I grew up being told that a woman’s greatest calling, even her divine role, was to bear and care for children. When Shiloh and I were married, we immediately started a family, and we believed that we would have lots of kids. I was thinking ten. Due some stressors that occurred in the early part of our marriage, it took me six months to become pregnant. That felt like an eternity to me, and every monthly cycle brought fresh pain. But, I did eventually become pregnant and we had four children in less than five years.
Each pregnancy was incredibly difficult, throwing up all through out, dehydration, headaches, heartburn, joint issues, anemia, etc. Yet, because I had friends who were still trying to have a child of their own and could not, I was aware that I should feel grateful. And while I had other friends who lovingly nursed their babies at our playgroups, I was never able to nurse a child beyond two weeks, suffered from postpartum depression which worsened with each child, and all of my babies threw up so often that holding them was more of a chore than a gift.
Still, even with the fourth child, I had my heart set on a large family. I was willing to do whatever it took to fulfill that desire, not caring where the desire came from. I’ve always loved my children. There is no end to my love, so how could there be an end to the children?
But I was getting tired. My body was getting tired. I was beating myself with cultural “should”s. And apparently everyone could see that but me. When my fourth was born, the midwife placed her on my chest, I held her close, and I heard a distinct voice tell me, “Your family is complete.”
I shrugged it off. Four is not ten. In the quiet moments, in the stillness, when I was alone with my beautiful children, I could feel that maybe that voice was right. But then I’d go to the grocery store where we were living in Utah and some elderly lady would ask me when I was having my next child. Or I’d see the family of ten walk into the chapel and feel they were inherently better than me. Or I’d go to a Relief Society meeting and hear stories of faithful pioneer women who had fifteen children. Or I’d hear speakers be introduced at devotionals and firesides with the number of their children or grandchildren listed before their academic qualifications.
No matter how confused I felt, I also couldn’t complain. One of my best friends was pursuing the path of adoption because they couldn’t have children, and another one of my best friends was still unmarried. How could I possibly deal with my own feelings when they obviously had struggles far more difficult than my own? These friends were amazing, and they were not fragile. They were good listeners. But I was sensitive to their trials and their faith and never wanted to seem ungrateful.
For three years after my fourth and last child was born, I would pray to know if I should have another one. I would plead with the Lord. Every time the answer was no. I just didn’t understand. It broke my heart. I placed so much value on my identity of being a mother in Zion, and from what I knew that meant at least six children, that I just couldn’t understand the Lord telling me to stop.
Then, one day the Bishop of our ward announced that the Provo Temple was looking for volunteers to serve and be trained in temple duties in anticipation of the new City Center Temple opening. I felt inspired to give him my name. I had four very small children at home so I knew the likelihood of being called was very slim, but I acted on the prompting anyway. I didn’t heard back.
For six months I wondered why, but kept myself busy creating a new business with Shiloh and a friend. This new business allowed Shiloh to work from home, and just a few months after we started it I received the call from the Bishop. He brought me in to ask about my family situation and if I was still interested in working at the temple. I told him that Shiloh was working from home now and I could easily find time to serve in the temple, even with the four littles at home. He submitted my name to the temple, and within the week I received the call from the temple recorder and was set apart.
I was assigned to work in the clothing department. Most of the workers in that department were paid employees but they needed volunteers to periodically come in and help fold and sort the clothing. Specifically, they needed help folding socks. The Provo Temple serves the Missionary Training Center, and with the new lowering of the age requirements for sister missionaries the clothing counter was always running out of folded socks.
I sat on a little stool in the back of the clothing distribution room and folded a never-ending pile of freshly cleaned stockings. They had to be folded a certain way, but it wasn’t difficult. After just a few shifts, I could have folded those sock in my sleep. I worked the Monday morning shift which started very early in the morning. The other women moved dirty laundry from bins upstairs to the laundry machines downstairs. They worked the cash register. They retrieved requested garments for the patrons. They talked, in normal voices, not even whispering. They told jokes, laughed, shared faithful stories, and enjoyed just being with each other. And I got to be a part of it.
I loved my time folding socks so much that I asked if I could add another shift. I kept my Monday morning shift and also came in Wednesday mornings. Working in the temple opened my eyes to many blessings in the rest of my life as well. A profound gratitude for all things became the lens of my life.
After a couple months of sock-folding, one of the sisters asked me if I wanted to do something else. There were many other jobs to be done. Some interacted more with patrons. Others were more visible in the temple. Still others were considered a little higher on the food chain, like a promotion. Without even thinking I said, “No, thank you. I love folding socks here and am perfectly content to serve in this part of the vineyard.”
What came to me then was this awesome revelation that took days for me to be able to put words to. I looked back on the few months I spent serving in the temple, and the months of building a business prior to that, and saw that I had been “about my Father’s business” that whole time. I was following the Lord in everything I did and was finding great peace and joy in serving. Suddenly, the deep disappointment for my small family that I held close to the center of my heart melted away. What I thought had been a worthy distraction to my longing for more children was never meant to be a distraction. It was the very thing I was to do. “You are of infinite worth. Every part of the vineyard is valuable.”
He denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God. (2 Nephi 26:33)
I no longer needed to have any one identity to define me. Yes, I’m a mother, and feel so fulfilled in that calling. And I am also an entrepreneur, and have seen the hand of God there. And I am also a friend, and have experienced the love of God pour threw me. And I am also a sock-folder, and hundreds and hundreds of sister have experienced the peace of the temple through their neatly folded stockings. And I am capable of so much, with infinite potential, potential that includes the titles of wife and mother, and transcends them, even to the title of sock-folder. I am eternal.
When Moses first met God, he asked God to reveal his name so that he could tell the children of Israel the name of the God whom they will be delivered by. God replied, “I AM THAT I AM: Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you” (Exodus 3:14). I used to think that was very esoteric of Him to say it that way. Now, I understand that it is an expression of his eternal nature. He is not any one thing alone. He is all things, and in Him all things are one.
And because we are made in His image, we are also all things. Just like our Father, we are eternally creative unbounded beings who also have infinite capacity to be with the individual ones that make up the whole. I am both all things, and just one thing. I can both understand my infinite value and find unspeakable joy in what others might consider mundane, seeing the signature of the divine in all of it. With Alma, I say, “All things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it” (Alma 30:44).
I am part of the magnificent river. My presence shapes the curve of the bend. My presence erodes the banks and smooths the stones. I am part of the great coursing of all life. I am part of the magnificent river. And, I am not the river.
As I allow my God to refine me, I’m finding that more and more of the identities I clung to are melting away. I am free to explore and experience godhood in a new embodied way that teaches me to see beauty all around me. I am struck by wonder and awe again. And I am happy.
So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute…
Ask the questions that have no answers…
Be joyful though you have considered all the facts…
Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
– Wendell Berry