As a writer, I’ve learned that some stories must be told. I’ve also learned that some stories are maddeningly difficult to tell. The story of Katherine Love Paxman was, for me, both.
I’d spent the better part of a day in the Church History Library reading room shuffling through archives in an effort to root out inspiring stories of the earliest sister missionaries. The manuscript I was working on was a labor of love that took months to finally became a published book. It was a headache, a dream come true, and a fulfilling project for this mother of daughters.
One chapter of the book, I knew, had to be about Katie Paxman. A passing reference to her in a master’s thesis intrigued me, but more information was proving impossible to find. One collection of documents about her was available but housed in New Zealand. Another promising collection listed in the Salt Lake catalog contained sensitive information and was closed to the public. Every new lead took me to a dead end, and when I finally boarded the Frontrunner train with hundreds of tired commuters that night, I was drained and disappointed.
During the ride home I happened to glimpse the name tag of the woman sitting across from me. And — I swear I’m not making this up — her last name was Paxman.
The heavens may as well have opened up and shone on that name — the name I’d pored over and typed into so many search bars that day. It was like dear Katie Paxman was asking me not to give up on her story just yet.
So I asked my seatmate if she was related to Katie Paxman. It turned out that this woman’s husband was descended from Katie’s husband, but through another of his wives. My new friend promised to see what she and her husband could come up with.
In the process, I learned what to do when answers to prayers don’t work out the way we expect them to — we keep going.
I was already writing the inspirational story in my mind by the end of the night. Surely, this had to be the answer. Why would I just happen to be sitting next to Sister Paxman on the train if not to help me tell Katie Paxman’s story? Like most revelation, this had come after much effort on my part but ultimately thanks to the grace of God and a little good luck.
Unfortunately, real life didn’t follow my imagined story arc. My new friend came back to me with disappointing news — because their family history documents came from another branch of the family, she couldn’t help me much.
That was it. The end of the road, or so I thought.
Perhaps out of anger, perhaps out of dogged, stubborn persistence born of the journalist inside me, I dug some more. I Googled the Paxmans’ names and finally came across a blog post that referenced Katie. I found the author on Twitter. He sent me an email address. I sent a series of emails. I hoped for the best.
In the process, I learned what to do when answers to prayers don’t work out the way we expect them to.
We keep going.
Elder M. Russell Ballard said, “If you live as long as I have, you will come to know that things have a way of resolving themselves.” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s son Matt Holland expressed a similar idea: “Sometimes in response to prayers, the Lord may guide us down what seems to be the wrong road — or at least a road we don’t understand — so, in due time, He can get us firmly and without question on the right road. Of course, He would never lead us down a path of sin, but He might lead us down a road of valuable experience. Sometimes in our journey through life we can get from point A to point C only by taking a short side road to point B.”
In time, the floodgates opened. That series of emails led me to Katie’s personal journals — dozens of digitized pages of Katie’s mission journals that expressed her feelings as a new mother, as a missionary, as a mourning mother, as an assistant in the Maori translation of the Book of Mormon. Her words spoke to my heart and taught me important lessons. Hers is one of my favorite stories I’ve ever told, partially because of what the story cost me in time, persistence and hope.
Looking back, I think I know why I sat across from that woman on the train. She didn’t directly help me get the materials I needed, but she helped me gain something I needed even more — the will to keep going. In the end, even taking the wrong road led me to the right place.
Katie Paxman’s story is included in “Sweet Is the Work: Lessons from the First Sister Missionaries” by Breanna Olaveson.