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My Ordinary Life

This is a guest post by Liz Wolfe, who spends her days reviewing tax returns and her nights trying to forget what she does for a living. She induces this forgetfulness by reading an eclectic selection of books, writing a never-ending short story, and watching her fish swim. You can find her at Did I Digress?

I came across this thought-provoking essay, Honor in the Ordinary: Teaching Honors Intensive Writing at BYU, Fall 2006,

on Friday and I’ve been thinking about it over the weekend.

The author, Lisa Rumsey Harris, provided me with two questions to ponder, questions that I’ve thought about before:

“Does everyone really have a story to tell?”

And, “Is there honor in the ordinary?”

She answers both of these with a hesitant, and then resounding “Yes.” And as I’ve been thnking about in in a Gospel perspecitve, I’m inclined to agree with her.

But honestly, these two questions are ones that I’ve reflected on often in my life and have lead me to ve very unhappy at times, with where I am and what I’ve accomplished.

Would I want to tell my story?

I don’t know. I’ve often joked that my life is so mundane that my journal would consist of one entry with all subsequent pages stating “see page one.” And what I did over the weekend (i.e. nothing) only goes to support that.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know we all have moments when we look back over our lives and think “What if” or “If only.” And I also know that if that’s the only way we see ourselves, we’re only going to be disappointed and dissatisfied—and that makes it impossible to be happy.

But, it is hard when I think of where I thought I would be at 32 and what I thought I would be doing. Aside from still being alive, nothing else is what I’d imagined.

It’s hard to let go. And it’s disheartening to take stock of accomplishments and be able to do it on one hand.

Is there any honor in my ordinary life?

In the end, I have faith that there is (even though I don’t always see it).

I’m working on it, though.

So what about you? How do you find “honor in the ordinary?”

17 thoughts on “My Ordinary Life”

  1. Liz, you ask great questions (and I loved that article). I have been grappling with this for a while. Don't we all ask this, no matter what our stage or age? Though I don't think I have a solid answer for myself yet, someone read the quote I'm including below in church a few weeks ago, and it helped me a great deal. Virginia Pearce (in May '97 Ensign) compared the pioneers' 1300 mile journey of mundane tasks and tiresome walking, to our own life-journey towards Zion:

    "Most of our lives are not a string of dramatic moments that call for immediate heroism and courage. Most of our lives, rather, consist of daily routines, even monotonous tasks, that wear us down and leave us vulnerable to discouragement. Sure, we know where we’re going, and if it were possible we would choose to jump out of bed, work like crazy, and be there by nightfall. But our goal, our journey’s end, our Zion is life in the presence of our Heavenly Father. And to get there we are expected to walk and walk and walk.

    ". . . It is so difficult to keep believing that we are making progress when we are moving at such a pace—to keep believing in the future when the mileage of the day is so minuscule.

    "Do you see yourself as a heroic pioneer because you get out of bed every morning, comb your hair, and get to school on time? . . . Do you see the heroism in going to church every single Sunday, participating in class, and being friendly to others? Do you see the greatness in doing the dishes over and over and over? Or practicing the piano? Or tending children? Do you recognize the fortitude and belief in the journey’s end that are required in order to keep saying your prayers every day and keep reading the scriptures? Do you see the magnificence in giving time a chance to
    whittle your problems down to a manageable size?

    "President Howard W. Hunter said, “True greatness … always requires regular, consistent, small, and sometimes ordinary and mundane steps over a long period of time.”

    ". . . how happy people are who have learned to bend to the rhythm of paced and steady progress—even to celebrate and delight in the ordinariness of life."

    As far as daily application of finding "honor in the ordinary," I am trying to put priority on some pretty basic things: spiritual routines, tidy house, service, becoming more kind, etc., and worrying less about changing the world in dramatic ways. Reminding myself of that quote helps me stay focused. Including simple fun and interactions with friends helps me enjoy the process, as does keeping a grateful heart and avoiding comparing myself to others.

    Thanks for such a great, thought provoking post!

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  2. I love Lisa's essay and Liz's response. I have so many thoughts about it. I think we're all looking for honor in our ordinary lives. We have an age of fifteen minutes of fame, when it's not as hard as it used to be to become well-known. What have we lost because of that, I wonder? Maybe I'm idealizing the past, but it seems to me that there used to be a basic self-respect in performing ordinary tasks and living ordinary lives, instead of feeling now as though we need to apologize that we're not better or greater than we are.

    President Packer gave a wonderful talk on this a few conferences ago. It was the conference when Elders Bednar and Uchtdorf were sustained, and he talked about the power of the ordinary members of the Church. You can read it here.

    In my own life, I have to step away from my ordinary jobs and try to see myself clearly. Sometimes there are certain chores that make me do that more easily. Folding laundry, for instance. This is weird, but I always feel the Spirit when I fold laundry. It's a little witness that this is a good way to be spending my time. There's a basket calling my name right now . . .

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  3. I recently read an essay in Time where the author was so tired of hearing about everyone's lives because there was just no drama in hearing about laundry, dishes, soccer camp, or violin lessons. I completely disagree with her.

    There is so much power and beauty from our ordinary, corn-flakes plain lives. There is so much to learn from soccer camp, violin lessons, and grass stained shorts. The times of drama, and often melodrama, only punctuate what I consider to be our real lives. My real life is vibrant and real and wonderful, mostly only because I choose to make it so.

    I have to say that I live an extraordinary life. It isn't filled with very much drama or high society living. But for some reason, I don't think that minimizes the beauty of sharing those experiences with those who can most appreciate them — other corn-flake plain moms just like me.

    Thanks for sharing!

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  4. Liz, great post. Wendy, that's exactly the quote I was going to put up here. (Pearce)

    I wish I had some easy answers for these questions. I find myself asking these same things, often. I like my life, I probably could say I love it, but it is not an easy life, nor is it pain or sorrow free.

    I don't think we can, or should, glorify mundane tasks like cleaning toilets or making beds, or doing taxes, in order to prove that we like our lives, whatever it is that makes up each of our lives. It kind of bothers me sometimes when people do that, to be honest. But I do think our attitude about what we do can be controlled. As hard as it can be sometimes, we can make sure our attitude honors the routine, the ordinary.

    Making time for myself, and doing something each week that isn't mundane or ordinary, really helps me respect and honor all of the routine stuff. It gives me a break and that break seems to refresh my perspective when I get back into the grind.

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  5. Justine–"corn-flakes plain lives"–LOVE it!

    I was thinking about this very thing. For a long time I've wanted to write fiction stories about mothers, but I've always been stumped on how to present the character growth and personal development that comes from the daily grind of mothering. A lot of that is internal. And it isn't exciting initially. But when I look back at my growth, I get excited to see what I've developed but always humbled by the reality of what is to come.

    Tonight, I did something very mundane and boring–cooked dinner. But it brought back a flood of memories as I shucked corn and then boiled it for fresh corn on the cob. I should have told my kids about my memories, but I hugged them close to me as I reveled in my ordinary life.

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  6. Wendy: Thank you for the quote from Sister Pearson. I hadn’t heard it and it’s given me a lot to ponder as I reflect upon how I view (and how I should view) the little things I do each day. I’ve made a copy of her article to re-read.

    Emily M.: I completely agree with you about our current “15 minutes of fame” culture, and that it has altered how we view the lives that most of us have. And, I’ve never thought about recognizing the Spirit as I accomplish daily tasks, but you can bet I’m going to pay attention from now on! (And thanks for pointing me to Pres. Packer’s talk.)

    Justine: I, too, love your “corn-flakes plain lives” phrase. And you’re right, our lives are about learning what we need to know, and that is done in our everyday. There is beauty in that, and purpose. And these experiences do need to be shared!

    Kristen: I really like your idea about “mak[ing] sure our attitude honors the routine, the ordinary” because you’re right, that’s where we have the power. We might not be able to change (or even should change) our daily doings, but how we perceive them can make all the difference.

    Tiffany: I hope you do tackle those stories. They are needed! There is great incite in understanding that it is in the “daily” that we develop and grow. I think we sometimes think that inner progress is only attainted in the huge challenges we face in life, but in reality, it happens every morning we open our eyes and begin another day.

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  7. I would agree with a resounding "Yes!" I can't speak for my own life, because it's hard to find honor in just doing what you do day in and day out. But I have started a series of posts (I'd like to finish some day) about women I know in whom I find great honor and courage just in their day-to-day existence. (I'll link just one.

    If you happened to pass by any of these women at the local grocery store or wait in line behind them at the pharmacy you wouldn't have any idea they were extraordinary people. But each time sit behind one of them during sacrament meeting or Relief Society or wave at one of them from the street I am humbled by their quiet greatness.

    The truth is I think I could find something truly exemplary in every sister in my Relief Society. For a few, their situations seem so hopeless I admire them just for getting out of bed and greeting one more day. (Even the ones that carry a little chip on their shoulders.)

    I do know one thing, however. When it comes to my own story, I'm going to let my friends write it. I know we have a tendency to be too hard on ourselves. I don't know if it's that, or if I just have generous friends. But it's clear that my friends believe I'm a much better person than I think I am.

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  8. I'm not sure what we do is ordinary. Providing a home, love, security for our children and families? That's not ordinary. Not at all. We as mothers and women often put others needs before our own. We have too in order to keep harmony. Sacrificing something, even something small, for somebody else, is always extraordinary.

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  9. I've really enjoyed this post as well as reading everyone's comments, as I have also often asked myself the same questions. Do the "ordinary" things I do really make a difference–do they really matter? I think it's one of my biggest fears that I will have spent my life and it will not have mattered. It's comforting to be reminded that the biggest growth often comes from the seemingly mundane tasks of everyday. And I appreciate President Packer's reminder in his talk that it is not so much what we do (as long as we are trying to do what is right) as who we are that really matters. Yet I am still thankful for those small urges I sometimes get to push myself beyond the ordinary–to keep improving, to find my own extraordinariness. I think growth lies there as well.

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  10. Heather O., love love love what you said!

    This topic is something I have thought about a lot (even wrote about it a while back). My thoughts centered on the following two quotes, which really speak for themselves:

    Chesterton notes our low capacity for being able to deal with monotony and says in a moving passage: “It is possible that God says every morning, `Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes all daisies separately, but has never got tired of making them.” The divine delight in what seems to us to be mere repetition is one clue to the sublime character of God. Since we must, at times, accept what appears to us to be routine, repeated experiences, we too, if we try, can find fresh meaning and fresh joy in the repeated experiences. God’s course is one eternal round but it is not one monotonous round. God is never bored, for one who has perfect love is never bored. There is always so much to notice, so much to do, so many ways to help, so many possibilities to pursue (Neal A. Maxwell, A More Excellent Way, p.84-85).

    And:

    Repeatedly God has described His course as reiterative, “one eternal round”…. We mortals sometimes experience boredom in the routine repetition of our mortal tasks, including even good works; and thus vulnerable, we are urged not to grow weary in well doing (Galatians 6:9; D&C 64:33; 84:80; Alma 37:34). But given God’s divine love, there is no boredom on His part amid His repetitive work, for his course, though one eternal round, involves continuous redemption for His children; it is full of goodness and mercy as His long-suffering shows His love in action. In fact we cannot even comprehend the infinite blessings which await the faithful—”eye hath not seen, nor ear heard . . .” (1 Corinthians 2:9) (Neal A. Maxwell, Not My Will, But Thine, p.53-54).

    If I let myself see the divine in the little things, I feel the Spirit in a special way in my day-to-day.

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  11. Justine, I agree that it is a choice to make the ordinary beautiful.
    I believe there is beauty and romance in making the 'choice' to live an ordinary life. I had the choice to pursue excitement and accolades. By choosing to be a full-time mom I eliminated many other choices. But I chose this 'ordinary life' and the beauty is in why. Why choose the life of diapers and cleaning when I can choose something else? Answering this question has opened a world of richness and romance. My story, my mother's story, my sister's story, and my friends' stories are intriguing because there were choices made, things set aside, questions asked, and love multiplied.
    Tomorrow when I have an extra special mess to clean I may not feel this way, but when I am quiet and introspective I see and feel it.

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  12. Writing helps me find honor in the ordinary. I recently read back through blog entries I wrote last year. There wasn't anything spectacular about the events I was writing about– fielding visits from my in-laws, cooking on a budget, caring for small children. But those entries chronicled some real spiritual growth that I hadn't realized I had experienced until I reread them and reflected. I believe that our purpose here is loving others and becoming more Christlike in the process. We all have the opportunity to do that, regardless of how exciting or how mundane our everyday lives sometimes seem. I love that Segullah provides a place for women to reflect on and honor the ordinary.

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  13. These are beautiful thoughts, and I am struck at how different they sound than what we tell our youth. When we speak to the Church's teenagers, we tell them to follow their dreams; that they can do anything; they're amazing; they're the leaders of tomorrow; they'll change the world. The truth of the matter is that they'll be just as ordinary as we are. I hope they don't find the adjustment too much of a disillusion.

    I admit I found the adjustment to real life to be something of a shock. I like my ordinary life now, but it took some time to accept it. I'd believed everyone who raved about my potential. I wish some of them had been a little more realistic. How do you tell the youth that they're amazing, and their lives will probably be as plain and ordinary as their parents' lives?

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  14. Melinda, for me there was great power in those statements from my youth. Power to feel I could choose my destiny. I left High School under the youthful delusion that I'd be sitting on the Supreme Court in less than 20 years, and when I had my first child a decade later, I was the person who was choosing my destiny. I chose to get married and have children. I chose to leave my career, I chose to turn another direction and walk toward an ordinary life. That choice, for me, makes all the difference.

    It is [b]because I chose it[/b] that it is meaningful to me. That my parents didn't undercut me before I even had the chance to decide for myself — is precisely why I treasure it.

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  15. Melinda, I think we actually tell our youth a variety of things. Yes, we tell them that the sky is the limit, because we live in a time of wonderful opportunity. But without preparation, vision, goals and education, their potential might be limited. So it's good to tell them to set their sites high.

    It's also good to do that, because many of them will find that somewhere, sometimes earlier than later, their dreams for the 'ordinary' life may not materialize. They might not get married, or at least get married later than they had planned (this happened to me…it wasn't until after grad school and beginning a career that I started my 'ordinary' life; they might not be able to have children immediately; they might be divorced or lose a spouse or need to work to keep life afloat.

    That said, I think if you look at what the youth are also taught, in lessons and by our leaders, they are constantly reminded that some of the most important things they will do really will be in their homes and families. So I think they get both. I think it's important for them to recognize both messages and understand why both are important, and then learn to hear the Spirit to guide them on how to live priorities according to the Lord's will, not according to worldly standards of success.

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  16. Wow, everyone's had such amazing insights! I've printed off all the comments so I can continue to reflect on this issue.

    I feel so blessed to be able to learn from all of you. It has made me feel much better about my life!

    Reply

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