By Debra Woods
I joined the church a year before my freshman year of college. Right before I left home for my first semester at far distant BYU, I received my patriarchal blessing from Paul Bang, Stake Patriarch in Cincinnati, Ohio. I was surprised at how many times my blessing mentioned my parents. It sort of bothered me, I mean, wasn’t this supposed to be MY blessing? Why did it have so many references to my parents???
This may sound weird to latter-day saints, but I wasn’t raised in the church, so my attitude about family was very different. I’d been independently pursuing religion for five years by the time I joined the church, and couldn’t understand why so much emphasis was placed on my parents.
None of the other church groups I attended had insisted on getting my parents’ permission for every little thing I did, or ANY permission at all. Not so with the Mormon Church! It was annoying to me. My home teachers wouldn’t make appointments with me, instead, they called my non-member dad. What was THAT about??? You have to appreciate how strange this was for my whole family – neither my parents nor I was used to being consulted about my involvement in a religious organization.
So when I read my patriarchal blessing, there they popped up again and again, my parents! Well, one of the pieces of counsel in my blessing was that I needed to write home to my parents often during my schooling and thank them for the many blessings they had given me.
OK. I didn’t have to like it, but I intended to follow that counsel. The first week, of course, was very eventful. Provo, Utah is a long way from Oxford, Ohio, and I’d never been anywhere near it before. So I wrote home and told my parents about my week. Before I signed off, I knew I needed to say thank you for something. It was easy, I thanked them for paying for college! Week one c’est finis!
Week two came and I wrote home again. As I closed I remembered I needed to thank them for something, and I didn’t want to sound like a broken record, so I thought a bit and came up with another item I could thank them for. This went on for the rest of the semester. Every week, I wrote home, and every week I tried to think of something different to thank them for.
Well, I’d never done anything like this before, and the exercise started to change the way I felt about my parents. Maybe from a distance, with freshman homesickness, it was natural, but I don’t think so. My older siblings had never gotten sentimental about our parents after leaving home. I doubt very much that I would have either, if it hadn’t been for the assignment I was trying to fulfill from my blessing.
By Spring, the list of thank-yous was getting extensive. When I sat down to write my Mom for Mother’s Day, I got more personal about what specifically SHE had done for me. I remember filling the front side of the paper and having to turn it over to continue – a line item list – and by the bottom of the second side, I was just a pool of sobbing tears. My mom loved me! She must have! Look at all those things she had done for me, all the sacrifice involved in my care over my growing up years. And I knew that my list was nowhere near complete – there was no way to list everything she had done for me.
As an 18 year old, I’d had, well, let’s count them, one, two, three – oh I’ll just cut to the chase – eighteen years of being at odds with my mother. Eighteen years of fighting her all along the way. Eighteen years of feeling neglected. Eighteen years convinced she didn’t love me. Eighteen years of not wanting to be anything like her. So there I sat on my bed in utter shock at what my own hand had recorded on those sheets of stationary. I saw my mother through brand new eyes. She may not have been what I wanted her to be, but here was an obvious witness that, in her own way, in the way she knew how to do it, she loved me. I mourned the years I’d been blind to all of this. I mourned how it must have hurt her to have such a thankless child. There were many touching moments to reflect on and to follow in the years ahead that I imagine may never have been visible to me had I not kept the counsel the Lord gave me in my blessing. Several years later I recorded an oral interview of her life story and learned so many remarkable things about this amazing woman.
Mommy lived with me the final 10 years of her life after losing her home in a hurricane. She was baptized at age 83 and died in my arms three months later. We may not have had a picture book relationship, but who does? The complexities of our relationship still cause contemplation, but I am very certain that the whys and wherefores of our roles in each other’s lives will be sweet and clear in the eternities to come. Thank you Patriarch Bang, for the gift you (and the Lord) gave me in that blessing!