Serving in refugee camps always makes me pause and reflect. I can relate to mothers in those camps doing whatever it takes to keep their kids safe and well because I am also a mother who has fought to keep her children safe and well.

Being a mother has unquestionably shaped me into the woman I am today. Strong-willed and vocal? I learned that advocating for my children. Some have disabilities. Some have black or brown skin in a society that isn’t always welcoming. Some I had to fight like mad to navigate an infuriating bureaucratic morass of red tape just to bring them home.

Compassion? Empathy? Speaking up for the underdog? Learning to drive a bus or octuple recipes? Efficiency and working as a team? Loving unconditionally? A multitasking ninja? A strong work ethic? All traits and attributes I have developed because I first became a mother.

Being the mom of a megafamily, I am used to questions about my family. Yes, I know all their names and their birthdates. Yes, we know what causes it (the internet); yes, my hands are full and so is my heart. I swear to you, though, the No. 1 question I get is “How do you feed that many people?!” Costco is my normal grocery store, I don’t coupon (no time for that), I have a huge food storage room, we cook from scratch, I taught my kids how to cook and we quadruple, sextuple and even octuple recipes. We make the meat stretch. We have two dishwashers and we currently do four to six loads on an average day. Eight on Sunday.

More than half our kids are out of the home, so only cooking for 10 makes us feel practically like empty-nesters. When everyone comes home, we feed 27 or so. I also love to cook, mostly easy-to-fix recipes that can feed a crowd. With so many kids coming from backgrounds of food deprivation, I made it a goal that they would never experience hunger or food insecurity again. Now you know why I don’t weigh 120 pounds. Well, that, and I hate exercising.

Another question I get politely asked is “How do you keep from going crazy?” What people really want to ask is “Are you freaking crazy, woman?!” I know some people think so, but I don’t think so. I’m just pursuing my life’s many “callings” with gusto. I’m living my dream of a heart-driven life.

Marjorie Pay Hinckley captured my life goals:

“I don’t want to drive up to the pearly gates in a shiny sports car, wearing beautifully tailored clothes, my hair expertly coiffed, and with long, perfectly manicured fingernails.

“I want to drive up in a station wagon that has mud on the wheels from taking kids to scout camp.

“I want to be there with a smudge of peanut butter on my shirt from making sandwiches for a sick neighbor’s children.

“I want to be there with a little dirt under my fingernails from helping to weed someone’s garden.

“I want to be there with children’s sticky kisses on my cheeks and the tears of a friend on my shoulder.

“I want the Lord to know I was really here and that I really lived.”

Finally, the third most common, and related to the second most common question I get, is “How do you do it?” The short answer is I just do it. Just like everyone else pursuing their dreams and living full-out.

I know it’s easier said than done. There are time constraints, financial constraints, fear, negative input from others. I’ve experienced them all and I bet you have, too. The bottom line for me is that to be able to live a heart-driven life, I have to have some foundational things in place: time management skills (sometimes called work/life balance, but believe me, balance is an illusion), self-care and a solid grounding in a spiritual life.

Living a heart-driven life means serving others, stretching myself, doing things I am scared of. I also get asked fairly how I learned to not be afraid of doing potentially scary things. I haven’t. I just do them afraid. I have many mantras. This Ayn Rand quote is one: “The question isn’t who is going to let me. It’s who is going to stop me.”

I’ll be honest — I’ve been stopped a few times and it’s not that fun, but I’ve also had the chance to do and see some amazing things and most important, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some amazing people, including my kids. They are turning into some pretty amazing adults. Being a mom has not only been the adventure of a lifetime, it’s given me an incredible boost to follow my heart, no matter where it leads and no matter the difficulties I might encounter along the way. It’s pretty Bad-A.

Holly Richardson, a Salt Lake Tribune columnist, is the mother to 25 children, four by birth, 20 by adoption (eight countries), one by legal guardianship, ages 3-31, 21 still living, four in heaven and 24 of them mostly grown. We have three high school seniors this years, then we are down to just three at home, or in other words, empty nesters.