20 Years Home.

Eighteen months ago right here on this blog, I announced that I would spend every Sunday writing about my LDS mission in Quebec. That lasted for about three Sundays and then I let other things get in the way of my writing.

But July 1 marks 20 years since I returned from the Great White North, and I must admit—at more than one point in the past 18 months, I’ve measured my life now by what my 20-years-younger-self thought my life would be.

When I got home from my mission, the only future I saw for myself was marriage and children. It was all I wanted, and to be honest, I saw my mission service as pre-payment for that life. I sacrificed 18 months of music, film, sports, time with family, dates, and school, and the least God would do for me is provide that future I dreamed about since I was five. Right? RIGHT?

Except we all know two things: 1) He didn’t, and 2) That’s not how He works anyway.

Every now and then I feel extreme shame and embarrassment that I never got married. It’s not like I didn’t try…I mean, I wrote a book about it, if you want that whole story…so a couple of weeks ago I thought maybe I needed to quantify, somehow, what the past 20 years have been like for me.

In the 20 years since I got home from my mission, I:

    • Graduated from college
    • Started a teaching career
    • Scored a master’s degree
    • Saw the following in concert:
      • Indigo Girls, Dixie Chicks, Sarah McLachlan (yes, Lilith Fair lol)
      • U2
      • Depeche Mode
      • Harry Connick, Jr.
    • Traveled to Japan
    • Drove all over the United States multiple times, by myself
    • Played piano for 9 musicals, twice as lead pianist
    • Performed a solo in a musical about women in Jesus’ life
    • Fell in love three times
    • Coached a group of speech students to state champions in their event
    • Started a podcast
    • Wrote a book and somehow convinced someone to publish it
    • Watched 66 of AFI’s top 100 movies
    • Read hundreds of books
    • Made dozens of wonderful friends
    • Visited Apple Headquarters
    • Presented at several national conferences
    • Earned a fellowship with the National Endowment for the Humanities
    • Selected as an ASNE Journalism fellow—three times (they kept accepting me even though the first two times I had to bail on the program)
    • Landed my absolute dream job of journalism and popular culture teacher
    • Selected for a competitive coding scholarship (totally failing at that, but that’s a story for another time)

I’m sure I’m leaving out other significant experiences and accomplishments, but I’ll stop here. Because here’s the point: I did not envision any of this. Not one bit. My tunnel vision on July 1, 1998 was limited to marriage and babies. I look at that list and if I hadn’t lived it, I wouldn’t believe it. 

In three weeks, I’ll celebrate another birthday. In the weeks that followed my mission, my nana died, my dad retired from the Air Force, I met a guy I dated for the next six months (and of course, wanted to marry), I turned 25, and my littlest sister got married. It was a lot to process, and honestly, I’m not sure I really did.

So at the risk of “tempting the wrath of whatever from atop the thing,” here’s hoping the next three weeks before my birthday are more calm than they were 20 years ago, and that the next 20 years of my life yield more of the same.

Merry Christmas

I wish I had anything profound, comforting, or funny to say this Christmas, but I don’t. I didn’t decorate, I didn’t embark on a baking extravaganza, I barely did any Christmas shopping.

My heart is heavy, has been all year, really, and as such, it’s been hard for me to feel much of anything this Christmas season. But on Christmas Eve, in lieu of attending a nearby evening service, I watched movies and cleaned out my RSS feed. I found two messages that restored my hope.

Every year that I spend Christmas alone, my heart is increasingly tender towards those for whom Christmas is just heartbreaking. But as glib as “Jesus is the reason for the season” often sounds in the public square, these two articles reminded me of the gravity of that phrase. He is the reason, not only for this season, but for all seasons.

Today during our Christmas program at church, I thought about the month after Jesus was born. How long did it take the Holy Family to make it safely to Egypt? Was the road bleak and hopeless? Were Mary and Joseph worried? Anxious? Maybe even a little sad at leaving their home?

Often this is how I feel in January, after I’m back at school and in the throes of musical rehearsals, getting to know new students (a perk of teaching semester classes), and rarely seeing sunlight. Bleak and hopeless. But because of Jesus, I need not let those feelings take over. He is the reason for all seasons of life–bleak and bright, hopeless and hopeful.

Merry Christmas.

An Advent message

When Christmas is hard


I’ve done a share of family history research the past couple of years, and thanks to Google, I’ve learned quite a bit about the women in my family tree.

I’ve probably written about them before, but the Spurs are losing and I don’t feel like digging through my archives to check, so sorrynotsorry if this is repeated info for the more dedicated readers.

Today I sat in a meeting for a nonprofit I volunteer for, and I thought about how I got there. This nonprofit launched 10 years ago, and I’ve been a tiny part of it for nine of those years. I don’t do much, but it is one way I stay connected to an organization that is doing quite a bit of good in the community. It’s something I’ve often thought I should leave behind, what with the teaching and the journalism advising and churching and pianoing and writing and such that I overcommit to. And pretty soon, I’m going to add schooling back into that mix.

Occasionally, my mind drifted to the many things I do with my time, and I thought of my mom, who was always engaged in multiple endeavors while also raising her children. I thought of my Nana, who saw to it that a rough and tumble frontier town had access to the arts. I thought of my grandma, who worked at a time when most women did not.

I thought of my great-aunt who earned a PhD in Sociology from the University of Chicago in 1911, and a cousin, one or two times removed, who practiced psychiatry in the 1930s.

And further back still–foremothers who braved oceans and plains to leave their homelands and build lives in a new country where they could worship without threat of persecution, only to realize some Americans had yet to really figure out how to be nice to everyone. (We’re still figuring that out, aren’t we?)

Sometimes I go to bed so bone tired and I blame it on the pace of life and all of the things I’m asked to do with my time. But today as I thought of my foremothers and their hard work and community engagements, I wondered if they were equally bone tired when they finally settled to bed at night. I think they probably were.

But I take strength from their lives, and if nothing else, I want to live an equally full life so that a hundred years from now, when one of my siblings’ spawn adds me to their family tree, they can Google me (if Google still exists then) and draw strength from my life, and then carry on in theirs.

Introduction to the Rebel Missionary.

2017 marks 20 years since my mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Every Monday, I’ll be posting tales from that time.

So it’s been a few Mondays since I wrote about my mission…writing in general has been sporadic lately. The musical really derails my life, and every year it takes longer to get back to normalcy.

20 years ago at this moment, I was in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The boundaries of the Montreal Mission at that time extended far north, way past Quebec City, and south into three small towns in New York (those towns are now part of a different mission). I knew before leaving the MTC that my chances of actually using my French on my mission were slim, and serving in Ottawa offered very few opportunities to speak French. I must have been concerned about that, because every journal entry from my first month in Ottawa is written in French. A sampling, from April 12, 1997:

IL NEIGE MAINTENANT!!! C’EST AVRIL, ET IL NEIGE! Alors, et on fair de porting ce soir.

Translation: it was snowing in April, yet we were still going to knock on doors. This is called tracting, and it’s what I spent much of my mission doing–going door to door throughout an assigned area in Montreal, talking to people about my church. I’m an introvert, so this was not easy work for me. But I did it, because we had goals to meet.

To outsiders, fans of the musical “Book of Mormon,” and those who are no longer LDS, “goals” in missionary service can come across as harsh–if the purpose of a mission is to bring souls to Christ, should numbers-driven goals be involved at all? My answer is a qualified yes. Without goals, introverts like me would never leave the apartment. I would never open my mouth to speak on a bus or metro, I would never preach.

But not even a month of service in Ottawa and my journals reveal early signs that my lifelong church participation and spiritual development would not follow an expected path. I was put off by the emphasis on numbers–so what if we only taught three people this week? Isn’t that three more people who heard our message? I wanted to work with people who had been baptized but weren’t coming to church anymore. I had been that person just three years prior–I felt I could offer perspective and empathy to them, and most important, love.

So when, on April 14, 1997, we got word that our assigned area had been cut in half, I wrote this: “Our area shrunk tons! But that’s okay. I think our tracting has been ineffective because we need to take care of the people we have now, reach out to people who aren’t coming to church, and then redefine success.”

This was not something I shared with my companion at the time, but as my mission progressed, I became bolder in expressing my disdain for quantifying the work of saving souls. And that boldness continued after I came home.

For example, yesterday I taught a lesson at church about Jesus. And at one point, I told the women I was teaching that we can never assume that everyone sitting in church believes in God and Jesus, because at times, I’ve gone to church and wasn’t sure I believed in God or Jesus. This can be a radical admission in some circles, especially when church is often the place where we put on our perfect faces and pretend we are “all in.”

I often wonder if I would be so outspoken now when it comes to spiritual matters if I hadn’t served a mission. I’m not sure I would be, because it was on my mission where I started to see how some people can lose sight of what Jesus’ gospel was all about–and having crawled back to the church after leaving it, I wasn’t going to spend my mission too concerned about anything other than loving people.

That framework made me a bit of a rebel missionary, but I’ve never really been one to do things the way someone tells me to anyway.



When You Don’t Change Much.

2017 marks 20 years since my mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Every Monday, I’ll be posting tales from that time.

This morning I got carried away revising the book I wrote in November, lost track of time, and missed the first 90 minutes of church. I had to go for the last hour, so I quickly gathered the things I’d need and drove to Plattsmouth.

I arrived 15 minutes before I was needed, so I plopped down in a chair in the foyer and waited for the room to clear from the previous class. A fellow ward member stopped by to ask how I was, and I said, “I’m okay.”

“Why do you say ‘okay’? Does that mean something is wrong?” he asked.

“No, no, no,” I said. “I’m good. Really. I’m good.”

“Okay then. If you say so. You’re awesome. I’m so glad to know you.”

When I opened my mission journal to see what I was doing this week 20 years ago, here’s what I read:

I am a basketcase. But can’t show it because I’m never alone long enough. I haven’t really had a good cry since I’ve been here–I just hold everything back and every now and then I let a couple of tears sneak by. I will go insane if I keep going this way. I’m having an identity crisis, too. No one knows anything about me. How much I love Gershwin. How sarcastic I am. How needy I am. Everything thinks I’m so strong. I’m not. And no one knows, basically because I don’t tell anyone, because I don’t want to bother anyone.

Not much has changed in 20 years. The similarity of that journal entry and my brief exchange in the church foyer proved that. I’m not sure why I’m unable to drop my mask at church. I was able to in Ohio, but as I sit here thinking about all the different wards I’ve attended as an adult, that Ohio ward was the only place I allowed myself to be fully vulnerable and known.

Though I truly believe that churches are hospitals and not museums, I don’t include myself in that philosophy. But today at church, I realized a benefit to that exclusion is that it allows me to listen more deeply to others, to empathize with those who need it, to comfort. Spending three hours a week pushing aside my own concerns and troubles allows me to be wholly open to the concerns and troubles of others.

Maybe someday I will need my fellow citizens of saints to hear my concerns and troubles.

But for now, and 20 years ago, I’ll paint on my happy face, tell people I’m doing great, and hope most days I’m answering truthfully.