Say What?

by Joanie Butman

I was blindsided this week by the most direct question I’ve ever been asked. It came from a man I love dearly, who has never had a filter so I shouldn’t have been surprised. Even so, this was the pièce de résistance of years of the most unconventional comments and bizarre questions that defy description and all acceptable social standards. He was remarking on the intelligence and accomplishments of a number of my siblings when he innocently asked, “What have you ever done other than get married?” You’d think I’d be stunned into silence but after decades of practice, I was able to make a joke saying that my choice of spouse was probably the smartest decision I ever made. I took my leave shortly thereafter, and I’m sure my companion never gave our brief conversation a second thought.

I, on the other hand, haven’t been able to stop thinking about his inquiry. Not necessarily in the negative way it might have affected me twenty years ago; it just started me wondering. His query prompted me to examine my life carefully and think about how I would choose to seriously answer that question. It was an extension of an exercise I’ve been working on with my friend who challenged me to come up with one thing each day that I like about myself. It’s harder than you think because most of us only focus on the things we want to change about ourselves.

A four-hour car ride the following day provided an excellent opportunity to conduct an honest evaluation of my life. True to form, my innate reaction was to start listing all the mistakes I made and all the things I didn’t get right. That roster was longer than Santa’s naughty and nice list and brought me half way home. However, his question wasn’t about my failures. I was going to have to switch my train of thought. What exactly have I accomplished? After much consideration and soul searching, the following is my honest answer, which I intend to share with him.

Not always, but hopefully more often than not, I’ve been a good daughter, daughter-in-law, sister, sister-in-law, cousin, aunt, friend, mentor, wife and mother.

So, a more thoughtful answer to his question is I’ve:

raised two wonderful children

created a loving home

fed the hungry

comforted the hurting

cared for the needy

been a friend to the friendless

offered hope to the hopeless

visited the sick & elderly

held the hands of the dying

mothered the motherless

suffered and survived to discover its blessing



laughed till I cried

enjoyed the satisfaction of a hard day’s work



learned to love again

been a good neighbor to friends and strangers alike

I HAVE LOVED AND BEEN LOVED, which is the highest calling anyone can hope to answer in this world regardless of their occupation.

My value isn’t determined by what I do but how I do it, not by how I feel but how I make others feel. It isn’t about what I do but who I am. I am a child of God, and that is enough in any capacity. All He asks is that I choose to do what I can, where I can, whenever I can – not with perfection but with love.

A note to mothers of all ages:

Much of my list falls under the guise of being a mom. I’d guess that you accomplish a similar one in the course of a normal day. And for many, it is in addition to whatever job they hold outside the home. Don’t ever underestimate the value of your role. It is your example of selflessness, love and compassion that will prepare your children to share what they’ve enjoyed with others. You are their window to the world. After all, home is where most of us first learn how to love and be loved.

Your children may not always do what you say, but eventually they will do what you do. In the words of Glennon Doyle Melton, “Carry on, warrior!” (Ms. Melton is the creator of and author of Carry On, Warrior.)

If you have a few minutes, take a look at the video below. It will make you think about how you would choose to answer the same question. I picked it out for my funeral four years ago. Yes, I planned my own funeral, and I know you're thinking, "How creepy!" However, given the circumstances at the time, it's not as weird as you might think. But that's another story for another day. All I can say is that some people are called to greatness, but for most of us it's the little ordinary things that add up to a great life.