We have two teachers who alternate Sundays, teaching Gospel Doctrine (the adult Sunday School class). This year we are studying the Old Testament. Sunday we studied the Book of Ruth. We also dipped a toe into 1 Samuel.
The teacher drew a classic diagram which he called “the Ben Franklin Close.” (Something that salesmen use to persuade reluctant customers.) It consists of a long vertical line and a short crossbar at the top. The left column is entitled “Gain.” The right column is entitled “Lose.”
We talked about all the things that Ruth lost by moving from Moab, back to Bethlehem with Naomi. She lost her birth family. She lost security or support. She lost the immediate prospect of remarriage. I opined that she may have lost her native language, and certainly her culture. We had a list of about ten things on that side of the diagram, and I wish I had started writing sooner, because some of the comments were very subtle and profound.
Then we talked about what she had gained by following Naomi. She got love, from Naomi and later from Boaz. She got respect from the new community, because they knew how she treated Naomi. She got [some degree of the priesthood in her home, in my opinion, and] a righteous husband. She got posterity. She got a Book named after her. She married into the royal lineage of Israel. She was a foremother of the Savior.
The teacher asked those of us who were adult converts to raise our hands. He then asked if we did not feel a little of what Ruth had felt, in giving up the familiar; if we had not experienced some of what she had experienced in stepping forward with faith. And then he pointed at me.
I’m the RS president; I’m an easy target.
I remarked that while I hadn’t had to give up my family, as some people have had to do, my relationship to them has never been quite the same. Which is when the waterworks started. I sat there scribbling down what I could from the blackboard until he erased it and moved on in the lesson, and I wondered if my children knew the sacrifices I have made for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I never missed a meal, growing up. I had clean clothing and adequate healthcare. If love was not much spoken in my home, it was quietly demonstrated every day. We all read voraciously. I was encouraged to develop my talents. I made poor choices and was allowed to learn from them.
I joined the Church. Mom and Dad came to my baptism, to support me, and made it very clear that while they supported me in my choice, and expected me to become a good member of the Church, they would not be following me into the waters of baptism, would in fact not set foot in an LDS church again. [It occurs to me to wonder, now, what it must have been like for Mom, whose mother joined in 1966 and effectively prayed me into the Church in spite of myself, and whose daughter joined nine years later. I will ask her someday.]
Slowly, gradually, my life became one of increasing spiritual growth and unrelenting material poverty. We were able to buy a tiny house, but the combination of usurious interest rates (14.25% on the primary mortgage, 20.36% on the second mortgage) and repeated bouts of unemployment on the part of the children’s father, effectively stopped our progress.
My kids were the ones with the shaggy bangs and the mismatched hand-me-downs and the burning intelligence which puts the lie to so many assumptions and statistics about families in poverty. For all the things we were not able to give them (music lessons, enrichment activities), we at least have passed on our love of reading. And some of the girls have inherited their father’s former tenderheartedness (the strokes have taken away virtually everything recognizable as the man I loved).
So, on the Lose side, we have a measure of personal dignity, financial prosperity, more than a few of my marbles, my figure, a twenty-year marriage, college educations for my children, the bewilderment of my [blessedly non-meddling] birth family at my persistence in remaining in a marriage that was so obviously not working, and a certain reserve on their part because they weren’t sure how to help without enabling.
But on the Gain side, an abiding faith and trust in Heaven’s timing, patience, compassion, empathy, unshakable testimony that God is real and that He knows me intimately and wants what is best for me, the quiet thrill of watching my debt depart a little more every month, hope, appreciation for the Atonement, willingness to serve, and last but certainly not least, five beautiful, precious, feisty daughters instead of the more socially acceptable two. Speaking of which, Firstborn is in here somewhere:
Sunday the chapel was filled. The grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins by the dozens came to support one of the youth speakers. In a perfect world, that is much as it should be. Am I cranky because that was not my experience, and is not necessarily the experience my children are giving one another? No.
As I look back on nearly 35 years of life in the church, there are few things that I would change. [I would have gotten feisty with the children’s father instead of eating my anger and letting it turn into depression. Not nasty. Just feisty.] I would still have had more children than I technically could afford. I was amused at the CNN broadcast that was playing as I dressed at the gym the other morning, on how much it costs to raise a child, and the wisdom of saving up and making sure that you are financially ready before you go into the fruitful-and-multiply business.
Having a family is somewhat like paying tithing. You don’t do it because you can afford it. You do it because you have faith that it will all work out. [Having said that, I am well aware of families who birth irresponsibly because the government or the Church will help take care of them, and I’m sure that there are people who think that my tribe falls into that category, but I submit that they are wrong.]
Would I do this all again? In a heartbeat.
And speaking of heartbeats, I have a date next Monday night. You can just about bet the rent that I will be a spazz most of that day. Let’s hope that I do not have to enter a scheduling order into the system and that work keeps me too busy to think.
So, I emailed his kids on DoA, and she wrote back giving not merely permission, but encouragement, from the both of them. Seems that after I met the son, they’ve been trying to figure out how to get Dad and me introduced.
@Alison: I have no idea if those are mayflower leaves. They looked tropical to me, and they ranged in size from almost-dinner-plate to salad plate. I did not see any flowers amongst them, May or otherwise.
I am thoroughly enjoying the history book about the Scots-Irish in America. What I read on the recumbent bike yesterday, was how that character shaped the Confederate Army and life in the South after the Civil War. Seemed appropriate reading for Memorial Day. And I am seriously contemplating reading another history book (or twelve) when I’m done with this one.
I never read history books. I suspect that my ancestors are trying to finagle me back into doing family history research, or maybe they just want to help me understand who they were. And by extension, who I am. As I’ve read this book, I have had one aha! moment after another, when I suddenly realized why I do something the way I do, why I am so drawn to certain men, why bagpipe music stirs my soul, why my loyalties manifest in a particular, and frequently exasperating, fashion.
- Five years into widowhood, after one year of incredible happiness and nearly 14 years of single blessedness. Have given up perfect manicures and pretty hands in order to resume playing the soprano recorder and to see if I can figure out how to play bluegrass banjo. Singing in the shower. Still really, *really* love to knit!