The Joys of Service

"I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection.  Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God's business."
—Michael J. Fox
Maybe it is because I spent so much time today reading the heartbreaking comments so many people have posted on Single Dad Laughing, that I feel so compelled to post today.  The button on the bottom right will send  you to Dan's amazing post, 'The Disease Called Perfection', a serious delve into the anguish caused by the pressure people put on themselves and upon others to appear as the media's contorted perception of beautiful, behave pleasantly, never feel lost or uncertain, never make mistakes, never feel anger, never doubt, never sin, never fail to meet the expectations of others or mold yourself into their misconception of you.  

As Dan so poignantly points out, lives have been lost—lives of children—because a person feels encompassed in darkness, trapped in their horrible situations, and there is no hope of that ever changing.  They feel they have betrayed God or God has betrayed them, or they have disappointed their families or shamed them or angered them or whatever overwhelming despair overcomes them, and they take their own lives because they see it as their only means of escape.  Because of the despair of imperfection in a society that demands it.

The point of Dan's post is to encourage people to stop castigating themselves that they are not the super model or the super mom or the ubber-dad or -kid they believe society demands of them; to be kinder to themselves; to know that they are not alone and that no one has experienced anything that has not been experienced by somoene else.   The perfection in which they feel surrounded is only an illusion.  That illusion distorts our vision. We see everyone else more perfect than they are, and ourselves far, far less.

In response to that blog post, readers have poured out their hearts to the great anonymous void of the internet, hoping to somehow connect with someone—anyone who will listen, receive some validation, or just get a virtual hug.  In one day, almost 500 people have shared this post with their friends via Facebook, and almost 200 have made comments on the blog, either sharing their own sorrows or attempting to uplift those who so desperately stand in need of it.

I'm going to share my own comment here, just to follow Dan's example and be real, and dig up the courage to not do it anonymously.  

At first, I thought I wasn't that brave, but the longer I wrote, the more I realized how important it was to be real enough to identify myself.  

But, in the same token, the real me (not just the me I want everyone to see) is full of the light of hope which an unwavering testimony of Jesus Christ can bring.  In Him and in my Heavenly Father I have never doubted.  I have never been so encompassed by darkness that I felt utterly and absolutely abandoned.  I have always known to whom I can turn for solace, even if sometimes I don't want solace and I just want to wallow in self-pity for a while.  That said, here is my comment:  
Sorry. I'm not perfect enough to admit to my imperfections other than anonymously. Too many of my family and friends read this blog. Those who know me well will recognize me, and I don't want to disillusion those who don't. 

I HATE the illusion. I hate that people think that I'm perfect. Recently, a friend said, 'When I die and go to heaven, can I live in your mansion?' I tell people, I'm not what you think I am. There is so much that I don't do that I want to be doing—not because people expect it of me but because I truly believe in what I do and it gives me joy—but people believe I'm doing it all. It makes me feel like a fraud. I have gone so far as to tell them as much and I really feel uncomfortable when they heap on the praise, but they do it anyway. 'Oh, you're just too hard on yourself'. I'm NOT too hard on myself. I KNOW myself. Maybe that I don't know others as completely as they don't know me is the difficulty. 
But, I won't stop trying to be better. I know myself well enough to know that the small successes I have are what give me joy. The greatest irony is, I need validation desperately and tend to fish for it.
My darkest shame: my husband has had a chronic illness for almost thirty years, one that is progressive and causes an immense amount of pain. There is no hope for any improvement. It will just worsen until it kills him, which could take a long, long, long, long time. He has never truly found the joy of life. His chronic illness and my own have drained our emotional and temporal resources. The first 20 years of our marriage were rocky. There were times when my children didn't understand why I didn't get a divorce. I didn't because the vows I made when we wed are sacred to me, and although he could be verbally abusive, nothing ever passed between us that could not be healed—which it has, years gone. 
I know he (now) has joy in our marriage, children, and grandchildren, but living is not a top priority to him. He swore he would never live to 50. That's next year. Our faith is deeply grounded in Jesus Christ, and death to him has always been seen as relief, rather than something to be frightened of. Despite the large amount of narcotics he takes every day, the pain is scarcely bearable. His constant prayer is 'please, please, please let me die. Just let me die.' I know with my whole soul that he doesn't commit suicide because of what it would do to me. He gets up every morning and goes to work, endures excruciating pain all day as well as struggle with the somnolence the drug cause, and then comes home to sit in front of the computer or TV and sleep, with the wonderful prospect of doing it all again tomorrow. 
He stays for me, plain and simple. I love him all the more for it because I know what a sacrifice he is making for me. He stays and constantly prays 'Let me die. Just let me die.' 
But, sometimes that is my prayer as well. 'Please, take him to You, relieve him of his pain, he is such a good, loving man. His whole life is invested in our family. Isn't that good enough? Please, let him die.' . . . and then I start thinking of the cool things I could do if his comfort wasn't the ultimate determining factor in every decision I make . . . and when I have the life insurance. And, I hate myself because I do, because, who wouldn't? Who wouldn't feel those sensibilities some of the time, and who wouldn't hate themselves for it? 
And I feel selfish and heartless for wishing that he would live decades longer because I'm not ready to do without him. Fini.
 That is the real me, but there are far more important things about me that are equally real and help define me.  In another person's comment, she stated that although she is a Christian and reads the Bible every day, she and her husband had come to the determination that either the Bible was not all correct, or that God was a vengeful God and she wanted nothing to do with Him.  I replied by giving her the link for a free Book of Mormon at and telling her she could find the God of love within.  Another reader objected, urging the person to look elsewhere, that God wasn't in a book.  The following is my response:

For me, the Bible and the Book of Mormon are road maps. I know God is our loving Heavenly Father whose glory is returning us to His presence. He created us so that we might have joy, and to truly appreciate that overwhelming sensibility, we must suffer the sorrow and sometimes even the despair that are its opposite. Our Heavenly Father loves us so much, He gave His Only Begotten Son to suffer as we suffer that He may know how to succor us in our sorrows. Heavenly Father's desire for us to return to Him is true and real, and He has not abandoned us to struggle through the highways and byways of this life on our own. He has given us prophets to teach us how to communicate with God personally. He has given us records of His dealings with men as proof of His love for us. These we call the Bible and the Book of Mormon. He has given us both, the better to convince us of the truth of Him, and to show us the way home.

I would not take my child, whether young or grown, out into a wilderness full of pitfalls and snares and all manner of dangers, then simply hope that somehow he manages to figure things out and make his way home again in safety. I would provide him with everything in my power to protect him and guide him out of peril. I would give him maps, a compass, a cell phone and a GPS. I would because to lose him to the wilderness would break my heart. 
Our Heavenly Father loves us far more than we as mortals can comprehend. Why would he not do the same for us? My heart weeps most for those who feel like God has abandoned them, that He does not care what becomes of us, and that he's just a sadistic villain who gets his kicks out of watching people suffer. Nothing could be further from the truth. 
If you don't want to find God in scriptures, if you don't trust them or men enough to put any faith in them, then seek Him out in yourself. There is nothing that will bring you more joy or that will help you understand God better than reaching out to those around you and lifting them, serving them, and helping them rise above their despair. Don't do it because you want people to think good of you. Do it because you want to feel good about yourself. As you do, the joy you feel will give you a small glimmer of the joy God experiences when He helps His children. 
Sacrifice for someone else. Your love for them and for yourself will grow. The more you forget yourself in the service of others, the more you give up something of yourself, the greater will grow your understanding of Jesus Christ and why He suffered for our sins. His love is infinite, but that small taste of it which you begin to feel will overwhelm you. 
The Book of Mormon is another testament of Jesus Christ. It proves the Bible and the Bible proves it. Truly embracing the GOSPEL of Jesus Christ, not the CULTURE of Mormonism, will lift you as nothing else can. The culture of Mormonism can be brutal, as many here have testified. But keeping up with the Mormon Joneses is NOT the Gospel. Too often it can be a horrible stumbling block for those who don't fit into that mold. 
There are millions of Mormons of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and nationalities. They did not join the Church because they thought living in Utah was so peachy. They joined the Church because they found God and Jesus Christ in its precepts. 
I'm just a white Anglo Mormon housewife who was born and raised in the Church but had to come to this knowledge on my own through a very long and very painful process. I have had reason enough to feel that God had abandoned me, but those trials have led me to the current strength of my faith and I would not trade them for anything. If you want to hear more from voices different from my own, visit Chances are, you can find someone there like you who can tell you their own story.
As I read the comments, I struggled to find the right thing to say to any of these people who so desperately need the calm and loving reassurance that Heavenly Father knows and cares about them.  While I struggled, a wise lady by the name of Jeralee posted them, which I'm taking the liberty of posting here:

I am moved by the real pain that is all around us, when we share what is in our hearts. Life is a test, it was not meant necessarily to be easy, but I believe we all chose it knowing just that. I feel great love for each of you that have shared through these stories... 
As I have read your stories, I have cried along with you. I understand the pain is real. We all experience it, and we are all at different places on our path in become better human beings. It is clear just in this cross section of stories that none of us are without trials and pain in our lives, no matter how "perfect" a person's life may appear on the outside. Pain and sadness is a great human denominator. But there is also so, so much more... 

With so many of you I share the struggle of feelilng less valuable due to being overweight. At times in my younger years I have done whatever it took to be considered 'thin and attractive" diet, aerobics twice a day, hardly eating because that is what it took to feel like I was at an acceptable weight. Truth is it did not make me any happier, so I finally decided to love me for who I am, shortcomings and all. I could/should be at a healthier weight, but I stopped beating myself up about it all. I could go on and list all of my trials and struggles, of which there are and have been many, but I don't feel it would be helpful. I do understand that I may have many difficult things in my life that still lie ahead. We don't always see heartache coming. 
I have great faith in God, and I know and believe that Jesus Christ's Atonement is for ALL of us. It is something that does requires work and study to fully understand. It is for the sinner, and the sinned against alike. I have had to work long and hard to overcome deep hurt and pain, and hand my load to Him who has the ability to heal all hurt (if we let him), and to believe and begin to understand the Atonement of Jesus Christ...It is often in these times of pain and suffering that we just begin to come to understand what He gave to us through this selfless act of Love...our greatest gift! One that has power to bring great Peace in times of turmoil and heartache. 
I often think how I would love to go back and do my 'motherhood' years over again. Many things I would have changed...but I can only really start today to be better, to love more, and to judge less. I believe in the end of our lives it is going to be about how much we loved each other. We need to shoe love and compassion to everyone no matter how our beliefs and lives may differ. 
"Perfection" is not my goal in life, only to do a little better today than I did the day before. Those who know me can take one look and know that to be true. "Perfection" is a word I would rather use in describing my favorite foods. 
There is help for the hurt. There are answers to the problems. There are people trained to walk us through the times when we question if it is all worth it, and our Savior will be at our side if we invite Him. God does answer our prayers. Sometimes all we can do is pray and seek His peace. Often it is in the hindsight that I can finally see the His wisdom in an answered prayer. 
I grew up listening to a wise mother who said "There are two kind of people in this life, one who is a part of the problem, and one who is a part of the solution" may we all be a part of the solution to heal those around us. There has only ever been one "Perfect" being to walk the earth. For Him, I am grateful every day of my life, and that IS the good news!!! 
The pain is real, but life is a gift, and it can be so very great. And I believe, it will be worth it!

In sharing Dan's blog, I could have simply posted the links and let folks find their way to these comments if they were interested, but I truly wanted to talk about what washed over me earlier this evening, after I had (I thought) worked it out of my system.  I do not think it would have been so significant otherwise, if I had not been in this mindset to begin.
For the nearly past two years, I have served as the compassionate service leader in my ward (a local unit of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).  I also served as the ward Family Home Storage specialist and the ward web page administrator.  Service gives me joy, and I have never regretted doing any of these.  However, a couple of weeks ago, I was asked to accept a new calling, the ward Preparedness Committee chairman -person.  

I accepted with a bit of trepidation because, well, it is a HUGE job.  There are so many aspects of preparedness, both temporal and spiritual, and living in hurricane country as we do, the chairman coordinates the efforts within the ward when a disaster happens.  They also ensure that members are prepared for such an event, that communication stays open, and that the leaders of the ward immediately know not only that everyone is safe and where they are, but who stands in need so they can dispatch that as soon as possible.  It is a tall order to fill for anyone, and I certainly don't feel up to snuff, but I will do my best.  I know that if I rely on the Lord, I will be able to accomplish what is required.

Although I told the bishopric that I would be more than happy to continue on as compassionate service leader and that I truly enjoyed the calling, I was released from that position on Sunday.  Over the past two years, I have three post-funeral family dinners (one serving lunch to 400 people), arranged for countless meals to be taken to a large number of families in the wake of the arrival of a new baby, and spent a sobering but very sacred four months being one of the primary care givers for my dear friend who was diagnosed with uterine cancer and died before we could even catch our collective breath.

In this time, I have learned more about my Savior and more about His love for us, more about sacrifice and more about myself than I had ever done before.  I learned that service and sacrifice are the fastest way to understanding our Savior there is, because in so doing, we gain a small inkling of His love for us, and why he suffered in Gethsemane and died upon the cross for us.  And that small inkling can be overwhelming in the understanding.  I gained a love for the sisters in my ward that I never dreamed of attaining.  I became a much better person for it, and I can only pray that somehow I helped others come closer to Christ, even if only through their own experiences in providing service to others.  I could have gone years without learning these things if I served in my ward in any other capacity.

They released me last Sunday because they want me to pour all my efforts into my new calling.  Our hurricane preparedness is of primary importance to the bishopric and the stake, and I need to make it my priority as well.  However, our Relief Society president lost me, her visiting teaching coordinator and her second counselor in one week, and there is a young mother in our ward who is going to have a baby on Thursday.  

I never thought it would be so difficult to release myself from a calling.  I am getting people to sign up to help out the young family who needs it, but as I sent out the email this evening, I actually cried (as I am doing now) because I will not be doing this any longer.  Compassionate service has been a great joy to me.  I have worked hard at it, filled in the vacant spots on the calendar on the rare occasions I ran short of volunteers, and have been weary with well-doing, but I could not have lost myself and my own troubles so completely or found such happiness and gratitude without the sacrifices.

I felt guilty on Sunday to leave my friend the RS president in the lurch, but today, doing something and realizing that I will no longer benefit from the blessings of it makes me cry.  I have come to love and admire the sisters with whom I have served and who have sacrificed so much for others.  I will truly miss that association.  I thank my Lord and Savior for allowing me to serve Him in this manner and for teaching me so much in so short a time.  I only pray I can find the same job satisfaction in my new calling.  The friendships I have made over the past two years will last forever.

And what does all this have to do with Dan's post?  Everything.  It is so difficult to see so much suffering, know the perfect cure for all these terrible ills, and yet remain unable to render any aid.  I told Jeralee that I wished we could offer transfusions of hope and faith to the soul-sick, as those with severe blood loss receive blood transfusions—transfusions which save their lives and which sustains them until their own body can rely on itself.  Would that I could infuse those around me who are born down with sorrow with the same light that fills me, the light that guides me home to my Father and His Son, my savior, Jesus Christ.

I think of Lehi's dream, of his partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Life, the great joy that it gave him and his intense desire to share it with his family.  I think of his anguish as he watched his sons turn away from so simple a thing, so simple and yet so vital to their happiness.  I think of our Heavenly Father watching His children turn away from Him, or learn to despise Him, or worst of all, to fight against Him and draw others into the darkness after them.  How it must break His mighty heart.  How He must love His Only begotten Son, who provided the way for  His children to return to Him if they would, no matter the strangeness of the paths upon which they strayed.

I think of those things and I say a silent prayer of gratitude that that grief is not something I have yet had to suffer, and fervently plead that I never will.  My Heavenly Father loves me.  Jesus is the Christ.  There is hope despite the sorrow.  The smallest seed of faith can grow into a mighty tree.  Joy abounds if only we are grateful and recognize Him from whom all blessings flow.  God will never, ever abandon us for we are His children.  This I know to the very depths of my soul.

—P. Freeman
Please share with your friends.  You may help someone without even realizing it.


Dan Pearce said...

Penny, this was a beautiful post. Don't tell anybody but you've officially taken the top spot as my favorite aunt. :)

Unknown said...

Gawrsh. You're too kind.