Paying Our Debts

When I am employed in serving others, I don not look upon myself as conferring favors, but paying debts.        Benjamin Franklin

My husband, Chris, went to the University of Oklahoma for his graduate degree. When we moved to Norman, Oklahoma, I was almost full term with our third baby.   My doctor had suggested I stay in Utah to have the baby—our third—and then join Chris after a few weeks, but I couldn’t imagine staying behind and being separated during the delivery, so we drove cross-country with me being just a couple of weeks from the baby’s due date. A lot of people asked me how I was going to manage with two little kids and a baby coming in a place where I knew absolutely no one. I found myself saying, “I guess I’ll just throw myself on the mercy of the Relief Society.”

And they came through for me. Marba Lazenby, mother of eight, the youngest of which was between the ages of our two preschoolers, invited my children to her home to play with their little Julie three or four times in the first few weeks we were there. At first I protested that she didn’t need to do that, but Marba said, “Lili, this way your kids will get to know me and my house, so if you go into labor in the middle of the night, you just call me. I’ll come over and sleep on your couch and when your kids wake up, they won’t be afraid to find me there or to come to my home while you’re in the hospital.” I would never have even thought of making such a plan, but sure enough,  a couple of weeks later, labor kicked in after the kids were asleep. When they woke up the next morning, they were happy to find their friend Marba waiting to take them to her house to play.

Over the next 22 months of Chris’ grad program, we accepted callings and served where we could (sometime I should explain about Chris accepting the call to head up the OU Stadium clean-up assignment where ward members volunteered for that enormous task after every home game to earn money for the ward budget). But when Chris graduated and got a job with LDS Family Services Chicago agency, we found ourselves packing up to move again, this time with our fourth baby only a month old.

Our beloved ward members turned out generously, again. They had moved us in, seen us through grad school and two new babies, and now were cheerfully packing us up to head for our new home. The U-Haul truck was pulling a car trailer and the hitch was giving some of the men concern, as it seemed not to tighten correctly. One dear friend, Farley Ward, an OU law student, pulled out what looked like a brand new, 12-inch adjustable crescent wrench from the trunk of his car and handed it to Chris. “Whenever you stop for gas or food, just give it a few turns with this and you’ll be okay.” Chris said he couldn’t take it, but his protests were disregarded.

I looked at these people I had come to love so much because they had loved us so well. Tears spilled over as I turned to Larry Pittman who had come straight from his white collar job, donned a coverall to protect his business clothes, and worked all evening to help us load up. “You’ve all given us so much. And we haven’t been here long enough to even begin to pay you back.” Larry shook his head at me in mild reproof and taught me a lesson I hope to never forget. “Lili, don’t you know? It’s not about paying it back. It’s about passing it on.”

I’m working on it, Larry.

  1. Pops says:

    For most of my life, I’ve broken out in a rash when told that my life must be about service to others. Not that the advice is wrong or bad, just that it reacts with my psyche and experience in a negative way. Lately, however, I’ve come to think of it in a different light. That light is this: it is about blessing the lives of others.

    In other words, I don’t need to stress about the debts I owe that I can never repay, nor even pay forward. It’s simply that the purpose of my life is to find ways to bless the lives of others. There’s no balance sheet – just get out there and do what I can to lift up others. (Not that I’m any good at it, just that the idea is appealing and I’m trying to get there…)

    [Surely there’s a Celestial vs. Terrestrial thing going on here – the latter has learned to refrain from harming others, whilst the former takes the next logical step to being focused on blessing others.]

  2. Lili says:

    I like that. And I completely agree that score-keeping, even if it’s in an effort to keep up with our end of service, is more counter-productive than anything else.

    Maybe you remember Elder Oaks’ first general conference address, Oct 1984, called “Why Do We Serve?” He said,

    “People serve one another for different reasons, and some reasons are better than others. Perhaps none of us serves in every capacity all the time for only a single reason. Since we are imperfect beings, most of us probably serve for a combination of reasons, and the combinations may be different from time to time as we grow spiritually. But we should all strive to serve for the reasons that are highest and best.”

    He then gave six reasons (but, in some ways, I think we can see Tel, Terre, and Cel spheres there) that people serve. His highest level was love–as you suggest, just trying to lift up others.

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