Two daily questions

As I mentioned once before, when I was in Boston last year, it happened to be stake conference in my old stake (which is like a diocese or a regional organization of several local congregations). So I went. What I heard there gently changed my life.* I think it just hit me in the right time and place. The mission president of the Boston mission spoke about what he tells his returning missionaries, as they wonder and agonize about how to take the spirit of their missions into their lives. 

This was a fresh experience on my mind, having witnessed Lauren's transition from missionary life to regular life. I noticed that there was a very real grief process in giving up that full-time richness of inspiration and love and services so I tuned in especially closely to the talk with her in mind. But I quickly realized this was going to be applicable to me. For me.

photo  via

photo via

There was one section that felt particularly relevant to me, practically a neon flashing sign:

The key, said President Packard, is to develop a personal daily ministry. He suggested asking yourself and God every morning, through prayer and meditation: "Who are my people?" "What do they need?"--taking note of ideas that come to mind and then committing yourself to act on the impressions when they come. Ask those two questions every day and then turn it all over to God. Ideas will flow and crystallize. You will refill with pure love every day and receive opportunities to share it with others. 

Second, he said, view your entire life as a holistic offering to God. You can be "on his errand" wherever you are--whatever you're doing, even if it doesn't seen conventionally religious or service-y. He wants us to thrive at home, in school, on the job, and have a joyful life and bring that joy into all life's facets. Under that mindset, there's no room for guilt that you're not Serving enough (or full time, as missionaries have) because the love you bring into every situation is enough. You're watering your own corner of the garden, your own section of the vineyard. You're hastening the work within yourself.

These simple, profound suggestions have transformed how I treat my spiritual life. Truly. Like many women I know, I have sometimes felt a low grade guilt of not measuring up--in my church assignments, roles at home and work and elsewhere. I tend to have a running list of should be/could be items that is way longer than the day would allow.  But when I have started the day with the question "who are my people and what do they need?" I have felt the freedom to consider every interaction in that day as worthwhile and part of my personal ministry--at appointments, in work meetings, with my kids and G, with neighbors and friends. Sending an email. Talking to a teacher at Sam's school. Doing research interviews. Teaching a class.  These are my people, my ministry. My task is simply to show up for them and connect and hopefully be a positive presence--a conduit for some bit of love that's tailored to them. This approach replaces my feelings of aspirational anxiety with a sense of peaceful partnership.  It feels beautifully zen, really, almost a Buddhist mindfulness practice. The Jesuits also have a defining phrase (and practice) for this: finding God in all things. I like that.  

Clearly (if you know me) this is an ideal, a blueprint that doesn't always show up in my daily interactions. But for me it has recentered my spiritual efforts, simplified to its essence what I think being a disciple is, and released me from a racing mind. Today: Who are my people? What do they need? Send them to me and me to them. Or, in other words, what is needful

*it was a double-header spiritual boost for me; it's where I heard this talk and had this experience as well.


The reception


The setting:

And the bridal party:

The program:

The first dance and cake cutting 

The friends, family, & festivities

It was magical. 

Reception venue: Springville Museum of Art
Photographer: Chelsie Starley Photography
Engagement photographer (photos on table): Michelle Lehnardt
Those amazing flowers: my friend Christianne Cox (Urban Flowers in SLC)
Food & Italian soda bar: Magelby's Catering
Wedding cheesecake (L&P don't like cake!): The Mighty Baker
Wedding dress and veil: Avenia Bridal


We've been living in a state of betweenness for almost a year--more, really. We knew our time in Australia would be drawing to a close at the end of this year.   Sam will graduate from high school in November and G's contract here (along with our visas) will end mid-December. We're keen to enjoy everything about being here up until the moment we board the plane but what we haven't known is where that plane would be headed after our 4+ year stint here.  

It's a common pattern with me, wanting to know what's nextuncomfortable when there's a big question mark looming in our future. I thrive on making the plan! Mapping out the steps! Obsessively researching neighborhoods! Given the company's locations, the chances were high it would be either Boston or DC with smaller likelihoods (but still possibilities) of Texas, Arizona, and California and a very slim chance of Denver.

We're happy to say we finally know. A little bit of haze has cleared from our future view.

The short, Reader's Digest version:
We're headed to...drum roll, please...Washington, DC/Virginia! 

The extended dance mix version:
A while back G was offered a position at the practice where he's always wanted to go, the international office for his company (which is located in Washington DC). We love DC! We said yes.  Ever the inveterate planner-ahead (plan-aheader?) even though it was still early I started sending out feelers for jobs in the area and--this is crazy to write out--an opportunity to apply for a faculty position at Southern Virginia University suddenly materialized. I sent in my CV, basically just a test balloon checking to see if they were hiring someone in my field. They were in the final stages of the hiring process and kindly considered my candidacy just as the application door was swinging shut. By the end of that week I had lined up recommendations and written application essays and did a phone interview with the search committee. Two weeks after that they flew me to Virginia to do a job talk (essentially a research presentation) and a sample lecture.

It's amazing how when things start moving, the momentum increases and things really seem to fall into place. For those keeping score at home, this was the exact two-week time period I was ramping up to throw a wedding for my first born daughter (which, believe you me,  I am going to post about once we get the photos back from the wedding photographer).  It seemed crazy to try to put together two presentations the same week we were packing to go to Utah for the wedding. But, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? As Eleanor Roosevelt has reminded me several times on my Pinterest board, Do that thing you think you cannot do.  I sent out pleas of help & requests for advice to my network of colleagues who've recently landed academic jobs and they generously responded.

To make it work for everyone involved I had to fly out early in the week of Lauren's wedding (that's normal mother-of-the-bride behavior, right?) for the campus visit. Lauren and Patrick were still busy in the middle of finals so it was actually a great time to dash across country and back. After in-person interviews and a good visit there in Virginia, I returned to finish planning and celebrating Lauren and Patrick's nuptials (ha! that word gets me every time).

The day before the wedding they offered me the job, generously adjusting the start date to January 2017. I'm ecstatic! SVU really impressed me--its small liberal arts college approach to education, the friendly and interesting faculty, the lovely and engaged students, the beautiful campus and college-town setting. More and more I'm convinced that huge universities are not for everyone and that many (if not most) college undergraduates get a great education and thrive in a more intimate school setting with smaller class sizes, with the ability to form relationships with professors and still participate in a range of activities through the university years--things like athletics, music, drama. My desire to teach, mentor, and research (in that order) align really well with SVU's philosophy and priorities. And I just felt so good about it--peaceful, happy, and excited.  G and I talked a lot about it and decided to go for it, eyes wide open to the joys and challenges.

photo of SVU campus via Jordan Berrey (thanks, Jordan!)

photo of SVU campus via Jordan Berrey (thanks, Jordan!)

Okay, if you just ran a check on google maps you'll know that SVU (in Lexington, VA) and Washington DC are about three hours apart on a good travel day. We do have some logistics to sort out. Luckily the man I married is the type who says (and truly this is a crucial element to making this work) "that's such a fantastic opportunity for you and I know you've been working toward it for years. Look, you've adapted to my career demands and moves for years. Now it'll be my turn. We'll make it work."  We'll do a country mouse/city mouse situation for a while. I love that my job commitment is for eight months of the year, which builds in lots of possibilities to live out my ands: professor and wife and writer and mother and researcher and friend and daughter and even someday granna.  The rest we'll work out, faith-style, hoping that the solid ground will materialize as we step out into the unknown. 

p.s. I'm sad about no Boston. I really really love my people in Boston. As always, I have to go through a mourning process for the lost options, the roads not taken. The one predictable joy of living in between is being able to imagine us in every single location, living out every option. Come south, friends! Visit! Move! Send your children to SVU! I will keep a good eye on them. x

How Glory Goes

Back in July at our Pax family reunion, my grandparents were sitting on one of the blue cabin couches next to each other, soaking in the family togetherness and the chaos that goes with it. Grandma has been increasingly forgetful in the last few years and conversations sometimes looped back around to where they started or sometimes took unexpected turns. 

Toward the end of the day I think she could tell things were winding down (or was she tired and wishing it were so?) and she announced to us all in that way you do when you're hoping to shepherd everyone to the door, "well, we wish we could invite you to our farewell but we don't know when it's going to be!" 

Today I came across that line on a running list of quotes and memories on my phone (because I'm also a little forgetful at less than half grandma's age). I've been thinking of my grandma almost non-stop this week. She had a fall and things have been painful and complicated. She doesn't want any extraordinary measures, she's stopped eating, and she wants everyone to stop praying for her to get better. She wants to go home. As in Home.  She seems to be inviting us to her farewell.

To paraphrase Stephen Colbert, I know it may sound greedy to want more days with a person who lived so long, but the fact that my grandma will turn 96 this week does not diminish, it only magnifies, the enormity of the room whose doors seem to be quietly shutting. 

So it's a tender, bittersweet time unfolding there in that hospice and in Paxman hearts wherever they beat. Shirley's children are taking turns at her bedside and in support of their dad as their parents' paths, at least for now, seem to be diverging for the first time in over 75 years.

When the song How Glory Goes came up on my playlist last weekend, it was a poignant, close-to-home tear starter for sure.  Written by Adam Guettel for his musical Floyd Collins, it's based on the real life account of a man who became critically, mortally trapped in a cave. While people work to try to save him he realizes death is imminent and wonders aloud about what the afterlife will be like: 

Is it warm? Is it soft against your face?
Do you feel a kind of grace inside the breeze?
Will there be trees?
Is there light? Does it hover on the ground?
Does it shine from all around or just from you?

Is it endless and empty and you wander on your own?
Slowly forget about the folks that you have known?
Or does rising bread fill up the air
From open kitchens everywhere?
Familiar faces far as you can see, like a family?

Do we live? Is it like a little town?
Do we get to look back down at who we love?
Are we above?
Are we everywhere? Are we anywhere at all?
Do we hear a trumpet call us and we're by your side?

Will I want? Will I wish
For all the things I should have done?
Longing to finish what I only just begun?
Or has a shiny truth been waiting there
For all the questions everywhere?
In a world of wondering, suddenly you know. And you will always know.

Will my mama be there waiting for me,
Smiling like the way she does,
And holding out her arms,
As she calls my name?
She will hold me just the same…

Only Heaven knows how glory goes,
What each of us was meant to be.
In the starlight, that is what we are.
I can see so far…

I'd like to vote for all of the above, if anyone's taking requests. I'm quite certain there is a chain of mamas and sisters getting ready and waiting for Shirley, even while a chain of us here gets ready to say goodbye, the going and the glory both extending in symmetry and celebration of one extraordinary and beloved Shirley Brockbank Paxman.