IMG_0300When I told people that I was taking my children to Hawaii for the week of Christmas, reactions ranged from admiration to disbelief to jealousy. I generally tried to temper things with the caveat that my children’s father grew up in Hawaii, so we would be visiting family and friends, and that trips to Hawaii have always been a somewhat regular part of our family life. We hadn’t been over there for three years, and a trip to Hawaii seemed like a better family Christmas gift than more physical objects that would just clutter up the house. I spent a year saving and planning, but still felt a bit of guilt at the extravagance of such a vacation up until the moment our plane landed in Honolulu and we walked out into the warm, tropical air.

It turned out to be a wonderful vacation for all of us, including my sister who came along on our trip. We rented a house by the ocean and spent hours at the beach, swimming in the warm water, eating sandy chips, and building sand castles. We took the kids hiking through a botanical garden to a waterfall, to a science museum to learn about volcanos, and to the Polynesian Cultural Center to learn all about the diversity of cultures in the world. And of course we visited with cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends. I spent 2014 attending graduate school online, in addition to working full-time, so having a week to just spend time with my kids free from homework, school, and work was priceless.

Towards the end of our trip I received an email reminding me that the start of a new year meant that it was time to renew my annual sponsorship of John, an elementary school student in rural Uganda. My neighbors run a small non-profit organization that supports education in Uganda. While public school is available to students there, many families struggle to find the money to pay for supplies, uniforms, and school fees. Also, many village schools are poorly built and lack amenities like desks or adequate restrooms. My neighbors have found that the best way to help advance education in Uganda is to raise money in the United States that can then be used to purchase items from African suppliers, benefiting the economy locally while supporting students at the same time. A few years ago my neighbor asked if I would be willing to sponsor a student, and though at the time it stretched my budget, I said yes. My family receives letters from John every few months along with a copy of his current report card. He tells us that he loves his school and his teachers and that he is studying hard. He always says that he is praying for us.

Receiving an email about my sponsorship while sitting in a beach house was a sobering reminder that building Zion is a complicated prospect. For the price of my Hawaiian vacation I could have sponsored the building of a new school in Uganda. Or sponsored 10 children for the school year. Ever since hearing Elder Holland’s masterful talk, “Are We Not All Beggars?” in this last General Conference, I have spent many hours pondering whether I am doing enough to help all my brothers and sisters in the world. I have thought of John and his friends in Uganda; I’ve considered the children in my own state who don’t have enough food, shelter, or love in their lives. I’ve also looked at my own life and my own children—how do I balance our own needs for food, shelter, and stability with my desire to help others? I would love to do more to lift others out of poverty, but don’t want to sacrifice my future or that of my children. As Elder Holland acknowledges, inequality and poverty have complicated causes and the solutions are not simple. We all have to do the best we can.

That, unfortunately, is the question that haunts me. What is my best? Am I doing enough? I give a generous fast offering, sponsor John, and contribute to a few other community organizations. I’m saving for my own retirement and staying out of debt so that my children and I can hopefully remain self-sufficient. I find comfort in the words of Elder Holland who reminds us to look to the Lord for guidance in answering the question of what we should do to help others: “I don’t know exactly how each of you should fulfill your obligation to those who do not or cannot always help themselves. But I know that God knows, and He will help you and guide you in compassionate acts of discipleship if you are conscientiously wanting and praying and looking for ways to keep a commandment He has given us again and again.” One of my goals this year is to pray for more specific guidance in keeping the Lord’s commandment to care for the poor. This is not something I have regularly done in the past and I hope that I will find new ways to balance my needs and wants with the needs of all of my brothers and sisters here on Earth.

To learn more about the specific organization I mentioned, TRUE Africa, click here

How did you feel about Elder Holland’s talk? How can we balance our own needs with the commandment to care for the poor and needy?


  1. Sandra Reddishv

    January 23, 2015

    I think like he said it is a very careful balance and it is difficult. I think fast offerings and tithing are huge. Those often come as a great sacrifice especially if someone is in debt or not able to save for retirement yet. C .S. Lewis talks about our charity being siginficant enough that it keeps us from the things that we want for ourselves. I agree if we do not ever feel the effects of our efforts to give it is probably not enough. I think we should contribute to
    organizations that function like the
    church helping others to help themselves.
    Some non profits have a surprising amount
    of money that is absorbed within the
    organization. Some that have approached me have a little as 10-20% of the profits going towards those who need help. There
    are times I have chosen not to help someone who has asked for it because the
    sacrifice they wanted me to make was greater than their own efforts and sacrifice.
    There are also a lot of people who need help but have such a sense of entitlement.
    They expect help very regularly without making an effort to become self reliant work hard themsleves or give anything
    back to society. I have tried to use the spirit to guide me when to help and when not to. Ihave at times still felt impressed to help someone who deosnt appear to be trying to help themselves. I think if we help people it need to come at some self sacrifice but we need to still ensure we do care for our own family. Only the Lord knows who is trying to be self reliant and if we choose tho help someone who is not trying thrit best it is between them and the Lord. Some of th

  2. Lisa

    January 23, 2015

    Yes, that was a powerful talk and triggered the same questions in me. We have an abundant life and we do share quite a bit, but I always wonder if it’s enough. I’ve even devised a plan to share a higher and higher percentage of our income, as it increases. On the other hand, I don’t think the Lord wants us to feel guilty about doing or having the things we enjoy. You certainly deserved that trip, Jessie, and your goals to stay out of debt and take good care of your kids, especially as a single mom, are entirely admirable and generous. Another point: things aren’t always what they seem. I travel a lot and people think it’s because we have tons of money, but it’s not. I have flying perks because my dad is a pilot and I love traveling so much that I’ve learned how to do it with very little money. We live in a great house, but drive crappy cars. The choices we each make are personal and cannot be judged accurately by anyone else. Like you, I’ve put up with all kinds of thoughtless remarks about my lifestyle, but no one knows the great delight I feel in helping others anonymously, or the huge amounts of money we shell out to treat a daughter in crisis. We can’t know the full truth of another’s life by looking in from the outside. Like Brother Holland said, it’s between our own conscience and the Lord to figure out how best we can give and serve and we have no need and no right to judge another’s choices. There seems to be an unspoken belief that it’s more noble to be poor than rich, and I have believed that too, but I’m working to revise that, because I don’t think it’s true. My financial Affirmation this year is: I deserve to be successful, so I can help more people. Success shouldn’t come at the price of guilt. Our relationship with money is an ongoing journey and like anything else, is best figured out by consulting and reviewing constantly with the Lord. Thanks for this post — it triggered me to consult and review again.

  3. Lisa

    January 23, 2015

    Oh, and I agree — education (especially for girls living in poverty) is a wonderful way to share. Here are 2 organizations that we use; I like them because almost all of our donations go directly to the people and programs. — Guatemala — India

    • Naismith

      January 23, 2015
      in Indonesia, a strongly Muslim country. Public schools are theoretically free, but some families struggle to pay for the uniforms and books.

      While this charity is not limited to girls, it is named after a girl and our experience through the years is that most of the recipients are girls.

  4. Emily M.

    January 23, 2015

    Jessie, I’m so glad you took that vacation. I think you earned it.

  5. Melanie

    January 24, 2015

    I’ve thought about this too. I just starting reading Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity, and it’s fantastic. There are some good recommendations for charities that are having a true impact.

  6. Sage

    January 26, 2015

    Love this topic! Jessie, I’m glad you took that trip. Great post. Lisa, I loved your comment. I’m about to take in 3 relatives (my husband’s )…actually 4, who are in poverty of body and spirit. I contribute to various charities besides the church and have learned to enjoy myself too. I do think it is important not to judge others for how they spend their money.

  7. Ana of the Nine+ Kids

    January 26, 2015

    I was concerned about this one time a year ago, what to do when/if we had more money than we needed. I finally prayed about it and the answer that came was along these lines: “Ask me. I will help you. I helped you know how to manage when there was less, I can help you with more too.” It was a great comfort and reminder that either way I can to turn to and rely on and receive guidance from Heavenly Father in ALL my circumstances.

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