OF MISSIONS AND MOTHERHOOD

IMG_0147I served as a full-time volunteer church missionary for 18 months in the Japan Okayama Mission. Yesterday my oldest daughter was called to serve as a missionary in the Hungary Romania Mission. Anticipating my daughter’s upcoming mission brings back a flood of memories and miracles from my own time of service.

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My mission was a wonderful and challenging experience. Learning to speak Japanese, riding a bike, and coping with the physical and emotional aspects of missionary life were soul-stretching yet spiritually fulfilling opportunities. Several times during moments of difficulty I naively thought to myself, “Serving a mission is the hardest thing I will ever do!”

Now I am married and have ten children. The physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges I have faced as a mother are even greater than those I experienced as a missionary! However, I have learned that motherhood is a mission, and I am grateful everyday for the lessons I learned as a missionary which helped to prepare me for motherhood.

IMG_2983Preparation

At the beginning of my missionary service I entered the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. At the MTC I spent nine hours a day intensely studying Japanese and principles of missionary work. After arriving in Japan, I continued to study each morning. Learning was a key factor in successful missionary work.

Since becoming a mother, I have often wished for a different MTC, a Motherhood Training Center, where I could have studied in preparation for the challenges of parenting.

Although there is not a physical MTC where mothers go for instruction, mothers do have many gospel resources available. Regular attendance at church and the temple provide learning opportunities. General conference addresses, scriptures, and church lesson manuals contain instructions and counsel for mothers.  Although our uninterrupted personal time is often short, mothers can find creative times to study the gospel.

Arising early to attend the temple, reading Church magazines in the car while waiting to pick up a child, or studying the scriptures while the baby is napping are just a few of the moments I have found to squeeze gospel study into my busy schedule. No matter how short, daily learning has blessed me as a parent, just as it did as a missionary.

1617586_738920106155020_2375143222699830656_o.jpgSacrifice

Serving a mission requires sacrifice. Leaving friends and family for 18 months or two years, financially paying for a mission, and taking time away from educational studies are sacrifices many missionaries make. On a mission I learned that the blessings of sacrifice often come later, just as seeds take time to grow and bear fruit. Although I returned from my mission over twenty years ago, I am only now fully enjoying many of the blessings of my service.

Recently, I met a young woman I had taught in Japan, who has since been baptized, married in the temple, and is raising a beautiful family in the gospel. Seeing her success and feeling her testimony was a sweet and fulfilling moment which came many years after my service to her.

Mothers also make sacrifices – physical, financial, and personal – to bear and raise children. These sacrifices can also bring future fruits of joy. I have faith that my hours spent doing laundry, fixing meals, and caring for children will eventually yield results as I see my children grow and mature.

Learning to trust in forthcoming fruit as a missionary has also taught me to “wait upon the Lord” (Psalm 37:9) until my motherhood sacrifices are brought to fruition. The sacrifices of both missionary work and motherhood are minimal when compared with the sweet fruits of service.

IMG_3514Teaching

The Japanese word for missionary work or proselyting is “dendo.” Literally translated, the Kanji characters mean “show the way.” I enjoyed teaching the gospel and “showing the way” to investigators and friends on my mission. My purpose as a mother is similar to my purpose as a missionary. I “show the way” to my children, teaching them the gospel, and helping them along the path that leads back to our Heavenly Father.

I remember standing by the font watching one of my daughters being baptized. As she entered the water, I had a sudden flashback of watching a sweet Japanese investigator being baptized. It occurred to me that I had taught my young daughter the gospel, just as I had taught my investigator, and the joy I felt at my daughter’s baptism was the joy I had felt as a missionary.1836707_738920099488354_524628182105384612_o.jpgScriptures

On my mission I kept a quote by Heber J. Grant written on a scrap of paper and tucked into my scriptures. “The Book of Mormon… is the greatest missionary that we have…” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant, p.19) Years later, I still carry this quote in my scriptures. Missionaries use the scriptures daily in teaching the gospel.

Mothers can and should use the scriptures too as a daily companion in teaching our children and ourselves. We generally have the privilege of being the very first people to introduce children to the scriptures, just as missionaries are often the first to introduce investigators to the scriptures. Sitting by a child, first reading to them, then helping them read on their own, and then watching them have personal scripture study is a very fulfilling part of motherhood.

IMG_2986Gospel Discussions

While riding our bikes on the streets of Japan, my companion and I would often stop and visit with the people we passed. These spontaneous missionary discussions were a regular and fulfilling part of our work. Although we often never met the person we visited with again, I felt we were planting seeds, which could someday grow into a full testimony of the gospel. Perhaps that person on the street would meet with missionaries or Church members in the future, and eventually come to a full understanding of the truth.

Children, too, need spontaneous religious discussions. As mothers, we can participate in gospel discussions whenever they are appropriate or necessary in our children’s lives. I have enjoyed deep religious discussions with my children at random times such as while fixing dinner, doing yard work, driving to or from activities, and late at night.

Although these discussions are almost always unplanned, parents can use them as opportunities to plant gospel seeds in our children’s hearts.

IMG_2990The Spirit

During my mission I often recalled a phrase I had read in the Missionary Guide. President Ezra Taft Benson said, “Without the Spirit, you will never succeed, regardless of your talent or ability.” (Seminar for new mission presidents, 25 June 1986, Preach My Gospel, p.176)

One of the sweetest joys I experienced as a missionary was learning to feel and follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. When I did, I always felt peace and joy, and saw success in my missionary work.

A wise mother once counseled me to follow the promptings of the Spirit—no matter how small—in raising my children. These promptings have come as a mother just as they did as a missionary – in quiet times, during unexpected moments, and usually in a still, small voice.

Often the promptings require immediate action on behalf of my children. One day I was prompted to pick up my son early from school and spend some personal time with him. Another time I felt impressed to keep my daughter home from an activity. Recently I felt inspired to sit by a certain child during Sacrament meeting. Whenever I have followed these promptings, I have seen and felt blessings as a parent and in the lives of my children. Following the spirit has been a comforting and vital tool in my work as a mother.

Teaching investigators to feel and recognize the spirit was another important task of a missionary. The spirit is usually present at missionary lessons. Taking extra care to identify the feelings of the spirit for investigators allowed them to recognize the spirit on their own, and made their gospel conversion even deeper.

One of the sweetest tasks of parenthood is helping our own children feel and recognize the spirit. Taking time during family home evening, family council, family testimony meeting, or spontaneous family discussions to identify the sweet peace of the spirit has led to meaningful family experiences.

Feeling the spirit with my children has been sweet, just as it was with my investigators. Watching my children identify the spirit on their own has given me additional joy in knowing that they are capable of this important tool for spiritual success.

IMG_0145Hard Work and Joy

Before leaving on my mission, I often imagined that missionaries lead a life of drudgery: knocking on doors, experiencing continuous rejection, and spending long hours laboring. However, even on the very first day of my mission, I thought to myself, “Missionary work is fun! Am I supposed to be enjoying my mission this much?” I discovered that each day on a mission had moments of work as well as joyful times. I truly enjoyed the many (and mostly) happy experiences as a missionary.

Motherhood can be the same way. When we take time to enjoy our everyday life – even when it is filled with mundane tasks – we can truly be the best mothers possible.

In addition, I learned as a missionary that the most discouraging moments in life are usually right before the most happy and fulfilling times. Each of the baptisms I saw as a missionary was preceded with surprising difficulties, including hard rejections, contention with my companion, and even a typhoon!

When I get discouraged as a mother, I reflect on the emotional ups and downs of my mission, and recall that opposition is a sure sign of coming success. My missionary experiences have taught me to press on as a mother until difficult times improve.

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Finally, with the new, younger missionary age and the increased interest in youth serving missions, mothers have the opportunity to make their homes a Missionary Training Center. Sister Julie B. Beck, former Relief Society general president stated, “Think of the power of our future missionary force if mothers considered their homes as a pre-missionary training center. Then the doctrines of the gospel taught in the MTC would be a review and not a revelation. That is influence; that is power.” (Conference Address, October 2007).

President Gordon B. Hinckley emphasized that the work of righteous women, “Must begin in their own homes.” (Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, Jan. 10, 2004, 20) Family home evening, family scripture study, family prayer, and spontaneous gospel discussions can all be “missionary training” for our children.

I am grateful for the soul-stretching and eternally fulfilling experience of serving as a full-time missionary. My mission prepared me for the challenges and work of motherhood, and the fulfilling and important role of teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to my own children. Now I see not only the fruits of my missionary work—but also of my motherhood—fulfilled as my own daughter goes forth to serve.

IMG_0147My purpose as a missionary and as a mother was and is the same: To bring souls unto Jesus Christ.

LESSONS FROM MY LAST: What My Final Baby Taught Me

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I became pregnant with my 10th child when I was 41 years old.

Initially, I was totally mortified. In fact, I felt like a terrible disaster had occurred in my life. I dreaded my first prenatal visit. I avoided the grocery store. I was hesitant to face my cute, skinny friends who were already finished with bottles and diapers. I was convinced that my pregnancy—and our upcoming child—meant the end of my independence and freedom.

I wondered how I could go into public at my age carrying a carseat. I worried about the impact of another baby to my already busy family—our nine older children and my husband. I felt exhausted at the prospect of adding one more child to our home. In short, my 10th pregnancy sent me into a spiral of self-doubt. Surely, I reasoned, this baby would be nothing but a burden for our family.

But I was wrong. In fact, I was dead wrong. My pregnancy was not a tragedy, it was a tender mercy. My 10th baby was an incredible blessing that I did not anticipate.

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Now my baby is almost 4 years old. He is everything to me. He is everything to my husband and to our nine other children. He is the light of our lives. We can’t begin to imagine a world without him.

IMG_1633.JPGHe is the sparkle on our cold, dark mornings. He is a ball of blankets to hug and hold when we are lonely. He is the first person we all want to see when we come home after a long day. His toddler words and laughs and antics are the softest and sweetest and most comforting. He is the last smile we seek at night. He is the spice in our world. We love him dearly.

IMG_2138.JPGAnd, in addition to the fact that we adore him, all of our previous parenting skills have gone completely out the window. No more motherhood theories. No more trainings or teachings or natural consequences. He eats his ice cream first. He sleeps in our bed. He gets McDonalds nuggets for lunch. He stays up past 8pm. In fact, raising our baby is SO. MUCH. FUN.

IMG_1579.JPGWhen he wants a toy at the grocery store, I buy it. When he needs new shoes, we pick out the cutest ones. When he asks to ride the merry-go-round, I let him. This is my last chance at parenting, and I aim to enjoy every minute. Continue reading

Take a BREAK! (Every Mom needs one…)

The most constant element of motherhood is EXHAUSTION! It doesn’t matter if you have one child or ten children, parenthood is demanding.

Strings that are ALWAYS taut eventually lose their ability to bounce back, and mothers are no different.

I recommend taking a break AT LEAST twice a year! Spend time with your hubby, by yourself, and as a couple. AND, rejuvenate your whole self: spiritually, physically, mentally, and socially.

TRUE LOVE – A Tribute to my Valentine

I love love. Not in some sissy way or anything like that. I love love because it’s real and sustaining.

I first met my husband when he and I were both 18.
I know. We were terribly young. “Love, like youth, is wasted on the young.”

It was love at first sight. Really.

Neither one of us admitted it during the following years of our courtship, but I would have married him that first day if he would’ve asked.

He was that good. And that real. And that solid. And that true. That’s how love should be.

Continue reading

Family Calendaring: One Key to a GREAT Year

Last week we held FRANCIS FAMILY FROLICS. What’s Family Frolics, you ask? It’s our annual family planning conference.

All successful businesses and organizations make an annual plan–and our families should, too! Remembering the past, calendaring for the future, and setting goals are all keys to a meaningful and productive year.

Our planning sessions (Family Frolics) are simple. They generally have three elements: -Remember the past (record favorite happenings from the previous year),

-Establish a Vision (set goals for the new year), and

-Formulate a Plan (create a calendar).

That’s it! Simple, right?

Well, that’s almost all we do. Mingled amongst our discussions and planning, we PLAY!

This year we embarked on a cross-country adventure, a first! Now that we no longer have babies, we felt that all of our kids could survive on skis, and we were right!

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We had a blast enjoying the beautiful Utah mountains, and the adventure was a perfect memory during Francis Family Frolics.

Check out my Vlog for more tips on holding your own fun Family Frolics.

Christmas Change – The Miracle of Scrooge

Published in the Deseret News, December 26, 2018. Read it here.

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This year marks 175 years since the publication of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

During December one year we read the iconic story for our early-morning family scripture study. Don’t worry, we weren’t apostatizing. We continued to read from the Bible; but my husband also wanted to share Dickens’ touching tale with our children.

I loved hearing the familiar words as I made breakfast each day. The old English terms and phrases were delightful and filled with humor and meaning. In fact, as Dickens wished in his original preface, the tale haunted our house “pleasantly” during the month.

Although the story is familiar, it brought on new life that year. In addition to our daily reading, several of us also attended the theatre production. Lines from the book that had become dear to us were shared dramatically throughout the show.

Of course, Ebenezer Scrooge is the villain – and hero – of the story. The descriptions of Scrooge are comical but clear. “The cold within him froze his own features.” “He carried his own low temperature always about with him.” And, “even the heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet…often ‘came down’ handsomely, and Scrooge never did.” In other words, Scrooge is cold and hard. Continue reading

The Christmas Cookie Secret

Why spend effort and energy mixing and making and cutting and baking goodies during the holidays? My mom taught me a valuable lesson with her Christmas Cookie Secret! Memories–not money–build families! Merry Christmas!

And here are a few of our “favorite” Christmas cookie recipes! The ones my Mom used… Enjoy!

Papa’s Song: The Story Behind the Story

Papa’s Song Booklet

A young girl, torn between childhood and adulthood, finds comfort in her father’s Christmas lullaby. This short sweet story includes the Christmas Lullaby sheet music by Cy Coleman and Peggy Lee. Papa’s Song is sure to become a Christmas classic for any heart longing to be home for the holidays.

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Our family Christmas tradition, “Papa’s Song,” started over 40 years ago. Since then it has been translated into 23 languages and shared around the globe. Hear the story behind the story from the original Papa, my Dad!

Mothers of the Mayflower

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One hundred two passengers. Twenty-four children. Nine cats. One cargo ship, ninety feet long. Sixty-four days on a stormy sea. A possible recipe for disaster—at least in this day and age.

If I had set sail with my children, I would have preferred a private room, catered meals, and disposable diapers. And I would have requested a cruise liner instead of a 1620’s trading vessel. Continue reading