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April 19, 2017

Loose Ends

Pathway writer Javi Brionez describes what he learned from his mother’s journey to Pathway

Susan Brionez put her education on hold when her husband passed away weeks after they adopted twins. Over 30 years later, Susan is completing her degree through the BYU-Idaho online program. While researching and writing about her journey, her son Javi Brionez began to realize the origin of her Christ-like attributes.

Have you ever struggled to fight back tears while sitting behind your desk at work?

I have.

Writing about my mother’s journey to PathwayConnect proved to be an emotional experience — clearly more emotional than I had anticipated.

As a writer for BYU-Pathway, I have the privilege of telling stories about students, employees, and missionaries to help BYU-Pathway’s positive message get out into the world. Since my mother took PathwayConnect herself, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to share her story.

Researching the details of her life was a heartbreaking experience sometimes. While reading her journal, I occasionally felt the urge to reach through the pages to comfort her grieving, broken soul.

I wish I had learned more about her story sooner, because I don’t see the same woman in my mom that I did when I was younger. Her strengths and perspective have such a greater impact on my life now that I understand her journey.

A Humble Heart

The summer I turned seven, my family gathered around the dinner table one evening for a discussion.

Javi and his mom on New Years Eve 1997

“I have an announcement to make…” my mom said.

“We’re having a baby!” my brother interrupted, raising his hand for a high five.

“No,” my mom sternly replied. “I took a job at the local elementary school as a secretary.”

The news upset me a little. For one, now she would see me every time I got sent to the principal’s office. Two, the idea of my mom joining the workforce confused me. At the time, I didn’t realize that she had years of work experience behind her.

But why didn’t I know about that?

It might’ve been because the youngest child gets left out of the loop sometimes, but now I think it was something more.

My mom exemplified humility. At any point in my younger years, she could’ve guilted me into obedience by listing off all the exhausting trials and jobs she had, but that wasn’t who she was.

Javi and his mom in Jamestown, Virginia, in 2002

She didn’t want that part of her life to be seen as an excuse to achieve less. She especially didn’t want to raise us to believe that our destiny is decided by the cards that we’re dealt. We can achieve anything as long as we’re humble and remember that everything we have is given to us by God.

While researching her story, I realized that my mother reflected this humility throughout her entire life. She never once took her future education off the table. In fact, leaving the goal of earning a college degree unaccomplished was not an option. Thanks to PathwayConnect, her lifelong question of how she would achieve that goal was answered.

An Education of Love

My mother worked hard to instill her strong belief in education in her kids. Unlike my older siblings, however, I was unmotivated to get good grades in school. I treated seminary and Church classes the same way.

My mother worked hard to instill her strong belief in education in her kids.

By the time I decided to serve a mission, I was worrying myself to sleep almost every night, wondering if I knew enough about the gospel to teach it.

On one of those nights, my mom quietly walked into my room with a worn out book under her arm. She opened the crinkling pages, placed the book on my sweaty palms, and asked me to read a passage that appeared to have been marked and highlighted many years earlier.

The story was about a timid missionary’s encounter with a contentious investigator, who just wanted to argue with him about the Church’s doctrine.

After some hopeless back and forth, the humble missionary boldly stood up, grabbed the investigator’s shoulders, and bore to him a simple but powerful testimony of the prophet Joseph Smith. Silence and the Spirit flooded the room. The investigator was later baptized.

Javi with his mom and dad before Javi left for college in 2015

I stopped reading and looked up at my mother.

“That’s what you do,” she said as a tear dropped off her chin. “You tell them what you know.”

When she could’ve said, “I told you so,” she said, “I love you.” Even though it was my fault for being unprepared, she didn’t make me feel guilty for my poor academic decisions. She let me see the importance of an education myself, instead of forcing me to believe it.

There was no better motivator for me to try harder. Her loving patience helped me to develop a hunger for learning, which carried me through my mission and time in college.

Likewise, my mother’s enthusiasm for education didn’t stop after enrolling in PathwayConnect. She put everything she had into her assignments, and maintained a 4.0 GPA through it all. Without a doubt, PathwayConnect helped her accomplish the same goals she helped us kids to achieve.

PathwayConnect helped her accomplish the same goals she helped us kids to achieve.

Motives Made Clear

I can now pinpoint the reason behind every one of my mother’s Christ-like actions, even the small ones.

For example, my high school football career was cut short when I injured my knee during a game. While I was lying on the ground clutching the turf, I leaned my head back and saw an upside-down view of my mom running down the bleachers towards me.

With pain shooting up my leg, I thought, “The other moms never run on the field when their kids were injured, so why does mine?”

Now I know why.

She’s walked the path of somebody who lost everything, but gave everything. She understands the importance of cherishing a loved one, because she lost one. She understands the value of an education, because she had to survive without one.

She understands the value of an education, because she had to survive without one.

She has an exceptional perspective on life because of what she’s lived through.

Things came full circle for me while writing my mother’s story. It’s a good feeling. It’s how you feel when you read the last page of a mystery novel, watch a film with a surprise ending, or bite into a suspiciously heavy doughnut to realize it’s filled with Bavarian cream. Loose ends are tied up.

I’ll forever be thankful I work for BYU-Pathway because if I didn’t, I might have completely missed this opportunity to learn more about my mother. She was always on her road to an education, even before she took PathwayConnect. She sacrificed everything to raise me and my siblings. That humbling knowledge is a blessing I’ll cherish forever.

Susan with her husband, Cisco, and four children, Anna, Lindsay, Jae, and Javi

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