I shifted my weight on the pew and sighed as the sacrament meeting speaker stood to begin his talk.
Seven months pregnant, I was swollen and sore, big-bellied and exhausted from the constant demands of my five young children. I wasn't sure I could last the remaining 15 minutes of the meeting, let alone the final months of the pregnancy.
I nearly let out an audible groan when the speaker launched into his topic: pioneers. The last thing I wanted to hear was heroic tales of mothers who kept walking resolutely to Zion no matter what they had to leave behind. I could barely drag myself from my living room to my kitchen.
I closed my eyes and drifted into half-sleep as the speaker droned on, only to be jolted upright by my toddler's stray elbow jamming into my abdomen. The baby inside began to kick in response, pummeling my bladder and ribs as he somersaulted in his watery nest. I bit my lip trying not to cry or scream as waves of frustration broke over me.
It's horribly cliché to claim that at that very moment, the speaker said the very words I needed to hear, but that's exactly what happened. He was reading the story of the Sweetwater crossing, the day that grown men and women sat down and cried on the banks of the half-frozen river because their strength was utterly spent, the day that three young men carried dozens of people through the chunks of ice and onto the continuing path west that waited on the opposite bank.
And as those words penetrated the hazy fatigue that enveloped me, the Spirit spoke. Not with words, but with a deep impression that I roughly translate here: "Your sacrifice is like unto theirs."
I sensed within myself and how there were spirits waiting on that bank needing to cross to the other side. And how I was carrying them, one at a time, to the opposite bank, so that they could continue along the path to Zion.
Paul's words sprang to my mind, words that had burned into me years before at the start of my fourth pregnancy, when I was wondering how I would ever manage another baby.
"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service" (Romans 12:1).
Present your body as a living sacrifice. Sacrifice — the word comes from the Latin "sancire," meaning to make sacred. That's exactly what I was doing: offering my very flesh and blood to God, to meet his purposes, to fulfill the desires for children he had planted within me.
All the pain and discomfort and difficulty, I suddenly understood, was having a sanctifying effect.
It sure doesn't seem that way, I thought as I shifted my ample weight on the pew and rearranged the various limbs of my children. I didn't feel sacred; I felt bloated, achy, irritable — even desperate, but even so, I knew it was true.
A year later, I had a miscarriage. My first. In the aftermath I grappled with many difficult feelings— grief, anger, longing. Sure, I had only been pregnant for a few weeks, but I had already invested great physical, emotional and spiritual energy in this new life and for what?
A few weeks later, I spoke with a close friend of mine who had just suffered her second miscarriage. I confided my sense of emptiness and futility. But as I continued to speak, I heard surprising words coming from my mouth.
"It wasn't a waste," I said. "It wasn't a waste."
I wasn't quite sure what I meant. But I knew that somehow, my loss counted. It was known by God and would, in some inexplicable way, contribute to his work and his glory, as well as my personal holiness.
I felt better after that, even though it still took more time to recover, both physically and emotionally. I became convinced that when women offer their bodies as vehicles for new life, they are consecrating themselves to God's purposes, and God honors this offering, whether or not it results in live birth.
I realized that this is true for women in a variety of circumstances: women who try and try, but are unable to conceive; women who face the rigors of adopting a child; women who remain single in this lifetime, who must forego maternity as well as intimacy on a number of levels.
I came to this conclusion. Every woman of faith consecrates her body as a living sacrifice. Whether our particular burden is fullness or emptiness, each of us is pushing against the world's current with our eyes on the kingdom of God.
Kathryn Lynard Soper is the author of the memoir "The Year My Son and I Were Born" and the editor-in-chief of "Segullah," a journal of literary and visual art by and for Mormon women.