When I first got married I was the Relief Society secretary in married student ward. I did a lot of observing. And a lot of visiting. So many, many visits every month to make sure every newlywed woman in the USU 45th ward knew that someone at Church knew her name. It was a good experience but one thing has haunted me for the last decade. And it’s time to get it off my chest.
We went to visit a girl named Tessa, a newlywed living in her in-laws basement apartment while they were on a mission. so the Relief Society president, Ann, and I walked around back of a half-acre hobby farm property and rang a doorbell on It was a lovely visit. We chatted and then shared the message. The Relief Society President and Tessa had a marvelous time. I left with a weight on my chest and my mind in turmoil: all my hopes to be a world-class novelist were dashed. God was against me.
I knew it. In those sacred oh-so-private fleshy tables of my heart, I knew God didn’t want me writing novels. Or anything else. God wanted me to have babies.
I knew this because there was a quote from President David O. McKay in which he basically said something like, “The world doesn’t need more novelists. It needs more good mothers.” I walked away knowing I couldn’t be both and dreading the choices in front of me.
That was June of 2002 and time passed. I had four babies (and one miscarriage). There’s been more than a decade of marriage. There have been innumerable “learning experiences” (read: meltdowns, failures, and small rebellions–on my part and the kids’). There have been glorious moments of children running to wrap their arms around me or giggling in the sunshine or learning to read or finally conquering that two wheeler. There have been small writing opportunities and lots of learning about writing (read: crappy manuscripts, big ideas, ward skits, rejection letters, and book reviews).
But there have been no novels. No Master’s Degree. No world-changing literature produced by me.
Most days I’m okay with that. After all, Jane Smiley may believe that all great novelists require a revolutionary spirit and that you can really only achieve that in your twenties (Seriously. She wrote that in 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel) but that doesn’t make it true. There’s a lot of time to write a novel and only one time to raise my kids. No book is worth sacrificing their needs (and possibly crossing God).
AND I have these four awesome kids who have made my life incredibly more textured and deep and amazing than anything I could have imagined on my own. I have all sorts of nooks and crannies in my heart that I never knew existed and I’ve stocked them full of living.
It’s been a long road of accepting God’s will and giving up what seemed to be the most important thing in the world. Of trusting Him more than myself and my own instincts. Some days it was a fierce and bitter fight in my head. Peace only came with a willingness to consecrate myself to His ideas. I adopted a sort of manifesto of maternity: I would be like Abraham, and the millions of mothers before me, and put the thing I valued most on the altar–except it wouldn’t be my child. It would be my self.
But for the first time in ten years, I’m not pregnant or nursing. I’m not getting up in the middle of the night with one or more needy children. I only have one child in diapers and, omigosh!, she’s potty training. Yes, they keep me busy but we’re not living in the constant state of emergency that is infancy.
There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
And in that light there are a million ideas for a novel. A good one. One that gives me goosebumps and dares me to write it in ways no other idea has.
So of course, I’m awash in guilt. Is it okay to move on from the babies? Is it okay to pursue this novel? Is it okay to begin to reintroduce my self to me? Is it okay to reclaim what I finally, willingly gave up?
The only real way to know was to go back to the quotation. Read it again and figure out what it really means. Maybe what it meant ten years ago isn’t what it means now? Can I find permission somewhere in the dichotomy of female spirituality and being?
It turns out the quotation was from the June 2002 Visiting Teaching message. It said,
“[The] ability and willingness properly to rear children, the gift to love, and eagerness “¦ to express it in soul development, make motherhood the noblest office or calling in the world. She who can paint a masterpiece or write a book that will influence millions deserves the admiration and the plaudits of mankind; but she who rears successfully a family of healthy, beautiful sons and daughters, whose influence will be felt through generations to come, “¦ deserves the highest honor that man can give, and the choicest blessings of God.”
That wasn’t what I remembered. Seriously. That is completely different. So I did a ton of Googling. Again, I can’t find the quote. I can’t find the words that were the fire behind so many decisions. It is entirely possible those words don’t belong to anyone other than me.
So either I’m a really bad listener or the Spirit rephrased it in my head or (and this is most likely) some combination of the two: me being a bad listener to the Spirit. Or maybe I got it right then and I’m getting it right now. Maybe a prophet’s words can be two things at once.
I don’t regret the choices I made, though. I don’t think there was any other way to become the mother my children needed me to be. I don’t think there was any other way for me to become the grown-up I needed to be.
You know what this means, though, right? It means I have permission to go play with all those ideas in the light at the end of the tunnel. Ideas that perhaps would have never been had I picked a different path.
Maybe there was no other way for me to become the writer I (still) need to be.