The sacred calling of mother is conferred upon women by both physical ties through birth and spiritual bonds in sealing ordinances in the temples of God. Primary responsibility for nurturing and teaching are the hallmarks of this duty of love but many times in the growth and development of a child there are other mothers that God uses to shape the lives of His beloved spirit children.
Aunts, grandmothers, mothers of friends, church leaders, and many others can supplement and support the lessons learned at home and in some instances make up for deficiencies there. In teen years as children begin to take those first steps of independence other mothers can provide a safety net and a soft place to fall as children begin to make their own life decisions. One of these sisters impacted my life in a significant way.
At fifteen I was a wannabe rabble rouser; an insecure, rebellious, plaid flannel wearing, grunge rock listening teen that shunned make-up and anything girly. The main interests of my life were the all-consuming quest to date a drummer in a garage band and to be the most sarcastic kid alive. I attended the Young Women activities on Wednesday nights only because my friends were there. I had no use whatsoever for the soft-spoken, floral dress-wearing leaders that wanted to teach us how to quilt and do crafts.
Sundays were much the same with me going to church by force of my own sweet mother. I did my best to be a pain-in-the-you-know-what to the teachers and rarely paid attention to the lessons. I took pleasure in the exasperated looks my behavior elicited from these poor women. It was on one of these Sundays that a new YW President was deposited in our midst. I immediately didn’t like her, mainly because she intimidated me.
Sister J was a stately looking woman with perfectly coiffed silver and black hair. She was immaculately dressed and wore flawlessly executed make-up. It was obvious by the way she carried herself that she was intelligent and confident. She was a powerful presence.
As she walked through the door into our meeting that first Sunday all the usual girlish chatter ceased. She introduced herself in a business-like manner and class went on. I could tell immediately that she was going to put the kibosh on all of my mouthy shenanigans and I was not happy about it.
Weeks passed and true to my prediction the new president brought me into line, but not in the way I had imagined. She firmly but patiently included me in any discussion that was being had and then she listened to what I had to say. She let me know that she expected me to treat her with respect and she returned the favor. She treated me like an adult.
Over the course of the next year the woman I had thought was going to ruin all of my fun turned out to be an unexpected role model and friend. As laurels, our class met at her home every Wednesday night for activities and we loved it. My three best friends and I soon became more than just girls in her class; we became her girls. We were found there other nights as well, watching movies, hanging out, and having gospel discussions.
She was a trusted confidante when it came to boy trouble, friend issues, and questions about the meaning of life, love, and happiness. She avoided giving pat answers and instead took the time to help us understand and learn about God’s love and plan for His children. She helped us gain perspective and rise above the heartbreak and drama of our high school world.
She also had a fabulous sense of humor. When we visited and the hour grew late she would say to us in a deadpan voice “I love you girls, but get out.” Then she would smile and hug us as we went out the door.
As a lover of the arts she took us to Salt Lake City to see the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing Handel’s Messiah in the Tabernacle, something she assured us everyone must do once in her life even if it meant enduring an eight-hour journey in a camper with a malfunctioning toilet. I still have the photo of myself with a Renuzit air freshener stuck to my forehead from that trip, a huge smile on my face.
The following January Sister J bought the car she had been dreaming of all of her life, a white convertible Chrysler LeBaron. She drove it off the lot and immediately picked the four of us up. We then went for a drive over the snowy roads in 13 degree air with the top down. As that frigid wind blew through our hair she smiled bigger than I had ever seen. I felt her love as she shared her life with us.
In no time at all graduation from high school neared. As we prepared ourselves to enter the world, Sister J was right there. Directly after the ceremony the four of us met up at her house for one last hurrah. She encouraged us to cherish the friendships we had made and helped us to understand that things were changing. She was convinced big things were ahead for all of us.
It was near this time of our beginnings that we learned Sister J was approaching an ending. She had been diagnosed with a rare form of adult onset leukemia. It was a slow moving disease and even though it would eventually take her life she assured us there would be many years before that happened.
College, marriages, missions, babies, and work took our little group far from one another, but any chance one of us returned home, a visit to Sister J’s was on the agenda. Wit, wisdom, and love would be dispensed as she related the lessons learned from the difficulties she experienced in the course of her treatments and the pain she so bravely endured.
Then ten short years from her diagnosis she was gone. Once again her girls gathered together to remember her, and laugh, and cry. She was buried on a hilltop overlooking a green valley. She would have loved the wind that blows through your hair in that place. As we stood at her graveside trying to hang on just a little longer you could almost hear her say. “I love you girls, but get out.”
Thomas S. Monson said:
Each of us can be a leader. We need to remember that the mantle of leadership is not the cloak of comfort, but the robe of responsibility. Perhaps our service is to youth. If so, I caution: “Youth needs fewer critics and more models.” One hundred years from now it will not matter what kind of a car we drove, what kind of a house we lived in, how much we had in the bank account, nor what our clothes looked like. But the world may be a little better because we were important in the life of a boy or a girl.
Sister J was important to me and many others. She was an other mother to those she was called to serve, a mother whose love and wisdom shaped the lives of those who came under her care. She was a person who truly followed in the path of the Savior.
Now as one of her girls I find myself in the position to pass her legacy on to the next generation as a mother myself and in my dealings with the children who pass through the doors of my home. Am I taking the time to really listen to them? Am I seeing them as the precious spirit children of God that they are? Do I know that my words, example, humor, and support can have a profound impact on those spirits?
The children in our lives are there for a reason. In His infinite love and wisdom, God knows their needs and has placed them there. Like Sister J, as women we can be an other mother, not taking anything away from the blessed relationship between child and parent but being a support and help in a darkening world. How grateful I am for my mother and the other women who played such a role in my development.
- How do the roles of mothers extend outside flesh and blood relationships?
- What more can you do to have a positive impact on the children in your life?