Where Are You Going?
When I was at the missionary training center in 2013, my district and I happened to run into Bishop Gérald Caussé of the Presiding Bishopric. Seeing the direction he was walking, and realizing it would coincide with our path, the eight of us sisters started to eagerly hope that we’d have a chance to talk to him. And thanks to the kindness of Bishop Caussé, we weren’t let down. He greeted us on the sidewalk and we started to make small talk. Pretty soon he asked, “So, where are you going?”
I can’t remember which of us answered, but our response was clear and full of enthusiasm: “Lunch!”
After giving us a quizzical look, he replied, “I meant, where are you going on your missions?”
Ahh … yes. That would make more sense. After a brief laugh at our faux pas, “Ukraine” was the answer we gave him. After we finished our little chat, the eight of us continued on our way to the cafeteria, collectively blushing at our failed attempt to impress a General Authority.
Years have passed since that incident, but Bishop Caussé’s question still echoes in my mind from time to time: “Where are you going?” I’ve thought about it when I’ve gotten stuck on spiritual autopilot—going to church, going to the temple, going to minister, but ultimately going where? And I’ve especially thought about it since settling down with a family.
When my first daughter was 15 months old, we stopped at a rest stop in northern Utah on our way home from a family reunion. It was a warm, sunny day, and while my husband was in the restroom, my daughter and I were doing “the walk.” You know, like “the walk” around the church hallways because an hour-long sacrament meeting is 57 minutes too long for a toddler. Or “the walk” up and down playground equipment because their sense of adventure far exceeds their sense of caution. So here we were, doing “the walk” yet again, stretching our legs after far too long in the car.
After a few minutes, I noticed a kind-looking older man also walking around. He was smiling at my daughter’s little shenanigans as she explored the intriguing new terrain of the rest stop area, picking leaves off bushes and scaling boulders and benches. Soon the man was joined by his wife, and they continued to watch us, remarking several times about how beautiful she was. As they were leaving, the man joked, “Before you know it, in the blink of an eye, she’ll already be asking for the car keys!” I chuckled, and then he added a line I’ll never forget: “The trick is not to blink.”
I have no idea who that couple was, but I’ll never forget them—because that line hit me hard. Despite it being the title of a popular country song (“Don’t Blink” by Kenny Chesney) and a bit of a cliché, I had actually never heard it before that moment. And not only did I think it was great advice, but I also realized how poorly I was following that advice. I wasn’t just blinking—it was like I was purposely squeezing my eyes shut, just waiting for life to get easier before I fully opened them again. Waiting for when every naptime didn’t feel like a ticking time bomb when I had to decide between maximizing my only productive time of the day or catching up on some much-needed sleep. Waiting for when I wouldn’t have to secure my daughter’s PJs with a belt every night or else risk waking up to a mural of diaper contents on the wall. Waiting for when this thing called motherhood would finally click for me and I wouldn’t feel like I was constantly drowning in it. It’s no wonder I was so desperate to close my eyes, but at the same time, what was I missing out on by doing so? The answer was right in front of me, toddling after a grasshopper with little squeals of delight.
Where was I even going, and why was I in such a hurry to get there?
A few years later (after what indeed felt like a blink), it was the spring of 2020. I now found myself with two rambunctious girls instead of just one, ages 4 and 2. The idea of having a second kid was so that the first would have someone to play with besides me, but that investment hadn’t quite paid off yet. But no worries—we had plenty of things to fill our days. Life was good. We were going to parks, going to play dates, and going to story times at the library. And then all of a sudden, we were going … nowhere.
Literally. Nowhere. Because a little virus had big plans of its own. COVID-19 shut the world down, ruining my routines and wreaking havoc on my perfectly scheduled life. I remember trying to escape to a nearby city park, only to find it taped off with yellow caution tape. I imagined myself wielding a machete and slashing through the tape like a wild woman escaping from a jungle wilderness, but instead I sullenly turned around and drove back to our two-bedroom, yardless apartment, my two little creatures in stow.
As COVID cases rose, my mental health declined. I sank into depression, and not a day went by without some kind of outburst from me, whether it was breaking down in tears or flying into a rage. I no longer had moments of respite scattered throughout my day when I could rest from my children and renew what little energy I had. And as for my children’s boundless energy, they no longer had any way to release it—except for on me. I became their personal jungle gym, their go-to Snakes and Ladders opponent, and a captive audience to their endless choruses of “We’re bored!”
During one of our long drives—the only thing that kept me sane in those days—I wondered why this transition had been so hard for me. I mean, why would my life seemingly fall to pieces just because I had to stay home with my kids? And that’s when I realized the problem—that those pieces were being held together by a very fragile, rather pathetic parenting philosophy: “just get through the day.” Sure, it ran a little deeper than that—I found joy in seeing my kids develop well—but in essence, what I was really trying to do was make it through each day, from sunup to bedtime. It had been relatively easy before, when I was able to pack our days with this and that, but COVID had stripped my life bare, revealing that perhaps I didn’t have motherhood down as much as I thought I did. Bishop Caussé’s question reared its head once again. Where was I going? Where were we going? What were my goals as a parent, and what did I truly want for my kids?
About a month into the pandemic, I had the chance to answer those questions. I told my husband I desperately needed a “mental health day,” and—perhaps because he had been a witness to several of the aforementioned outbursts—he agreed. He watched the kids for eight hours (the longest I had ever been away from them) while I spent the day in my parents’ basement trying to figure out my life.
I’m a big fan of personal mission statements, and I had written several versions since I was a teenager. But I knew I needed a complete revamp of the mission statement I had at the time—something that would speak to my current circumstances and also carry me far into the future. Something short enough to recite each morning but long enough to express all my deepest yearnings.
I settled on a five-part design covering my most important roles: a disciple of Christ, a wife, a mother, a neighbor, and an author. After about an hour, I had filled all the boxes with concise, powerful statements … except for one. The box describing my role as a mother remained painfully blank, the cursor on the screen blinking impatiently as I racked my brain and searched my soul to find just the right words.
After several minutes, I decided on one word that I knew I could start with: nurture. Thankfully, after I planted that seed, the rest of the statement slowly began to grow. I thought about why I wanted children in the first place. I considered what the gospel teaches about the plan of salvation and why we’re here on earth. I scoured “The Family Proclamation” to determine what I should be striving for as a parent. I studied my patriarchal blessing to see how God wanted me to raise my children and manage my home. And finally, there it was: a parenting philosophy far more meaningful than “just get through the day.” A purposeful, inspiring statement that I have recited daily over a thousand times since:
“I will nurture my children physically, emotionally, spiritually, socially, and intellectually, thus preparing them to fulfill their life missions and reach their divine potential. I will strive to fill their lives with love and laughter, teach them righteousness through my words and example, and make our home a place of peace and tranquility.”
I let out a sigh of relief, knowing that I finally had a way to move forward. Because with a parenting philosophy like that, a pandemic doesn’t change anything—I simply nurture at home instead of in all the different activities I had previously filled our schedule with. And when the world would start to open up again, those activities would be a means to an end—ideally a glorious, eternal end—rather than an end in itself.
Simply writing a mission statement didn’t solve all my parenting problems or cure all my motherhood woes. I still have my awful parenting moments sprinkled in with my parent-of-the-year moments, and some days it feels like I’m more of a chauffeur, chef, and referee than a nurturer. But still, it’s made a difference. It’s given me direction. And it’s helped me to answer the question that the Spirit has been asking me for years: “Where are you going?”