Today was an interesting day for me.
I had the opportunity to buy items for two different charitable organizations today. I don’t generally like shopping, but I loved this.
First was my friend’s annual Brunch for Santa this morning benefiting UAID. Each person brought $25, and we divvied up the money to buy items for six individuals with intellectual disabilities. For each person, we had a picture, a name, and a wish list, including preferences (like, one woman loves Tinkerbell, one young man prefers pockets in all of his clothes, including his PJs). We divided into six groups to go shopping, each group doing the shopping for one person. When done, the groups brought everything back to my friend’s house to wrap the gifts and finish up the potluck brunch we started before shopping. The young man my group was buying for is 17 years old and functions intellectually at about the level of a 13-year-old. I was so excited: we bought him a bike (among other things)! I hope he likes it! I had so much fun, and left with a feeling of warmth in my heart that I’d contributed to this one young man’s happiness this Christmas.
The other organization I shopped for today is Holding Out HELP, which provides resources for people living in polygamist communities and those who have chosen to leave polygamist communities. Here’s a little information about modern polygamy from the “Learn More” page of their website:
There are approximately 37,000 polygamists living in the Western United States with a majority of them residing in or around Utah. There are several polygamist groups with different leaders and a variety of beliefs. There are also thousands of independent families that do not belong to any organized group and live in mainstream society. Some groups encourage their families to put their monies into a trust. That trust owns most of the land, housing and businesses in the community. In this case, it is financially very difficult for an individual or family to leave that particular group.
The polygamous lifestyle can sometimes be stressful. With multiple wives, many children and often more than one house, many of these families need help with important matters like parenting and family situations, medical and emotional problems. Assistance in these areas is widely available in mainstream society, but may not be as readily available within polygamist communities. Moreover, some decide they no longer believe in this lifestyle and desire to leave polygamy. This can mean excommunication and losing their homes, families, reputations, jobs and social structure within their group. In addition, if mothers have many children, it is even more difficult to leave. When transitioning out of their communities, their needs range from food, clothing and shelter to counseling, legal assistance, job training and/or education. Holding Out HELP strives to provide the resources and guidance needed to meet those needs.
Another friend, along with several other families and the college group at her church, adopted a mother and her five children who have recently left their polygamist community. I’ve been buying items for the family for a few weeks, but today I took the baby out and bought a bunch more stuff. Tomorrow, I’m going to go back out to buy some games on sale for the older kids, and then plan to go out shopping again on Tuesday with my friend to help fill in the gaps.
I know polygamy is something that’s pretty popular in the media right now, and it’s fodder for many jokes, including those targeting the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormons, which is misguided because the church hasn’t supported the practice of polygamy for more than 100 years.
I don’t have much of a sense of humor about polygamy. If it didn’t happen anymore, perhaps I could find it amusing. I just feel like I’m still in a state of shock and disbelief that it even still goes on.
While wrapping gifts with my daughter for this family tonight, I just kept thinking of the courage this mother must have had to leave her community. From what I understand, leaving a polygamist community isn’t just about leaving a husband. It’s about leaving an entire lifestyle. Even polygamist families who live within larger cities are separated from the mainstream by their beliefs and their lifestyle. Everything they do is within their communities. As it says in the passage I quoted above, “[leaving a polygamist community] can mean excommunication and losing their homes, families, reputations, jobs and social structure within their group.” Would I have the courage to leave if I were in the same situation?
I think about the turmoil I often feel not having a religious community, and I didn’t even grow up attending church. I think about how outside the mainstream I often feel just because I don’t have cable and I nurse my children past their first year of life. How terrifying must it be to take one’s children, leave the only home you may ever have known, the religion you’ve known as Truth perhaps for your whole life, and the people you love, including your sister-wives and their children? I can hardly grasp even the edge of it, and it has me in tears.
I got so much enjoyment from buying things for this mother’s family. My daughter wrote the names of the children on the gifts tags this evening and picked out the wrapping paper and ribbons and bows for each gift. She would say, “This is for the six-year-old boy. Hey! I’m almost a six-year-old girl!” She helped me pick out a purple coat for one of the little girls and was very excited because she just knew that this other little girl would love her pretty purple coat. My son is too young to understand what it is we’re doing, but he and I had a very fun time picking out gifts and wrapping paper together this afternoon. He had everyone we passed in the store smiling at his frenetic signing and adorable toddler words. (An example: “[sign for baby] Da!” and points at a picture of a baby in the clothing section. “[sign for cat] Da! Aoww!” (the sound a cat makes) and points at a picture of a cat on a gift bag.)
I hope the mother and her children like the things we’ve chosen. And I hope they can see what a tremendous gift they’ve given me and my family by allowing us to give to them.
As my friend pointed out, it looks like I’ve found a way to be soft and have fun at the same time.