7. Just Smile

I thought that with two kids at school for the afternoon and the third down for a nap, I might take a little (or a long) snooze after a very busy week. I’ve been in four states, four beds, and constantly going three directions at any given moment all week long. I even walked in late to my little sister’s wedding on Tuesday while still braiding my hair and trying to carry on a quiet conversation with relatives I haven’t seen in years. Busy never looked so stunning (my husband’s words).

Then I decided to be one of those moms who shares with the world that she has successfully gotten her kids off to the first day of school. I glanced over the photos I’d snapped. Then I patted myself on the shoulder for getting photos and still getting kids to their destinations early (am I turning a new leaf?).

But the photos of my son just weren’t making the grade. He refuses to be in photos if I make one tiny ounce of suggestion, like, “Can you put your hands down?” After that the photos I do get are sort of grotesque, like he thought he was imitating Gene Simmons in plaid. While posing for a JCPenney catalog.

Eating my fancy little sandwich of homegrown tomatoes and basil on homemade bread from freshly ground wheat and toasted with organic Havarti cheese from the snobby grocery store I was so proud of myself for visiting for the first time since it opened three years ago, I decided to browse Facebook a moment before posting some little “it’s tough to get a smile out of this one” about my five-year-old son.

And then I scrolled to this photo of a five-year-old boy.

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A 5-year-old boy, identified in news reports as Omran Daqneesh, sits in an ambulance Wednesday after reportedly being pulled out of a building hit by an airstrike in Aleppo, Syria. Mahmoud Raslan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

And I think, “What the [glottal stop] am I even doing?”

It’s pouring rain outside and the only worry I have is that I forgot to give my son his rain jacket. This kid just got rained on by rubble. Where was his impermeable shield for that?

Disparity, unfairness, inequality, inequity, injustice…I can’t even find a word to describe how that contrast smashed me in the gut and shook the fatigue out of me.

Is it enough to do the best I can to help with what I have? Is it really enough if I tell myself, as I was reminded in a very uplifting women’s meeting last night, that “today you are a little bit better than you were yesterday?” How do I reconcile doing my best with watching so many lives lost and broken every single day?

I know there is a long view and that “because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, ultimately, in the eternal scheme of things, there will be no unfairness.”

But how do I keep that from becoming a numbing comfort, like a narcotic I turn to every time the pain of the suffering world gets to be too great?

I can only say right now, as I am about to go greet my children at the bus stop, that my path brings me to God’s children just as much as the path of that journalist took him to little Omran. Whether it is merely chance that I am here (rather than in some war-torn country, for now) or whether it is some result of a pre-determined path, my moral obligation is the same: to do my best with what I have and do it for another’s welfare, not simply my own.

I have other thoughts to write about later on relating to “playing God” versus “leaving it to God” versus “becoming like God,” which some may detest, others may identify with, and others may just dismiss.

And nap is over now, for my third child is crying and it looks like the windy, rainy version of Hades from my peaceful home. I feel selfish as I say that I am grateful it is only rain.

5 thoughts on “7. Just Smile

  1. I had a similar reaction to that heartbreaking photo. It put my silly problems in perspective. I have had such a busy and difficult time moving and our new home came with some unwelcome surprises like poorly done DIY projects that the previous owners attempted (seriously people! Put DOWN the paintbrush and power drill, you’re inept!) And then we discovered that the master bathroom shower has a leak that drips into the downstairs half bath. I cried and felt horrible for HOURS! I couldn’t sleep, I muttered curses for the previous owner who I am quite certain knew full well about the problem and tried to conceal it, I questioned all of my life choices that have brought me to this point, etc. until 2 AM. And then I woke up and discovered that I have a loving and hardworking husband who was already busily assembling furniture, making phone calls to fix our leak, and bringing me breakfast. I have 4 healthy children who are safe and happy. I have a house to live in and boxes full of possessions that I simply have to unpack. And that poor child, along with many more children and families in Syria and elsewhere, are not nearly so lucky. I know that I do not deserve all of the blessings that I enjoy, if we got what we DESERVE in this life I’d be in real trouble. I need to work on being more grateful and more helpful to those less fortunate than myself.

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    • Oh, how I love you, Heidi! I think we were once those people who should have put down the paint brush and drill. We drove by our old house in Utah this week, and I hadn’t had the heart to connect with the new owner to ask if we could come see it for old time’s sake. I just remembered all the horrid attempts we had made at DIY fix-ups. I hope your home feels much more welcoming as the ruffles get smoothed out and the boxes reveal their secrets!

      I read these words at a baptism today for a man who has been through hell and back. They’re a couple lines from the hymn “I Know that My Redeemer Lives:”

      He lives to comfort me when faint
      He lives to hear my soul’s complaint.

      It reminded me that our troubles are never trivial to the Lord. Objectively, they may sound ridiculous, but in the context of exhaustion, unmet expectations, and more fear, worries and stress than we can really articulate in the moment, they actually do make sense. And since our Savior felt all those things, he isn’t just some judgmental spectator thinking, “What is her problem? I know what pain, suffering, disappointment, and heartbreak are–she needs to get out more.” He let the hurt and pain of Gethsemane and the cross work compassion and mercy so deeply in him that his love is inseparable from what he sees us go through. What is it Paul (the apostle, not one of our uncles) said?

      “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Romans 8:38-39).

      It doesn’t all add up right now that my suffering seems like nothing whereas another’s is beyond my comprehension. It also feels terrifying to be so free that, in reality, I’m the only one in a position to make myself unhappy. Did you ever read Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl? He survives a Nazi death camp and shares his experience and philosophy to benefit others. I suppose that if he found that he could still choose–after every other choice had been taken from him–what his attitude could be, then it is possible to be “free” in the narrowest confines that evil can impose on us. I think what throws off my “balanced equation” for suffering is the variable of evil. Fortunately, it is not a constant in terms of eternal things. And through a miracle my limited mind cannot understand, the constant is the atonement of Jesus Christ. It does and will bring wholeness where the most unimaginable (and the most typical) losses have taken their toll on us.

      I just feel so helpless when I’m confronted by the realities that others face every day when it feels like I can do so little (a vote here, some consistent donations there, and a few opinions injected into the blogosphere now and then) that it seems ludicrous. I love the starfish story, which I was reminded of the other night and which I’m sure you’ve heard. A man is walking along the beach tossing stranded starfish back into the ocean before they get eaten by seagulls or dried up by the sun. Another man points out the futility of his work, noting that there must be thousands of starfish, so how does he think he can possibly make a difference? The first man bends down, picks up another starfish, and as he tosses it into the ocean says, “I made a difference to that one.”

      I guess I have to tell myself that I don’t always have the luxury of knowing which “one” I made a difference to and just keep plugging away as if the results are as obvious to some as their need for help is to me.

      Whew! That should teach you to respond to one of my blogs:) Apparently there’s a lot to tap into here.

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      • Oh I am a heel! You wrote such a thoughtful response to me and I didn’t even see it until just now! Thank you Elissa! I love the starfish story as well. I just love sea stars in general, and the ones on the West Coast have had such a struggle the past few years with disease. I would dearly love to spend a few hours putting sea stars into the water. I wonder if the good things that I’ve tried to do over the years had any lasting impact. Did those peaches I thinned and harvested in the welfare orchard back in Idaho make it into hungry bellies? Did the lunches I served at the homless shelter make a sad person feel full and loved for just a little while? Did it give him the energy to tackle his problems? Did I actually reach the many, many Primary children I’ve taught over the years? Did they feel the spirit? Or did they just enjoy the object lesson and eat the cookies and forget the whole thing? Will they resist temptation any better because of what I taught? Did the school supplies that I donated help a child learn? Of did she just break the pencils in frustration and drop out? I honestly don’t know if anything I’ve ever done has REALLY made a difference for the better. Because it turns out that good intentions are not enough. If you just chuck a sea star into the ocean he may very well still die, he needs a nice, safe tide pool to thrive. If you spend millions shipping clothes and goods to far off counties (for the proverbial “starving children in Africa”) you’ve misspent that money which COULD have been better used in the local economy of whatever country. It should have been given as micro loans or whatever. The food drives and clothes drives and school supplies drives may not have been the best way for me to help my fellow men and women. Most of the poor would’ve benefited more from my cash than my lousy donated goods. Speaking of which, should I or shouldn’t I be handing out dollars to pan handlers? Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. When I was pregnant with my youngest child I left MFM after a particularly terrifying appointment (2 hours on monitors and making phone calls to get my children picked up from school, wondering if I would be induced that day) and as I tearfully drove away I saw a man begging at the entrance to the parking lot. I stopped and gave him all the cash I had in my purse, which was only $15. I figured that I would get some good karma out of the deal. Quite a while later after I had my six weeks post partum check up he was still there. Same spot, same sign. I just avoided eye contact and drove on. After all, I HAD my healthy baby at that point so I wasn’t trying to barter my way into blessings. Do I do good only to get my gold sticker for the day? I’m asking like you can tell me! I honestly don’t know for sure. Doing good makes me feel better about myself, so I guess that is always at least a part of my motivation. I wish that I could adopt one of the little children from war torn Syria and give him or her a good home. But am I willing to “adopt” an adult from Syria? Sponsor a family? That sounds expensive and really hard and I am awkward enough interacting with adults who are from the same country as me! Anyway. I’ve got plenty of selfish desires to spend my scant resources on. I want to improve the world, but I’d also really, really love to repaint my entire house and buy some nice patio furniture. It’s pretty clear that I’m no Mother Teresa. Not that she was perfect either, I wish that I didn’t know about some of her more questionable choices and opinions. So I suppose that even SHE was no Mother Teresa at times.

        There, NOW who left an unreasonably long response? 😊 I had better try and sleep. Take care!

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    • Thank you, Victoria! I don’t feel incredible, but I’m glad whenever I can express a thought or feeling well enough that someone else gets a glimpse at what is going on in my tangled brain! You are also very articulate, and it is a pleasure reading or listening to what you have to say.

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