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My Life’s True Mission

By Melissa McQuarrie

AEE327F4-E3A4-46AA-86DD-A27E4D8122E1At twelve, I felt the first stirrings of destiny. What plan did God have for me, and how could I follow it? I took German and French, discovering I had a knack for languages. Maybe I’d serve a mission. Perhaps I’d become an ambassador, maybe even feed the hungry masses in India. I loved, loved, loved to read and write, so maybe I’d become a writer and uplift millions around the world with my lyrical prose. Perhaps the Lord could use my literary talents to spread the gospel, like the Osmonds used their music. And I would get married (to Donny Osmond, I secretly hoped) and have children, raise up future missionaries, maybe even a prophet. Surely I was destined for greatness. I would emblazon my name across the night sky, make my grand mark on the world.

And then I received my patriarchal blessing, which said nothing of greatness and fame, or marrying Donny Osmond, but which did give me clues about my life’s mission: I would get a good education, be a missionary and spread the gospel through my example, raise a righteous family, and be a “ray of sunshine” to those around me. A good life, to be sure, but rather quiet and unassuming, it seemed to me. Still, I looked for ways to make my mark and fulfill my destiny as I served a mission in Peru, went to graduate school, married and had children, did a little writing. And though I haven’t become famous or written a bestseller (thanks for taking that one, Stephenie Meyer) or cured cancer or saved India, I’m learning that my life’s mission is important, nevertheless, and that it evolves as my life unfolds.

In her essay “Wherever She Is,” published in the Summer, 2009 issue of Segullah, Lani R. Axman shares similar feelings. She describes how she tried to fulfill her “life’s true mission” by following the admonition in her patriarchal blessing to “uplift and strengthen others” through giving them “special care and tender touches.” As Axman explored different avenues for service—learning Spanish, majoring first in social work and then in English, applying to law school, studying to become a doula—she searched for the one true fulfillment of her life’s mission: “I was going to fulfill my purpose, and I was going to do it on a grand scale. I would swing open a mighty door, step in, and dispense my ‘special care’ to the masses. Isn’t a mission from God inherently laced with magnitude?” One day she read a pamphlet written by Sister Hinckley, in which Sister Hinckley quoted Elaine Cannon: “A woman’s significant role is that of being an influence wherever she is.” Is that it, Axman wondered? Is that all? But then, as the weeks passed, Axman understood through the Spirit’s gentle tutelage that she was fulfilling her life’s mission—uplifting and strengthening others—by influencing those closest to her. She realized, “There have been no downtrodden masses uplifted or strengthened by my efforts, but somehow, in all my searching (or perhaps despite it), I managed to touch a few souls here and there.”

Like Axman, I’m learning that a significant part of my life’s mission is to nurture those in my own small circle. And that, though each of us has a unique life mission, making a difference wherever we are seems to be at the heart of each of our missions. “The Master does not focus on the how and the what. He simply savors the why and for whom,” says Axman. I might still do some *big* and *important* things (and I will admit to you that one of my secret ambitions is to one day speak in Women’s Conference—my current version of fame), but right now I seem to be accomplishing my life’s mission by driving my daughter to soccer games; teaching my Beehives how to keep a journal; writing to my missionary nephews; taking a loaf of pumpkin bread to the sweet, elderly widow I visit teach; matching socks and folding laundry; tutoring my son in writing a coherent essay; and writing a blog post here and there. In short, by quietly exerting my influence wherever I am, by being a ray of sunshine in my own tiny section of the garden. And as my life continues to unfold, I hope to remain open to the opportunities the Lord gives me to make my mark, one tiny brushstroke at a time.

Discuss any/all of the following:
What were your ambitions when you were young?
What do you perceive as being your “life’s true mission” and how has that mission evolved throughout your life?
How has being a woman affected your perception/execution of your life’s mission?
In what ways has your patriarchal blessing been fulfilled, and in what ways has its fulfillment been different than you envisioned?
How are you making your mark on the world?

About Melissa McQuarrie

(Advisory Board) grew up in Australia and California and now lives in Provo, Utah with her husband, four children, and their dog, Daisy. She served a mission in Peru and has a BA and MA in English from BYU. She loves reading, writing, and quiet afternoons. She does not love grocery shopping. Now that two of her children attend BYU and her youngest children are in high school and junior high, she is trying to adjust to this "emptying nest" stage and still wondering how it snuck up on her so fast.

22 thoughts on “My Life’s True Mission”

  1. Ten years ago when I was trying to balance all the priorities in my life, which included a demanding teaching and administration position at BYU, the Spirit told me that the most important thing I would ever do on earth is be a mother to my three children. That knowledge gives me strength on days like today, when motherhood seems like the most stressful job in the world. I'm not sure why I thought it would be much easier once they were all adults!

    My patriarchal blessing was quite intimidating in 1976 because it told me that my ancestors were depending on me to do their temple work and I knew that all their records existed somewhere behind the Iron Curtain. All I had were the names of two ancestral villages, one in Czechoslovakia and the other in Poland. I couldn't even imagine how I would ever get the information I needed, so it seemed overwhelming that my eternal salvation was linked to such an impossible task.

    But I prayed and then cried when the Iron Curtain fell in 1989, thirty years ago. The church immediately began microfilming records in the area of my Polish ancestral village, but I didn't know that. I was busy being a young mother, then a single mother attending graduate school, and then a full-time career mother trying to keep my children and myself alive. My last job was teaching English full-time in a high school. That job consumed my life 24/7. I remember thinking that the only way I would ever fulfill my patriarchal blessing is if I had a husband who made enough money so that I wouldn't have to teach high school any more. So I prayed for that and six years ago I married him. The day I announced to my faculty friends that I would be retiring at the end of the school year, my husband received a phone call offering him an additional contract that covered my teaching salary. I recently spent five of the last fifteen months in Eastern Europe, learning the Polish language and doing family history research. But before that I found hundreds of my ancestors on microfilm in SLC. I love doing their temple work because I can feel their absolute joy and gratitude. I know, like Nephi, that the Lord will provide a way for us to accomplish his work. And sometimes it is super fun!

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  2. I started having babies at 20 and always planned for my "other life" to begin at 40, when I would have a fascinating career, possibly owning my own business. But something happened in those years of bearing six children and caring for my home and serving in the Church. I realized after a stint back at school trying to complete my degree, and a part-time job in my chosen field,that I really just wanted to continue to be a SAHM and grandmother. I still don't have my degree and my youngest is now a senior. But all I really want to focus on is to nurture the lives of those in my circle of influence. I have the freedom to let each day unfold and serve wherever I feel needed that day. I remind myself each day that my only real goal is to be open to and courageous enough to "do His will."

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  3. Ya know, I'm fascinated that as such young women you both had such plans. I didn't. I assumed I'd get married, have kids and live like my parents. I never thought of myself as capable of making a grand scale difference or changing the world. I'm impressed you had so much forethought. The benefit of being rather unambitious in my youth, is that I get to be really impressed with myself when I do accomplish something–be it something 'grand' or something simple. I definitely see more opportunity now, in my thirties, than I ever have before, but I love that quote and hope to live up to being a good influence wherever I am and whatever I do. Great post.

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  4. For the last few weeks I've been pondering something Camilla Kimball said, as reported in the recent biography of Spencer W. Kimball. A younger woman said something about how she wished that she could be like Sister Kimball, and Camilla responded "Well, I wasn't like this when I was your age." It seems like the greatest spiritual blessing I've felt during the last year or so is a sense of peace and patience that I have time to become the person I want to be. For several years I was on a different path and then I really felt like I should take some time to just be a mom at home with my kids. Like Kathryn, I have some fairly specific promises in my blessing about things I will do that haven't happened yet. I still have no idea how they will work out, but I'm beginning to see that they will probably have to wait until the future. When I make my decisions I do keep those things in mind, but even more importantly I listen to the Spirit because the path to that future is not what I thought it would be.

    Josi–I also never had any grand plans when I was a kid. I really didn't have many goals or much direction and am only finding now that I am able to make those kinds of plans. I'm actually much more focused and self-confident at 31 than I was at 15.

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  5. In my youth all I wanted was to become a doctor and run off to the rainforest to find all the cures to life's ills. In the interim, I have discovered that this stemmed from my desire to heal others, and though I have had to put my medical degree on hold or seek other avenues for a medical education, I still very much want to touch the lives of others with my knowledge and provide healing in whatever way I can. I love that I get to do this in such a beautiful way as a mother and that I can use my skills and knowledge to bless my family and friends. But I still long for the day that I can branch out and provide healing in other ways.

    Strangely enough, though this is my passion, it is very different from what my patriarchal blessing directs me to for my life's pursuits outside of the home. It is very clear that I should be studying Israel in many different aspects. When I first received it I didn't get it. It seemed so overwhelming with the details it gave of things that I didn't understand. But once I made the decision to go forward with faith on studying a topic that I was not drawn to on my own, I happily discovered a passion for it as well. I have loved learning and studying the tribes of Israel and by extension Jewish history and culture. I know that it is a literal calling for my life's mission and I am brought such joy by the fact that I am also very fulfilled by it.

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  6. I think many of us are like Naaman, hoping that God will command us to do some great thing, when all he really needs us to do is listen and do the small things. The older I get, the more I realize the small things ARE the big ones. My favorite scripture is D&C 64:33: "Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great."

    Too many are convinced that in order to be great, they have to be well-known or wealthy, when all they really need to do is learn to listen and follow the promptings of the Spirit.

    I like the way you've chosen to be a "ray of sunshine." We all need to do more of that.

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  7. When I was a child I wanted to be a doctor, but by the time I was a teenager contemplating organic and inorganic chemistry coupled with hours of study, my ambitions had become pretty simple. I planned on becoming a wife and a mother. Period. (This lack of any career-centered focus may well have been generational…I am 57.)

    I did go to college and get a teaching certificate "to fall back on," but this was not out of any particular interest. I was just doing what my counselors and parents advised me to do. What I really wanted was to get married (which I did, immediately upon graduation) and start my family (which I did three years later). I was content.

    My creative talents and abilities were well-used by the ward, stake, and in my own family. I was also kept very busy with four growing children, so I was satisfied for a time. However, once my youngest hit first grade, I went back to school for a Masters in Counseling. Three classes short of graduation, my husband made a career move to Northern California, and because my oldest son did not make the move well, I was unable to go back to school. That's when I started writing for publication. I needed something to replace the counseling I'd been doing, so I transitioned to writing self help books instead. After Deseret Book published the first one, I began sending my poetry to literary journals and other magazines in order to get that published, too. Then I became a lyricist.

    All of these things were satisfying, but these days I don't care much about publication. My third book was published in 2003, and I haven't felt a strong urge to write one since. Instead, I've gotten into writing short stories, blogging, and creating and maintaining a poetry website. This is a perfect amount of involvement for me at this stage of my life.

    I guess my point is this: All of these "career"-type things were pleasing and satisfying in their seasons, but the main and enduring love of my life has been and continues to be motherhood. That is the one pursuit that has never failed to please and fulfill me, the one I have never tired of or wanted to "move on" from.

    My patriarchal blessing keeps me climbing. The Lord has some lofty expectations of me that I hope to fulfill one day. Some I can already see coming to fruition, but many are yet to be realized. I am encouraged when I remind myself that even if I can't move mountains, I can certainly find a way to climb over them (or even around them, if necessary.)

    I find that encouraging!

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  8. Melissa, Your thoughts reflect things I have been blessed to run into over the past few days — thank you for helping me put them together!

    The other night I happened to turn on BYUTV to Merrilee Webb teaching the sisters at Women's Conference how they can have an impact on those around them http://www.byub.org/talks/Talk.aspx?id=3607.

    As she taught, she shared the following quote:
    "When you walk into a room, you either add to the room or take away from the room. You make a difference."

    We can all make a difference, whether we are walking into a bedroom or a boardroom.

    Pres. Eyring's talk about serving TODAY is this week's Mormon Message:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Cw8I8eukaI

    It reminded me of how important it is to daily ask where the Lord would have us serve, what we should do….

    As we do so, and seek to fulfill His directions, we can have the peace and joy of knowing we are fulfilling His mission for us!

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  9. You guys and your wanting to do a bunch of good in the world. My high school ambition was to become a lobbyist. We all know they are the ones who really run this country and I decided that the best way to have lots of influence in the world would be to become the one who actually has pull. I wanted to corrupt the system MY way. 🙂 So i guess it's good that I instead majored in English and got married and had a baby so I didn't get to crazy with my life.

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  10. This is a note for Kathryn P. from comment #1. I too am searching for Polish ancestry and am not having very much luck. Would you please contact me @
    jjh_stuff@yahoo.com
    and I'll send you my phone number or you send me yours. I would love to talk to you. Especially about the Polish village where you found all your names. I can't believe your learned Polish. Good for you! Please contact me.
    Jill Janetski Holcomb

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  11. I feel very grateful, happy and content with my life. I was raised overseas in Germany, Portugal, Brazil and Belgium. I served a mission in Bulgaria, finished my Bachelors in English, performed, traveled, got married, had babies and voila!

    I had actually planned on getting married very young and having dozens of babies. I had no lofty career goals–though I did picture myself moving to Portugal where I would raise my family and write books. I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm not sure I even planned on finishing my degree if Mr. Right came along (he didn't until later), and I certainly NEVER had planned on a mission.

    But something funny happened; I feel in LOVE with school. I loved the papers, the reading, the discussions! I salivated over research and even turned down dates (like one to a "They Might Be Giants" concert) when I was "in the flow" with my writing. I also loved performing; singing and acting. When I got to perform in the Edinburgh Festival with a BYU, group I though I had found my calling. I would just be a single, happy, LDS performer. And then I met my husband (That always seems to happen, doesn't it? When we finally make peace with our lot–it changes).

    Life has had many pleasant and not so pleasant surprises, but over all I could never have dreamed of anything better than what I got. I used to think of motherhood as "life interrupted", but now I realize that it IS my life now. It is who I am and what I was meant to do and be. I am forever grateful that I had time to play and travel and perform so that I can pick up the motherhood reigns with peace and gratitude, and without looking back.

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  12. In high school I had a successful art career. Won awards and everthing. I had not a clue what I was doing, but it was fun and I had natural talent. I thought if I continued on that road I'd have fame, fortune, fun, fulfilment and end up in NYC.

    Then I went to BYU where I decided to major in Art Education so I could get "a real job". I wanted to teach high school art. Much to my embarassment, I didn't get my degree.

    Now many years later I'm glad I didn't, because I don't want to teach. I love my kids, I love being a mother, but I don't necessarily love other people's kids and don't know that I'd want to be in a classroom with them all day long. Over time I'd probably develop a underlying animosity to the students because I could be at home painting my own work instead of teaching them. (Color me selfish)

    Now I'm a SAHM with health issues, something I never imagined for myself (no one does). But I am finishing my degree through BYU's BGS program. My goal is to become a therapist. I keep busy with writing, kids, and staying healthy. Those health issues make me tentative about long range goals though.

    Because of the craziness of life and illness painting hasn't been a huge part of my life and I miss it in a private, peaceful way. God whispers to me that it is such a part of who I am that I don't need to fear being away from it for a while.

    The public accolades of the world have never meant much to me, they are fleeting. For this reason even getting awards at church (YW recognition, gospel in action, etc.) for myself or my children has never appealed much to me. There is value in the accomplishment, not in the praise or arbitrary accolade. Enjoy the journey, the process, the learning. The process of life is interesting as we watch ourselves change and develop into a person we wouldn't even recognize in the beginning.

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  13. I have been very "into" my patriarchal blessing these past 6 months. It seems like all of a sudden most of my PB is beginning to 'come to pass.' But mine is daunting in how it describes me and what I am to accomplish. Up until this year, I assumed that all of the things it said about me were more figurative, and now I'm finding that they're literal, and wondering how an average SAHM is going to accomplish the things it promises me. But, I'm stepping forward with faith and holding on for the ride and the directions.

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  14. I appreciate that you brought this up this week, because it's exactly what I've been wondering myself. I do know I'm learning the answer is much more simple than I imagined. I'm here to have joy, and to share it.

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  15. Thanks to those of you who have posted comments—I've enjoyed reading each of them. It's interesting to learn a little bit about the different paths your lives have taken. We are so fortunate to have guideposts like patriarchal blessings to help us along those paths. Your comments also demonstrate how each of us has specific talents that we use in fulfilling our life's mission, whether it be through learning Polish and doing genealogy, or studying Jewish history and culture, or healing others by being a doctor or a counselor, or writing, or singing, or creating beautiful art—the list goes on. What's also interesting to me is how we each use our unique talents in our mothering and nurturing of others. And Sue, I loved what you said about mothering being the one thing that continues to fulfill you. I've found that to be true, as well.

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  16. This is such a fun topic, and I've loved reading everybody's different experiences. I also very much enjoyed Axman's essay. When I first read it a few weeks ago, I felt that "I so get this" feeling.

    I think my life's true mission is different at different times. When I was in grad school, I really struggled with not knowing what my future was going to be. Then a professor spoke of how his career began and developed. He made the point that he had no plans to start a Social Work program at BYU, but that one experience after another led him there. It has helped me to remember that as time passes, things change, and I don't have a full vision of my life ahead of me.

    I would say I've gone back and forth with how I see my mission. When I was young, I just knew my mission would be motherhood. After serving a formal mission, I was given insights via blessings, impressions & such that I would have a career and marriage would come later. After adjusting to that idea, I got really excited about "saving the world" as a social worker. I never lost sight of the motherhood dream, but I did enjoy my career for quite a while (as I passed 35 with still no children, it became harder to be enthused about my career, though–that couldn't be IT for me, you know?). Now I'm a Mommy and thrilled to have this be my focus at last.

    I keep re-writing my thoughts on the future and coming up uncertain, so I think I'll stop here.

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  17. Such a great post and interesting comments.

    When I was ten I thought I would find a cure for cancer or come up with an Einstein-like formula! Pure hubris! But maybe feeling special helped me make better choices. Is that why the Lord designates us as his Chosen people?

    Then I wanted to be an artist, a writer (I thought maybe I would be like a Mormon version of Chaim Potok), a dancer, and a teacher. I have gotten to dabble a tiny bit in each of those, but just in school, not professionally.

    But mostly, I've always wanted to be a wife and mother. I'm finding, however, that I didn't think I needed to prepare for those "natural" jobs. Now I wish schools weren't afraid to support future mothers.

    I have been blessed with five beautiful children and a wonderful husband. I have opportunities to create and grow. I don't always use my time as well as I wish.

    I also feel like my pb has guided me–and offers me direction of where to head once my children need me less!

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  18. What a treat to read this post and all these great comments. It's always so compelling to me to see how everyone's lives unfold in such unique ways. I was just telling my husband a few days ago how I feel like a completely different person with completely different aspirations than I was when we got married eight years ago. Who will I be and what will I want in eight more years? Funny how time changes our perspectives.

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  19. It's so interesting to read all these comments. They're mostly from people who have already justified their dreams with their lives, whereas I'm in the middle of that. I have a lot left to think about and a lot left to do. I just hope I do what's right and that I'm happy doing it.

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  20. Lani, thanks for weighing in! As you can see, your essay has spawned some interesting discussion. And I just want to say that if you feel different now after eight years of marriage, just wait until you've been married for 21 years (we just our 21st anniversary last month). I continue to explore new avenues for growth and change, and I expect it to continue for many more years. That's the beauty of being eternal beings, I guess. 🙂

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  21. What a lovely essay! I like the idea that life's most fulfilling purposes can be small and simple, and that you can have a fulfilling life without being a prominent person in society, being extremely intellectual, whatever. Different things are fulfilling for different people, and it's wonderful that we can have meaningful lives that uplift and strengthen other people and help us feel fulfilled.

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