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June 12, 2009

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Keeping the promise to your dream. Wow - what a thing to remember.

It's been a tough week for my dream and I. Several times, I've wanted to say, "Forget it. It's too hard and painful." Visualizing this real woman traveling with her precious bundle to a place of healing is such an apt metaphor for my own dream's path. As I carry my dream "baby" daily through this journey, I, too, am also going towards healing. The challenge of my work has drawn up emotional baggage, caused me to face it head on, and get creative with solutions, and change my very being.

Sigh. But, some days, it's just tough going.

One woman making extraordinary sacrifices.
Do we realize the sacrifice made by choosing to be a mother? The impact on just one child; the reward of knowing the impact far outweighs the sacrifice, no matter how ordinary or extraordinary. I don't imagine I'll ever travel to China, or personally glimpse some of the poorest corners of the earth, but I'm grateful to be able to recognize motherhood for what it is while my mother is still living.

The power of sacrifice changes lives. Be it a monumental act as in Jane's beautiful story, or the small, daily, seemingly insignificant act that might often go unnoticed. When we look out for others they feel loved. This love empowers them ... and us.

Jane's very moving post sparked a lot of thought. I have mixed feelings when I witness tremendous sacrifice. On the one hand, I stand in joyous awe of anyone (in this case a grandmother) who literally changes the life of another. Such stories make me cry. On the other hand, I feel vicarious pain for the physical, spiritual, and psychological costs that true sacrifice invariably entails.

One of my favorite movies is "It's a Wonderful Life". Despite its beauty, the movie has a dark core. Talented, driven George Bailey never does lasso the moon, because he literally cannot stop himself from helping everyone around him. His family and friends cling to him in a way that cripples his dreams. He receives a vision of what his life has meant to others, and he understands what his life would be without his beloved wife and children (and even Bedford Falls), but the ashes of his dreams mirror the black-and-white cinematography.

Each time I confront a clash between my values and my dreams, I have to reexamine my choices and why I make them. Thus far, I have been willing to sacrifice (prioritizing a spouses's career, caring for a learning disabled child, taking in my elderly mother-in-law), but the concept of sacrifice still feels like an open question for me. It helps to understand that I have a choice in each instance. If I accept that (a) there is an alternative to sacrifice which I am free to pursue, and (b) that there are joys from sacrifice which I may value as much as the deferred dream, then I can embrace the sacrifice and not resent it.

I teach Gospel Doctrine (adult Sunday School). A subject to which my class keeps returning is the requirement of opposition in all things. There cannot be joy without suffering, hence it is a mistake to try to escape the latter. (This train of thought was triggered by my admittedly shallow study of Buddhism, which eschews suffering.) I do not suggest that we should seek suffering, merely that it is an inevitable part of the human condition. Perhaps the joy that comes from extreme sacrifice is heightened by the very cost one has had to pay. We value what we earn. I hope this thought doesn't lead anyone towards masochism or pointless martyrdom, but it is an interesting way to frame the rewards of sacrifice.

I echo Janna's comment as I saw the metaphor of this woman's journey as well. Tears come to my eyes. I know I physically have it more comfortable than this dear woman, and yet can relate to the process of overcoming and the difficulty on different levels of the journey I've chosen. What a beautiful post...much to think about. I imagine asking this woman what kept her going.

When I am true to my promises I feel most centered, and even through difficulty, most at peace. Faith, love, and the little tender mercies keep me going.

Thank you, Jane for sharing this beautiful story!

In re-reading Janna's comment, I realized I left out the most important piece of my post (which got a bit metaphysical). Sacrifice scares me, and it hurts. It takes courage and vision to embrace sacrifice. Blessings to everyone who is on the path of sacrifice right now. After a really crazy year, I am taking a bit of a breather from sacrifice... :-)

I love Jane. She is a model for how one woman can make the world a better place. She does this everyday by seeing the beauty in ordinary life the way she does. Not only so, she is all about using her gifts to bring this beauty into focus for others, so that we might live more sensitively, fully, and purposefully. I know that I am excited after reading this to embrace the opportunities I have today–opportunities that we’ve all been given–to make one life better. I wonder what it will be--an opportunity to mentor a young person, play with my kids, cook for a friend, write a check for a hungry child in Africa, speak a kind word to a stranger.

Thank you, Jane and Whitney, for everything you do, and mostly for who you are.

It is ironic that Jane's story is of an account of a woman who stumbles upon a life and scoops it up in her arms and saves it. So much of the care, work, and general raising of my children I expected, but so much more has been a surprise. I knew about the diapers and the late night feedings, I expected the homework and the proms. But, while raising my children I've frequently stumbled into circumstances I didn't expect and into situations that demanded more wisdom, knowledge, and skill than I had to save my child. Sometimes it was a complicated diagnosis, sometimes it was a child's willful rebellion. No matter what causes my son's pain or troubles I find comfort knowing that there is help for me and my child, whether it comes from a doctor, a therapist, a spiritual leader, or trusted friend. I've learned that as long as I keep my child, my teen, or my now adult son in my arms and keep walking forward step by step, I will find someone to help me heal him. And when the burden gets heavy, I find even greater comfort knowing that he is God's child first...and that He, too, is walking beside us.

In my mind, Jane Clayson Johnson is the quintessential example of making your priorities your dream. She never let the enchantment of the world mesmerize her into forgetting what she honestly valued and wanted out of her life. There are many who do not understand how or why she would give up fame and fortune for home and hearth-- but Jane knows. Thank you Jane for helping all of us women better understand what really matters in this life is making the life of others better. Some call that sacrifice. I call it Blessings.

Sometimes, the most inspiring stories for me are the most hum-drum. I'm just at the beginning of my child-rearing/conceiving years, and my heroes are those women around me in their 50s or 60s or older who have been there, done that. They've done it successfully, they still exude life, they have other interests besides just grandchildren, they are committed to working on their marriages, they are vibrant! These women are my inspiration when I feel that I'm too bogged down in cheerios and potty training!

I read that story, and wondered if I would be willing to walk 300 miles for anyone else. I hope the answer would be yes, but I probably won't know unless I have to do it. But I'm thinking about all the other things I'm willing to do, and those that I'm not. Or that I don't want to do. Do we draw lines when it's our children? Is there a point where you say "No more--I won't do that for you," because you're too tired, or because it interferes with your own life? Or am I selfish if I do that? Not the disciplinary stuff; that's when you have to walk away. What I mean is the optional stuff--helping to put together a costume for something they chose to do, or driving them to a commitment they made that you don't appreciate, or carpooling them to an activity so you can do something else while they're gone. Does it make me a bad parent if I'm not ALWAYS there, and not always willing to be the person sacrificing?

Lisle asked:

"Does it make me a bad parent if I'm not ALWAYS there, and not always willing to be the person sacrificing?"

Wisdom and judgment make anyone a better parent. Sometimes saying "no" to a child teaches them that they are not (or at least should not be) the center of anyone's universe, including their parents. I have lovely children and receive a lot of compliments on how interesting, intelligent, kind, and well-behaved they are. I am NOT the epitome of the self-sacrificing mother. Oh, I sacrifice a lot, and I am a very responsible mother, but I have no qualms in saying "no" when my children are being ridiculous, over-bearing, or selfish. Ironically, being true to myself (knowing when I have hit my mothering limits) actually results in better parenting, as my children learn to think about others besides themselves, including me. After all, mothers are people too!

I am appalled when I see children treating their parents disrespectfully and the parents passively accepting such behavior. I have taught my children to say, "You are a wonderful mother" when I do something kind or helpful for them. It's a bit of a joke, but it reminds them that I am making sacrifices for them, and that they SHOULD be grateful. On the rare occasions when my children have treated me with disrespect, I have made it quite clear that such behavior is absolutely unacceptable. They rarely repeat the mistake.

I have seen from many of Jane's life accounts that she does indeed look for and appreciate the ordinary. She shared a story in Seeing the Everyday magazine about a time her mother came to meet her at a press event. It was the latter end of a multi-day trip with little sleep, and Jane hadn't prepared for the cold weather. At the event, Jane looked out into the crowd and saw her mother waving and holding up Jane's winter coat. Jane explained how moved she was by her mother's thoughtfulness and concern. From what I know of Jane, I can understand why the story of the Buddah baby would be so meaningful.

I love this book and we are going to be discussing it in our book group in a few days. Any good ideas for discussing starting questions?

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About this blog

  • When I took a sabbatical from Wall Street to pursue a different dream and help others live theirs, I learned that women in the U.S. may be placated, even pampered, but because we aren't dreaming, we are also desperate and depressed. Drawing on a variety of sources, ranging from academic studies to pop culture, dare to dream encourages us to dream. And then to act on our dreams.

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