When One Door Closes, Another One…

When I was a senior in high school, I wanted to attend Stanford University. It was across the street from my high school; I applied early and was deferred. When the little rejection envelope arrived in the spring, I was devastated.

A few days after I received the letter, someone sent me a bouquet of flowers with this message:

When one door closes, another one

Just like that. Unfinished. Unsigned. To this day, I don’t know if it was a typo by the florist or if it was an intentional omission for which I was supposed to fill in the blank. I never found out who sent it. She or he was right. I loved UPenn, my alma mater. My time there shaped my passions, my identity, and the course of my life.

Closed doors are one way that God directs me on the right and best paths.

A Life Pattern

I am a stubborn person. I have a hard time letting go. This is both a strength and a weakness; it impacts God’s communication with me – my language of revelation.

Basically, I can be so dense that I think He sometimes gets fed up being subtle and must resort to what I call frying-pan-to-the-face revelation. He has to knock me upside the head with the Spirit to get through my dome.

This is what happened at the very beginning when I prayed to know if the Book of Mormon was true. Deep down, I think I always knew it was true, but I didn’t want that answer. I didn’t want to change my life right before starting college. But, He smashed my face with a spiritual experience so powerful I couldn’t deny the truth any longer. So, I closed the door on my old life and got baptized the day before I flew to Philadelphia for college. That decision changed my life in the best possible ways.

This is what happened when I wanted so badly to return to Ghana (I studied there both semesters of my junior year) after college I thought a Fulbright Scholarship was the best path. I worked all semester on my application and was rejected at the end of my senior year. Devastated again. But this time, the rejection came with a frying pan. A clear voice told me, You didn’t get it because you are supposed to serve a mission. You need to turn in your papers now. Heavenly Father shut one door for me, and I left for the Missionary Training Center less than four months later. Like Elder Holland says, every blessing and everything I hold dear in my life, I owe to my mission.

This is what happened when I was engaged to marry a spiritual man who as it turned out, was not right for me (nor I for him!). Three months before our wedding day, seemingly out of nowhere, Heavenly Father threw a ten-ton frying pan right at my face. When I went to the temple for more guidance, He told me, Someone else will love this man more than you ever could. I immediately knew He was right. I called off the wedding that night. Afterwards, I felt free and full of life.

This is what happened when I left Reset. I thought Reset was going to be my home for the next forty years. I believed so strongly in the mission. I wanted to stay until I could do the work I went there to do: revolutionize the criminal justice and education systems. Then, Heavenly Father gave me the most excruciating experience of my professional career. Looking back, it was the final frying pan on top of years of traumatic professional experiences in the organization, but I couldn’t see them at the time. Heavenly Father repeated over and over, Time to leave, Joanna. Time to leave. It takes more faith to let go. Close this door and I will open more. Trust in Me.

 Even after I understood the Lord’s will, I wanted confirmation about leaving. I went to the temple and felt His deep love. The image of a square peg and a round hole came to mind. I felt whole and I knew. Immediately after my heart settled on leaving Reset, I felt a burden lifted from my soul. Light, joy and peace flooded in.

And so, without any idea where the journey would take me, without concrete plans for future jobs, I resigned from Reset. It is a decision that has shifted my life course. I already know my life pivots around this choice in the most beautiful and blessed, amazing and unexpected ways.

Woven in each of these snapshots is a journey of a million tender mercies, miracles and communications from God. There are stories with details and smells and people and choices. Each story is a chapter unto itself. But the pattern in these particular stories is similar.

When one door closes, another one…

Offering Stones

At the beginning of last year’s journey – starting with leaving Reset – Heavenly Father kindly and patiently reminded me of the Brother of Jared. When the Brother of Jared needed to light ships to cross the ocean, he made stones and asked the Lord to light them. He had so much faith he saw the Lord’s finger as it touched the stones and gave them light.

The Lord told me I had to bring him stones. Any stones. Pebbles, rocks, boulders, sand, whatever. Just make an effort and bring the effort back to Him in faith. He would touch my puny efforts, turn them into light and make miracles.

The most incredible part of offering stones to God is that if you ask, He tells you what to do. He tells you where to go, when to offer them, and how to do it. We just have to ask and follow.

Apply for this, meet with that person, read this scripture, talk to that woman, let go of this idea, go to the temple, spend time with Carter, write your blog, work on this story idea, apply for this fellowship, don’t look for jobs…so many daily inspirations from God.

Sometimes the stones I offered were immediately touched by light. Often, I was told to be patient and wait with faith. Some days felt peaceful and hopeful. Other days I battled a well of doubt. In these moments, Heavenly Father reminded me of Peter, the apostle who walked on water with his eyes on the Savior. He sank when he feared and doubted. I could hear the words in my mind, Look up at Me. Don’t look down, Joanna. Look up and keep your eyes on me. You can walk on water too. Miracles are here for you. Just keep walking.

Wandering in the Wilderness

Last year, I wrestled with an earth-shaking shift in my professional identity, with balancing motherhood and the need to support my family, with the desire to be present for my family and the desire to make a significant impact in education and the world outside my family. I worried about what sometimes seemed like a path toward professional deterioration, yet felt overjoyed at new pathways of social contribution. I loved the flexibility of working from home, and stressed about our finances.

There were times it seemed like I’d never figure out the path the Lord intended for me. I didn’t always understand the stones He required from me, especially professionally – He directed me not to put effort into looking for or applying for jobs, I was rejected from the few opportunities He inspired me to apply for, and He directed me to stay in a contract position despite doing unchallenging work. They didn’t seem to make logical sense, but I felt great peace about each step.

I thought oft of Moses wandering in the desert and Lehi’s family led from fertile patch to fertile patch in the wilderness. There were periods when it felt like the wilderness might never end. However, life changing patches of fertile ground also sustained my journey through the wilderness. Last year was sacred gift:

  • Last year, Andy and I learned he has ADHD. Because of my flexible and reduced work schedule, I was able to invest more into the learning and healing journey this diagnosis catalyzed in our family and relationship. I was able to be present for Andy and Carter in ways I couldn’t have been while working the types of life-sacrificing jobs I’ve always worked. More than anything, I felt strongly that this is the primary reason this year has unfolded the way it has.
  • I got pregnant after a miscarriage and we are expecting a baby girl in April. This miracle was the deepest desire of my heart. This year has been about strengthening our family, and the Lord has been so generous in his blessings.
  • I found peace with the knowledge that returning to work in schools is not the right path for me right now. I wasn’t inspired to apply for many jobs this past year – just a few half-hearted applications to leadership positions I would have loved at a different stage of life. Allowing me to experience a couple rejections was Heavenly Father’s way of showing me that letting go (back to that frying pan!) of my desire to go back was the right direction. My identity and heart as an urban educator has been an integral part of my being; it took a year for me to truly let go. Letting go of the work – but not the identity – has allowed me to open myself more fully to new opportunities elsewhere.
  • I began to seriously pursue my new passion and dream of writing children’s books. I have found such joy and growth in this new pathway of creating change in the world. If I had continued down the path I thought I wanted, I never would have been able to invest the time and energy into making this dream real. I can’t wait to see how this journey unfolds – I’m pretty determined to see it through!

I felt the guidance of Heavenly Father as I wandered through the wilderness last year. He led me on inspired paths. He gave me a clear revelation about patience at the beginning of the year, and with every disappointment or period of doubt, He pointed me back toward patience. He gave me continual peace.

Though I couldn’t see it in the moment, Heavenly Father opened up another step on my path with every stone I offered.

The Lord’s Mysterious Ways

When I first left Reset, my dear friend, Melissa, told me:

I have learned that anything is possible. To challenge my assumptions. Think about the ideal. And get it.

In December 2015, a month before I resigned from Reset, I made a list of characteristics of my ideal professional situation:

  • Find a place I can support my family better and get to spend more time with them. I want to make more money with a more sustainable work schedule.
  • Go somewhere I can make significant change in educational systems and
  • Have opportunities to work directly and develop personal relationships with students and educators
  • Collaborate with an inspiring, passionate and close-knit team that encourages innovation and creativity
  • Work with freedom and autonomy with a leader who recognizes my strengths and also helps me to grow
  • Work in an environment that challenges my perspectives and pushes me to learn, grow, expand, develop
  • Gain tools to start my own school
  • Have time to write children’s books and work on a book about my family history
  • Be in a place where I can be goofy, have fun, be happy and love my job
  • Grow roots again somewhere

*Find a role where I can work from home with flexible hours (this is something that last year’s journey revealed to me).

The Lord knows exactly what He is doing. He led me to a position that fulfills everything from the list above. I am so blessed.

I just started full-time as the Lead Professional Development Designer at Nearpod, the same company I worked for part-time last year. I started this awesome new role almost exactly a year after I left Reset. I work with a long-time mentor, inspiration and dear friend – getting to work together with her is like a dream come true. Together we are launching an incredible new branch in the company. Together we will work to democratize educator professional development through the union of innovative instructional design, content expertise from leaders around the world, and Nearpod’s interactive platform. The work excites me beyond words.

I never thought I would end up in a tech start-up, but here I am. Nothing I applied for this past year would have fulfilled all of the characteristics I listed above. The Lord’s ways are mysterious and so perfect. I’m excited about the work, I’m excited about my colleagues, I’m excited about the company’s leadership, and I’m excited about the company. I’m excited about flexibility that will allow me to kick butt at work and still be a good – and happier! – mama.

More than ever, I know that when one door closes, another one…


Angel Babies

“Oh, Joanna.”

“The baby stopped growing at five weeks. There is no heartbeat. I’m so sorry.”

Andy and I stared at the ultrasound screen, searching for hope. But there was nothing. The strangest part is we were devastated, but we weren’t surprised. Instead of being filled with joy about my pregnancy, I had been consumed with worry and fear for eight weeks. I couldn’t sleep at night. When my doctor told us the news, it almost made sense.

I couldn’t stop the train of self-blame running through my mind. Was it something I ate? The thyroid test I put off too long? A work out I tried? Stress? Weak prayers?

Fear and doubt followed soon after. Would I be able to have more children?

There were bouts of total calm and random attacks of uncontrollable crying. There were waves of gratitude. For Carter. For Andy. For an early not late-term miscarriage. For those who prayed for our family. For Christ and the comforting touch of the Spirit.

The miscarriage happened when I was at the EPAPA graduation, celebrating with former students and colleagues. Between speeches, hugs, pictures and laughter, I ran to the bathroom every few minutes as my body bled. Though the clash of conflicting feelings was jarring, this timing felt like a tremendous blessing.

The EPAPA community of students, parents and teachers became my second family when I worked there. My students will always be my babies – even if they think they’re so grown –  and my colleagues became my closest friends. Graduation was a reuniting of family members in a celebration of dreams fulfilled. The love and joy of the occasion lifted my heart and spirits. I was genuinely happy. It’s crazy, but having a miscarriage during graduation gave me the love, hope and strength to endure my heartbreak. God truly works in mysterious – and perfect – ways.

He blessed Andy and me in other ways as well.

When Carter was a newborn, he used to smile and babble up into the corners of our room, gazing intently at nothing my eyes could see. I think he was talking with angels.

A few weeks before the devastating doctor’s appointment, Andy and I lay in bed trying to put Carter to sleep, but Carter goofballed around. At one point, he played at our feet laughing hysterically and babbling toward the corner of our bedroom. Andy and I laughed, flabbergasted because we had done nothing funny. Carter Bao Bao, I remember asking him, Are you playing with your baby brother? He’ll be here with you soon.

Carter told dad the big news with his Big Brother shoes. We will save them with hope it will happen one day.
I believe we live as spirit beings before we are born to gain our physical bodies. I felt sure that the baby’s spirit had come down to pay his big brother a visit.

After the miscarriage, I couldn’t stop thinking about this bedtime moment. Was it the baby coming to say hi, I’ll be with you soon? Or was the baby saying goodbye, see you in heaven? Had his spirit entered the embryo developing inside me? Did the baby I lost have a spirit? Or was it just a collection of dividing cells?

One day, Andy hugged me and whispered, Our baby’s spirit didn’t come down yet. We didn’t lose one of our children. A feeling of peace washed over me. I knew he was right.

And like that, I began to heal and feel hope again.

I know I have a Father in Heaven who watches out for me. He sends me angels. I have Carter. I have Andy. I have family and friends who lift me with love. I have so many people to love. Even in times of deep pain, God finds ways to ease the burdens and give me peace.

I hope that my angel babies are still up there waiting to come down to join my family. They will come when the time is right.

Inspired in Yosemite

I spent the past week in Yosemite with the baby and my Outdoor Adventurers from EPAPA. It was a magical week with some of my favorite people in one of my favorite places in the world. I have been wrestling with some heavy professional burdens and personal well-being and this trip brought some much needed healing and inspiration to my soul. Nature has the power to provide perspective and peace; it also removes the pretenses and barriers that separate people from each other and from themselves. I felt whole and full of life and joy again this week.

To Katie and my beloved students, thank you. You remind me what matters in life and you fill me with love. You were the village that helped to raise Carter this week and he couldn’t have been in better hands. You are my inspiration and my passion. I needed to be re-centered and you helped me gain such clarity. I love you and feel grateful to work with you. Here’s to many more adventures to come!