One 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 After getting asked to prom twice last year and having both invitations rescinded because Abby told the boys she wouldn’t sleep with them after prom, Abby begged her parents to let her spend just one year of high school in Utah.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?