For Those Who Have Eyes to See

For Those Who Have Eyes to See

When my daughter was 10 she attended a summer camp in Ohio. The couple who ran the program – I’ll call them Mr. & Mrs. Greenjeans – weren’t Amish, but they kept a small farm and had business dealings with their Amish neighbors. In what seems to me a stroke of genius, they began a camp for kids and had them pay for the privilege of living on a working farm for a week or two, doing the chores and participating in all the realities of farm life.

It was a perfect situation for my daughter, earthy-crunchy as she was even then. (For one childhood birthday she asked for a bag of flax seed to plant and the book “Raising Dairy Goats the Modern Way.”) At the camp she kept farmers hours, tended the rabbits, milked the goats, collected eggs, attended Amish auctions, and affirmed her love for life and the planet.

Her experience that summer made such an impression on her that when she applied to colleges, she wrote her essay on the man who ran the camp as a “person who greatly influenced [her] life.”

Thinking that the camp owners might appreciate knowing what an impact they’d made, I forwarded them a copy of my daughter’s essay.

Shortly thereafter I got a letter from the wife of the man whose praises my daughter sang in her essay. The woman was mad. Here is the gist of her comments:

The kids come here year after year and Joe (not his real name) is the one who gets the credit for everything! He’s the one out there doing the fun stuff with them, teaching them things and playing with the animals. But who keeps the camp organized and running smoothly? I do. Who makes all the meals, packs the picnic lunches, does the laundry? I do. He gets all the praise, and I’m invisible!

I wrote her back immediately. I didn’t want to take away from the impact Mr. Greenjeans obviously had on my daughter, but oh, did I understand her lament! I told her that I shared her feelings in my own life and understood about the invisibility of women in general. The image that came to my mind was of a world glistening with hologram women. Too often women are noticed when seen at just the right angle – like the flying dove on my Visa card. I told her that I, too, was a hologram woman and sometimes we’re the only ones to notice eachother radiant and shimmering.

She replied, and that time I could tell we had connected in a solid, satisfying way.

In the scriptures there are occasions when the women emerge when we have eyes to see. In Acts 1:13-14, the followers of Christ gather in an upper room after Jesus’ crucifixion:

And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James [the son] of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas [the brother] of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.

How quickly we slip over the phrase “with the women.” The hologram female believers of their day glistened their way into the narrative of this significant post-resurrection event. Did we notice them? Might they, except for how “presumed” they were, have appeared in many scriptural accounts if the compilers had had “eyes to see?”

Still, what would an ideal world be? When women are recognized for their accomplishments and showcased for their talents is this a good thing? When men are recognized and showcased for theirs, is this a good thing? When do we – or do we at all – need to break things down along gender lines? Since the time before time, Christ’s mode was always giving glory to His Father, not claiming it as His own. Should we – men or women – similarly shun the spotlight? There are clearly individuals who thrive on and in recognition and others who plead to stay in the kitchen or the ditch and not take a bow.

What is the impact of recognition on individuals, on cultures, and on both over prolonged time?

In Amish tradition, standing out is not something to be sought after; being part of a larger community is. As idealogically appealing as that may sound, I can’t discount the satisfaction, the validation I feel when something I have done well is acknowledged. Am I a product of my culture (my transitioning culture at that) or am I tapping into an ancient God-given attribute?

While I ponder all these questions I want to keep my eyes open to the majesty of all the hologram humans around me.


  1. linda (I think), thank you for this post. I get this. Oh do I get this.

    Particularly in my roles as wife, homemaker, and mother I freqently feel invisible and un-appreciated. AND, I struggle with the fact that my DH is the “fun one” that kids love to play with while I slave over dinner/dishes/laundry/bathroom toilets. (Truth be told, I do not enjoy playing with kindergartners and he does, so fair is fair… but I still.)

    This is why I strive so hard for outlets outside of housekeeping (my art in particular); there I can experience success, validation, recognition. Yet that outlet is such a tiny part of my daily routine of cooking cleaning picking up after a 6 yr old (AND, often, picking up after a 34 yr old as well)…

    gah… now I’m just whining. sorry,
    Bottom line~ I DO want acknowledgment, to be recognized, to have the work I do not be invisible. And that includes the work I do putting dinner on the table and keeping the bathrooms clean etc.

  2. This makes me think of something written recently about the prophets’ wives not being mentioned much in the manuals. I don’t think we as women need to necessarily be in or seek the spotlight, but I do think it is important to acknowledge the roles they play in the lives of men that ARE and DO get recognized for their accomplishments. Not just with prophets (whom I recognize are chosen for who they are and not their wives), but really, would many of the important men in history been able to do what they did as well as they did without a good woman supporting them? My view is currently colored by reading “Immortal Wife”, but still, when a husband has a literal *partner* in life, shouldn’t she be given some credit in the annals of history? Even if she doesn’t go above and beyond her role as wife, that part she plays is nothing to sneeze at.

  3. During the time I was mothering/raising my children, I’ve always disliked Mother’s Day, only because it was that one day where my children would be “nice” to me; the other days of the year they would be normal children fighting, loving, and doing all those wonderful things that children do. That’s changed now that my children realize that being a mom is sometimes a thankless job and the accolades I now receive from them are valuable. I really felt invisible when I retired after working for 20+ years. All of a sudden I was out of the public eye – so to speak, and there were no more recognition for work well done. Even though for the past 3 years I have been involved with my children and grandchildren, which has been lovely, but I didn’t feel the recognition as I previously felt as an employed person and the center of attention. I’ve come to the realization though that I’m not as invisible as I think; people within my community/church know of my accomplishments even if I don’t receive that constant positive feedback – I know I’m good at whatever I do and I feel more of a valued and visible person, and maybe that comes with age and maturity.

  4. Awesome post! yes, I also relate. I think this general lack of appreciation and recognition is a big contributor to “homemaker burn-out” and disillusionment.

    We grow up, especially in the LDS church with an idealized and romanticized view of family life and a woman’s role. The day to day reality is often one of feeling invisible! Our own competence in the tasks of the role of wife, mother, homemaker feed this, in a paradoxical way.

    Think about it- when we are good at keeping everybody fed, clothed, educated and to their activities, etc. family life hums along, with no need for others to focus on the “how” of it all.

    I too, have struggled in the past with Mother’s Day, for many reasons, one being the hollowness of the ritual yearly homage, when day to day family living can have far too little appreciation for our “invisible” contributions in our homes.

    Regarding the questions about do women need it? Is it appropriate/spiritually proper? Should recognition for accomplishments and contributions be gender-based?

    My thoughts are that one of the basic human needs we ALL have is to feel valuable, to feel loved and appreciated, that our gifts and contributions are recognized and appreciated, that we make a difference in our worlds. Abraham Maslow, among many others, discussed this.

    Having them not be met contributes to burn-out, depression, apathy, a slow-burning anger or resentment, and lack of thriving.

    Having these emotional needs met paves the way for further growth, development and CONTRIBUTION.

    That many women feel invisible, and under-acknowledged or under-appreciated in Mormon or any other cultural group is a deficit that I sense is grounded in large part in the male-defined cultural emphasis on valuing contributions and pursuits that are important in a predominantely male-oriented society and culture.

    As we continue evolving both as a Church culture and world-wide, which includes balancing the masculine with feminine ideas, ideals, contributions, gifts, viewpoint and strengths, this will change.

    May it come in our lifetime!

  5. This was a GREAT post. Inisightful but not preachy and the story was perfect. I shall definitely be using this analogy in future disucssions. I also think that there are men who fit this description and that in some ways it is a symptom of our fame-centered society and that we need to do a better job of teaching our children to recognize contributions that are unseen and at the same time to teach our daughters to get their light out from under a bushel. Maybe I’m mixing metaphors now? Sometimes at the end of my scripture reading I have to remind myself that they were written by men, in a time when women weren’t allowed to be equals and maybe that helps explain the holographic women.

  6. Eh. This is why I don’t care about Thoreau. While he was out being an ascetic and philosophizing and picking his belly button link, his mommy was scrubbing his underoos and fixing his dinner.

  7. As a physician-scientist in training I’ve made a point of studying the lives of successful individuals in my field who I want to emulate. In the process, my eyes have been opened to the “hologram humans” behind the achievements of these men (sadly there aren’t many renowned female physician-scientists).

    Almost universally, behind each of these hard-working, persistent men was an equally dedicated wife who was emotionally and physically supportive as she cooked, cleaned, raised children, and essentially acted as a single parent while her spouse made ground-breaking discoveries.

    Even being single, I know how difficult it is to just maintain my own life outside of my training (piles of dirty laundry and an empty fridge are pretty much the norm).

    These women took care of those things which allowed their husbands to achieve greatness. They are the unseen holograms behind many of the medical & scientific advancements that we depend on daily to save lives.

    I often wonder how they felt as they sat in the crowd while their spouse received recognition for the accomplishments they made possible.

    Thanks for reminding me to also open my eyes to those in my life who silently enable me to move forward as well and who I need to take the time to recognize. Great post!

    (There are always so many other “hologram humans” involved in these advancements in addition to spouses. A great story illustrating this point is that of Vivian Thomas, an African American whose contribution to developing the surgical technique to save the lives of “blue babies” in the 1940’s was largely ignored until recently).

  8. Thanks for all your thoughtful comments. I remember having a rant in the car one day when I was driving my middle school/high school children around. I barked about how they should be glad they’re still living in a time of life when they get grades or at least feedback on how they’re doing. “No one gives me A’s anymore. I have no measure to know how well I’m doing!” I think I spend way too much time wondering “how I’m doing.” That of course begs the question(s) of “in which category? in competition with whom about what? Who’s the one whose grades or assessment you’d really value?” The pious answer would be that if I knew I was okay with God, then I should be constantly happy and content. Unfortunately, being mortal, I have a million little mental gnats flying around in my brain that interfere with my ability to hold onto that status for long. I still think it’s the best one to aim for, but in the mean time, toss me a nod, send me some flowers, give me an A. Heck, give me a hug. It’s nice to know I’m not alone in the journey.

  9. I think often times people, women specifically, view the need of appreciation or a pat on the back as indulgent or un-Christlike. I beg to differ. God himself, after each “day” of the creation, sat back and said “it is good.” We ARE doing a great and marvelous work. Sometimes after a long day of laundry, meals, cleaning, chauffeuring, etc. we too need to sit back and say “it is good”. (It’s even better when someone else tells you!) In return, we need to acknowledge and appreciate those around us who do so much. Male or female.

  10. Thank you Linda for this post. It inspires me to remember those in the background in my own life and to recognize how I can be in the background in the lives of others.

    In terms of the church, I think the top leader often gets a lot of credit when in reality the accomplishment(s) involved a lot of work from a variety of people. While I recognize it is easy to make the male/female comparisons, I think hologram humans exist in almost any institution.

  11. Linda, I agree. Getting the mental gnats to decease and desist is important to the process.

    MT, “we need to acknowledge and appreciate those around us who do so much. Male or female.” Yes. Daily we walk obliviously past many instances of acknowledgeable good in others as well as in ourselves. We miss those chances to encourage and empower way too much.

  12. Great post!

    Debra, I particularly like your point here:
    “Think about it- when we are good at keeping everybody fed, clothed, educated and to their activities, etc. family life hums along, with no need for others to focus on the “how” of it all.”

    I’ve read a similar comment about umpires in baseball. When everything goes well–when they do their jobs so skillfully that all the calls are right–nobody notices. Nobody even thinks of what they’re doing until something goes wrong.

    (Not a great comparison, I know, but it sprung to mind and I thought it might be worth mentioning.)

  13. I am 54 and have returned university to get my MSW. I am taking a heavy load and next week is finals week. DH, who is also a bishop in a YSA unit, has worked hard to keep the cooking, dishes and laundry invisible to me. When I thank him he offers some tongue in cheek variation of, “I had magically appearing meals and laundry when I finished graduate school, and for all these years. Go study” He has also said, “You worked harder than I did for 25 years, I’ll work harder than you for the next 25.” He was a convert at 25. His awareness of women’s issues pushed me into mine. He works hard among the graduate students in our congregation to empower the women who need it and to teach correct principles to the men who need it. He sees the women and tries to make sure the men see them. I think men like him are the wave of the future in the Church.

  14. So, I feel like I’ve been thinking about this a good deal lately and, after reading the comments below, I think I’m running in the opposite direction.

    background: I’m a 23yr-old live-in nanny, non-member, who’s been recently appointed to managing “hospitality” (read: all things food-related) for the YA group at my church.

    I was reminded of Matt. 6:3-5 which talks about doing good works in secret; that God who sees these things will be the rewarder. Also, Gal. 6:9 that admonishes us not to grow weary in doing good.

    Though I’m young, I’ve learned a little bit about the thanklessness that is being a housewife/mother. I have a job where it’s never about what I need or how I’m feeling; I’ve worked sick, tired, through the weddings/graduations/births of friends and the deaths of relatives, and always in a way that makes the lives of those around me easy and seamless. AND often without any thank yous at all. The funny thing is, it doesn’t bother me all that much; I like being the one that makes things run smoothly and find fulfillment when everybody has what they need.

    What I’m wondering is: When did knowing within yourself that you’d done well become not enough? I know that what I do is valueable; why should I worry when others fail to see it too? People often don’t see it because they don’t know what goes into holding up the house of cards around them.

    I religiously (haha) avoid recognition for puting out goodies at church. Seeing an empty table at the end of the night is recognition enough. That, and knowing that providing food encouraged people to stay and fellowship, or at least made doing so more enjoyable.

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