March 17, 2010, Salt Lake City, UT
As a single 34-year-old, Tiffany followed her Patriarchal Blessing’s advice to seize the opportunities offered to her, resulting in a life full of career opportunities, travel adventures and spiritual highlights. But then, when her sister became overwhelmed with the responsibilities of single motherhood, Tiffany seized a different kind of opportunity: she assumed legal custody of her nine-year-old niece and became mother to an elementary school-aged child overnight.
My patriarchal blessing talks about education and having knowledge of the things that are about me and around me. I feel like I have taken that counsel to heart. If life is all about experiences, then we just need to act. And if an opportunity is presented and feels like a good thing to do and we receive confirmation to move forward, then we should just go forward—even if it is scary or maybe not what we had in mind for ourselves or was not our plan. Things happen for a reason and we are definitely given opportunities that help us grow.
What were some of your formative experiences that gave you a testimony of this principle?
My parents were very encouraging and supportive in helping me gain an awareness of my environment. We took a lot of trips when I was young. That idea really stuck with me. When I was 19, I headed off to Russia for six months to teach English. I didn’t know a soul but I felt like I needed an experience away from my family and friends to see who I was and what I would do when no one else was around.
I stayed with a family that didn’t speak any English and I attended a branch in Moscow with new members of the church. I read the Book of Mormon in its entirety for the first time and had a lot of experiences that opened my eyes to the world. I learned that people all over the world want the same thing. We all want to be happy, we all want our families close by; we all want our families to be happy. We are just in different situations and have different struggles.
When I returned home from Russia, I left for Israel two months later with the Brigham Young University study abroad program. It was another fantastic experience. I studied the Old Testament and the New Testament and we went to the Sea of Galilee. It was there that I decided to serve a mission.
After four months of being home, I decided that I would serve a mission but I wanted to pray about it because I had read my Patriarchal Blessing so many times and it did not say anything about serving a mission. So I prayed and immediately felt a confirmation that yes, in fact, I was supposed to go.
I was called to serve in Paraguay, South America and I had a fabulous experience. I loved the language. I loved the country. I had wonderful companions and my mission president and his wife were like parents to me.
When I decided to go on a mission, I started noticing a pattern of taking opportunities when they arose. If there was a chance for growth, I wanted to be a part of it and experience what could come from it.
Did you feel with all the consecutive learning opportunities in foreign countries that you were on a spiritual journey, even though perhaps you didn’t realize it?
Yes…definitely! With each opportunity, and each experience, I learned a little something different about myself and who I wanted to be. And not just from a personality perspective but from a spiritual perspective as well.
When I returned from my mission, I was approached to go to China for a semester to teach English. China was never on my radar! But I ended up going and I got to teach adorable little Chinese kids who were just so happy and full of life. I also got to spend 4 months with some amazing girls that were contemplating missions and they would eat up my mission stories. This was great for me to be able share my experiences with a willing audience after my friends and family had had enough back home! It was another great experience.
Did your desire to constantly learn influence your career choices, and was it important to you to have a career?
An interesting thing my Patriarchal Blessing said was to gain knowledge and be prepared to take care of myself. So because of that I didn’t want to do just anything—I wanted to feel like I was succeeding and a valued employee. I graduated with an economics degree and after working for a mortgage company immediately after college, I ended up working for Morgan Stanley, first in client customer services, and then in a new department offering a new service.
Eventually, Goldman Sachs opened up an office in Salt Lake City so I sent my resume to them and started the interview process. Goldman Sachs was top-notch, with smart people and lots of opportunities. The interview process lasted five months long, with a hiring freeze and 15 interviews. I ended up taking a job with them that was not initially what I was interested in, but within three minutes of meeting my future manager, I knew I wanted to work for her. Our personalities just “clicked.”
I went to New York City for a month and then the department was moved to Salt Lake City. I started out as the only one on the team and for the next four and a half years it was the most fascinating and challenging time. I put together a training program and traveled around the world to the different offices and trained salespeople. I basically got to construct my own job description.
There was so much work to be done and everyone jumped in, which was very different from previous jobs. I really thrived. I felt like I could make a difference and if things were not going as smoothly as they could, I could offer up suggestions and people would listen. It felt very creative and very satisfying.
I thought that when I got married it would be easy to quit because I wanted to be married and have kids. But the longer I worked and the more I thought about it, the more I realized it would be hard to do. I was a vice president. I loved my job and I was good at it! People came to me and wanted my advice and wanted me in meetings to brainstorm.
You became the legal guardian of your niece almost three years ago. What circumstances led you to make that choice?
When Paige was born, there was an immediate connection between us. My sister and I have always been close and Paige first slept over at my house when she was six weeks old. Paige spent a lot of time with me. She was my outlet—I would be working hard, but on the weekends I could go pick her up and she would come over and we would just laugh. I had time with this little girl who was so full of life and people would comment, “She is your mini-me…you look and act alike!” I’m not sure if that was because Paige was acting older or because I was acting like I was five! There was definitely a connection and a bond between us.
My sister’s situation was a little tumultuous—she was a single mom trying to pay rent and provide for her kids and she was getting overwhelmed. In 2007, I spoke with my sister about some changes that she could make in her living situation. Her 2 older children from a previous marriage had moved in with my parents to finish high school and I invited Paige to live with me for the school year. My sister lived in an area that had year-round school and it was tough keeping track of the schedule and arranging babysitting and other things. Where I lived, the school system was on a traditional schedule (September to June) with a great after-school program. I wanted to help keep things stable for my niece while my sister’s situation improved.
In order to do that I needed power of attorney and I needed to be Paige’s legal guardian. The day before I went to pick her up, I felt very strongly that it was not going to be a short-term thing. I didn’t know why, because we had agreed it would only be for the school year, but I had the feeling that if I went to pick her up, it would be for good.
How did you feel about that? And how did that affect your relationship with your sister?
It was really overwhelming. I cried. I wondered what I was doing. I knew it would change everything. I was single, working in corporate America; I had friends—all of that. I was 34 years old.
My sister and I talked at length and we have always been close and I said, “Look, I don’t know why or how we got into this situation but it just feels like the right thing to do. I love you. I support you and I love your kids. And I will do whatever I can to help them. And help you.”
I give my sister a ton of credit for recognizing that at that time, I could give Paige, my niece, something that she was unable to give her, which was stability and the opportunity to go to church. My sister was inactive and wanting to go back to church but struggling. Paige would go to Primary off and on but there was nothing consistent about it.
My sister was humble enough to realize that there was something more for Paige and that she was not in a position to give that to her.
Paige moved in, we signed her up for school, she started fourth grade and she visited her mom. We discussed how everyone was in agreement that this was the best place for Paige to be and I was not taking her from her mom and her mom was not “giving” her to me; it was that we were thinking about Paige and this was the best scenario for her.
And was she responsive to that?
She was very responsive to that. We went to see a child psychologist a few times, just to talk through the emotions that Paige was feeling and to express what was going on inside. After about six months, my sister decided to file for divorce from her husband. I worried about Paige being caught up in their divorce case. So after talking with my sister and my brother-in-law, I hired a lawyer and helped my sister get the divorce papers ready. But I intervened in the divorce and requested full custody of Paige.
There were a lot of prayers. I wanted to make it as least traumatic as possible, because the last thing I wanted was some kind of court battle. We all agreed that it was the best scenario for Paige.
I wanted to help out of love for my sister and my niece. But stepping up and taking that action was based on a spiritual prompting.
Taking full custody of Paige never really felt like a choice, it was the thing I needed to do. And since that day, since making that one decision, hundreds of things have fallen into place and have worked out. And we’re keeping Paige moving forward and picking up the least amount of baggage as possible along the way. Paige said, “I am so glad that I live with you—no offense against my mom or my dad, but I just feel like this is where I am supposed to be.“ So it has been an amazing experience.
What has been the response to your situation from church members and ecclesiastical leaders?
They didn’t know Paige before so it is inspiration that they are so open and accepting. Not a lot of people ask about the situation and how it happened but when they do ask I am happy to tell them because I think there is no “normal situation.” Everyone has something going on that makes them feel like they are outside of the norm. Being open and talking about it has really been helpful.
A few months before Paige moved in I had rented a house with some friends in a particular ward. Over the course of our one year rental contract I felt really strongly that I wanted to stay in that particular area. When the contract was up miracles happened and there was a house for sale a street away that I should not have been able to afford but the price dropped at the last minute. There are only four streets in my ward, so it is not a huge radius of houses to choose from. I know that was a prompting. This neighborhood and ward have been open and welcoming. They make Paige feel “normal” and the situation is great. Our home teacher is the most faithful person! He visits every month and brings a lesson from the Friend for Paige. She sees him at church and says, “There’s our home teacher!” She has felt so included and at home in the ward.
What are some of the tools that you have drawn on from your faith to help you in a somewhat unconventional situation within our culture?
It is all about having a gospel-centered life and doing the hard things…getting up every Sunday and going to church and reading the scriptures. It is a lot easier not to do those things, but it changes people for the better, whether you are nine or 10 or 30 or 80 years old.
As much as I may have thought that I relied on prayer and the Lord to guide and direct the decision to have Paige move in with me, being responsible for her has amplified that to an extreme that I didn’t imagine possible. Sometimes my prayers are, “What do I need to do for her? What does she need?” Paige tells me a lot of things but she also doesn’t tell me a lot of things. I felt like I needed more help because I didn’t give birth to her and raise her from an infant, but when I need that inspiration, it always comes. It always comes.
For me, it’s what life is really all about. You can go about life and do your job and do your calling and raise your kids and do your neighborhood stuff and not really grow from it—not really get the whole experience out of it. And I think the experience comes from asking, “What can I do? What should I do?” Because there is more we can be doing. Be open to the potential to grow and know that where much is given, much is required.
How has your career been impacted as a result of taking in your niece?
Before all this happened, I had been transferred and was working in New York City. My mom was sick so I moved home because I wanted to spend that time with her. Having been at Goldman Sachs for so long and knowing so many people, I had wonderful mentors and managers who bent over backwards to help me move to Utah and get another job. It paved the way for me to be in a position to take in my niece, as well as to spend time with my mother who passed away a few months later.
This past May however, I decided to quit my job. I felt very strongly that I needed to be doing something different…I needed another focus and my time needed to be spent differently. Two and a half years ago, I made the decision to go pick up Paige and she had fit in around the edges of my life. But the more time I spent with her and the more inspiration I asked for, the more I felt that Paige needed me. However, my job was getting the best of me; I was giving the best of me at work and then coming home tired and in a hurry to get Paige to bed because I had more work to do.
I had another prompting that I needed to quit my job and take more responsibility at home. I was prepared (I had some savings). And I felt confident that I was not making an irrational choice because I could still provide. I thought that in three or four months I would figure out what was going on and see if I needed to get a part-time job or something different.
It has been nine months and I haven’t had to worry about finances once. I have just gone back to a semi-full time job for a few weeks and everything keeps falling into place. It is a good reminder that it is really important to be present and emotionally and physically available to mentor and guide and teach. Paige’s development and learning is important. This is her time and she won’t ever have this time again to soak up the feelings of the Spirit and recognize her blessings. I don’t know what is in store for her but she needs to be prepared for whatever it is.
Do you look back now throughout your life and see the Lord preparing you for this very experience?
Yes…in a hundred different ways! Even the smallest thing about which job I had and how long I had been at that job and who was my boss is reflective of this. I told my boss that my niece was going to move in with me and it would throw a wrench in the timing of my work for a while (I needed to take Paige to school so I couldn’t come in until after 8.00 a.m. and I had to pick her up at 6.00 p.m.). That is a very different mentality! My boss’ response put it into perspective. He said, “You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, so do it.” I know not everyone would have had the same response and been so supportive. It is incredible to see how fortunate I was when this situation happened.
What would you say to women who are faced with making choices outside of the norm?
When you realize that the spiritual promptings you have followed are right, it makes you want to do it again, because you feel so good! I don’t want to miss any opportunities because they feel good and you grow so much.
That’s the message I try to get across in my ward and with my friends. You can look at people’s situations and think, “Why in the world would they do that?” Or, “What’s going on there?” But there is always something deeper.
We are all children of God. We all have roles and we all have assignments that we were given. We can’t really look at anyone and judge what are they doing or why they are doing things a certain way. We just need to accept that maybe there is a chance we can participate in their experience or they can participate in ours. There is not a box, there is no one way for everything to be done and there is no formula. If there is one thing I have learned, it is never to pass up an opportunity because it doesn’t seem like the “normal” thing to do.
At A Glance
Location: Salt Lake City, UT
Marital status: Never been married
Children: Paige, age 11
Occupation: substitute teacher, real estate agent (almost)
Schools Attended: University of Utah
Languages Spoken at Home: English
Favorite Hymn: “I Stand All Amazed”
Current Church Calling: Primary teacher
Interview produced by Louise Elder. Photos used with permission.