Last year I took a full-time job at the university where I completed my undergraduate and graduate degrees. After several years away, being back where I spent so much time in my past has been both a wonderful and strange experience. The campus is a palimpsest, with layers of time and memory revealing themselves as I walk through buildings and down tree-shaded paths. There are the benches in the fine arts building where I took naps after art history class my freshman year; the school supplies area in the bookstore where I spent my hard-earned money on fancy gel pens to liven up my note taking; the building where I received my patriarchal blessing in a small campus office. Some of the places where I lived, worked, and studied have been completely erased—torn down to make way for new construction that still disorients me after being back on campus for a year. Eighteen years ago I was one of the new freshmen I now see walking around feeling simultaneously excited and scared (although I didn’t have a cell phone glued to my ear at the time).
I remember that eighteen years ago I applied for a job in the department where I currently work. From time to time I think about the interview, which I totally botched, and how bad I felt because I really wanted to work in a library. I never did get a job in the library as a student, and though I thought I might want to pursue library work as a career someday, I always felt like God was leading me in a different direction. Somehow, eighteen years later, I have found myself back in the library after all. I could not foresee this part of my story that long ago. I couldn’t even foresee it three years ago, this month, when my husband moved out and I got divorced.
Like many people I know who have experienced a sudden tragedy like divorce or death, my perspective contracted for a while. With my life suddenly wrenched off the path I had been pursuing for a number of years, I found myself flailing around desperately trying to find a way forward. I knew I needed to support my family, and myself, for the rest of our lives and I knew that I needed to figure out how to live on my own. The amount of change was overwhelming and was only manageable in small chunks. Concentrating on one day at a time, or a week at a time was all I could really do. I found a job, which led to another, and now to my current position. I’ve started a graduate program leading to a degree that will qualify me to keep progressing in my field. Finally, three years later, I’m starting to see a future that extends beyond the next few months.
As I relax into my changed life and slow down a bit, I realize that I have time. Time to grow, to change, to raise my children, to progress in my career despite my late start. One of the women I look up to most is Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who started her academic career later than most and who studies the lives and contributions of ordinary women whose stories have generally been overlooked by other historians. As I read this interview with her yesterday, my heart was touched by the story of her life and work, and her ability to see the advantages she had in situations that probably seemed like disadvantages at the time. I love reading and hearing the stories of women who have lived longer than I have and are able to step back to see how the pieces of their lives fit together. I’m still young enough that I’m in the middle of my story, and though I can see some glimpses of how things have worked to this point, I don’t have a complete narrative just yet.
This week I read both the interview with Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and one with Janet Nelson, a current member of the Young Women General Board. The Spirit whispered a few specific things to my heart that I could do in my life to be more at peace and to have more confidence to move ahead in raising my family while working and going to school (it’s exhausting just to type that). The stories of these women remind me to be patient with myself and to draw closer to God in order to have a stronger testimony of his plan for me, and his timing for this plan. I don’t know what my life will be like eighteen years from now, but I hope that I will be able to take advantage of all that comes my way between now and then.
Who do you look up to an example for shaping your future? How do you learn to trust God to direct you in your life? What has helped you learn patience with yourself? (And click the links and read both the interviews—they are a bit long, but worth it)