In the Mormon church, members of the congregation are asked to speak in Sacrament Meeting. This is a one hour block of time where we all gather, take the sacrament, and then hear talks from whoever has been asked to prepare one. Usually, one or two youth are asked, (age 12-17) and one or two adults. We are given gospel topics to study and then share what we’ve learned.
Except on Mother’s Day. Then the topic centers on all the wonderful women in our lives and what we have learned from them. I was asked to speak this time, and all week I just couldn’t stop thinking about my own wonderful mother, the valuable lesson about experiencing joy I learned from her, and crochet, of course.
The following is my talk:
My mom’s name is Jannet Downs and she was born in Ogden, Utah in 1944, the first of four children of Rose Mary Liotta and James “Red” Ball. Her mother was an Italian Catholic and her father a less-active Mormon. Her maternal Grandparents had immigrated to the United States in the late 1800’s, finding their way to Utah to work on the railroad that was headed west. Many Italian Catholics settled a little community in Ogden and raised their families and built a Catholic church there.
Her parents, as my mom likes to describe it now, had very low relationship skills. There was a lot of fighting and arguing in her home.
Because her father was less-active and didn’t really care for religion, my mother was raised Catholic. She always had Mormon friends though, and she went to all the church activities. She even graduated from seminary as a Catholic. She met my dad in high school, who also like her own father, was a less-active baptized- only Mormon. So to make this clear my Dad was baptized Mormon and never went to seminary or church activities, but mom was Catholic and graduated from seminary and went to church activities.
They were married just out of high school and it was only a few years later, after my older sister was born, that my mom’s dad died of a sudden heart attack at 48. She was 23. It was a huge shock to the whole family. My mom and dad were living in Roy, Utah at that time, and it was about then, that a pair of young missionaries happened to ring her doorbell. She always tells me of the piercing feeling she received when she opened the door to see two young missionaries on her porch. She says it was a feeling that it was time, right then to finally make a decision and change. I still wasn’t born yet, I’m the second oldest, but my mom needed to know which church to raise her family in. She already loved the Lord, she knew God was there for her, but she needed greater clarity. And my dad was in school, still hanging out with his buddies at night, yet he knew that it was time to grow up and take responsibility for his family.
They didn’t know at the time, whoever does, but that decision to change the direction of their lives and choose to become Mormon helped to change her family forever. It was only five or six years later that my mom lost her mom to cancer. My dad had just moved our little family to Colorado. My mom’s youngest sister was only 16 at the time and she came to live with us.
So there was my mom, in a brand new community, 26, lost both of her parents and was now taking in her younger sister. She often speaks about that hard time and says “I don’t know what I would have done without the increased knowledge I had about the Savior and the covenants I had made.” Even though she had learned a lot about the church as a young person, she never really needed to put the teachings into practice. But learning how brought her the joy she felt through her life.
And I think that is what I’ve been thinking the most about this week, is how I have been taught by her example of putting everything I’ve learned about the Savior into practice. Because that is the hard part. It’s good to learn a concept, read lots of books, and study, but to actually do the work takes determination, sacrifice, effort, strategy, motivation, early mornings, late nights, pain, failure, courage, patience, planning, and let’s not leave out blood, sweat and tears.
It also requires changing old way, old habits, poor thinking and bad attitudes.
I think of King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon in Mosiah 5 after he spoke to the people from the tower, and then had his words written down so the multitudes of people could learn. He sent word that he wanted to know what they thought. I think he wanted to know if they understood what he was saying.
The people answer back in verse 2, with one voice they cried, yes, we understood you, and we know it’s true because of the Spirit of the Lord, which put a change in us, or in our hearts. They go on to make a covenant with the Lord to do his will and be obedient to his commandments because they know that it will bring exceedingly great joy into their lives.
My mom’s life didn’t become instantly easy the minute she was baptized. In fact, she suffered through a lot of more heartache after losing her mother. She lost her grandmother who she was very close too and her grandpa.
She had three more children after moving to Colorado and my father worked long and hard hours in the accounting profession and that stressed our family and their marriage. I was in jr high by then and I remember the fighting and contention our family was experiencing. But I also remember overhearing the long conversations she would have on the phone with her sisters talking about how she was trying to understand how to put the gospel into practice once again and how they all struggled to learn how to have a better marriage and family because the family they grew up in solved problems by fighting, and with anger. My mom desperately wanted to break the cycle of arguing and bad relationship skills.
As an adult, I’ve since talked to her about my memories and she told me that yes, she had to experience another mighty change in her heart, to really understand how to change her own behavior, expectations, faults, etc. She humbled herself, changed the way she spoke, softened her heart, served in new ways, and was on her knees daily asking Heavenly Father to help her endure, change and become better and more wise.
I learned from her example. I learned mostly from her going through hard times and struggles. She instilled in me the knowledge that relationships are important and because they are so important, they require work and a mighty change of heart. And after she had that change of heart, she felt the joy that was promised and she talked all the time about it to us. I learned to expect joy after a change of heart.
Some of you may know that I love to crochet. Which is another skill I learned from my Mom, by the way. I had a thought about three years ago, that if I started making baby blankets, maybe my oldest daughter Hannah, who had been trying to have a baby, would become pregnant. I called it myself a grandma in training. I started making blankets but also had the thought to keep track of my progress and patterns on Instagram. Instagram was my crochet journal so to speak and it also was fun to connect with others crocheters around the world.
Many started asking for the patterns I was creating, so I then started writing them down, and writing about them, on a blog. And just last summer, my daughter Nicolina ran analytics on that blog and discovered that lots people were coming for my patterns and she encouraged me to make a real website and create a business. So with the help of my two daughters, we did that.
Then, last December, one of the three major yarn companies, reached out to me to design a monthly project for them all this year and share on Instagram. This has not only grown our little business, but has also put me in touch with a lot of people every day wanting to learn the craft of crochet or asking me a question, or emailing me their frustrations. And I try and answer every one of them back.
But over time, I’m starting to see a pattern and a common occurrence. Most people see a blanket that they want to crochet, maybe watch some of my videos or read about how it’s made, and whether they are new to crochet or have some experience, they will dive in head first, without even doing a practice swatch.
A blanket generally starts with a row of chains anywhere from 90 to 150 or more, and depending on skill levels, one row could take anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour to complete. And even though I strongly suggest for them to start with a practice swatch, to work out tension, hook size, become familiar with the stitch, I usually get an email that says something like, “I’m three rows in on your pattern and something is not working, what am I doing wrong? Or, “I’ve been crocheting for over 50 years, and I ended the row with 3 extra chains, Help! I’m making this a king size bedspread, I don’t want to undo.”
It must be our human nature to have the desire to do great things, dream about succeeding, have a desire to win, expect to have a happy marriage, produce perfect children, and make king size blankets on the first try! And also our human nature to immediately forget that each one of those things depends on skill and developing the skills needed to make it happen and be successful.
Back in my younger days, my friends and I ran a lot together. I mean literally got up and ran extremely early in the morning to prepare for either half marathons or full. At least we were smart enough to know running a half marathon takes practice. You cannot get off the couch one day and decide to run one without training.
We used to talk about running a lot and how all this practice helped us with our parenting skills. Not only were we able to discuss certain situations we found ourselves in with our kids, but also learn from each other new strategies, better tips, new and winning phrases to respond to our children’s problems and practice them and then get back together and see if they worked. And if not, change and try something else.
I still remind myself that even though most of my kids have grown up and moved on, I’m still practicing. You never finish training when it comes to relationships. It’s all practice, every day.
That’s not to say that there haven’t been some really good practice runs, like seeing Hannah and Nicolina graduate from college and be successful in their careers, watching my son Tanner, who is newly married, become so dedicated to his studies, he just received a full -ride tuition scholarship. It was a good day to see my Haley come home from her mission happy and safe and so ready to get to college and work hard. And Annie, the baby of the family, oh how we love to watch her swing a golf club. It might seem like a small thing, but from Michael and I’s point of view, after the rough medical years we experienced watching her golf has been such a gift.
And I could go on, as I’m sure you could too about the happy moments you’ve experienced.
I believe Nephi knew this idea that life is about practice and tried to shout it out to the only social channels he had at the time, by writing it down and teaching. He understood life is a journey of gathering skills, practicing, studying more about Christ, learning about humility, then experience events that made you practice humility. He tells us to “Press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men.” Press forward, have hope, love God, love everyone. Those are good skills to practice every day!
Back to crochet for a minute though. One of the most difficult skills in crochet to master is learning to recognize your mistakes and undo your work. Sometimes I just won’t do it. I will have spent hours making a blanket only to realize 10 or so more rows back and five hours later, I missed a stitch. My pride gets in the way, and I won’t take it out. I’ll look at it and make up a lot of excuses and justifications why that mistake will have to stay. “No one will notice,” or “I’ll make it up on a different row.”
I confess I made a polka dot blanket and one dot is missing and I’m planning on playing find the missing dot with that future grandchild.
I’ve since learned, and I am much better about it, but the minute I spot a mistake, I don’t think about it, I start immediately pulling out the work. Hours of tiny stitches just undone in less than one minute. It is a practice of humility and at times it is heartbreaking.
But, do you know what the best thing about crochet is? Being able to fix my mistakes in under a minute and start all over. And not have wasted any yarn at all. It’s all right there to be worked with again.
I’ve also realized that’s about how long it takes to apologize to my friends, my kids, siblings, or my husband. Less than one minute to say I’m sorry. But man, that is hard sometimes to humble myself and do that, especially if it’s a mistake I didn’t notice right away or one I am just completely stubborn about.
I have to know that Heavenly Father is there though to help me the entire way. When it’s all said and done, He wants me to hold up a finished, made and remade blanket however many times it takes. He even sent me a Savior to teach and help me and make up the difference with grace when I fail. He wants me to fix, start over, never justify, quit, or hide. He wants me to continually press forward.
My mom is still pressing forward. She happened to call me last Saturday, scared and worried for my dad’s health. My dad is in heart failure, he has had a pacemaker for years, and his heart is just getting tired. We all know that the years left with him are growing short and she doesn’t want to lose him, and neither do I. She is going to have to acquire new skills, even at 74, she has more to learn and experience.
That’s why I’m still going to press forward and keep making baby blankets. I know at the right time, Hannah will eventually have a baby or a baby will make its way into their home one way or another. Even though there are days I cry with her, and our hope isn’t perfectly bright, we are practicing staying hopeful and happy.
And because I do believe what Nephi has written. This is the way, and there is none other. And I believe Christ himself when he says, I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man cometh unto the Father but by me. (John 14: 6)
I truly wish you a Happy Mother’s Day and one to my dear sweet mom who has taught me so many valuable skills that have brought me joy. I love you Mom!