Saturday, March 11, 2006

How much do I owe? Part 1

I wrote this a month many things have happened since then, but that is the next post.

I have been thinking a lot lately about how good the world is to me and how lucky I am to have the life that I do. I didn't think that I would ever think that again. It was exactly one year ago that I got pregnant. That was the first event in a long series of events that would challenge my sanity, my testimony and my faith in humans. If you don't know what I am talking about, go to the first few entries, it is all in there. I still have my hard days (don't we all?) but I really didn't believe that I would get to a place where I could think that world was good again. I didn't think that I would ever have a day when the first sensation that greeted me every morning was something other then despair and grief. I have come a long way. I still have a long way to go, but at least now I know that I am on the right path. But, that is not the point.

Sometimes when bad things happen or our life gets really hard, it can be a window into other things. Yeah, yeah, I know that there is a proverb that says something to that effect. It feels like I just heard it for the very first time. I feel like I am suddenly aware of things that I didn't notice before. Like my eyes have been literally opened. Now I know why that phrase is used too. I feel like the cocoon of safety and obliviousness that I got to experience has been stripped away a little bit. In the grand scheme of things, what I have had this year is nothing compared to what others deal with. I know that and I don't pretend that it is better or worse then anyone else's life. But it's mine. So I can only talk for myself.

I am glad that I got to have those oblivious years. I can only liken it to how I relate to my body. I don't think about it until it is sick or something hurts. Then I think about it all the time. The absence of "thinking about it" is a wonderful thing. I had a great childhood, wonderful friends and family and a divine husband. I had a few ups and downs, but mostly I just got to enjoy my life and didn't have to think about it too much. I was kind of aware of how lucky I was, but didn't even think about that too much either. Now, I feel like I owe something to the cosmos to justify and acknowledge the good things in my life. Maybe I always felt this way deep down, but now I am more motivated to do something about it. Who knows?

I had a good talk with my dad about a month ago. He is a social activist and always has his fingers in lots of different things. Most of those things are important issues to him. They are issues that he feels so strongly about, he spends his time and energy working towards a resolution that is acceptable to him. He believes that he can make an impact on the world that he leaves for his kids and grandkids and he works very hard to support these numerous causes. One project that he is working on is called "Save Lives". In a nutshell , it is an educational system that was developed to teach young kids in Africa about HIV and abstinence . There have been studies done on this particular program and they have proven that the rates of HIV in young people in the areas where it is taught, dropped. It is actually saving lives in a very literal and tangible way.

In Zimbabwe, the president's wife has just asked that it be taught to every 10 year old in the country. Congress has praised it and it is growing each year. We are starting to get grants and funding and pretty soon this tiny organization will be so big we won't even recognize it! It costs 25 cents per child to implement this program. Less then the cost of the stamp to mail my utilities check. The amount of money that, at any given time, is in my couch, the bottom of my purse or the floor of my car. My dad was discussing the possibility of me helping raise funds for this program (by doing more then just cleaning out my purse or couch). The weird thing is...I kind of liked the idea. He caught me at the right time.

For the last month or so I have been feeling the desire to help out with something bigger then myself. We call make our impact in different ways and I was ready to find out how to make mine (beyond the relationships that I have and mothering my children, those are a given). I wanted a cause or platform to throw myself into. But, fundraising? Going to Africa? Is this really something that I can do? I have always been interested in Africa. I remember as a child watching the coverage of the Ethiopian famine on TV. That is actually the first time I thought to myself that I wanted to adopt. I was probably 8. I have always been interested in the different cultures and have many, many African friends. As the result of exhaustive research our family has decided that we are going to adopt our next child from Africa (probably Ethiopia) hopefully by this time next year (no, not because of Angelina Jolie...but if you really want to know the reasons, e mail me). Learning more about that country has lead me to do things like sponsor a child (Children of Ethiopia Educational Fund) and become involved in a few programs that offer micro-loans to women (The Gemini Trust). These are just a few of the many worthy programs out there, but this is just money. I am itching to do something more. Is this realistic? I have two small children at home, church callings and a fairly active social life, do I really want to complicate things? Do I have a choice?

And this brings me to the point of all this. What do I owe? Have you ever thought about this question? Has anyone else ever felt this way? And when I say "I", I really do just mean "I" and not "everyone". We are all different and I don't expect anyone's answer to this question to be the same. What do I, Rebecca, owe the world for being lucky enough to be who I am right now? Is this some sort of post traumatic stress disorder, or a savior complex? What is going on? Is it not enough to sit back and raise my children, be a good example and member of my community? I really do believe that parenting is such a big job that if we devoted every waking hour to it, we still wouldn't be doing enough. I also think that raising a family is a huge accomplishment. So, I am not diminishing the importance of the role I currently have or trying to suggest that it isn't enough. It isn't that I am looking for something else to fulfill my life. I have plenty of that. I am talking about a very real sense of obligation, or even compulsion, to do something more. Do I need to do more to make the world a better place for my kiddo's? I wish I had the answer to this question. I feel like it has come to the point where I need to swim or get out of the water. I need to take action and be proactive and do something. We all have different situations, some are married, some are single, some have kids, others don't, most of us have careers and very few are independently wealthy. We all have other times and places for our time a money to go. How did you decide what the right amount was, what the right timing was and what things to support?

I think a lot about things like "where much is given, much is expected" and "knowledge is power". I think about the words to my favorite hymn.

"Because I have been given much, I too must give;
Because of thy great bounty, Lord, each day I live.
I shall divide my gifts from thee, with every brother that I see
who has the need of help from me.

Because I have been blessed by thy great love, dear Lord.
I'll share thy love again, according to Thy word.
I shall give love to those in need;
I'll show that love by word and deed:
Thus shall my thanks be thanks in deed."

Churchy, churchy I know. But the words still make an important point. I feel they capture exactly how I feel. It is up to me to decide what I will "give" and that remains the big question. I love the phrase "divide my gifts from thee". Doesn't it feel like that sometimes? I am afraid that if I divide my gifts too many times there will only be a tiny sliver for everyone. How do I decide who gets what part?

Part of my motivation is that I worry about my kids. I worry about teaching my children about the real world. I once heard someone say "it is easier to raise a child poor then rich...many of the lessons we work to instill in our children (hard work, sacrifice, gratitude) are not optional when money is tight." Sounds kind of true, eh? Want to go to college? Work hard and get a scholarship or no dice (and we have a lesson in hard work). There isn't enough money to send all the kids to summer camp, so each year one child gets a turn (enter sacrifice). You get the idea. My little family lives in a very affluent area and they are exposed to things that are not really normal. We live in a world where people have drivers and limo's that take them to the airport, they socialize at "the club" and private schools and nannies are a given. Vacations are luxurious and "things" are plentiful. We live here because this is where our job is, but we love it here. We are not smack in the center of this lifestyle, but it is all around us every day. People are mostly the same ethnic, educational and financial bracket. Not a ton of diversity (except boy represents). I know that my children will have an education, a loving family, security and all the best that we can give them. How do I teach them to understand how lucky they are? Shouldn't I allow them to live in the cocoon of obliviousness that I enjoyed? Or is it better to expose them to the worst of it and let them make the comparison for themselves? I want to be a good example to them and show them that it is important to work for things besides ourselves...but my involvement in church and local community issues could do that.

Maybe I just need to face it that I am a wanderer. I like my soft bed, western medicine and Diet Coke as much as the next gal, but in my soul I think I could have been a Peace Corp volunteer or something like that. I am pretty sure that I could never get my husband on board at this point, but this could be my chance to fill that part of me. I did move to Russia all by myself when I was 18 to teach English. It sounded fun (duh) . It changed my life but I was too young and stupid to understand how it could have changed my life in a BAD way too.

Decisions, decisions....


Tablogger said...

You know - I was just thinking to myself, "Man, I wish Becca's blog would have a thoughtful and poignant post every once in awhile! Too bad she's always preoccupied with putting up cute pictures of the kids or the quirky questions that they ask..." :)

Seriously though - you ask a good question, but one that I suspect you already know the answer to...see Mark 10:17-27 and Luke 18:18-27 for details.

I also think King Benjamin puts it very succinctly for us. I think it is humbling and even a bit daunting to think about the depth of the commitment that is implied by these words.

Keep in mind, however, King Benjamin's words in verse 27, that all things should be done "in wisdom and order" and that we should not attempt to "run faster than [we have] strength", which I think is exactly where you are going in your post by focusing on your family first, then your church callings, then your contributions in the community...

Bek said...

HEY!!! Give me a break Tablogger. There are plenty of thoughtful posts (check the archives) but the reality of mothering is that those are once in a blue moon!! :-) I am trying to find a balance b/c this is also where I keep my family updated and a sort of journal..........ho hummm

Great points, and thanks for the scriputre references. That is always nice to see. How is your wife? I need to catch up with her. How is the knee?

Tablogger said...

Anne's doing well. As for my knee - I'm hanging in is better than yesterday. Check my blog for updates - kinda tryin' to do the same pseudo-journal thing as you with my blog.

(and I was just teasing about not having enough thoughtful posts - I especially liked your MLK day post)

Bek said...

Whew....I have gotten it from both sides. Some think TOO MUCH KIDS and other think NOT ENOUGH KIDS. :-)

I did check your blog. Yikes. I am sorry you are in so much pain.

Part two is called: I come.........

La Yen said...

Bek--I want to go with you!! Seriously!!

Julie said...

I loved this post and I'm excited to read part 2!

Bek said...


Congrats on baby Josh and the shortest ever wait for a match (what was it? All of three hours?)

Your double stroller will be your new best friend. :-)

lisa v. clark said...

I'm with you, Bek. I, as you know, am in the process of a complete simplification of my life, and some of your thoughts are what I am still turning over in my head. You know how I feel about Africa and the work you're doing. You're an inspiration to us all ("I'll say, I'm going to start a paperroute RIGHT NOW!
). No, seriously ;0) I still can't believe you lived in Russia when you did. You've always been like this: you're being true to yourself in this Africa committment, you know?

compulsive writer said...

Go for it! I wish you well. I am passing on your e-mail and will try to contribute.

Bek said...

Awww shucks everyone,

I have to admit that I feel very peaceful about my decision. It helps to have such very supportive friends (cyber and face to face). I think that I find peace in my life when I am filling my soul. My laundry still isn't done, but I need this stuff, ya know? I just hope I don't orphan my children.....

Part two coming up...I have a huge deadline tomorrow......

Ana said...

Bek, I'm a latecomer and a slow commenter, but I wanted to thank you for this post and part 2. You're helping nudge me along your path. We will for sure have to keep in touch through this ...