piece of furniture and whip out a section of orange Hot Wheels track, and all would immediately be calm again. That was one of those last-resort weapons that never failed to bring peace, sort of the nuclear bomb of corporal punishment. I’m sure there was a demonstration beating at some point to establish its place in the arsenal, but I don’t remember it. Mostly she relied on switches, or at least the threat of them. We never ran from discipline either; she always told us a warning tale about her sister, whose son tried to run to avoid a spanking so she threw half a brick and hit him in the head. We stayed for whatever punishment we earned.
Having been a mother and then raising another brood of children long after her mothering days were supposed to be over, she also had keen instincts concerning when we were hurt or sick or only faking. If she suspected you were faking sick to get out of school or church, she’d take down a bottle of some horrible green liquid from the medicine cabinet and make you take a big dose of it. The words we dreaded as kids: “looks like you need some of the green medicine.” To this day I don’t know what the green medicine was, but it caused a number of miraculous healings in our house over the years. If you were really sick you got to lie on the couch with the cat under a blanket.
Mothers are a special and blessed people. They share a bond and connection with their children that borders on the mystical at times. A new father can sometimes be baffled by the almost supernatural way a mother can tell what a child needs without asking, just from an expression or tone in the voice. A new mother can look at a child from across the room and say “he needs a diaper change”; the father will think “the bag says up to 10 pounds, and I know there can’t be that much in there already”. Mothers simply have natural instincts to help them deal with the challenges of child rearing, and thank heaven for that.
My grandmother could tell if you weren’t really hurt even if you thought you were. The hills around the house where I grew up are steep and green. The house is gone, but the valley is the same. On the east side there is a steep hillside covered with thick trees. Among these trees in one area are many vines that grow far up among the branches so the vines hang down like ropes. Being kids, we would naturally grab one from time to time and swing like Tarzan.
One day when I was about eleven, my brother, sisters and I had a particularly sweet ride going with a vine on that hillside. It was a thick vine, cut loose at the bottom to allow a wide swinging arc over a small gully. We were taking turns swinging out in the air over the gully when my brother’s turn came. He swung out fine, but when he got back to the hillside where we were standing he slid down and the crotch of his pants hooked onto a large knot on the vine, so that he could not get off. Back he swung over the gully, trying to get loose from the vine. In his panic, he let go with both hands to pull at his trousers. At the apex of the arc, the farthest point out, the seam of his pants let go with a loud rip. He flipped off backward, arms flailing, and seemingly in slow motion plummeted downward and crashed facedown to the ground. Leaves and debris blew up around him in a cloud when he hit. He lay motionless as the dust settled around him and we all rushed down the hill to him. My sisters were wailing, convinced he was maimed or worse. They picked him up to drag him to the house, and I ran ahead for help.
My grandmother was snapping green beans at the kitchen table when I burst in, breathless to tell her that my brother was hurt and maybe dead. She jumped up and ran out onto the porch. She stopped and took in the situation. My sisters were coming up the dirt driveway with my brother hanging between them like a wounded soldier, dead leaves and dirt in his hair, pants in tatters around his knees. My grandmother took a long look at this and started laughing. She laughed long and loud, to the point that she had to cling to the porch post for support.
I was outraged that she could laugh at such an obvious tragedy, but slowly began to realize that my brother was not dying. He wasn’t even really hurt; he’d just had the breath knocked out of him. Eventually I would come to see that in that few seconds her experienced mother’s eye had been able to discern his lack of injury, and I would come to admire that. She was a country woman, practical and efficient, and she had immediately evaluated the situation and appreciated the humor in it. My brother survived and is in fact alive and well today.
Through the teaching and example of my grandmothers, I learned what qualities I wanted to have present in myself as an adult. I learned that life is what happens to you, but character is how you respond to those things. That falling down is life, and getting up is living. My grandmother taught us that humility is a trait worthy of respect; that there is no reason to admire those who boast and shout about their own accomplishments. That we should be humble and let the lives we lead speak for themselves. We were taught to be respectful as children; never calling an adult by their first name. We couldn’t even call elected officials by their first name or last name only; we were required to say “President So-and-so”, or “governor so-and-so”. We were taught the value of hard work, and the absolute shame of being considered lazy. Though it was hard at the time, I’m glad I had the benefit of that upbringing.
My other grandmother, my father’s mother, was a strong-willed woman of Native American descent, one of 22 children. She had a great sense of humor and loved to laugh, and always cooked like she was expecting a very large number of people to show up. Coincidentally people often dropped by at dinner time, knowing the food was there. I remember that she cooked a pound of bacon at breakfast every morning. Every Halloween she kept a bread bag full of candy set aside for each grandchild when we stopped by her house to trick-or-treat. She loved her grandchildren, but was not afraid to let us learn things the hard way. We’d be playing at something she’d warned us not to and someone would inevitably get hurt, and she’d just say “What did I tell you?” She taught you the right way to do things then let you make your own mistakes. I remember watching my father cutting weeds on the slope of her front yard. He was in his late forties I’d say, and a bit 'impaired' at the time. He ran into a nest of yellow jackets and got stung, and took offense. He got a hoe and began trying to dig the nest out of the ground, shouting, “come out and fight!” They did. He stood in a cloud of yellow jackets, flailing and cursing, while my grandmother sat on the porch in her rocking chair and laughed. She figured that she had taught him all she could, and he was on his own; she may as well enjoy the humor in it.
These are the women who raised me to the point of adulthood, when I went out on my own at age 18 to join the Army. Though I had seen little of the world, I believe the guidance of these women prepared me and taught me how to conduct myself, to face the adversities and temptations that I would face on my own. I am grateful that I had such good strong women to steer me through my early years; I would be a far different person today without having had that guidance.
Mothers play a vital part in rearing strong men and women, and no matter how far you climb or how powerful you become, your mother is still your mother, and you her child.
When Mary was at the cross, I don’t believe that as she looked up she saw the Savior, but the child she had held and nursed, and taught to walk and speak. She saw her little boy. Even as He hung there, he was concerned for his mother. One of Christ’s last instructions was to ensure that his mother was taken care of. "When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, 'Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, 'Behold, your mother!’" On this mother’s day I express my gratitude and best wishes to the mothers among us, and hope it is a wonderful day for you.
Second to a man’s mother in shaping the way he lives his life is his wife. Second in chronological order, but not always in importance, for many a woman has taken a man to husband and changed his outlook on life and his course in it. A powerful partnership is formed at marriage, and almost anything can be accomplished with the combined efforts of two people pulling in the same direction.
Both my grandfathers showed by example that they respected and honored their wives. I never heard either raise his voice to his wife or treat her without respect, and I have tried to follow that example in my own marriage. I believe I chose well when I married, and still expect my wife to someday catch onto who got the short end of the deal.
I have been married to my wife for 24 years. She has put up with a lot in that time. She left her home and went with me to Germany, to be away from her family for four years. She had our first child in a German hospital, far from her own mother, and stayed alone with that baby while I was away in the Gulf War. She has endured three of my deployments to Iraq, taking care of the family and household while I was away. There won’t be a fourth. Someone recently suggested to me that perhaps the reason we have had such a good marriage is that I have been gone so much, but I choose to believe that it is because we committed early to making it work.I do not claim to be an expert on marriage; I have only been married once, but thanks to the quality of the woman I married, it has been successful. I do not claim to have a better marriage than anyone else, but I do claim to be married to a great companion. An officer once commented to me in the Army that he never heard me say anything bad about my wife and that it impressed him. I told him that I had nothing bad to say about her, and that I have always truly considered her to be the better half of the relationship.
The simple fact is that few of us could function nearly as well as we do without the support of our gracious and loving wives. All too often, we fail to express our appreciation to them; we accept or become used to them without really noticing them. But how can I expect God to honor me and be pleased with my service if I do not honor and cherish my very own companion? Most men worry about being successful in their work, and they spend a great deal of time and effort at it. But I’ve learned through the example of loving, considerate husbands such as my grandfather that to be successful in our work, we first have to be successful in our homes as husbands and fathers.
Too often we give more of our time and attention to our work associates outside the home than we do to our loved ones inside the home. I have come to realize that the work my wife does in our home is more important to me than any work I have done outside our home.
One of the great blessings of having a good wife is that she can be the source of the most basic of all human needs—love. The greatest unconditional love that I have received in my life has been from the good women in my family: my wife, my mother-in-law, my grandmothers, and my daughter. The greatest sustaining influence in my adult years has been the constant, unconditional and absolute love I have felt for my wife. The sacred relationship I share with my companion has been the utmost blessing of my life, and I can’t imagine what my life would have been without having had that blessing. A good woman has a way of bringing out the best in even a good man. It is worth the time for each man to reflect on what he would be without his wife.
We have to sustain our wives, our constant partners in everything they do, from parenting and running the home to education and Church callings. Even when my wife was in the nursery or had a calling related to Relief Society, I helped her make posters and assemble supplies and organize to make her calling easier. They were not my callings, but it was my duty to help my wife where and when I could.
I know the gospel is true, and I know that a considerable part of that gospel is how I treat my wife on an hour-to-hour, day-to-day basis. I believe that none of us can come into full possession of all our powers without an eternal companion. I believe that the ultimate judgment will come to us in terms of what kind of person we have been, what kind of husband and father we have been, and what kind of family we have raised.
Perhaps in these times of stress we can become what we ought to be in our relationships with our wives. Maybe the eternal “every day” causes some of us to be more casual than we ought to be. Of course, we love our wives, but possibly we take them for granted too much of the time. Perhaps too often we fail to express our appreciation to them in little ways. I know I do. We could certainly show more affection and always look upon our companions with love and respect. We can surely be polite and courteous if we try. We can nourish and cherish them.
I leave this with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
"We've all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true." - Robert Wilensky
If carrots are so darn good for your eyes, why do I see so many dead rabbits on the side of the road?