Mother Teresa was just canonized as a saint for her work with the poorest of the poor. For many she is a very public symbol of sacrifice and service. However, to my family, she is simply called "Mother."
My husband's grandparents worked with Mother Teresa for over 30 years. Neither of them is Christian but they said, "We don't know Jesus, but we know Mother." My grandfather-in-law was her go-to man for all problem solving, from maintaining facilities, to acquiring land, to figuring out how to stop a prank caller from harassing the nuns in pre-caller ID days. My husband gave half of his first paycheck to Mother Teresa—a princely sum of about $10—and she would thank him for the donation every time they met. We took our newest daughter to Mother's grave. The nuns still working and living in the Mother Home offered a beautiful prayer for my daughter. Seeing Mother's work up close was a stunning, humbling experience.
Mother Teresa is often quoted, but one of my favorites is about her philosophy on families. She knew, "The way you help heal the world is you start with your own family."
Mothers and families come in all different forms. I did not get married until I was 37 and I spent many years with the goal of being a rockstar aunt. I call my nephews my "true loves," as they are the ones who opened me up to the reality of pure heart-expanding love. Through marriage, I inherited some delightful girls (who officially are step-daughters, but we never use that term). I now have a biological child as well. We are considering adoption. My parents have acquired grandchildren in many different ways (including bribery) and have always said, "We love kids—we will take them any way we can get them!"
I think their example strikes to the core truth—families, in any form, are about love. In fact, I should make that capital LOVE.
When Bethany and I sat down to write a book about our Heavenly Parents providing a model for our earthly families, it was clear that the key element we needed to remember was love. If we are paying attention, we see our Heavenly Parents are constantly pouring love into our lives. And when we are grateful, we feel more loving and are in turn able to treat those around us with our best semblance of that divine love. This life is a place to practice acting with love. (Note, "practice"—which involves falling short and then trying again and doing a little better and then falling short and then doing a marvelous job and then falling short and then trying some more… and on and on.)
The thing is, acting with love can be hard. Families take work. And sometimes along the way we get tired or discouraged or even despair-full.
I think the thing to remember is the very real presence of the divine love. Where we are not enough, our Heavenly Parents are. They can help us be more wise, patient, and kind. Sister Holland said it beautifully, "On a particularly difficult day, . . . what would this world’s inhabitants pay to know that heavenly parents are reaching across those same streams and mountains and deserts, anxious to hold them close?"
I think mothers of all kinds, whether they be saints, aunts, Young Women leaders, biological mothers, or any other variety, can feel a real balm from this reality. Our Heavenly Parents are reaching for us! They are actively trying to help us, guide us, love us. They are present in our lives with a perfect love, even, and perhaps especially, when we are not perfect. I know I have had moments of utter peace descend on me when I have just had enough in me to murmur upward, "I cannot do this—help!"
Bethany and I hope our book, Our Heavenly Family, Our Earthly Families, is a simple help along the way. A reminder of how our Heavenly Parents have created families to offer us a place of growth and joy. When you have one of those days, please look at the cover art and remember, "You are a child of Gods. You are loved."
Lead image from Getty Images.
Read more from the author in Our Heavenly Family, Our Earthly Family, available at Deseret Book—written by McArthur Krishna and Bethany Brady Spalding, with illustrations by Caitlin Connolly.
Our Heavenly Parents gave us the gift of earthly families to help us grow and become like Them. Families are the best school for learning how to love, forgive, cooperate, pray, create, work, play, and figure out how to be with each other forever. Depicting the deep joys as well as the messy realities of family life, this book will inspire you and those you love to practice building an eternal family every day.