Saturday, January 16, 2010

Lessons from my Mother Part 1

My mother: Joyce Elaine Splaine Swenson

From my earliest memory my mother was always my dearest friend. Mom had the ability to create a place of safety and love for any who ventured into her arms of influence. When I was with her I felt safe, deeply heard, and totally adored. She gave me the confidence to try anything because she believed so strongly in me. She was the first person I turned to share any joy or sadness and she would rejoice or cry WITH me. My greatest desire growing up was to NEVER disappoint my mom. So many of my decisions to do what was right were because I trusted in the "words" of my mother. It was her love and total trust in me that gave me the power to choose what was right and withstand the pressure of non-member friends, until I got my own personal testimony. Without question, my mother was the greatest influence for good in my life!

Exquisite Pain...Exquisite Joy

A poignant experience from my early youth; when we moved from Los Angeles to Tulare, California I was 5 years old. Our family was thrilled to be there. It was in the San Joaquin Valley and we lived surrounded by farmland and cotton fields. It was a short drive to rivers and lakes. It had irrigation ditches around almost every field; a perfect combination for summer fun.

In Kindergarten I met a boy in my class whose name was Eric Sturgeon. We became instant friends. Not so much because of his glowing personality, but because he lived on a chicken farm and had his OWN HORSE!!! Did it get any better that this? We spent hours playing army and make believe at the chicken farm. Best of all, whenever possible, we would ride his old, gentle, bay horse.

One day in the middle of summer it was SO HOT. In Tulare it frequently got above 100 degrees. Eric, his younger brother Dick and I decided to go swimming in the irrigation ditch. It was thick with mud and debris. When we emerged from the ditch you couldn't even see who we were hidden under all the mud. Eric's mom took one look at us and told us to strip off our clothes and hose ourselves down or we weren't getting near the house. So that's what we did. It ended up being a hilarious game; all three of our naked bodies running around to avoid getting squirted by the freezing cold hose water.

I never even thought about it again for about a year until my oldest brother, a typical bratty 12-year-old, was working banding his newspapers for his paper route when he made an insinuating comment to me about Eric and I being naked together. First it shocked me. I'd never even thought about it that way. Then I was SO EMBARRASSED! I felt my whole body washed in shame and immediately my first thought was how mortified I would be if Mom ever found out.

That planted seed of shame continued to grow in the secret places of my heart. It came to a point by time I was seven, that every night in my prayers I would beg Father to forgive me. I wasn't quite sure what I'd done, but Marc had let me know how 'bad" I was. I lived in mortal fear that he would get mad at me and then get even by telling my parents what I had done. So for months I tried to avoid Marc. I can even remember every night in bed counting the weeks until I got baptized, figuring I would finally be washed clean.

One night, a few months before my eight birthday I was lying in bed when I heard my brother tell my mom that I had been naked with Eric. Oh what shame I felt!!! I wanted to disappear, cease to exist, so I wouldn't have to face my mom. In a moment I heard my door open and my mother slip in to sit on my bedside. In a quiet voice she asked me what had happen. I started to cry and then blurted out the whole story in one breath... It was as if I had lanced an infection; the relief was physical and immediate!

There. Now she finally knows.

Quietly my mom gathered me in her arms and told me there was nothing I needed to be ashamed about. We had done nothing wrong. Can I even begin to express the joy I felt and the HUGE weight that was lifted off my small shoulders. There was instant peace. And oh the overwhelming love I felt for my mother who had just rescued me from my shame and redeemed my soul. For the first time in months my sleep was undisturbed.

It was later, when I first read Alma the Younger's account in the Book of Mormon of being forgiven for all his sins, that I remembered this experience as a child. I realized, metaphorically, that I, too, had experienced the exquisite pain of sin and I had tasted the exquisite joy that comes in being redeemed from that sin. As I got older I appropriately was able to put my sins and afflictions at the feet of the Savior. But oh that first sin of my was put into the hands of my angel mother.

My mom was quiet and unassuming (unlike me!). She was one of the only people I've ever known that simply had no guile. She never made a fuss but just quietly went around doing good. She held every major calling in church; Ward and Stake Relief Society President, Young Women's President, Primary President. It was in her callings that those women that served with her got to know and see what her family already knew. She was a precious jewel! They became her life long friends who watched over her in her final illness of Alzheimer's.

A Chance to Say Yes

I remember watching her, as a teenager, serving as Relief Society President call women to help take in dinners for a needy family in our ward. The women she was calling were ones that I knew would turn her down. After watching her go through a list of several names I finally I asked her why she would bother calling them, knowing what their answer would be to her request. Her reply was vintage Mom, "I always call them first. I want to give them the opportunity to say YES". That lesson I've continue to implement in my callings to this day.

The first time my mom saw Jim it was her comment about what a cute red-head boy he was that made me look twice at him. It took only minutes of being with my mom before Jim was smitten and quietly slipped into her arms of safety, never to leave. She saw all that was good and great in Jim. She loved him from the beginning, unconditionally, and gave him the ultimate gift in his life; an empathetic listening ear and a place to find peace. In turn Jim loved her as much as he loved me; with all his heart.

Grandmothering My Children

Even after we married, my mom continued to be my dearest woman friend (Jim now shared the title with her of "best friend"). Some of my most precious memories were with her by my side at the birth of my babies. I still vividly remember my mom standing at the sink and showing me how to safely bathe my first baby and how to wrap the blanket so she would feel snug and secure. I felt so inadequate and overwhelmed. I was so grateful to have an "expert" there to show me how. She was emotionally wired to be a mother. It was the most natural thing for her. She made it look easy. Having her there took away my fears. I remember the intense joy of watching her hold my babies. Oh how she loved each one of them. With each new birth I became more grateful, wondering how other young moms could ever bear a child without having MY mom's help. She would come and just quietly take over the mothering of my older children, allowing me to shower my new baby with all my undivided love and attention. What a gift!

Oh how my children loved their grandma. They felt the same unconditional love and safety that we had felt our whole lives. She never had to pull them in. They simply gravitated to her like sunflowers follow the sun. She never was without one or two of them on her lap. When my mother died, my sisters and I, along with Jami and Tani (her two oldest endowed granddaughters) dressed her for burial. I’ll never forget the sight of Jami's bowed head over my mother's hands as she covered those worn and blemished hands with makeup and with her tears. Jami told us how dear those hands were to her. She had felt the Master’s love in the kindness of my mother’s gentle hands.

Mother's Day Talk "1991"

While raising my children there were many years I struggled with the feelings of inadequacy because I couldn't mother like my mom. For me she had always been the epitome of what a perfect mother should look like and I didn’t match up! It was the greatest source of discouragement in my life. Then a couple months before I turned 40 I was asked to give a Mother’s Day talk in sacrament meeting. The timing couldn’t have been worse. It was at the height of my discouragement. How in the world could I stand up and talk to our ward about what a mother should be? I came so close to saying no. How eternally grateful I am that I didn’t refuse. It ended up being one of the greatest epiphanies of my life. I offer up a summary from notes of the talk I gave on Mother’s Day 1991.

I had the most enviable and remarkable experience growing up, of coming home from school to an adoring mom, telling her all my news of the day and then walking through my house, out the back door, up the steps into my grandma’s back door to repeat the news to the eager ears of my grandmother. My whole growing up life I was surrounded by an abundance of love, nurturing and support.

As far back as I can remember I thought my mother was perfect. She was the epitome of the ideal mom. All I ever wanted to be when I grew up was a mother just like her. Can you imagine my utter surprise as I grew and had children of my own that, as a mother, I was nothing like my mom?

Where my mom was slow to speak, I was quick to respond. Where she was quiet and reserved, I was noisy and extroverted. Where she made nothing a big deal, everything was a big deal when I did it. She was steady. I was enthusiastic. She had unending patience. Mine definitely ENDED!!!

This realization caused me great discouragement, even despair.

I’m so grateful for this talk. It has caused me to ponder and I’ve had some insights that have allowed me to see more clearly that I would like to share.

Two experiences: The first experience was when we moved to Centerville Utah. I’d never lived in wards that were made up of all close neighbors. Our ward was filled with fine, testimony-filled women who were anxiously engaged in doing good. Yet I was blown away at the amount of depression among them. It baffled me! As I served with them and came to know them more intimately I realized a huge portion of their discouragement came from them comparing other’s best public behavior to their own worst private behavior. It was such a disservice to themselves and completely skewed view.

The second experience came while recently reading the book “Mothers of the Prophets”. What interested me most was how diversified their backgrounds were and what different personalities each of the mothers had. They brought their own unique way to mothering and approaching life’s situations. But there was the same consistent golden thread that ran through each of their lives. Every one of them had total dedication to their family and commitment to teaching them the principles of the gospel. How they did that, well that was individual to them.

As my mother related in her talk previous to mine, I had a great grandmother who instilled in her children, specifically my grandmother, a love for the gospel and a desire to serve. My grandmother taught it to Mom and she passed it on to me. It is my stewardship, in this glorious line of Motherhood, to now pass it on to my own children---and on it goes—the creation of an unbroken eternal family. BUT HOW I DO THIS HAS TO BE LEFT UP TO ME!

This is what I’ve just recently come to know—the Lord entrusted me to my mother because she had the very keys to unlock my soul. She was exactly what I needed. To my great surprise I’ve come to realize that I’ve been entrusted with my own special spirits and chosen to be their mother because of my individual talents and abilities, what I can bring. I needed my mother and my children need ME!!! Who would have imagined?

This month in Guidepost Magazine there was an article on Motherhood. The author was asked by a friend if she should have a child. The author said she contained her natural enthusiasm and simply replied, “It will change your life.” The author reflected in the article how much deeper that change is than anyone could imagine. She talked about how her heart was now totally vulnerable, how she had become a she-bear in her desire to protect, how logic becomes illogically, always second guessing decision. She realized it was the first time in her life that she was totally selfless and that her child’s accomplishments meant more than her own. It gave her a added and deeper bond to other women who shared a mother’s heart. She closed expressing the joy that came at trivial times that was so great it literally hurt.

For me it’s been that and so much more. Only in acting so completely with Heavenly Father can we experience this kind of growth- in our children but mostly in ourselves. Motherhood, for me, has been the great magnifier. It’s magnified my faults- brought them to stand right before my face and made me attend to and repent of them. It has offered me my greatest lessons in humility and complete recognition of my dependence on the Lord’s guidance. But it has also magnified my spirit by teaching me the greatest lessons in mortality that could be learned in no other way.

Finally, at almost forty, I am starting to believe my mom when she tells me she’s not perfect. But Mom, for the child I was growing up, you were PERFECT. You taught me to love you and Dad, to love my brothers and sisters, to love the church. But most important, you taught me to love and trust in my Savior, Jesus Christ.

So Mom that is what I now must do, in my own unique way. I must pass on that legacy to my own children, not despairing because it’s not your way, but rejoicing in the gifts and talents the Lord’s given to me; doing it the way I must. This I can do!

(Lessons from my Mother to continue)


  1. Your epiphany from your talk was correct: you needed to be you for your children. While I love Grandma Joyce, she isn't you. She could not have been my "perfect" mother because you are what I needed. I love gma for allowing and nurturing you so that you can be "my" Shmartie! I love you both eternally!

  2. This post brought joy, tears, lonliness for my grandma and excitement for future posts to come. We are going to get to know you and our posterity in a way I have always dreamed of. Thanks for passing grandma's and your legacy on by recording it for us.

  3. Moms and Grandmas are the best!
    Unfortunatly they are also the most underappreciated, silent servents that do the most for us, who often go unrealized until they are not there to help, or cheer, to laugh with, or just to hear us. Fortunately their legacy lives on through us, we get to try to fill thier shoes, we then TRY to be the great parents that our kids THINK we are.
    Great post, you had great parents, I am so glad I got to know them and feel privliged I got to be a part of thier lives,
    cant wait to