15 August 2012

Trying to Be Useful



I know I'm not THAT old.  :)  At least that's what all the women in New York who are in their forties and pregnant with IVF twins tell me.  But I definitely feel like I'm older than I ever thought I would be as a woman who does not have any children.

Do you know what that does to you?  It makes you feel like your life is ticking by.  Very quickly. 

I never imagined my life turning out quite this way.  I did have lots of goals in my teenage years - many in addition to having a family.  Stuff like becoming financially self-reliant, investing in real estate, starting a business, owning my own home, traveling the world, being successful at something. And I've had time to work on those things...it has truly been extraordinary.  But, I always thought I'd have several children by now.  And since that hasn't happened...as time has gone on, I have craved more and more the desire to be an influence for good.  Or at least to try.  Over the years, in little ways, I started to realize that doing good brought more joy and fulfillment than money in the bank or professional success of any kind.  This realization came from stuff like: working with and mentoring some teenagers in Brooklyn - even while my first husband was filling out divorce docs from another state; reaching out and visiting people who were sick or who had new babies or just needed a visit - even on days when I felt very, very alone; uplifting those facing infertility or divorce - and trying to give them hope - even when I couldn't have felt further from meeting a husband or having babies myself.  Those moments of service changed me.  They saved me.

I just recently read something in this book called Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Life and it resonated with me so much.  It says....


"We all need to feel useful to others.  It's an indispensable nourishment for the soul.  When this need isn't satisfied, it leads to pain that is all the more searing if death is near.  A large part of what is called the fear of death comes from a fear that our life hasn't had any meaning, that we have lived in vain, that our existence hasn't made any difference to anyone or anything."

The author goes on to tell a story about a man who had a long history of alcoholism, drugs, and violence.  He became unhinged when he was told he had brain cancer.  It turns out he had no family, no friends, and was a lost soul.  A psychiatrist started visiting him regularly during the few months of life that he had left.  During those meetings, it became clear that what made this man's death intolerable was the fact that he hadn't done anything with his life.  And so the psychiatrist asked him if, in the time remaining, he could do something that would be useful to someone.  The man said he had never thought about it.  He considered it for a while and then said, "There's a church in my neighborhood.  I think I could do something for them.  They need an air-conditioning system.  I know how to do that."  This man ended up waking each morning to go to his rooftop job, installing that air conditioner.  His work was slow, because of his declining health.  The parishioners got used to him being there and spoke to him, brought him sandwiches and coffee, etc.  The experience was so meaningful to him that he got teary eyed when he spoke of it - as it was the first time in his life that he was doing something that really mattered to others.  One day he couldn't work, and the end was very near.  The psychiatrist went to say goodbye to the man.  He didn't have the strength to speak, so signaled for him to come closer and he said, "God bless you for saving my life."

Oh man, have you guys ever done some form of service for someone else, when you were in a moment of need yourself?  How was it?  If you haven't experienced this yet - I'm rooting for you to give it a try! 

With love,

Mara

P.S.  Danny and I just watched a movie with our laptop on our bed.  We have a TV that works perfectly fine.  But I don't know - movies in bed is so much more fun.  :)


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23 comments:

  1. My grandmother was a very happy woman. Not the type of person who would be laughing all the time, but someone who was satisfied with life, everyone thought she had been very successful in a lot of aspects of her life. This is how she was. I asked her what was the secret for happiness and her response was: Live to serve others.
    I have experienced that in my life now. Not only when someone is completely dependent on you, like my baby daughters are with me, which makes me feel very important in life, but also when I am able to help other people in little or big things. It might seem they are the ones who are receiving something, but I am the one who receives the most out of this experience.

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    1. Anon - this was beautiful. So true, it often ends up feeling like we receive the most out of serving someone else. Thank you so much for sharing.

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  2. the story of that man was so inspiring and moving.

    and if i am truthful i probably don't serve others enough but i am trying.

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  3. What a wonderful post that I really needed to see, Mara! My husband was diagnosed with brian cancer in February and we are trying to learn how to deal with this news, but coming at it from completely different perspectives. He wants to be as useful as he can, so he is always volunteering to help everyone and holding down a demanding church calling. I, on the other hand, am first and foremost concerned with his health so I keep trying to reign him in! We finally had a break through last week and were able to communicate better than we have before. I think he felt like I was crowding him just a little, and I am! ;) How could I not! So I am trying to trust his judgement on what he feels comfortable doing, and he promises not to over exhaust himself. I will have to check out that book!

    Lindsey

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    1. Oh Lindsey - so sorry to hear about your husband. I can only imagine that illness just brings up so many new things for a couple to navigate and figure out - and it sounds like you guys are working out some of those glitches. That's just tremendous. I send you both all the good wishes in the world. Much love, Mara

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  4. I have a question: obviously this blog is designed to be useful to others, to fill the need that you speak about in this post. It seems as though it is supposed to be a couple project, but it comes mainly from you. Is there a reason Danny doesn't post more? Was it your commission particularly? I've just read so many ostensively couple blogs where the men do little posting and it makes me wonder why this is always the case... and caused me to not want to start my own with my husband until he can contribute equally.

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    1. Hi Amy - so glad you wrote. I've actually been wanting to write a post about this, as someone else asked, too. Danny does have a full-time job, whereas I have decided to work on this blog full-time. But, it still is, indeed a couples project. We did start out thinking that Danny would write a bit more in the evenings, but it turns out that things have evolved. We are now offering classes (we both teach), so his time has been more limited. I also write for 2 other websites, so there's also more effort and time put into pulling that off (he helps a lot with the tech glitches that always come up). However, even though he doesn't post often now- I can't tell you how much he supports every ounce of this effort. It takes a lot out of me. It's a huge undertaking. And he helps tremendously when he can with brainstorming ideas, reading over my posts, etc. We dedicate so much to this and stay up late into the night working on stuff. If we were professional computer programmers, writers, photographers, and graphic designers, it would probably be a lot easier. But we're not. And I can assure you we are both busting our tails an embarrassing amount to get these posts out. He also helps with managing the thousands of emails that we get from readers. The in flow of emails is just astounding and there is no way I could respond to them all. He helps so much with that. Danny and I also have had a few speaking opportunities and he is 100% involved in those efforts. Really, this blog wouldn't be what it is without us both working so hard.
      As for starting a blog with a spouse - I think it could be great. But yes, it's probably a good idea to know what the contribution level of each person can be, so you can manage expectations...cause it is a lot of work behind the scenes.

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  5. Thank you so much for sharing this! As a single 20-something girl living in Salt Lake, it's difficult not to feel like I'm falling behind or somehow failing to progress because I'm not married. Losing myself in the service of others has been the best antidote to my moments of despair.

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    1. OH - awesome. It's amazing how it an work for all of us, no matter what situation we are in. And oh, how much I want to encourage you to not get down about not being married! :) Though I know it must be hard when everyone around you is. I know that feeling. I just always told myself that if I became full of permanent despair, I'd be the opposite kind of woman that I wanted to be. And furthermore, I would be the opposite of the kind of guys I wanted to be with. Oh, what a hard thing it is to be at peace when things don't go your way. It's hard to just surrender. BUT, try to do it! It's worth it! Knowing how to do this leads to the best kind of life and the best kind of marriages :)

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  6. what a beautiful reminder and story!

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  7. I recently stumbled upon your blog and it couldn’t have been at a better time. It made me feel like I wasn’t alone in all this. Last week I decided to go public on my blog about our journey to have children. I feel that if I can do what your blog has done for me, for just one person, I have succeeded. Thank you so much for being open and honest. You are such an inspiration.

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    1. Maggie - Wow!! I can't believe your note. thank you so much for writing in. I'm just thrilled to hear of your new endeavor!! That is just tremendous. You will inspire so many - and your life will be so enriched you won't even believe it. All the best!! Much love, Mara

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  8. I'm turning 39 in a couple of weeks and, like you, never imagined I'd be childless (or husbandless, in my case) at this age. I always dreamed I'd be a stay-at-home mom with 5 kids by now. But, since life hasn't played out that way, I too have found such joy in all kinds of other pursuits, particularly service (ward/church, community, etc.). And now it's hard to imagine my life any other way! Sure, it's different, but I'm so thankful that this is how my journey is unfolding.

    And this book sounds amazing! Must read, indeed.

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    1. KH - you are such an inspiration to me. Seriously. You are amazing. Thanks for writing in.

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  9. i've mentioned this before, but i met my best friend when she was just a few days out of jail, trying to piece her life back together after years trapped in a life of of drug addiction and physical abuse. she was counseled to "go back to church and make friends with girls" because starting her post-jail life with a solid foundation of girl friends with good morals was her best bet in keeping her from falling back to her old habits and old friends.

    while i never considered being her friend a "service project", there was a heavy dose of service that was included in those first few years of our friendship... driving her to appointments, helping her knock out 100 community service hours {funny: we were told that if we were brave enough to hold a "tampon drive" for feminine hygiene products, they'd let her count double hours - because it was terribly embarrassing but desperately needed. dignity took on a whole new meaning for her after having been to jail... tampons were nothing!}.

    i was talking to my dad on the phone one day in the middle of our community service days and he reminded me that i {we - i learned everything from him} do it because, no doubt, there have been 58507632 people who have turned their back or passed by those who are in need of service before us. he also pointed out that we do what we do because we know and love some whose souls wander and want nothing more than to have them back. if we can't do it... "we sure as hell hope for them to be surrounded by people who can."

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    1. gah! i published before i hit the most important part! serving in this capacity taught me about the atonement and the grace and mercy of our heavenly father in ways i wasn't capable of learning based on my own set of life experiences. i say my prayers everyday to understand the atonement - all the while, i was learning lessons day in and day out as i watched her life transform as she worked and relied on her heavenly father to be healed and changed.

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  10. serving others is the path to happiness . . . thanks so much for the lovely reminder!

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  11. I was driving home from the gym with Kirk Duncan in my ear, listening to "Vision Board Success" and was thinking about what I want to have come off my vision board and seeking ideas. I started talking with God, my higher power, about a few of my ideas when I saw a car on the opposite side of the road with it's hazard lights on.

    "You should turn around and help," came a voice.
    "But I know nothing about cars! How can I help?"

    Then came the voice of Kirk Duncan from my iPod, "If you want to have greater success, you must help more people." PERFECT TIMING!

    I turned my car around, pulled up next to the car and asked if the lady needed help. She then said, "I don't speak English" to which I replied, "I speak Spanish."

    Long story short, God wasn't looking to send someone who knew about cars, He was looking for someone who spoke Spanish to keep this lady company while her husband came to tow the car. Even the smallest acts of service render the most cherished rewards.

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  12. A very painful experience.I am very sorry.

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  13. Thank you so much for this post!

    First of all, very sorry to hear what you are going through. I've had a couple of friends go through it & I can see that it's not easy. Praying everything works out for the best!

    I'm going through my own "life ticking by". I'm 33yrs old and I've always thought by now I'd be at least married. I've never been on a date. I've never had any kind of romantic relationship with a guy in my life. (i swear theres nothing wrong with me!) Honestly, up until a few months ago I wasn't really bothered by it, but it's really starting to hurt.

    I spent all of my 20's in the YW program both as a counselor & a president. (sometimes the only leader in the program...the joys of living in a small branch!) For 10 straight years I devoted my time to the girls, driving them to dances and all that jazz. I developed a great relationship with all of them & really loved them. When I was released about 2yrs ago I figured that it was time for things to start moving in my life. But they didn't. Any this past spring I was called into the stake YW leadership. I've tried, I really have, but ever since I have just sunk into a depression. (not just about the dating thing, but a lot of self doubt has snuck in) Pretty much all of my girls & girls I've know from the stake have gone off & gotten married. It's almost embarrassing.

    But I've read what you've said & it's given me a little kick in the butt. I will not only try to have a better experience in my calling, but I will focus all of my attention on the people around me. It's going to be a good thing:) Thank you!

    PS-I've also excepted the fact that my future probably involves owning a lot of cats:)

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  14. I have been feeling the desire to help someone else. I have reached out to others in charity during trials or tribulations in my life and it really does save you. I am my happiest when I am forgetting about myself and my problems and focusing on someone else and serving them.

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  15. Although my husband's job is much better than what he had a year ago, we still worry a lot about finances. We just bought a new home, I'm still paying off my student loans, our daughter is old enough for preschool/extracurricular classes etc... But recently we became aware of some dear friends who are having a hard time right now. So instead of using the money we'd set aside to buy something we'd been saving for, we took some of it and anonymously mailed a VISA giftcard to our friends.

    IT FELT SO GOOD.

    We've been the recipients of similar gestures in the past and it felt amazing to be able to pay it forward.

    I hope you'll find some of the fulfillment you're searching for as you serve others. It is truly one of the most painful things to endure the wait for things you wish you could have RIGHT NOW.

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  16. Mara when are you writing a book? Or at least an e-book? Seriously!

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