A Defining Moment

In the summer of 2004, I was preparing for my Ph.D. exams and panicking. I was feeling completely unprepared, worried about my ability to perform well (or even pass), and uncertain about whether or not I should postpone the exams. Generally, I was feeling highly anxious about my ability to be a successful academic.

I asked my brother-in-law for a blessing, and the blessing I received gave me a huge amount of comfort. It promised things specific to the exam experience that were extremely meaningful. It also made some general promises about my life, which I interpreted a specific way at the time. However, when I read through my journal a few weeks ago (where I had recorded my thoughts afterwards), I saw this blessing in a new light.

In the blessing, I was told that the upcoming period of my life would be a time that I would look back on and see as a “defining moment in my life,” both academically and more broadly. At the time, I interpreted that to mean that things would finally come together for me academically–that my exams would go well, that a dissertation project, which I had been unable to formulate, would cohere, that I’d figure out the whole publication thing, etc. Also, at the time, I was getting to know the person who would become my fiancé (now my ex), and new, defining personal experiences definitely seemed like they were on the horizon.

I made it through my exam experience, which aside from having to retake my oral exam, went well. But a year later, my life started falling apart. My personal life got much more complicated, a bunch of emotional issues from my past started haunting me, and I entered one of the darkest periods of my life. I managed to get a dissertation prospectus written and approved, but then I hit a wall–my life was such an emotional disaster that I couldn’t do anything else. I couldn’t write; I couldn’t do academic work; I could barely manage to teach.

For the past six months, I have been chronicling my emergence from these depths, but one thing I don’t think I’ve talked enough about is the realizations I’ve had about the paths my life has taken. In the past five years, my life has been completely transformed, and I see how this period of time has been a “defining moment.”

I made the professional switch from academic to teacher, a switch I’m not sure I would have had the courage to make had my emotional problems not interfered so severely with my academic pursuits. I went through difficult experiences that taught me a lot of hard lessons about how I relate to people and deal emotionally with problems—lessons I will take with me into future relationships and situations. I learned the depth of my own strength as I not only refused to break under the constant stress and pain, but managed to tackle a new job and remain professionally functional despite the complete emotional mess my life was in.

I still don’t fully understand what happened to me, and God and I still have issues to sort out. But in many ways, I have found a new Seraphine through this experience.

And I’m still pondering the end of the blessing. The final words that my brother-in-law left me with was (to quote my journal), “as I exhibited faith, I would be able to feel the love of God stronger than I ever have before in my life.” I have to admit that feeling God’s love the past few years has been extremely difficult. I’m hoping I haven’t missed out on it somehow. I think I’m figuring out the faith part (some days better than others), and I hope that as I finish repairing my relationship with God, that his love will once again suffuse my life (or that I will come to recognize that it has been there all along) and that I will see this final blessing come to fruition.


  1. Most blessings in my life have been best understood after the fact, I think. Some people never re-examine things to try and understand them, though. I look back on some of my more pressing experiences, and *do* see blessings all the way through, though it surely did not feel like it at the time.

    I’ve had a few experiences where that exercise of faith turned out to be the single most important aspect of the blessing. There’s not a time limit on “blessing redemption”–the epiphanies you’ve had recently sound, to me, like the beginnings of fulfillment of the blessing. Some blessings are completed quickly–others take years or decades to complete.

    I have a blessing that says I’ll be led to the temple by my husband; my husband is a non-member, and has no interest in conversion. I have to exercise faith that the fulfillment of the blessing is possible, though I don’t see a path to it right this minute.

  2. Your chronicling of these events and thoughts of your life experiences has been very helpful to me. Thank you for sharing.

  3. I know this post is a little older, but I just wanted to thank you for posting your experience. I also left a phd program about 8 months ago and am finding myself in an emotional disaster. I can really relate to

    I have to admit that feeling God’s love the past few years has been extremely difficult. I’m hoping I haven’t missed out on it somehow.

    and hope that I can find myself on what feels like the outside, like you seem to have made it to 🙂

  4. Oh, Seraphine. I think I know how you feel in small measure. You are so brave. Thank you ever so much for talking about your journey.

    I remember the summer before beginning my master’s program I went to a production of Into the Woods. At the time I recognized it’s potential representative significance for the next two years of my life. I was getting ready to enter the woods, the place of transformation you are describing. Little did I know how difficult it would be there.

    But, the woods also contain the precious discovery that we are stronger than we think we are. We can withstand death, separation, deprivation, and shocks to the mind and spirit. Even though in the woods old understandings prove to be insufficient–“witches can be right, giant’s can be good” and others–“everything you learn there will help when you return there.” Thank you again for sharing.


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