Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A Mother's Faith: An Interview with Shawni

I remember my mother's prayers and they have always followed me.
They have clung to me all my life.
~Abraham Lincoln

This is the third in a series of interviews on faith and motherhood. My goal is to interview fellow mothers/bloggers of different faiths and have a little window into each of their lives...and to see in the end, how we are all trying to achieve the same thing...to prepare faithful, loving, compassionate, children to go out into the world and lead productive, purposeful, meaningful lives.

We are all more similar than we are different.

Different doctrines, different traditions, different rituals, different beliefs, but our fears, our love for our families, and our hopes for our children are all so alike.

Here's my third interview with Shawni, a mother of five.

Our family consists of my husband and me along with our five children: one boy (Max who is twelve) and four girls: Elle (11), Grace (8), Claire (6) and Lucy (3). We live in a suburb smack-dab in the middle of the desert surrounded by a neighborhood filled to the brim with all kinds of good people.

My husband and I were both raised as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (sometimes referred to as the “Mormons”). I couldn’t be more thankful for my religion most importantly because it is purely based on Jesus Christ and His teachings. My husband and I believe that having a deep faith in Jesus Christ helps bring so much peace, happiness and goodness into life, so of course that is how we wanted to raise our children.

What are the strongest values and beliefs of the LDS faith?

First and foremost we believe that God is our Father in Heaven who loves us dearly. We have come to earth for a mortal experience and we have faith that if we live our lives worthily we can return to live with Him some day. We believe that because we are human and so very far from perfect we needed a Savior to make an Atonement for us to make it possible for us to return to God. Jesus Christ made the supreme sacrifice of giving His life for us to pay for our sins and render us able to repent and be able to return to Heaven some day.

We believe that the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ that Christ Himself established when He lived on earth were diluted and lost after He and His apostles were killed. We believe that the fullness of that church was restored through revelation from God in 1830 through a lengthy series of events set in motion by a man named Joseph Smith. That’s why it is called the Church of Jesus Christ “of Latter-Day Saints.” We believe it is that very same gospel taught by Christ, but established in the “latter days.”

We believe in eternity. That families are sacred and that the bonds we make together in this life can last forever.

We strive to always put family first. For example, we set aside one night each week to have “Family Home Evening” where we gather together, have a lesson and talk about “family business.” We are also encouraged to have family dinners as much as possible to do anything we can to make those connections stronger. I am so thankful for continual reminders and encouragement through my church to keep my husband and children as my first priority, (next to God of course).

We believe that our Heavenly Father is always there for us and wants us to succeed. Through prayer and scripture study we believe that we can have personal revelation to help guide us through life…during the tough times as well as the ones where we’re smooth-sailing.

We believe in the Book of Mormon as well as in the Bible. The Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ and it contains the records of prophets who lived in the Americas before, during and after Christ’s time on earth.

What are your family's daily and/or weekly worship/prayer rituals?

We attend church (worship service) each Sunday as a family. We read scriptures together each morning before school. Since our children are still pretty young we just read a few verses or a chapter of whatever we happen to be in the middle of (right now it’s the New Testament). We usually have a little discussion about what’s happening and how it pertains to our lives. Then we kneel and have family prayer together. It makes me happy to send our children off into their lives feeling the power of love in the mornings as we spend that time together.

I’m thankful that even outside of our family, our church organization helps guide our children and gives them wonderful examples of how to navigate through life. My children have such wonderful church leaders who (voluntarily!) take time out to help them grow in their faith. The youth ages 12-18 have activities once a week and have firesides and all kinds of things to give them an absolute anchor to cling to in this often scary world they are growing up in

What are the most important concepts of the Church of LDS that you wish to teach your children?

If I had to choose a single most important concept of our faith I want to help my children internalize it would be to “love more.” Jesus Christ was the supreme example of pure love, and we try to emulate that example. That means we try not to judge others, we try to reach out and help those in need. We strive to be accepting of others with different beliefs. We try to forgive others even when they may not forgive us. Loving others brings happiness, and I believe that is the ultimate experience we are meant to have in life.

Did you choose where you live and/or your children's schooling for religious reasons?

No. We lived on the East coast for eight years before moving back here to the desert where my husband grew up. We live in an area with a high concentration of people in our same faith. This is nice but sometimes I think it may make us seem exclusive since we have such a huge support group in our church it’s easy not to branch out to others much. I'm sure that some people not of our same faith must think we are horribly unfriendly and that makes me sad. All religions have so much good-ness in them and I only hope that I can teach my children to reach out to everyone and learn from the good-ness each one of God's children has to offer.
 Food and faith are so tied together...what are some culinary traditions?

We don’t have many culinary traditions that are particular to our faith. We do strive, however, to take care of our bodies by making healthy food choices. We have “the Word of Wisdom” which encourages us to eat whole grains, very little meat, and to abstain from smoking or the use of alcohol.

What are the most common misconceptions that many people have when it comes to your faith? Have you ever been offended or dismissed by others?

I think probably the most common misconception is that some people still think we practice polygamy. Although it was a very limited practice in the early days of the church, it was banned an outlawed by the church in 1890. Strong commitment to marriage (defined as one man and one woman) is embraced in our religion.

Also, I think in any religion people tend to base much of their concept of that religion on the people. And since people are not perfect, they make mistakes. I hope people can always realize that just because certain people in a particular religion make poor choices that doesn’t mean the religion is a farce or that it is not true. That just means someone messed up. And what is so amazing about that is that repentance is real.

Have you ever questioned your faith?

In our religion we believe that we are all entitled to personal revelation through prayer. We believe that God is our Father and dearly loves us as His children. He wants us to find happiness and he wants to guide and help us through life. He can help us figure out what is true in our hearts through studying it out and through sincere prayer. Once I prayed my guts out about all this and came to the firm realization that yes, it is true. Since then, although I have had plenty of experiences where I have been baffled at others’ misunderstanding of my faith, I have never questioned my beliefs. I am so grateful for how joyful they have made my life.

Have you ever had a profound spiritual moment that has stayed with you forever?

I don’t think there is one particularly profound moment. Just many smaller moments when my heart has been open and able to be touched that have helped shape what I think and what I believe.

Do you see your spiritual beliefs playing a large part in your marriage?

Yes! In our religion we believe that when we get married it isn’t just until “death do us part.” Marriage is for time and all eternity. That makes it a pretty strong commitment so we sure better make it the best we can!

As I mentioned before, families are central in our religion. After all, we are in an eternal family with God as our Father, and He has given us earthly families to bring us happiness. The marriage that makes up the family is key ingredient to make that family strong and happy. I’m so thankful that my husband and I have always been taught to put each other first (and that we have great role models in our own parents). Sure, we disagree on a bunch of things. And we are both very strong-willed. But we know how to work things out through love and forgiveness and selflessness as we pray and study our scriptures and seek to put each other first. We make date night a priority. I tell him to bring me flowers every once in a while (ha ha), and we basically try to bring God into our relationship any way we can.

What is the single most difficult struggle you have overcome and how did your faith play a part in bringing you peace.

I have had quite a few struggles through life I can pinpoint that were turning-points for me to help my faith grow and to feel closer to Jesus Christ and to God. One of the most recent ones (and definitely the toughest one so far) was when our fifth child was diagnosed last year with a rare genetic syndrome. As my husband and I waded through a sea of worry and sorrow, and as I offered up heart-felt prayers to try to make sense of how to proceed through life which would surely change how we live and how we think about things, I have never felt more loved and comforted. I know that God was there to carry us through the tough times, and that He always will be.

What is your favorite Bibical or spiritual quote that inspires you to be a great mother?

My very favorite scripture is in Isaiah 41:11 and 13 because it speaks to my heart. It says,
“Fear thou not, for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness…for I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.”

Is that not the most comforting, beautiful thing ever? I believe that motherhood is one of the most rewarding things we women will ever be able to do.

But it is also hard. Some days we don’t know if we’re going to make it!

Most of the time we don’t have the answers. There is no “instruction manual” on Motherhood. Some days we don’t know how far to take the “natural consequences.” On other days we don’t know how we will ever keep up with the mountains of laundry and the incessant whining ringing through our ears as we try to get through the day on very little sleep. Our hearts break as we see a child going through a tough situation and we are lost as to how to help them. We will face uncountable struggles and heart wrenching decisions to help our children navigate their way through life.

But to me, what an incredible blessing it is to know that there is a hand from Heaven out there waiting to guide us along the thorny path. Our Father in Heaven wants to help us through all the troubling times, all we need to do is reach out and grab that hand and let it guide us and comfort us.

Knowing that God is there saying, “fear not; I will strengthen thee, and I will help thee,” can get me through anything.

And knowing that my family can be together forever makes me want to work on it harder than ever.

Obviously there is SO much more about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints that would take novels to write out.

So I will say two things in closing:

1) Religions can’t be proven, no matter how many facts you may research out or how much history you are willing to shuffle through. Beliefs have to come from inside. From faith and the feelings of happiness and whole-ness sent to us from God.

2) If you have more questions about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints I would encourage you to find some strapping young missionaries. They’re all over the place in their suits and name tags (or skirts if they’re girls…I was one of them for a year and a half way back when in Romania). They can explain things so well and give you your own free copy of The Book of Mormon.

Also, for more information go to mormon.org and lds.org. Watch the videos, read the messages. I promise you’ll feel something great come over your heart.


Thank You Shawni! 
Shawni has an incredible blog, click here.  Her enthusiasm for motherhood is contagious, and her zest for life equally so.