Nearly thirty years ago, when I was a teenager, I fell in love with a way of life that seemed totally foreign to mine. It involved things like three hours of church on Sunday, bible study every weekday at 6am, and giving up a whole bunch of things that were part of our family routine. Yet somehow, it also felt like home. We had some Mormon friends at home in Connecticut who sent us on a detour to Salt Lake City while we were doing our grand tour of the national parks, and we ended up spending days at Temple Square. Before we left, my brother asked my mom, a note of expectation in his voice, “Do you think we could ever join this church?”
She hesitated, looked resigned, and replied, “probably not.” I’m sure she was thinking of all of the ways her life would change: the people she would have to tell, the things she would have to give up, and the ways she would be forced to reconsider her vision of herself and of our whole family. It just seemed too big to contemplate.
But within a year, our family found a door within the wall and walked right through. We told the people we loved what we now believed. My dad gave up coffee, my mom her beloved bourbon-and-7up ritual, and I my middle-school potty mouth. We got baptized, and emerged from the water knowing more not only about the gospel, but about how to approach the walls in our lives.
I learned a lot of things when I became a member of the church, but one of the most surprising things is that the way my parents approached our baptisms taught me how to look for doors within walls.
One thing I’ve learned as a woman is that our paths are rarely straightforward. I sent my boyfriend off on a mission and determined to be the best girlfriend ever– I wrote letters every other day and sent thoughtful packages as often as I could. Then, a month before he came home, a professor asked me if I would work the following fall semester as his teaching assistant in London. It seemed impossible, and several of my roommates thought I might lose the boyfriend if I went, but turning down the opportunity seemed incredibly stupid. So the boyfriend came home, we got engaged, and I left a week later.
After following my new husband to medical school and not getting a job in my field, I took a secretarial job that I thought was beneath me, and within a month found myself in my own graduate program.
When my first baby was born, I wanted to stay home and thought I should stay home, and I was shocked to find that being home all day was less like vacation and more like prison. When a neighbor called and begged me to take a job teaching part-time at the college where she worked (which was right down the street), my first inclination was to say no. I needed to stay home to be a good mom, and how would I leave a nursing baby to go teach? But there was a door in that wall too, and it saved both her teaching schedule and my sanity.
Sometimes I wonder if I’ve become a junkie, hooked on the challenge, like the Queen of Hearts of believing “six impossible things before breakfast” and then setting out to do them. I’m convinced that’s how our family ended up with our fifth and sixth kids (both adopted from China after I woke up one morning determined that we needed to follow that path), and, more recently, how I went back to the job of teaching French, the same one I had to give up nearly twenty years ago when my husband started medical school (this time with six kids to keep track of as well). There are occasionally disasters, to be sure, but I believe that instead of getting fixated on how high the walls are that separate us from what we want, we should instead work to find doors, or even tiny cracks that we can somehow squeeze our ways through.
What are some of the impossible things you’ve done in your life? What has accomplishing them taught you about yourself and about the nature of impossibility?