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where I’ve been placed

By Michelle Lehnardt

P1040977 copyOne line from my son’s letter repeats over and over in my mind, “I’ll do my best here. This is where I’ve been placed.” He wrote those words last fall from Kurgan, Russia, a somewhat bleak place whose name literally translates to ‘burial mound.’ My son will be home from his mission in just 12 days (oh-my-goodness-we-can-hardly-wait!), and I’m still rolling that idea over and over in my mind– “where I’ve been placed.”

As Mormons, we like to have a sense of destiny, of “this is how it’s supposed to be” and that sense especially applies to where we live.

I’ve spent my entire life in Salt Lake City, Utah. For many of my friends, staying in Utah was the ultimate goal. But for me, without any extended family or real ties to Salt Lake, I always thought I’d explore the planet. When I married my husband, a first-generation American, he felt the same way. We would live all kinds of places, help the church grow in remote areas, raise our children with a broad view of the world.

And then, he got a great job in Salt Lake and I had one baby after another. Opportunities to move never came along and when we tried to make opportunities all our plans failed.

I’m starting to realize, this is where I’ve been placed.

In the last few years, I’ve been increasingly grateful for my sliver of paradise. I constantly make mental lists of all the advantages of my unique spot on the planet. And it’s such a lovely place, my seventeen-year-old niece Lizzy, flies out here from California during every vacation, four day weekends and a month in the summer to spend time with our family and all the friends she’s made in our ward and neighborhood. Funny, smart and with the ability to make friends easily, Lizzy loves her classmates but can’t participate in their weekend activities.

In fact, Lizzy’s pretty jealous of Abby, our seventeen year old friend from Boston who currently lives in our basement. After getting asked to prom twice last year and having both invitations rescinded because Abby told the boys she wouldn’t sleep with them after prom, Abby begged her parents to let her spend just one year of high school in Utah.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Lizzy and Abby are not self-righteous snobs. They love and respect their local friends for their many good qualities; they just can’t go to their parties. And I’m certainly not saying Mormons have a monopoly on moral behavior. Friends in the mid-west tell me their children find many friends of other faiths who are careful about their choices. I would think every parent– religious or not– would disapprove of underage drinking and teenage sex, but my sister and my friends tell me most parents just shrug their shoulders and say, “It’s just how it is.” A popular justification: “I want my kids to experiment with sex, drugs and alcohol while they are at home. I won’t be there to pick them up in college.”

I’m grateful I can provide a haven for Abby and Lizzy and their younger siblings. I’m not saying I live in a perfect place. Our high school holds every vice you can imagine– but it also holds every virtue.

Maybe I’m getting off track? This isn’t meant to be a piece about how great it is to live in Utah, rather, appreciating and serving where you’ve been placed.

In Abby and Lizzy, I recognize a rare maturity. They are solid in their testimony; they aren’t bothered by trivial things; they are good at reaching out to those who are struggling. And although they absolutely could have developed those qualities in Utah, I do think they are strong because they’ve stood up to so much opposition from a young age. They have thrived where they’ve been placed.

My sister and my friends who live outside Utah have also had much more opportunity to serve in the church and experience missionary opportunities. They are developing skills I have yet to hone. OK, let’s be honest, my friends in one ward over have much more opportunity to serve in the church. My ward could fill every calling twice and still have dozens without a call.

Although I’d love to live somewhere I felt more needed, I’m grateful for all the extraordinary teachers, choristers and Scout leaders who have nurtured my children over the years. I do believe the things we teach in the home are most important, but I’d be both vain and foolish if I didn’t give credit to all those around me who have lifted, taught and mentored my little tribe.

I should also note, Abby and Lizzy have wonderful teachers and leaders too, and their situation, too, would be very different if they moved to a neighboring ward or stake. Every little microcosm offers a unique learning experience. I’m trying the gain the lessons I need from where I’ve been placed.

Every country, city, neighborhood, ward has it’s blessings and challenges. How have you learned to embrace where you live?

About Michelle Lehnardt

(Blog Team) I'm the kind of mom who drives through mud puddles, throws pumpkins off the roof and lets the kids move the ping-pong table into the kitchen for the summer. Despite (or probably, because of) my immaturity, my five sons and one daughter are happy, thriving, funny people. I'll climb a mountain with you, jump into a freezing lake hand-in-hand or just sit with you while you cry. I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ will heal the earth. Founder of buildyourteenager.com, scenesfromthewild.net and rubygirl.org.

12 thoughts on “where I’ve been placed”

  1. I appreciate the thoughtfulness of the essay. The last time we were in Utah, we had flown out for General Conference, and my girls noticed right in the airport how modestly the young people dressed. It was a subtle thing: Still wearing jeans, but no exposed midriff.

    But please do not refer to that part of the USA as "in the heart of Zion." It isn't true, since more members live outside the US than inside, and it comes across as arrogant. And also Zion is the pure in heart, and I hear horror stories (and have experienced) how judgmental some Mormons in that part of the vineyard can be.

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  2. I've thought about this a lot too–I didn't grow up in Utah and came here for college. I always thought I'd go to school here and then move away to somewhere else. Instead, I ended up staying here and will probably live here for the rest of my life. I've had pretty strong promptings that the neighborhood where I live, and even the house I own, are the place where I should be. I still struggle with that sometimes–but I am grateful for the many good things my kids will have in growing up.

    At the same time, it's sometimes hard for me to figure out how to parent them because their growing up is so different from mine. I really didn't have much social life in high school at all. I was one of the few Mormons in my school and I didn't date and I didn't go to parties. I had a few friends and we sometimes did stuff together, but the high school social scene was not something I was part of at all. It seems to be a much bigger deal in here in Utah and I sometimes worry about helping my kids navigate it, because my attitude (based on my experience) is that high school stuff isn't a big deal. I admit I'm not always very empathetic with my kids now that I'm 20 years post high school. I'm working on it.

    I also feel bad that my kids won't have much experience, if any, with the full-time missionaries. Growing up, we had the missionaries in our home frequently for dinner and other things. When I was in high school I spent quite a bit of time with the sister missionaries (when we had some in our ward). Due to the increased number of missionaries in our mission we do have them a bit more frequently in our ward, but I can't ever host them for dinner since I'm a single parent.

    I have moved around a bit and have discovered that every place has its good things and bad things, and its particular culture. I hate it when people want to make fun of one particular place or want to act like one place is the best place for everyone to live. The world is a big, beautiful place and people can find ways to live a great life pretty much anywhere.

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  3. I'm currently living with my family in Japan because we were placed/transplanted here. Everyone in our English speaking (largely ex-pat) ward feels that they were led to live here, and talks and testimonies often revolve around encouraging us to make sure we accomplish the things that we're here to do. I know that there are people that I was sent here to meet and learn from and teach. I have no idea the implications our time here will have on the lives of my daughters, but I know they will be affected. As we prepare to move to Texas (another "placement" by the Lord, because I would never have predicted or picked it), it's helpful to think in the same line- what am I being placed there to do? Who do I need to meet and serve?
    I wonder what would happen in wards around the world if people said, "We have all been brought here to ______________ to do the Lord's work. How will we make that happen?"
    Thank you for the thought provoking post!

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  4. Ten years ago my family moved across the country (West coast of Australia to East coast) away from our family friends to follow a prompting of the Lord. I did not want to go but did what i knew the Lord wanted.

    I have come to love this place but it is hard. Where we are now, the church is very small and the temple a 3.5 hour drive away (1 way). I know this is where the Lord wants us. We have no family close. We have made amazing friends but I miss my ones from back home. I get home sick.

    My eldest is now 15 and life is a struggle for her. She has lost her testimony, but still comes to church to follow our household rules. I wanted to go home (permanently) recently as being with strong family and friends in an area with the temple close and a strong youth program was what I felt she needed. We prayed and fasted about it. And we got a no – this is where she needs to be – in this ward. I cried most of that Sunday.

    I will stay where the Lord wants us to stay. He knows what is best for our family.

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  5. We recently moved from Utah to Pennsylvania, and I'm certainly wondering why I was placed here. I always wanted to live in the east, and my husband and I talked for years about going somewhere and having an adventure, so even though this move was unexpected, it was not unwelcome. However, with the specifics of this job situation and community, I feel like I have lost pretty much all the dreams I had for a move. I had some rather specific things I wished to gain (in addition to the location) from this, and not one of them has come to pass. In many ways it feels like we are worse off than before, particularly in terms of finances and ability to achieve goals and live out dreams. My almost-daily mantra has been "There is a reason we are here. I can be patient until I discover what it is. I can be patient. The Lord knows the deepest desires of my heart, and He will provide for me the blessings I dream of."

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  6. I came to Utah to go to college and as soon as I was done applied to jobs all over the world. I didn't apply to a single job in Utah. But I ended up with a job in Utah….and sixteen years later, I'm still here. I feel a lot of peace about that now. There have been years I've struggled with it, but right now I'm happy in my ward and house and marriage (9 years for all three which is the longest by far I've ever lived anywhere).

    I grew up moving a lot – with a family that prayed and fasted and talked about making a difference where we were placed. It's taken me a few years to realize that the answer to stay can be just as challenging and stretching and heart wrenching as the answer to go.

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  7. Yes, the time with missionaries is such a boon for those outside Utah. And it's sad you can't have the missionaries over for dinner. Hopefully you'll get some sisters in your area– but that darn 5:30 p.m. dinner time!

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  8. Thanks so much for your response, Maryanne. I can absolutely understand why expats in Japan would feel a sense of purpose. Enjoy your adventure!

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  9. Thanks eljee. Your comment was so interesting to me. Even when we know we've been placed somewhere it's hard to know WHY.

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