The most service I ever do is the day in and day out work as a mother. Tending to the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of children can be physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausting.
Just this morning after helping the children with school, talking to a high school counselor, and doing some laundry, I held Ganache as he cried and screamed for over an hour. Hershey had decided to try to put a small button pin (like those you pin to your shirt) the size of a nickel into Ganache’s mouth while he laid on the floor on his back playing with his toys. He started choking which made us all jump up to see what the matter was. The pin was extracted from his mouth but I think it scratched his throat and mouth – hence the screaming and crying. Nothing could console him. I just held him in my arms and spoke softly and sang and bounced until he finally cried himself to sleep. He is fine now, playing happily and smiling, but it was exhausting and emotionally draining not being able to console him. And that was all before lunch!
I also just finished fishing out all of the things Hershey decided to fill up the toilet with. She emptied a whole bathroom drawer in there!
Mothers, our work is never done. It is service of the highest order caring for God’s children. I love how Elder Jeffrey R. Holland puts it, “Through these years, mothers go longer on less sleep and give more to others with less personal renewal for themselves than any other group I know at any other time in life. . . Do the best you can through these years, but whatever else you do, cherish that role that is so uniquely yours and for which heaven itself sends angels to watch over you and your little ones.”
I’ve had the following experience typed up for a while waiting for a good time to share it. I think now is the time. It is an experience that occurred to Rebecca Bean. She was called, with her husband Willard, in 1915 to serve a mission for the church to Palmyra, NY. Initially they were to serve for 5 years but that turned into twenty-four years. During those years Rebecca and Willard tried to smooth relations with those opposed to any Mormons coming back to Palmyra where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had been established in 1830. It was hard work but Willard and Rebecca were able to overcome the hatred and bigotry to become a respected and loved family in the community. They also hosted thousands of missionaries who would stop by on their way home from their missions to Europe or Northeastern America or neighboring Canadian provinces. Rebecca fed them and housed them, day after day, year after year. Only once in those 24 years did she take a break to visit Utah with her children.
You can imagine the toll it would take for a mother to not only serve her family but countless others – usually without prior notice – every single day. Here is Rebecca’s experience as told in the book A Lion and A Lamb:
Almost every afternoon or evening someone would arrive on the front porch of the Smith Home and knock on the door. Rebecca would leave the kitchen in the rear of the home and answer the door. This day was no exception.
“Sister Bean, my name is Elder Crosby,” the visitor said, thrusting his hand forward into hers, “and this is Elder Rasmussen, Elder Pearson, and Elder McKay. Behind them are Elders Smoot and Warner. We have finished our missions and are on our way back to Utah. Is it possible to spend the evening here before catching our train tomorrow in Rochester? We promise not to be any burden.”
“Please come in , Elders,” welcomed Rebecca. “You are never a burden and you are welcome to stay as long as you would like. Why don’t you set your suitcases down and I will have one of my children take you out to the Sacred Grove for a while. You can spend some time there while I make your rooms ready.”
The six elders soon returned from their guided tour through the grove with young Palmyra (Rebecca’s daughter). They found their bags had been taken upstairs to one of the four bedrooms.
“You’ll find your rooms ready upstairs and as soon as you wash up, we’ll have a warm meal ready for you,” said Rebecca almost apologetically. “It’s not much, but it the best we have.”
Little did the Elders know that they would soon be eating a king’s feast. The daily special was usually a plate full of hot mashed or boiled potatoes, beef and pork, a various array of freshly cooked vegetables, and all the hot bread, butter, and honey they could devour. Apple pie in a flood of rich cream finished them off.
It was always a fantastic feast, but a kind compliment at the conclusion of the meal was the only pay Rebecca would ever receive.
Rebecca and Willard Bean
“Sister Bean, did you know you’re famous?” Elder McKay asked as the last spoonful of potatoes and gravy disappeared from his plate. “The word is out all over the mission: ‘Don’t leave to go home until you’ve had your last meal from Sister Bean at the Smith Farm.’ And now I know why. It is simply the best meal I have had my entire mission. How do you do it? There are always so many who come, and we come so often.”
Rebecca smiled modestly as she looked down for a long moment, lost in though and silent dialogue with heaven.
“Elders, come with me into the next room for a few minutes. I have something I would like to share with you. Then you will understand the answer to your question.”
The elders nestled into the soft chairs and sofa as Rebecca looked into their eyes with earnest.
“Please listen to what I am about to say,” she said, beginning her story. “I don’t share it very often, but feel you should know what I am about to tell you. It was a hot summer day and we had a lot of visitors that day. It had been a hard day for me; I had a baby. He was just a year old and I had carried m baby around on my arm most of the day to get my work done. It was too warm and everything had gone against us and nighttime came and we had lunch for our visitors, and we had supper at night and I had put my children to bed and we had a very nice evening.
“Dr. Talmage was there with some missionaries and we had a really wonderful evening talking together. So, they all seemed tired and I took them upstairs and showed them where they could sleep. When I came down I thought, ‘Well, I will pick up a few things and make things easier for me in the morning.’ But I was so weary and so tired that I was crying as I went and straightened things around in my house. Everybody was in bed and asleep but me. I looked at the clock and it was eleven o’clock and I can remember that I had said I had better call it a day. I went into my room and my husband was sound asleep and my baby also. It was peaceful and quiet. I got myself ready for bed. I said my prayers and I got into bed.
Rebecca Bean, age 20
“I was crying on my pillow, and then this dream or vision came to me. I thought it was another day. It had been a wonderful morning. I had prepared breakfast for my visitors and my children were happily playing around and I had done my work and cared for the baby and he was contented and happy and then I prepared lunch and I called our visitors into lunch and we were all seated around the table, my little baby in his highchair and everything was just peaceful, wonderful and sweet.
“There was a knock on the front door and I went in and opened it and there was a very handsome young man standing there and I just took it for granted that he was just another missionary that had come to see us. I said, ‘You’re here just in time for lunch. Come with me.’
“As we walked through the little hall into the dining room, I noticed he laid some little pamphlets down at the end of the table there. We walked into the dining room and I introduced him around. Then I said, ‘Now, you sit right here by Dr. Talmage and I’ll set a plate for you.’
“I thought, of course, he was strange to all of us, and yet he and Dr. Talmage seemed so happy to see each other and they talked about such wonderful things while we were eating, some of them we could hardly understand, but the spirit that was there and the room was so peaceful and nice and everyone seemed so happy to be together. After the meal was over, Dr. Talmage said to the missionaries, ‘Now let’s go outside and just linger here and enjoy the spirit of this wonderful place, because we will soon have to leave.’
“I put my baby to bed and the other little ones went out to play and then I was alone with the young man. He thanked me for having him to dinner and told me how much it meant for him to be there. He told me he thought that the children were so sweet and well-trained and I felt so happy about that.
“Then we walked in the hall together and he said, ‘I have far to go, so I must be on my way.’ I turned from him for just a minute to pick up these little pamphlets he had laid on the table, and when I turned back ti him it was the Savior who stood before me. He was in His glory and I could not tell you the love and the sweetness that He had in His face and in His eyes. Lovingly He laid His hands on my shoulders, and He looked down into my face with the kindest face that I had ever seen. Then He said to me, ‘Sister Bean, this day hasn’t been too hard for you has it?’
“I said, ‘Oh no, I have been so happy with my work and everything has gone so well.’
“He responded, I promise you, if you will go about your work everyday as you have done it this day, you will be equal to it. Now remember these missionaries represent me on this earth and all that you give unto them you give unto me.’
“I remember I was crying as we walked to the hall out onto the porch and He repeated the same thing. Then He started upward. The roof of the porch was no obstruction for Him to go through, nor for me to see through. He went upward and upward and upward. I wondered how I could see Him so far away. And then all at once He disappeared.
“Then I was crying in my pillow like I was when I went to bed. And I bear humble testimony to you that never again was there any frustration in my life. Never again did too many missionaries come that I couldn’t find beds for them to sleep on or enough food to give them. The great love that I had for the missionaries even then became greater after what the Savior said to me. How I wish that every missionary that went out in the world could feel that His love and His guidance are only a prayer away in preaching His gospel. Oh, how much they mean to Him.”
“Elders, you ask me how I can do this, and keep doing it day after day, year after year,” Rebecca said. “How can I not do it? I know who you are, and I know that all I do for you I do unto Him. Knowing that brings all the happiness into my life that I can handle.” (A Lion and A Lamb, pgs 58-64)
When the days are hard, like today has been I like to apply that last paragraph to my own life and my own children. “You ask me how I can do this, and keep doing it day after day, year after year. How can I not do it? I know whose my children are, and I know that all I do for them I do unto Him. Knowing that brings all the happiness into my life that I can handle.”
Most of us won’t ever have the experience that Rebecca did of seeing the Savior, but we can feel of His love and receive an assurance that our offering is acceptable to Him.
“When you have come to the Lord in meekness and lowliness of heart and, as one mother said, “pounded on the doors of heaven to ask for, to plead for, to demand guidance and wisdom and help for this wondrous task,” that door is thrown open to provide you the influence and the help of all eternity. Claim the promises of the Savior of the world. Ask for the healing balm of the Atonement for whatever may be troubling you or your children. Know that in faith things will be made right in spite of you, or more correctly, because of you.
“You can’t possibly do this alone, but you do have help. The Master of Heaven and Earth is there to bless you—He who resolutely goes after the lost sheep, sweeps thoroughly to find the lost coin, waits everlastingly for the return of the prodigal son. Yours is the work of salvation, and therefore you will be magnified, compensated, made more than you are and better than you have ever been as you try to make honest effort, however feeble you may sometimes feel that to be.
“Remember, remember all the days of your motherhood: “Ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.”
“Rely on Him. Rely on Him heavily. Rely on Him forever. And “press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope.” You are doing God’s work. You are doing it wonderfully well. He is blessing you and He will bless you, even—no, especially—when your days and your nights may be the most challenging. Like the woman who anonymously, meekly, perhaps even with hesitation and some embarrassment, fought her way through the crowd just to touch the hem of the Master’s garment, so Christ will say to the women who worry and wonder and sometimes weep over their responsibility as mothers, “Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole.” And it will make your children whole as well.” (Jeffrey R. Holland, Because She Is a Mother)
At this season of celebration for the Christ child, I also remember He too had a mother who experienced all the same motherly anxieties I do for my children. It was because of her willingness to answer the angel, “Be it unto me according to thy word,” that we have the Savior. I am so grateful for His life, for His death, for His resurrection. He strengthens me on the hard days, comforts me and brings reassurance to my soul that I am doing His work. I hope that I too can follow the example of Mary and answer “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word.”