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How?

By Justine Dorton

Ever feel overwhelmed? Yeah, I thought so. Me too. But really, what overwhelms me? Keeping my house clean? Getting the mountain of laundry done? Feeding everyone something new and interesting each day? Finding time to do something “grown-up”? Doesn’t it all seem a little, well, silly?

I’m so bothered about it all. What on earth does all this busy work have to do with the gospel? Why is my life so full of all this busy work? And really, aren’t there just sooo many more important things to be doing?

Really. There is just too much tragedy in the world for me to be doing laundry right now.
It’s easy for me, here in the comfort of my clothed, fed, and heated home, to stop thinking about the rest of humanity. I have to search out the stories. I have to read the news and find the tales of sorrow and suffering. If I don’t, I forget.

I want to be spending my time changing the world. Yeah, yeah, I know I’m changing the world by raising righteous children yadda, yadda, yadda. But my parents raised righteous children, too. My parents sacrificed changing the world to raise me. Don’t I have an obligation to honor their sacrifice? Is raising righteous children who will raise more righteous children enough? People haven’t stopped suffering. I feel so compelled to action, but so stymied by dirty laundry and new jambalaya recipes.

I’m old enough to recognize that “changing the world” is such a silly cliche. But most things of great magnitude in this world have come about by small means. I could be those small means! I yell to myself. The Lord isn’t having the greater global community suffer with disease and malnutrition just for fun. I have some obligation, I know it. These precious souls agreed to this existence to test themselves, and to test us. How would we respond? What would we do? I see the obligation and responsibility clearly.
But dang it, how?

How. How to do it, amidst the strange and silly pressures of middle class american life? How to teach my children to care and act on those feelings, to bear the responsibility of being world citizens? I can’t very well pick up my enormous family and truck them all over to Africa (and really, what good could I do that way?). Keeping a recycling bin is all well and good, but even that seems a little, umm, trivial, when faced with such a world full of pain.
How do you reconcile the pain of the Lord’s children with your own life? How do you teach your children that we are ALL children of God, worthy of his blessings? How do you teach your children (or yourself!) to become an instrument of change and good in the Lord’s hands?

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About Justine Dorton

Justine is a mother to five children, and has a husband lodged somewhere (probably in the den). She is not very fond of speaking of herself in third person.

12 thoughts on “How?”

  1. Justine, I don't know. I don't know. I think that we are given what we desire. And if we desire it and pray for it, we will be shown the ways that the Lord wants us to serve.

    On a kind of related note: Julie Beck gave a great talk a while ago where she thought about her own blessed life and compared it to that of a poor Latin American woman next to her in the temple (May 2006 Ensign): "In my travels, I usually have the chance to visit members in their homes. Some of those homes are very basic dwellings. At first I would say to myself: “Why am I blessed with a house that has electricity and plumbing when this family does not even have water near their home? Does the Lord love them less than He loves me?”

    Then one day I sat in a temple next to a sister who lives in a humble house. I spent two hours at her side. I looked often into her beautiful eyes and saw the love of the Lord in them. As we finished our work in the temple, I had a powerful realization. In all of the eternal blessings, in all of our most important privileges and opportunities, we were equals. I had been “baptized unto repentance,” and so had she. I had spiritual gifts, and so did she. I had the opportunity to repent, and so did she. I had received the Holy Ghost, and so had she. I had received temple ordinances, and so had she. If both of us had left this world together at that moment, we would have arrived equal before the Lord in our blessings and potential."

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  2. Almost ten years ago, I did my first internship in Africa. Ever since then, I have had this exact conflict going on in my head…it has truly caused me angst.

    A professor who encouraged me to do my first field study in Africa, told me, "You can make this the type of experience that changes your life to the extent that you decide to dedicate your life to helping others in need, or, you can come home from it, and get on with your life." Because of my respect for him, I ended up believing what he said, and dove head-first into a paradigm that trapped me. I felt like if I did not dedicate my entire professional and personal life to development/social issues, then my experiences and knowledge gained were totally null and void.

    Thankfully I've been able to move away from that dangerous point of view, but I still struggle with it, despite knowing and loving my role as a mother right now.

    For me personally, I feel like what I will teach my children about suffering, helping, change, etc., will be a direct result of my experiences abroad. I can't say that I believe these things can't be learned otherwise, but I CAN say that for me, I could not have learned these things, and thus how to teach them, if I had not seen it firsthand–both from two experiences in Africa and my mission. No amount of textbook reading or lectures listened to could have internalized what I have, now.

    As for my children…I want to encourage them to study abroad. But if that does not happen, then I feel there are so many ways, here, in the United States, to see suffering and be able to help out. Compassion and nonjudgmenetal-ness, about culture and ideas, can be learned in so many ways.

    Community gardens often attract refugees and immigrants, but everyday citizens can also plant/volunteer–I've been wanting to volunteer at one for some time. I think that would be a great way to involve children.
    Food kitchens, literacy groups, hosting a foreign exchange student in your home during the summer, or school year, are also ways I feel like people can learn, or teach their children.

    Suffering seems to be the same, across the world. Obviously, visiting starving children in a foreign land, may have a different impact on one than seeing homeless people in pioneer park–but, nevertheless, I believe we can teach our children that the emotions and experiences people face, are not vastly different from place to place.

    I desperately want to travel with my family, in part to teach them what I feel so grateful I've learned. I would love it!!

    Anyway…to wrap this huge post up—I think one of the most important things to remmeber is that helping people does not have to be our lifestyle, in order for us to be effective and great at it. We can, and should, spend the majority of our time cleaning up messes, and doing all sorts of seemingly mundane things…and feeling good about that. But, we can take the time to find places and ways to teahc our children about all of this stuff.

    Reconciling the pain of others' lives with my own???
    aahhh..that is so hard. Wow…for centuries people have called Africa "The Dark Continent," because of the belief that God had long since left the people in darkness because of their sins. People today still think that the reason there is so much suffering there, is because they are unenlightened about the gospel, and live in sin. That is a complicated topic, even though it sounds absurd outright. Obviously, all the AIDS orphans are not to blame for losing their parents, or ending up with HIV. But do you blame a continent with millions of AIDS patients for not using condomns or not living the law of chastity? my husband says yes, bless his heart, and I say no. Well…actually I say, "I don't know." That is another topic for another day. this post is way too long.

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  3. Justine you're right," The Lord isn’t having the greater global community suffer with disease and malnutrition just for fun". That is what His children do If we can raise children that don't cause harm than we are doing a great job. Think of the people in Virginia. Do you think that something like that could have been avoided by some loving parenting? Maybe or maybe not, but I think that a good mother can do a great deal to quench the violence in our world.

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  4. I want to put in a plug here for kiva, the way to lend money online to struggling entrepreneurs in the third world. It's not a gift but a loan, to help them grow their businesses and increase their income. It helps people pull themselves out of poverty. It's very much like the PEF, only it applies to everyone. I'm very excited about it, and regularly loan a sum every paycheck, and reinvest the loans paid back in further loans. It's really cool watching it grow and snowball! Check it out. http://www.kiva.org/app.php

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  5. I think about this alot. It really seems immoral to me to live a middle class lifestyle when other people are suffering. Would Jesus have been thinking about a new game system when other people don't have food to eat?

    I worry not only about teaching my children, but about what I have learned and what I am doing in a practical sense. And whatever it is, it doesn't feel like enough.

    My husband, who grew up in poverty in a family of migrant immigrants, has a slightly different perspective. He says Americans think Mexicans are poor in terms of material items, but Mexicans see the spiritual poverty of Americans. He doesn't see physical suffering as being as big a deal as I do. But either way, I feel like I am being tested. What am I doing with my (relative) material wealth? Am I using it to cultivate spiritual wealth?

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  6. Kate, you always know just what to say, and you are so right. I can raise children that don't contribute to a culture of corruption and violence.

    And I got involved with Kiva last year. It's a great idea, for sure, but it does feel slightly sanitized and removed from the whole process of sacrifice and giving. I feel removed from the process, even though I know I'm vital to that process. Strange, I know.

    Emily, I thought a great deal about that talk after she gave it. And she is just so fundamentally right. We all are equal in opportunity where spirituality is concerned.

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  7. Ok, you talked me into it–Kiva just got more $. And you can sort by gender if you want to donate to female entreprenuers. Love it!

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  8. My husband is doing wonderful things to help develop social consciousness and expand the awareness of not only our own children but all the young people in our ward. For last month's combined activity, he had all the YM and YW bring from $5.00 to $10.00 (from money they had earned themselves) and together they found a Kiva project to support. Also, in June he will be taking a group of young people (including our three oldest sons) to Mexico to build homes for people who have nothing. This will be the second year for my oldest son. His first experience in Mexico changed his life.

    I think it's vitally important that we make our children aware of the broader world and of the sometimes excruciating conditions that people live under. And then we need to encourage them to take action–to do whatever they can, using their own unique gifts, to make life a little better for their fellow sojourners on this ole' planet. Our daughter, who loves music and theater, founded the DreamMaker Theater Workshop–a theatrical troupe for kids with disabilities–when she was in high school. Thanks, largely, to the efforts and example of their dad, each of our boys have participated (willingly even!) in numerous service projects and humanitarian efforts. For his Eagle Project, our 13-year-old son collected materials for and put together 150 school kits to deliver to the children in that area of Mexico where they'll be building homes this summer. And our 9-year-old is currently working on a project that he calls "No More Wars." His goal is to collect stuffed animals and candy to send to the children of Iraq to foster goodwill. "That way we'll all be friends, so when we grow up there will be no more wars," he says. Gotta love it. (This whole thing, by the way, was completely his own idea.)

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  9. In my limited travel to latin American and Carribbean countries that seem impoverished, I'm always struck by the locals' happiness. I remember meeting some teenagers in Costa Rica and they loved life. They had absolutely nothing, but they loved to play "football" everyday and they loved to laugh and even though their house was a hut and made of corrugated tin, they light and sparkle in their eyes made me question the way I lived MY life back in the States– way too excessively, i decided.

    I love what angie says about "spiritual poverty"– so true. Maybe we feel guilty sometimes for the relative ease of our lifestyles and so we want to give back and DO SOMETHING! It's difficult to feel helpless. I know it seems cliche, but I believe the whole "think globally act locally" slogan: we do what we can for those we are able to help and to them, it does make a difference, for them and for us.

    Maybe it's because I'm just getting my visiting teaching done today (horrible, I know!), but this post reminds me of the April theme of caring for the poor and needy.

    Definitely a helpful post for me– thanks, Justine!

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  10. There is so much need. It can be overwhelming. But I do believe what Brooke says is true about doing what you can in whatever circle you find yourself in. Also, I think sometimes we forget the good that we do every time we pay our tithes and offerings or even take a bunch of old stuff to DI. Have you ever toured the church's humanitarian building up in SLC? I had no idea that my kids old shoes, shorts and shirts were helping to clothe kids in Africa, but it's true. Most of what we drop off there does not stay in this country.

    I'm not trying to urge complacency–I have great respect for those who reach out and I have a desire to do more, but I hope in doing so I don't forget that no matter what I do globally, there are many things I can do–as simple as sending a warm smile someone's way or offering a hug at the right moment–that will make the greatest difference among my family, neighbors, friends, co-workers and people I meet on the street.

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  11. I have the best of both worlds currently; I work with homeless youth and make sure I'm a clear and positive presence in the lives of my niece and nephews. Maybe the balance for Moms who are in the throes of childhood get balanced by the single, or childless women here on this earth. Plus, I know it's so cliche but it will be over before you know it and you will have time to serve. I wish more women could accept the seasons of their lives, it would create a lot more bliss and a lot less undo strife. If I were impacting my own children instead of working with other people's children, there would not be much difference, would there? When I'm not at work or school or running across CA to pick up a nephew or niece for a sleepover, I'm indulging in mani/pedis, walks on the beach and movies, etc. I have that luxury and it helps balance how much I'm required to give emotionally and physically at my job. About the busyness of life, I have an issue reading some women's blogs where it is all about buying new furniture, having houses built, or losing that last 5 lbs. (you get the idea) I know blogs are for that kind of stuff, but I see many spoiled women who don't even acknowledge how truly spoiled they are…and I won't call those types of endeavors "blessed", sorry, you might as well own it if you are spoiled! And yeah, that is a judgment on my part, I own that too! 🙂

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  12. I have a fantasy about getting up in sacrament meeting and challenging my ward to choose something "big" to do to help the world. I think it is possible to do big things AND be a mom. It is just different for different people. And really when I think about it a lot of people ARE doing "big" things to make a difference.

    Bek at Ignore the Crazy does volunteer work in Africa a couple of weeks a year and does ongoing projects with charities that work there.

    My friend in my ward goes with her husband to do dental work in the Dominican Republic or Samoa or other places where dentists are scarce and people are poor.

    My husband and I are fostering a baby right now through our county child services agency. That has selfish purposes too, for us, but I think it's something more people could do that would make a big difference.

    If you look on the Church's humanitarian service site there are lists of things they need and projects you can do to help. Heck, crochet some leper bandages while you watch TV at night.

    A lot of moms I know volunteer in their kids' classrooms. That takes a lot of pressure off teachers who can then help kids more effectively. I think that is a big thing.

    Something I want to do (maybe when I get released from Young Women) is take Spanish classes. Then I would be able to help people in need in my own town so much better.

    Something I am not at all good at doing is sharing the gospel. But that is a big thing that one person can do.

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