Sunday, May 8, 2011

Speaking in Church

I suppose I'm finally considered an adult, first time ever being asked to speak as one of the main speakers on a subject in a family ward on a special occasion.  In any case, the Bishop requested I speak to address the concerns and feelings of women who were not mothers on mother's day.  He recommended I use as a text the talk on The Eternal Blessings of Marriage by Richard G. Scott.  He requested I cover the subject from the subject material of who women are and how they should be treated.  I didn't end up using Elder Scott's talk much because its all about how to treat one another within marriage and part of my target audience is, shall we say, unmarried women.  And most of what he had to say was about how wonderful marriage was and how we should treat our spouses wonderfully.  Not specifically about the concerns of women without children.  Given that I'm a married man with a child the talk suffered from problems of me having to establish my authority to speak about such concerns and also from cultural balancing issues were I can't talk about the concerns and feelings such women have without brushing up against and possibly being somewhat critical of the cultural dynamics that create those concerns in the first place.  If I don't go far enough I'd be rather irrelevant to actual concerns, if I state the problems with too little delicacy it comes across as an offensive attack on LDS beliefs.

I was only informed of my assignment to write this talk a week and a half ahead of time and only 3 days of that time period were after my finals were done.  So lets say this was a rush production.  I'm very pleased with how it turned out, however, and several members of the ward thanked me for my comments profusely.  Since I figured getting this talk right mattered a lot more than my privacy, I included things that I normally don't talk about.  Several parts I actually changed when I actually went to say them, for instance I said "I think it was a miracle I married such a wonderful woman" instead of leaving it as stated in the original planned text.  This would have been more polished, but I finished it at 1:30 AM on Sunday morning.  So, here is the talk:

After five and a half years of being married, my wife gets to celebrate Mother’s Day today for the first time as a mother.  We had planned to start having children as soon as we had the medical insurance, but soon after getting married we discovered that unless we found a cure for some medical problems we had, we would likely never have any children at all.  With little money, even less medical care, and major life crises that repeatedly interrupted our progress, it was far from certain that Mother’s Day was ever going to be for us instead of just for our parents.  After three years of trying, a lot of prayer, and the help of an excellent doctor we were finally blessed with our little son.  I like to say he’s our little miracle.

There are so many ways he’s our little miracle.  Neither Bonnie Jean or I were likely to marry at all in the first place, the medical condition we faced is rare enough many doctors are unfamiliar with it, and the pregnancy was difficult enough at the end that the doctor had us coming twice a week just to make sure our son’s heart was still beating strong.  As wonderful as our little son is and as much joy as he brings to our hearts, it doesn’t change the reality that miracles don’t always happen.  We like reading of such miracles in the scriptures and there are many examples including the birth of Samuel, Isaac, Samson, John the Baptist, and arguably even Christ himself.  But there are some things I’d like to point out about these miraculous births.  First, those mothers weren’t blessed with children because they became more righteous.  The scriptures explicitly describe these women as being extremely righteous and several of them had lived long lives without children before the miracle happened.  Second, the scriptural pattern suggests that if the Lord hadn’t had in mind for them an assignment to raise a specific child to do a specific thing, they would have remained childless.

Though having children is something we yearn for, not everyone gets the same assignments in life.  Speaking of children in this way reminds me of when I applied for a mission call.  When they raised the bar they not only decided to raise the spiritual bar, but also the medical requirements so that mission presidents could focus on leading groups of missionaries and not patients.  Even though my medical problems are mild enough no one would have dreamed they’d disqualify me under the older rules, no matter how many months I spent trying to convince the missionary department otherwise, I was honorably excused from serving.  The Lord didn’t have that calling and assignment in mind for me and not because I had committed any moral transgression.  It was still difficult to live with at times because in the past we let serving a mission practically define what it meant to be a worthy spiritual 19 year old man in the church.  Similarly, I think we accidentally let motherhood be the definition of worthy womanhood.

No one would criticize the prophetess Deborah, who helped Barak to defeat the Canaanite King Sisera, because we remember her for something other than the children that we don’t even know if she ever had.  What matters is that she received assignments from the Lord and fulfilled them.  Today on Mother’s Day I think we should pay tribute not just to the women who have had the opportunity to be mothers, but also to all women who have touched our lives for good.  From my own life, I can still recall a seminary teacher I had who was so Christ like that it didn’t even matter what she taught or what she said in her lessons, I could learn how to be a better person just by watching her actions.  The compassion she would express in describing someone, the comments she would make about our spirituality, and the love she would express in describing some of the more disruptive students in our class would tell me volumes about how to love people.  I knew another woman who recently passed away as a consequence of an epileptic seizure who used to come to church wearing a bicycle helmet to protect her head if she fell during a seizure.  The helmet always had flowers in it.  If there was anyone who could take a problem in life in stride with grace and dignity it was her.  Her gentleness, happiness, and love she always seemed to be overflowing with brought happiness to those around her.  She and her husband were always ready to serve, as I can well remember when one of the major portions of the work we had to do for my eagle scout only worked because they helped me.  I can also remember an elderly mother and daughter in our ward who were probably the best geneologists I’ve ever known.  They used their own family names to send our ward youth to the temple for monthly baptism trips on a regular basis.  We had a good-sized mutual program and probably cleared through several hundred names each time.  When the trips stopped if I recall it was because the bishop felt some of us youth were too rowdy for the temple, not because we had run out of names.  I can remember my trombone tutor who said she always had wanted to either have a lot of children or teach a lot of children.  She never had the children, but made up for it with the many she taught.  She demanded excellence and enriched my life as I learned to appreciate music and play the trombone.  She didn’t only teach in public schools and in private tutoring but also organized trombone choirs and sponsored me into summer bands and competitions that I couldn’t have entered easily because I was home schooled.  We as a church have many opportunities to celebrate the goodness, the accomplishments, and the contributions made by the women in our midst married or unmarried, mothers or not mothers.  From the writing of the hymnbooks we use, the founding of the primary, the vital work of the Relief Society, and many other contributions that women have made we cannot forget the women in the church.  We honor women who sacrifice so much as mothers, but just like for Deborah sometimes God might have in mind a different kind of miracle in mind.

In Isaiah chapter 54 we read:
Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord.
Though Isaiah was describing the house of Israel and the latter day church as a whole, this promise is a powerful reminder that no matter what seems to be the situation now, in the eternities God has not forgotten us and is eagerly and powerfully desiring to bless us. The future of the House of Israel couldn’t be predicted from how many children Abraham had when he was 85 years old, so God’s approval and future blessings of us can’t be guessed just by looking at whether we are married and blessed with many children.

When I was a teen, my mother sternly told me that if she ever heard of me disrespecting any girl that I would be in the biggest trouble ever.  My father was an excellent example in respecting my mother, so I tried to take the message to heart.  I started watching my leaders and teachers in the ward to see how they treated and talked about their wives and former girlfriends.  One of the most prominent good examples I saw was my seminary teacher and her husband.  I got to know them fairly well over the years because besides being my seminary teacher my father and I were their home teachers and their family company later hired me.  I never once saw either of them say a disrespectful word against the other or any moment where frustrations seemed to become more important to them than their affection.  I’ve tried to imitate the intense goodness and affection they showed and also the level of respect my father has shown my mother ever since I can remember.  While marriage is a marvelous place to build and polish the skills of love and self-control, we shouldn’t forget that the basic principles of treating one another with respect are the same in and out of marriage.  My mother’s admonition that I had to treat all women with respect wasn’t just proper because I might marry one of them or because it was practice for how I’d treat my wife later.  It was important because she wanted me to be the kind of person who didn’t feel that I could disrespect a woman just because she was a woman.  May all the women in our lives receive the courtesy, respect, and honor from us that they deserve as children of our Heavenly Father.


Bobbi said...

Wow. Really good. I think you did a great job on this talk.
Thank you for sharing.

Kristine N said...

Wonderful talk. Thanks for sharing it. Bonnie Jean said you were giving the mother's day talk and I was curious how it came out. Glad it went well.

sleepyhamster said...

I sniffled slightly reading this. You did a wonderful job crunched for time or not!