The stories we tell matter. They can build our faith, help us empathize with others, demonstrate the true power of God in our lives, and help lead us to Christ. This Is the Gospel, a new storytelling podcast from LDS Living, collects and shares personal stories that illustrate the challenges and triumphs of living in the latter days.
Stories in this episode: Sarah longs for a new perspective after loss and finds it with a feisty group of octogenarians in L.A.; A kilt-wearing stranger shows up to Brian’s weekly game night and volunteers to take a road trip with him; Emily promises 99 year old Mac she’ll get him to 100 and finds the best friend she was promised by God in the process.
To see pictures and videos from our storytellers this week, go here.
KaRyn Lay: Welcome to "This Is the Gospel," an LDS Living podcast where we feature real stories from real people who are practicing and living their faith every day. I'm your host, KaRyn Lay, and I'm here with my friend and fellow producer Sarah Blake.
Sarah: Hi, everybody.
KaRyn Lay: Sarah, why are we here together today?
Sarah: Because today's episode is about unexpected friendships. And we're talking about friendship and our friendship is something to celebrate.
KaRyn Lay: It's totally something to celebrate! Sarah and I first met, actually, I don't remember the moment that we first met, do you?
Sarah: No, me neither.
KaRyn Lay: I just feel like I've always known you. But I do know that we first met in a singles ward in Salt Lake City in our 20s when we were just doing the things that single people who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do in their 20s. So like, I'd see you at FHE and occasionally like at a "Munch and Mingle," if we felt like we had the energy to go to that and try to flirt with a boy, right? I feel like you and I just always had so much in common. So it was really easy for us to be friends.
Sarah: Yeah, really natural. We're readers, we're writers, we're prolific Goodwill shoppers.
KaRyn Lay: I was always jealous of your red boots.
Sarah: Those were my best find ever.
KaRyn Lay: Yeah, that was a good find. So we've been thinking about friendships and how it's really easy to be friends with somebody who has a lot of things in common with you. And it's much harder to be friends with the people who seem different.
Sarah: Or maybe it's, maybe it's that it's harder to start those friendships, right? It can be unexpectedly easy, but you weren't looking for it and you didn't know how to start it.
KaRyn Lay: And I think Sarah, the reason that you're here, beyond just us celebrating our friendship, is that you have a story about a really unexpected friendship that you want to share with us, right?
Sarah: Yeah, when we picked this topic, this story of my own immediately came to mind. Do you want me to tell it?
KaRyn Lay: Of course I want you to tell it. I love a good story.
Sarah: Okay. So when my husband Casey and I were first married, we lived in Los Angeles. And it was a very fun time. We were renovating this duplex we had bought, we lived pretty close to the beach, sometimes we saw movie stars. It was pretty idyllic in a lot of ways. But we had this little dark rain cloud in our life, which was infertility.
We really wanted to start our family but we just didn't get pregnant, didn't get pregnant, then I had a miscarriage. And then we couldn't get pregnant and had another miscarriage. And it was a hard time for me and I wasn't talking to very many people about it. I just couldn't even bring myself to say the words of what I was struggling with. And I remember even a couple days after my second miscarriage, I went to babysit for my friend's kids, so she and her husband could go to the temple. And I really wanted to do that for my friend, I also thought it'd be good for me to get out of the house instead of laying around crying. So I went and her kids wanted to watch the Disney movie, "Tarzan." And that opening scene where the gorilla mom loses her baby, I mean, I just sat there crying and crying in the dark, trying to wipe away tears so her kids—my friend's kids—wouldn't see how sad I was. But I still didn't tell her even, like I didn't tell my friends at night when she got home what I was dealing with. I just couldn't talk about it. But I needed someone who understood. And I think heavenly father knew what I needed.
So in our ward, there was this row of old ladies, what do you call a group of old ladies? A gaggle? A pew? They all took the back row in the chapel and everybody knew that was their place. And these women were in their 80s and 90s. They had all moved to LA in the 40s and 50s for their husbands to work for Howard Hughes Aircraft stuff. And then they'd all had a ton of kids and their kids are all grown and their husbands were all dead. And now they had each other in this awesome sisterhood that sat together. They were spunky, feisty, interesting women. And one day I was sitting next to one of them in Relief Society and she mentioned that they had formed a chapter of the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers. And I really identify with my own, like Utah pioneer ancestry. And so I said, that's super cool. And they invited me to come to a meeting. So I went to a meeting and I didn't know what to expect, but it was just all the ladies from the back row of the chapel. I don't know if they'd ever invited anybody young before or if anybody else had ever been interested, but they were really excited to have somebody new there. And somebody gave a presentation about a pioneer ancestor, and we all stood with our hand on our hearts and recited something and we sang a song and scheduled the next meeting. But then it got really fun when they broke out the deserts and just sat around talking. And I realized that as a young woman growing up, you don't very often get to see older women in their natural habitat, you know, just like letting loose and talking with their friends. And I know my mom had good friends and those friendships were important to her, but I never saw them quite like this, and my grandmother's, too. But what was amazing to me was these women sat and talked about their lives, and they were just reminiscing, but they were telling the stories of the worst things that had ever happened to them. And then they were laughing their heads off because like life had moved on and they saw it with this perspective that I think you can only get in your 80s. Like, "Remember the time when all our husbands got laid off at the same time and one of the husbands had to lay off half of them?" Or the time the kid jumped off the roof and broke his arms. Or, one of them had a disabled son and she spent literally decades fighting with doctors to keep him out of institutions. And another woman had this daughter who just did everything wrong that she could, like doing drugs and running away to follow a rock band and saying the most outrageous and rude things. And they would tell a story and then they would just like laugh until they cried, wiping the tears from their eyes and slapping their knees and stuff. And it was amazing to me.
And I didn't even realize quite how it was causing a shift in me. But I remember driving home from that meeting. And I don't think there's very many moments in life where you feel changed by just a few hours, but this was one of those for me, because I realized that I had been just, I felt surrounded by these walls of my doubt and my self-pity, my tragic sense of how hard my life was right now. And it was like all those walls had been pushed way back by the perspective of older women. Seeing it in their own lives really, truly, "Time heals all wounds," and "This too shall pass," and life will go on.
I suddenly had a vision that there's a future me out there in her 80s, maybe she's surrounded by loving posterity or maybe she's not. But either way, she's okay. And like, it's going to be okay. This is just a moment, and life is still full of joy.
And none of my younger friends could have taught me that. Anybody saying you know, "You're probably going to get pregnant soon, it's going to be fine." It wouldn't have done it for me, it wouldn't have been what I needed in the same way it was just rubbing shoulders with these women whose own life experience could show me truly it is going to be okay.
KaRyn Lay: First of all, I adore the visual of you in your 30s, sitting in this room full of octogenarians, slapping your knees and laughing.
Sarah: I wish you could have met them. They were so great.
KaRyn Lay: It sounds so great. And I love that that friendship was exactly what you needed at that exact moment. And the other friendships with people that you would have immediately been drawn to, maybe that had something more in common with you like age or stage of life, wasn't actually what you needed.
Sarah: I think that is probably true for a lot of hardship. Like when you're going through something, your usual friends might not be the ones you need the most.
KaRyn Lay: So how do you find these kinds of friendships? Like, what's the secret for opening yourself up to a kind of friendship that you wouldn't maybe naturally look out for?
Sarah: Well, I think a lot of it is just a gift of God sometimes, right? And being open to that. But I think in the stories in this episode, there's an element of risk. And on the other side of a little risk is the reward of a new friendship.
KaRyn Lay: So true, so true. And like you said, today we've got two more stories from people who took that risk, who opened themselves up and found friendship that absolutely surprised them in the best ways. Our first story comes from Brian, who was perfectly content and happy with the friends that he had when a kilt-wearing stranger offered to accompany him on a road trip. Here's Brian.
Brian: So I guess it's kind of ironic that in a room that included dwarves and elves and ogres, that it would be the bald human that would have such a profound effect on my life.
Growing up, I was always a real introvert, I only had a couple of really close friends. And it stayed that way until I got home from my mission and started going to a young single adult ward. I started to become friends with a group of guys there and found out that they got together on a regular basis to play "Dungeons and Dragons." I grew up as a geek, I like superhero things, I like fantasy and all that kind of genres. But I had never played "Dungeons and Dragons." And I thought, well, this would be like a cool experience to go sit in and see what it's like.
So I asked them once if I could come over and just watch and they said, "Sure." And they told me what time they were playing. The day that I went over, it turned out that one of the guys that was in the group at the time wasn't able to show up that day. And so they asked me, you know, "Do you want to play so and so's character?" And I remember saying, "I don't know what I'm doing this just literally, I'm just sitting down at this table for the first time ever." And they said, "Well, that's okay. You know, we'll show you what to play and don't worry." And now 26 plus years later, we're still playing. We've had different people come and go, but there was a core group of us that have stayed together all these years. When we started out, obviously, we're all single, We were all in this single adult ward. Now we're all married with children. We have one grandfather in that group and we still get together every other Monday night and play. And in fact, two of the guys that I play with were my best men at my wedding reception because I couldn't pick between them, we were that close.
After we had been playing together probably 10 or 15 years, someone from our core group, Dave, brought a new friend that he had met to play. This new player looked very different than the rest of us. Let's just say he had a shaved head, earrings, rings on his fingers, I know that least one of them was made from a nail. Had either sandals or bare feet, I don't recall which, I would guess bare feet based on how well I know him now. Just really different than what the rest of look like. But I remember thinking, "Dave, what have you brought into our group?" Which, I look back on now, and I'm so embarrassed that I ever thought that, but I did. I was really protective of this group because it really was the first time I had a close group of friends, I mean, we did everything together. But I thought, okay, you know, let's invite him to play and, and he was good at playing, he had played before, so he fit right in that way. He took over someone's character, and he became part of the playing group, but he wasn't part of our group.
And then something happened. For the job that I used to have, I traveled extensively by car. I would drive all over the western United States. So I'd spend a lot of time in the car, and I would always invite my buddies. And they would always say no, you know, they had jobs, so I understood that but it was always fun to ask them and see if they could go. And then one day, I said, "Hey, I've got a trip down to Vegas next week. Is anybody interested in going with me?" And Russ piped up and he said, "Yeah, I'll go with you!"
And I remember thinking, "Oh, I, okay." I didn't expect it because, you know, we didn't do anything outside this group. But it would have been rude to say, you know, "No, I meant all the other guys, not you." So, well, you know, he said yes, I invited, he said yes and I always say I want someone to go with me so let's, okay. I drove down to Utah County and picked him up really, really early. And I think looking back that I was kind of glad that it was dark outside because it was almost a barrier because I was maybe a little uncomfortable. So we started talking very safe subjects, geeky subjects, you know. Can you name all seven members of the Justice League's original lineup? Can you name this? And what artists do you like? What's your favorite title? Just very safe subjects. We tried to figure out who among us was the bigger geek. And we decided that he ended up winning simply on the fact that his father-in-law's name is Bruce Wayne, which, obviously to any geek that that's a trump card that just can't be beat. So it was a good way to break the ice, you know, to stick to those safe subjects. We had a lot of driving ahead of us, obviously down to Vegas. And it was a week-long trip. So we were going to be spending a lot of time together. And then we kind of started branching into other subjects. I'm very much a creature of habit when I go on the road. I eat the same restaurants at the same place, eat, you know, the same thing, everything just like that. Even some hotels I'd stay in the same room. And he was very much against any type of chain. He was very much, let's look at that little hole in the wall diner over there. Or let's ask the person in the store, "Hey, where would you go to eat?" And so as he would do that, it was fun too because it was something new for me. It's like oh this is, you know, I would never do this. And I started to kind of come out of my shell not only around him but just in general, I think because it was new and it was fun. And he kind of taught me that a lot of times, those are the best places to go, you know, some of the best food you'll ever try. If you spend a week with someone, you're either going to come home, not speaking to them at all, or you're going to be a lot closer, and I realized that, hey, this guy's pretty cool.
Over the next few years, we did travel a lot together. The shortest trip we took was a day trip and the longest trip he's been with me on was 17 days, where we went all over Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. We ended up creating a world together because you really have a lot of time in the car. We're very different in our views on a lot of things. I'm very conservative in a lot of my views and he's very liberal. My music would be Billy Joel, Elton John, Michael Buble, and his Metallica and Flogging Molly and Dolly Parton. So we're very different in that way. But when we talk and we discuss these differences, there's never any animosity. We can discuss politics for instance, and not have any bad feelings towards one another. We're able to see the other person's views and there's never any bad feelings, which I think is a lesson to a lot of people.
He really changed my life in a lot of ways. He's taught me not to pass by life, not to stay in that shell. He does wear kilts a lot on the road, which is a lot of fun because I'll walk in a store four or five seconds behind him, and I do it on purpose. And he knows I'm doing it on purpose. Because if I walk in behind him, especially in little small towns, that's the best because the looks he gets from the people that are in the stores are priceless. And I know in my head that they're doing the same thing in their own way that I did when Dave brought him into the group. You know, they're, they're judging him based on his external appearance. Like when I said, you know, "Dave, what have you brought into our group." As it turns out, what he brought into the group was a brother. He is one of the few people that when I talk to him on the phone, there's times at the end, when I will just say, "Hey, I love you, man." And he'll say it back. He is someone that I will call when I just need someone to talk to. He's always, he's a great listener, and he is very good at counseling. And I like the fact that he doesn't just agree with me and say, "Oh, you know, yeah, you're right of this," but he will point out, "Okay, how can you grow from this?"
I think God puts people like that in our lives to teach us lessons. It would be easy to say that God put him there to teach me not to judge people. And that is an easy answer. And I think he did, I think he put him there to teach me that. But I also think he put him there to make me a better person in a lot of other ways. I think God knew that there were going to be times that I would need Russ. He was there for me during one of the lowest points in my life. I was battling—still battle—with depression. And I had gotten to the point where, as I would drive, there were times that I would think, "If I didn't turn this corner up here, it would look like an accident." And when I needed to talk to somebody, he was always there and didn't matter what time, and he would just listen and he would love unconditionally. And I don't want to downplay those other guys I play with because they are very much brothers to me. They showed up one night at my house at 11 o'clock at night, because they knew what I needed. So I don't want to downplay them at all. He's just become, he's become a brother. It makes no sense, it really doesn't because we are so different in so many ways. And maybe that's what makes it so fun is that it doesn't make sense that we should be friends. But I know that he was put there to teach me a lot of things and to be there, almost as a stand-in for my older brother. I'm the oldest but I mean, you know, my heavenly older brother to put his arm around me when I needed it.
A scripture comes to mind when it says that "God looketh upon the heart." And I think that Russ is a great example of that because when you see him, you're going to make judgments based on the way he looks. But if you get past that Bulldog exterior to the puppy dog that's beneath, you see the way that Christ sees him.
I think that I hope that I'm a little more understanding now, a little more willing to get to know people underneath rather than just judge by that first four seconds of seeing them. And I'll be forever grateful for the bald human that entered the dungeon that day.
KaRyn Lay: That was Brian. When I first heard the story on our pitch line, I was immediately drawn to it. Partially because I love a good story and Dungeons and Dragons was involved, but also because I have a few gamers in my family. And I know how close-knit and connected those 12-sided-die groups can be. So when I heard that Brian was talking about friendship, I wanted to hear about it even more. I love his willingness to admit that he was protective of that friend group when Russ first came into the circle. It kind of reminded me of that childhood feeling that we have sometimes when the new kid comes to school and you immediately are like, "No, they're not like us." Sometimes new friendships or the possibility of new friendships can feel like a threat to our system. But I love what Russ and Brian found out: Love is an infinite resource. There's room in our hearts for new friends, there's room there. And if we don't think that there's room there, God can help us to create that room. And letting new people into our lives is absolutely going to bring change in one way or another. Whether it invites us to try that new hole-in-the-wall local restaurant instead of the Olive Garden or letting someone see the hardest things in our hearts. It takes real courage and sometimes an act of God, like Sarah said, to get us to open up to the possibility of a new friend. But I really believe that on the other side of that is more love, more connection, and growth, which is exactly what our Father in heaven wants for each of us. Our last stories from Emily with a special appearance from her friend, Mac. It's a story of a friendship that might not have come without the intervention of a loving Heavenly Father. Here are Emily and Mac.
Emily: For years, I felt like I never had friends and I felt really lonely. I think a lot of it is our perspective of how we think of ourselves and how we feel like we are around people. And for me, I just felt like I also was a person that didn't always connect with people on that deeper level. And so I love to be with people and serve them, but then all sudden, it's like when I'm not around people, I'll have that like, real sense of loneliness, kind of that bitterness. And it kind of bites, like sometimes it's really hard and sometimes tears are shed.
I was really lonely and I had prayed for years to Heavenly Father, "Can I have friends in my life? Can I please have a friend?" And it's just really interesting how my friend came to me. Before I met Mac, I had just transitioned from living in Ecuador and serving in the orphanages. I was there for two months and it was an incredible experience. I loved it. It changed me. And then I moved back to the States and I was so lost. When I moved, I was actually going to live in a whole different city, and just circumstance after circumstance I ended up living in a different city than I had planned. And so I ended up in this apartment by myself. I was 24 at the time, single, and it was just like, like, what do I do with myself? I just feel so lost.
I've always played the piano since I was eight years old. It's just been my thing my entire life. And so it's just always been my de-stressor. It's been my entire life, it's what I do. Growing up, my mom used to get so mad at me when it was time to get ready for school every morning, bless my mother's heart, she'd have to be like, "Emily stop playing the piano and please get ready for school." And I'd always be like, "Mom, I don't want to," Every day because it's just me, like the piano just feeds out of me, songs just constantly. When people would be having conversations like sometimes I just don't even talk because I have music going through my mind. And I don't really want to talk, I just want to play your piano that I see in the corner of your room. And no joke like, still to this day, like, I would rather go play your piano and talk to you while I'm playing the piano, but I don't want to just stand here and talk to you if there's a piano in the room. It's kind of like a kid who has a problem with candy-like, it's constant.
So the piano, I feel like, allows me to express myself. It's almost even hard to explain, like, there's no words for it. And so it's one of those connections that we can have with people is music. And that's my latest connections. And maybe that's why I would rather talk to them as I'm playing the piano because it's like connecting our souls. I really think that's what happened with Mac and I. Heavenly Father knows me. I always have loved older people, but to get that deep level of a friendship he involved at starting around a piano, around music and so the day I met Mac, I had been praying for opportunities to play the piano and praying for opportunities that could bring me joy. I'm outside running, down the street, have music playing in my ear, do my normal run. And then all sudden, this prompting came into my mind, my nose tingled and it was like, "Go play the piano now." I'm like what? And I turned my head, and there's an assisted living center there. And I had never seen it and I'd ran that same street for three months. And I thought, "Oh, that's funny." Still, with the music playing in my ear, I just started running again. And the voice came again, loud, "Go and ask if you can play their piano now." Honestly, when that prompting came, and I heard that, like, other voice in my head, I just learned you don't even doubt them. Because why would I be thinking to go play a piano in the middle of a run? Like I wouldn't be. And so I just learned that like promptings come at the most interesting time, and I have to follow those. And so that prompting came and it just honestly didn't even surprise me. It just surprised me that it was right then and it said to do it now. Because I thought, "Well, I can go tomorrow or I can go another time." So I step into the assisted living center. and I asked the front desk like, "Hey, would you be open to if I come and play the piano for you sometime?"
And they were like, "Sure, why not right now?"
I'm like, " Wait, what? Right now?"
And she was like, "Yeah, sure."
So I like literally, still in my running clothes, go to where they have their piano, and I just start playing. And in walks this cute little old man with his walker, with his little pep step, walking towards the piano. And he's like, "Hey, when's the show start?"
I was like, "What show?" I was like, "I have no idea what you're talking about."
He's like, "No, when's the show start?"
I was like, "I'm just here to play the piano."
He goes, "Oh, that's great!" And so he sat down on the piano bench with me started talking.
Mac: I can't remember just how it was, but I was so impressed with Emily, not only a beautiful girl but a wonderful piano player. I was so impressed that you would take your time out to do something like that for an old duffer, to come and entertain us show people.
Emily: My first thought was like, "Who is this funny old man?" He was so hilarious and he was just so with it. And I was like, he's really asking real questions. And so then I asked him, "I was like, how old are you?"
And he was, like, "99 years old."
And I was like, wow. And then I was like, Wait a moment. You're 99. I asked him, "When do you turn 100 years old?"
And immediately, his demeanor changed. He got all depressed and all sudden he goes, "In six months."
I was like, "Wait, what? That's so exciting. Like, you're going to be a century like no one ever lives to be a century." And he did not act excited at all. He didn't care. And it bothered me and I was like, that's it. This man has got to live to be 100 years old. Like no one can say that, right? It's so funny, I'm not a person that likes to make bets or deals, I never have been. Literally, I knew Mac for maybe 20 minutes. It just came out of my mouth and I was like, "I want to make you a deal. I'm going to keep you alive until you are 100 years old by coming to play the piano for you once a week."
He laughed at me and he's like, "We'll see about that." And I was like, deal. Game on we're gonna keep you alive till 100 years old."
Mac: You say, "I'm gonna get you to 100." I just thought somebody has an interest in me. When I first came here, I thought well, I'm not gonna stay there any more than 30 days. They said, "Why?" I'm not old people like they are. They're just old people and I don't know, they looked like they were from the Valley of the Lost. People moving along without a purpose.
Emily: Making this deal for Mac, just like sparked this thing in me that helped me to fill this purpose like, I got to keep this man alive. But I also felt like if I come and serve him, it will be a friend for him. And that it would be something he could look forward to. Just the conversation that we had that day on that piano bench, like, it just kept me like wanting to go talk to my friend. And so then I started going once a week, but quickly, that turned into the daily thing. And so I literally would go do my runs and then stop there on my way home and I'd go play some songs for him. But then it just evolved. He started inviting some of his friends, of the residents that live there. Pretty soon he'd say, "We need to go pick up so and so from their room." And by then, I also had made friends as well with residents that I would see in the hall as I was walking through and I would say "Hey, come we're gonna play some music."
Mac: Oh I, kind of, I looked forward to that every week. She had kind of a schedule. She'd come to my room and pick me up and she'd call me "Duffer," and I'd call her "Clapper." Called the Duffer and the Clapper.
Emily: So then I'd go pick him up, but we definitely could not leave the room without his golf shoes on, insisted his hair was combed, and we had to grab his harmonica and then we were good to go.
Mac: I guess I was so proud of how I looked. I always felt like I had to look my best.
Emily: And he is so funny, his personality that we'd be going to each room and then he'd start saying, "Watch out. We're getting the gangs out, the party's just getting started." So here's some that can hardly walk, so they're holding onto my arm, with their a little cane, we're going down the hall. Here's some that would be willing themselves, like so funny. And then we all meet at the piano, a gathering place.
Mac: She would stop by, pick up several of the people here and get with those, get around the piano, anxious to get right there by the piano and listen to her play. She was wonderful. And then with nearly all of us singing along with different songs, and Emily promoted that all alone and so she became a great fixture. People looked forward to that music. That's how I got to convince, well maybe I can do something with my harmonica. So I started playing a little bit.
Emily: While doing this, things just changed inside of me. I was like, wow, I'm not so lonely anymore. The more I was around them, I felt like life's gonna be okay. It just was like one of those friendships that when you meet, and it just clicks, you're just like, "Whoa, like, where's this friend that I've been praying for for a long time?" Just one of those connections when you meet people you're like, "Well, that was definitely God putting them in my path." And my favorite thing of my friendship with Mac is that we both have a talent of playing music, and we love to share it with people. And the funny thing is, is I've played my whole life. Mac started when he was 10 years old, but he would only play the harmonica when he was using it to call the sheep in. And it wasn't until we met that both our talents blossomed, that we started playing for people, that his harmonica skills became incredible. He'd start with only one or two songs when I first knew him, and then he would be playing five or six by the time we were done with each dance party.
Mac: Oh, thank you. Anyone that can get music into their lives has a better chance of having a complete and happy life.
Emily: So, about six months of building this friendship with Mac, I started feeling yucky. Like I was so tired all the time. And I noticed that I started feeling like I had the flu every single day, it was the weirdest thing. Because I'd wake up, go for a run and then I would just start to feel so yucky and my arms would burn, my hands would burn. And then I noticed my feet started burning. And I noticed when I was starting to run, I would start to trip because I couldn't feel my feet. My fingers would all sudden just have no feeling and I would be playing a song and they would ache and throb up so bad and the burning got so bad, that I'd have to stop in the middle of a song. And when I would go play for Mac, I'd sit there on the piano bench with him playing songs, have to pause, tears are streaming down my face, Mac's blind, so he couldn't even see and he didn't understand what was going on.
It was really hard for me. Every doubt and fear ran through my mind as I was sitting there on a piano bench. Will I ever be able to play the piano like I used to? Will I ever have that back again? Well, my whole life be like this? Is this something that's been taken from me one of my favorite things that brings me the greatest joy in my life? God, did you take this from me? Will it ever come back? God when I'm here serving your children, where are you and why can't I continue to help them? I think that's when I had to realize too, that sometimes we can't serve in the way we want to, but oftentimes, it's always in the way we need to. And so some of those days, maybe those residents didn't need to hear as much music and they just needed friends.
And so we would just start talking. Here they were sharing their stories with me of when you know, their spouse had passed away or an illness that happened to them and they didn't do it as in a rude, like "Get over it, Emily," or something like that. It was always such a teaching moment that I walked away just so inspired by their examples. When I realized that true friendships are when we open our hearts, and that we're not focused on ourselves, but that we share stories and things that we've learned, but it just brought such closeness and realness. And it wasn't just a service and happy friendship, and how are you doing today? And it was real. I mean, it was the deepest friendships I've ever had. And it just made me laugh because I'm like, how am I have more friends that are older, that are in their 80s or 90s than truly than my own age. But always, every time I left that building, I would leave a happier person than I was then when I walked in because they taught me such valuable lessons. I had finally gotten a diagnosis that I had Lymes disease. I had never told Mac, but he could tell just by my voice, or by how I gave him a hug, he could tell when days that I didn't feel good. And he started picking up on it and he would say, "Have you had a good day today?"
And I'd say, "Yes."
And he goes, "No, you haven't."
And I'd say, "Yeah, you can tell huh?"
And he goes, "You don't feel good today, do you?" And it really meant a lot that he was there as a friend and he would ask. But he knew that it took all that I could to get out of bed, to get him and those residents so that we could play. I mean, I was terrified. I'd lay in my bed when I was so sick. And think if I don't get up today, this man's gonna die. And I made him a deal to keep till 100. I have to go, I have to go get him. And I always pick myself up, get over there, drag myself over there and do all that I could.
Mac: I didn't realize I was doing any good. She always says I helped her as much as she helped me. I always felt our purpose in life was not what we can do ourselves. I wondered, maybe God should tell me what my purpose is. So I guess my purpose was to help Emily along and her purpose was to help me along.
Emily: The more I got to know Mac, I learned that he had family that came to visit him every day. And so sometimes I'd wonder like, should I be continually coming to visit him every day? Does he even enjoy these visits? I really realized these visits meant more than anything. He was looking for friendship as well. He needed that. People need friends, we need each other, at any age. He wanted to make a difference, I wanted to make a difference. And when our friendships have the same goals that we want to do, it's amazing how God puts each of us in each other's path and that we were able to make that difference.
Around the same time I was diagnosed with Lymes disease, Mac made it to 100. We made it to 100 years old, and I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe we had done it. Now he had definitely had to do all the breathing, but I was so relieved that we made it to 100 years old. I felt like I accomplished what I said I was going to do for him. And that I kept my end of the deal.
His family through a huge party for him, lots of people came, we're all at the party mingling and Mac comes over to me and He says, "So, now what? You didn't promise me anything else." I didn't even know what to tell him. I was like, I'd only just made it a goal to keep them alive till 100 years old. That's all I felt. And now what? And yet, reaching 100 wasn't the end for us. In like a month, he'll be 103 and I will be 28 years old. He's also taken it upon himself to be my dating consultant. And it's not working out for me. So far, his success rate is zero. But I haven't given up on him yet.
Mac: "I'm gonna get you over 100 years old." She mentioned that many times. And I said I'll make a promise. I'll do that if you find somebody to get married to." She said she'd do that, so I'm still plugging along, so she's got a lot of work to do.
Emily: The other day I was telling him about my friend that's going to get engaged. And he goes, "You know, I can't keep living all these years just waiting for you." I said, "I'm trying" and he goes, "So am I." Never did I ever think I'd still be best friends and have a dating consultant who's 103 and is blind.
Even now, to this day, Mac and I get asked to play the piano and his harmonica at funerals, and events. We actually go on tours. It's hilarious. And when we're playing at these funerals, Mac will lean over to me and say, "This is hilarious we're here playing for someone that's much younger than me. This isn't even my funeral."
Mac: Emily supervises and we played at three different funerals. And I found that I've really got a purpose here. I feel closer to the Savior all the time I listen to Emily play because that melody comes through and puts meaning to life.
Emily: Mac's amazing. He's my best friend. I still feel lonely at times and knowing that his time will come soon, there's always that sense of will I feel loneliness again? I question that. But I have such a greater peace now and trust that I know the Savior's there. Mac would always say that if you have a heartbeat, you have a purpose. And I realized through this whole experience, I wasn't focused on myself, I wasn't focused inward. I was focused on loving others, that they're here too, that they're lonely too. We need each other. We're not here to be alone. Like we're here to be together, we're here to be friends. We're not here to suffer life alone.
Mac: I guess the Lord doesn't want me to come back. He wants me to stay here to understand that we're here for a purpose. And until we go to the other side, our purpose is to try to make other people happy. Maybe I'm here to help Emily and she was here to help me.
KaRyn Lay: That was Emily and her 103-year-old best friend, Mac. Well, almost 103. If you want to hear some of Mac and Emily's musical collaborations, we'll have a link to the album that they made together in our show notes. I promise you will want to hear Mac's harmonica stylings. I also wish you all could have been in that room to feel the adorable energy between Emily and Mac when they came in to record. I think energy is really the right word for it because what their friendship did is energized each of them for their unique challenges. For Mac, it was finding a reason to live again at 99 years old. And for Emily, it was finding a way to fight through her loneliness and a debilitating illness. And isn't that the thing about inspired friendships? However, they come to be, those friendships set off a chain reaction of discovery and mutual joy just as it did in their story. And that makes us better. It makes us better for everybody and it teaches us more about the love that our Father in heaven has for us. I do remember Sarah. I do remember how we met. Well, I don't remember how we met, but I do remember the circumstances in which our friendship came to be. And that is because I took a risk to move to Salt Lake City. I didn't have a job. When I first moved there, I had no job and no place to live. And I rolled up into Salt Lake and God kind of— I felt like God sort of put me into this, this avenues space like the avenues in Salt Lake. And so then we were in the same ward together. And do you remember what we used to joke about, that ward at that time, we called it the—
Sarah: The Island of Misfit Toys?
KaRyn Lay: The Island of Misfit Toys, and X-Men school.
Sarah: Oh, totally!
KaRyn Lay: Because we all felt like we were developing specific talents and gifts that God wanted us to use in our lives. And I think it's really interesting that he puts us where we need to be so that we'll meet the people who can change us and show us something different, something new about ourselves that we didn't know before. And you did that for me and I hope that our friendship never ends.
Sarah: Me too.
KaRyn Lay: That's it for this episode of "This Is the Gospel." Thank you to Sarah and Brian and Emily and Mac for sharing their stories and their faith. And special thanks to Susan Bender, Mac's daughter, who helped us to get those fun recordings of her dad. We'll have the transcript of this episode as well as some fun pictures and links from the stories in our show notes at LDSliving.com/thisisthegospel. All you got to do is go and find this episode and click on it and right there you'll find all the show notes. So check it out.
If you have a great story about your experience Living the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we want to hear from you on our pitch line. Leave us a short three-minute story pitch at 515-519-6179. You can find out what themes we're working on right now by following us on Instagram and Facebook at @thisisthegospel_podcast. That's @thisisthegospel_podcast. If you loved this episode, will you please leave us a review on the Apple App or Bookshelf PLUS+ from Deseret Book? We love to hear your thoughts about individual episodes or the podcast as a whole. We read every single one.
This episode was produced by Sarah Blake with story producing from Katie Lambert and me, KaRyn Lay, With story editing by Danielle Wagner. It was scored, mixed and mastered by Mix At Six Studios with additional mixing from KC Blake. Our executive producer is Erin Hallstrom. You can find past episodes of this podcast and other LDS Living podcasts, like the "All In" podcast at LDSliving.com/podcasts. Have a great week.
Stories in this episode: Kristen moves from her hometown to a new city for a new job after a spiritual prompting and quickly finds herself headed toward even bigger transitions; only six months after his reactivation in the Church, Derek struggles to make sense of his new culture at the Missionary Training Center.
KaRyn: Welcome to "This is the Gospel," an LDS Living podcast where we feature real stories from real people who are practicing and living their faith every day. I'm your host, KaRyn Lay.
There's a well-known theory about the way we experience and adapt to a culture that's new or unfamiliar to us. It's the theory of culture shock. And even if that's a new phrase to you, you're probably a little bit familiar with the four stages. They show up all the time in pop culture, on TV, and in other spaces. First, there's the honeymoon phase. And if you've ever been in a new relationship, you know this stage. Everything is rosy and beautiful and romantic. And you're captivated and excited by the differences between you and whatever your new love is, whether that's a new city, a new romantic partner or a new job, or maybe it's even a new faith tradition. Well, that honeymoon is exciting and it makes you feel alive but just around the corner is the negotiation stage. This is when all the differences between your culture of origin and the new culture feel completely overwhelming, difficult, maybe even disgusting. For me, this stage was embodied by the Korean shrimp. That's right, you heard me, shrimp. About three months into my new life abroad, after the glow of all the lantern festivals had worn off, I started to notice that the shrimp were fully intact in my food. Not just legs or shells, but like full heads with great, big, beady eyeballs, like something from outer space or the Black Lagoon staring at me from my soup. And it couldn't handle it. I was filled with an unholy rage every single time I would order food that I thought was shrimp-free, only to be surprised by a hidden eyeball or a hidden leg popping out of my noodles. I just wanted shrimp that looked like shrimp. American shrimp. I know how ridiculous that is, now. I get it, they're just shellfish. But at the time, those shrimp came to represent everything that was difficult or hard about living in another country.
The good news is that after that negotiation phase where everything feels difficult, eventually, you move into the adjustment and finally, adaptation phases. This is where you can finally see the good in both the new and the old, and find ways to integrate them into your current life. Sometimes it takes months and sometimes it takes years. And in some cases, it never actually comes. But in all cases, that culture shock changes us. And if we let it, it can change us in good ways. Well, today we've got two stories about the way these shocks to the system play out in our spiritual lives and how God can use them to help us see ourselves and his plan for us in a new light.
Our first story comes from Kristin, whose experience with culture shock came in two very distinct waves that had everything to do with one another. Here's Kristin.
Kristin: I am definitely the type of person who is pulled into challenging situations so that I can learn and so that I can experience because I am a creature of comfort. I'm not a huge risk-taker. So it takes God kind of pushing me over the edge to go give it a shot.
I am from Las Vegas, Nevada and I currently live just outside of Buffalo, New York with my husband and my two stepkids. And I never in a million years imagined I would live outside of Buffalo, New York with a husband and two stepkids. In Las Vegas, I worked often with the public affairs office or church headquarters, and then when there was a job opening, they kind of asked if I'd be interested in applying and I kept saying no because I loved my life. I had a great life in Las Vegas, I loved my job. I had a house, I had a great ward, I had, you know, I was from Las Vegas, and I loved my crazy hometown. I had no interest in moving. But then one day they called and I was decorating the church gym, it was for Christmas party, the ward Christmas party. And they said, "Hey, we have this job opening, you know, we'd like you to consider it." And I was literally on the ladder in the church gym and I said, "Oh, okay, I'll consider it." I felt like I needed to at least investigate it. I still wasn't thinking it was something I would be interested in, but I went ahead and flew out for the interview. And I remember when they called me to say that out of all the applicants that they wanted me to take the job, and would I consider it and I was standing outside of my office in Las Vegas. And I stood there and I thought, I guess I'm moving to Utah. And it just so matter-of-fact, it was one of those very few times that the directive was that clear for me. And so that's what I did. I picked up and moved to Utah.
I moved to Salt Lake City in January 2014 with me and my dog, I had a chocolate lab named Jazzy. And I didn't really know people in Salt Lake. I didn't really know Salt Lake outside of Temple Square. So it was like moving to truly a foreign place. And when you don't know people, if you're someone like me, I'm more of an introvert than people would imagine. It's always hard to move, no matter where you are, you know, you're excited, you're scared, you're nervous, you can't wait, you get in touch with every single emotion. And so the job itself was really interesting, I think it's very different than most people imagine. When you say that you are a church spokesperson, I think a lot of times they think, it's like you're working at the temple or something like that, but it's really not. So it was different, it was a bit of a culture shock that way. It's tricky. I mean, working in public affairs, or being a church spokesperson is filled with really high highs and really low lows. At least it was for me because you hear the best of things and you get to experience some of the really great things in our religion. But then you also hear the really hard and you feel the really hard, you feel people's anguish over a policy they don't like or when a missionary is hurt or killed on their mission. I mean, you hear it all. So it was, it was challenging on days and some days it was really happy and some days it was really hard.
It's funny, I never expected to be a church spokesperson, I don't think I fit the stereotype of what people expect a church spokesperson to look like. I mean, I obviously don't wear a white shirt and tie, I think people expect that. I was in my 40s, single. I have been known to swear now and then, I drink Dr. Pepper on a daily basis. You know, I just had this whole different life experience. But when I got there, I found out that's exactly why they wanted me was that I wasn't the stereotypical person and I had a different set of experiences. So if you go back in my life to my teenage years, and even my early college years, I definitely had a life plan figured out. And it was a good plan. I'd always wanted to go on a mission, and then I figured I would get married by the time I was 23 or 24. I would have five kids, they would be all boys. I even had like a list of names picked out. And you know, I'd be the stay-at-home mom that had the really good stacks and the fun holiday decor. And I would maybe work at a home decor store so I could get discounts or something. That was my plan for my life. That was, I mean, that was the dream, right? But it didn't turn out that way. I did go on a mission, I went to Ecuador. And I came home, and I went back to school, I still didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up. And I really did fall into public relations. Or I guess I should say, it feels like I fell into public relations, but if we're looking at it with a spiritual lens, I'm quite certain that it was some sort of guidance from God saying, you know, try this out, you'll be good at it, because you're going to need to make a career out of it. That job was very much one of those kinds of situations. Where it was God saying, "Okay, here you go. This is what he had in store for you— go. Here you go." And yeah, my life didn't turn out as I had planned at all. But thank goodness it didn't.
When I first got here, to Utah, I had talked to a couple of people who had worked in this position before me and I had asked them for insight and advice and tips and whatnot. And I remember one of the people had said, "Oh, you're going to need at least three years." It's funny, I didn't quite— I didn't think I felt quite settled, but I remember going home back to Las Vegas on a road trip, and that didn't quite feel like home. And I was eager to get back, I was eager to get back to my little place. And I was eager to get back to my little world that I had created here. And I think that was you know, it was well over a year into it. That was a really interesting feeling for me to feel, you know because I hadn't quite considered Salt Lake home yet. But the fact that I was kind of longing to get back was, was telling to me. I think one of the things that really helped me to feel settled was just some of the people, the amazing people that I was suddenly finding myself surrounded by. That was one thing that really helped me to adjust. And I would say the same about life in Las Vegas or life in Buffalo. It's really made all the difference is the people that you meet along the way and the connections, these very soulful connections, that you make. People cross our paths, and that's not coincidental. For example, one of the friends that I met in Salt Lake, that I do believe that God put right in my path, and at the time, I had no idea why. And this friend was about my same age, she had gotten married in her 40s to someone who had children, she was the second wife. And it became such an important friendship, almost like a mentorship. And so when it came time for me, she was kind of like my wedding coach.
It was interesting, I had kind of sworn off dating for a long time because my job was so stressful. And I never quite knew if people wanted to meet me because they wanted to meet the person in the job or if they wanted to meet me, which was a really interesting position to be in. But with Matt, I remembered his goodness. And I tell people that all the time, I remembered that he was just a really good guy. And he's an even better guy now. But I remembered his goodness. And so that's kind of where I was like, "Well, okay, it's Matt, of course, I'll meet up with him." So I met Matt as a freshman in college in 1991, we lived at Desert Towers, and we became friends freshman year, and we were friends all through college. After my mission is when I had a little crush on him, but he was dating somebody else. And that was that and it was 25 years later, before we ever crossed paths again. So we didn't even cross paths on like social media or anything until after he was divorced. And then the same friends who had tried to set us up and college, set us up again. And that's how we got reconnected. I was living in Salt Lake at the time, he is a law professor in Buffalo. And so when our mutual friends set us up, it was a really quick reconnection. I got married at age 43 and this was in the fall of 2016. And I kind of did everything at once. I got married, became a wife, became a stepmom, moved, left a career—did it all at once. Just rip off the band aid and go for it, so I dove in big time. And it was a lot. I mean, it is a lot. Those are all big life transitions on their own, but we did it, I did them all at once. My co-workers and I all joke that I was the reverse pioneer. So I move, you know, pack up my stuff and move east this time. And again, it was kind of the if you want to feel every single emotion, move somewhere new, where you don't know anyone. We had to make this work, right? But it was, I felt like it was great for our relationship because it made me just bond really quickly with my husband and with his kids because they were the only people I knew. It's been great, but it's also been really hard for the first, gosh, even the first year, I got physically just sick from the stress and the unknown and the ambiguity that was suddenly in my life. And my job for 20 plus years has been to control situations, you know. And so that is what I'm good at, is to put out the plan, put the implementation plan together, get everything lined up and make it all a great. That has been my job for 20 years. And I thought I was kind of good at it. But here I was, thrown into this new Western New York Life that I had chosen to be part of and I suddenly had none of that. And I was sick all the time, just physically sick from the tension and the ambiguity and the unknown. And I tried to not tell people about that and tried to not make a big deal of it. And I hadn't even told my friends this, but two of my friends that I had made in Salt Lake City, called me up and said, "We're coming out there, here's the dates, are you okay with that?" And I said great. And so they get out there and we spent like a day at the quick care because I had been so sick, I was so dehydrated that they had to take me to the quick care and get IV's and things like that because I had been so physically sick over this. And we jokingly refer to that as their "FEMA Trip," that they were my rescue, they were my FEMA rescuers that weekend.
When Sharon Eubank gave a talk a couple of years ago, she talked about the incident in Florida, where there were two kids that had gotten washed out in the waves. The rescuers couldn't get the kids, but this couple on this, on the shores, saw what was happening and they gathered people together and they formed a human chain of like more than 80 people leading out to these kids. And they were eventually able to rescue those kids. And I think that, especially throughout the past five, six years, so between the time I left Las Vegas, and now the time in Buffalo, I feel like I've been the one out in that wave, in that whirlpool, and there are at least 80 people making that chain to rescue me and to help me through these culture shock periods of my life. And I've been on the receiving end of that and it's been remarkable.
One thing that I now think is kind of funny, at the time it didn't feel very funny. I had never realized how much I associated my job and my career, my paycheck, with my self-worth, until I didn't have that. Because when I moved, I suddenly didn't have a job and I didn't have a career. And that's been a really big adjustment for me, I really didn't realize how much of my own self-worth was tied up into that job. And so it's been really tricky for me to kind of separate those two things and kind of rediscover my worth and the contributions I make and remind myself that I do bring value to the things that I am doing. One day, I remember just feeling a little bit lost. I do some little freelance projects and a little bit of contract work here and there. And I was just thinking, oh, I just really miss having a team. I wish I had a team, I'm so much better when I work within a team to bounce ideas off of people. And the impression came to my mind, "You are in a team. It's team Dimick." It kind of stopped me dead in my tracks because I do have a team. It's just a whole new team and it's a whole new focus on this team. It's a distinctly different role than I've played in the past. I've never been the wife, I've never been a stepmom before. But that's where God has placed me right now. And I am figuring out how to do it little by little.
There have been a lot of moments when I've thought, "Oh, wow. I don't know anything about this." Like everything from you know, helping my stepdaughter learn how to read better or become more confident in her reading skills, to things like making dinner and having meal plans or budgeting. Like these things that are so every day to most of my friends, because they have been married 25 years. But this is brand new to me. Because before I got married, you know, I spent time working on careers and things and I made a really mean chocolate chip cookie, but I'm telling you I had yogurt and scrambled eggs for dinner most nights. And so I'm finally feeling like, okay, I can make a decent dinner. And I know how to grocery shop now and put together a meal plan for the week. But those even simple things like that were really new to me. I think there have been a lot of little things, little gifts of God's grace or tender mercies that have really helped me see that this is okay, that this is God's path for me. I was taking my stepson to seminary one morning, it was cold and wintery. I mean, and remind you, I live in Buffalo. So it is legit winter. And we were driving, I'm driving him to seminary, it is pitch black and cold. And he got out of the car and ran into the church building. And I started driving back and I just thought, oh wait, this is exactly what I had dreamed of. This is the kind of moment that I had dreamed up. It's different than I thought it would be, but this is still exactly what I had dreamed of. Little things like family moments, dropping kids off at seminary, contributing to something bigger than me, putting together a life with these humans. It's pretty great. Now I can look back and see very clearly, that my move from Las Vegas to Salt Lake was very much a preparation for this next big phase of life because Salt Lake has a winter. Las Vegas winters are like in the 50s, Salt Lake actually had snow. But that was totally preparing me for winter in Buffalo, like I bought my first pair of snow pants in Salt Lake. But just getting through that process of learning how to move and learning how to adjust and learning how to make friends and reestablish a new life was really, really a good preparation for me into this next phase. It was a baby step into transition.
So I think Heavenly Father sometimes has to shock us into new phases of life or new places or new anything. If He needs us to get going, if He needs us to get going further than we think for ourselves, I think sometimes He has to throw these things in our way. Because we are really creatures of comfort, it is easy to be comfortable and not progress as much as maybe we need to or as much as he needs us to. I think that's where the tricky thing comes in, is like how much do we trust that God has a plan for me? When we do trust that, I think that's when it makes it easy for us to—not easy— it makes it clear for us that we need to keep going through the hard, through the scary, through the unknown, because we believe and we trust that God has a bigger plan for us and that He's not going to let us down. Recently, I was worrying about something. By nature, I am a worrior. And and so the whole trust thing, even though God has continually helped me through my life, I still worry. I'm trying not to, but I do. But the other day I was in primary helping and they started singing the song, "My life is a gift. My life has a plan. My life has a purpose in heaven it began." And I grabbed my phone as soon as I could and I started recording it. And I've listened to it so many times. And of course, the kids are screaming at the top of their lungs, just like they do. And it is so fantastic. And I just keep thinking, okay, it's that simple. It's that simple. It's, "My life is a gift. My life has a plan. My life has a purpose." And I hope that I can have that same trust and enthusiasm that these little babies can, these little kids can because I really do believe that our heavenly parents have this very distinct plan for us, they're not leaving us hanging. And if it's anything like the rest of my life has been, the plan for the future is going to be more than I ever envisioned for myself, so I better just go along for the ride.
KaRyn: That was Kristin Howey Dimick, a proud member of Team Dimick and former spokesperson for The Church. I think sometimes we assume that a foreign culture is only about geography. But what I loved about Kristin's story was that reminder that we are surrounded by the unique traditions and social customs of others in so many different spaces in our lives. New jobs, new family structures, those can all be very real kinds of culture shock. And as we shuffle our way through the transition, sometimes gracefully, and sometimes, well, not so gracefully, (remember the shrimp?), it's not a bad idea to remember that God is present in the shifting and trust that our ability to navigate in our new culture is filled with His grace. And sometimes that grace is manifest in the kind of friends who spend the weekend with you at the InstaCare.
Our next storyteller is Derek, whose entrance into the MTC, the Missionary Training Center, came with its own brand of culture shock. Here's Derek,
Derek: As I entered the Missionary Training Center for the first time, I looked around at all the other missionaries, and I kind of felt like a fish out of water. I never planned on going on a mission or being involved in the gospel at all. But instead, here I was. How did I end up here? I grew up in a place that had a large population of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and my family, even though we really weren't actively engaged in the gospel, we still went to church because it was the thing to do. Like in a way, we were punch card members, you know? We'd punch in and we'd punch out. When I was seven years old, my father had a work injury that really changed our family's lives in a lot of ways. And it made us a lot less mobile and a lot less able to do things that we were usually able to do. And so one of those things that we kind of took out of our lives was church. When I graduated high school, I was hanging out with my friends and doing what I wanted to do. Life was kind of going, you know, in neutral, if you will, but nothing was really happening. Honestly, I always had the question in the back of my mind, what am I doing with my life?
So, I was sitting at home, and I heard someone knock at the door. And a guy was there, who was dressed in a suit, he was in his like, mid-40s and he asked to speak with me inside. So I said, "Okay, sure, I guess." And at that point, I knew he was from the church. My friends were all trying to get me to go to church. And so I'm like, oh, maybe this guy is from, from the ward, and he wanted to talk with me about going to church. So he sat down and he started to tell me that he was my home teaching companion. And I said, "I'm not sure I'm following here, but I don't go to church."
And he said, "That's okay. You don't have to go to church to be my companion." And he said, "I'd like to go on some visits with you if that's okay, to some of these families."
And I said, "I don't think I'm going to do that, I'm sorry. But thank you, I appreciate the offer."
And he says, "Well, I have your number, so why don't I send you a text every once in a while, let you know when I'm going. And if you feel up to it, then we can go."
So, I said, "Alright, cool." And then he left. A couple weeks later, he sends me a text and says,
"Do you want to come see this family with me? No pressure, you don't have to teach or anything."
And I said, "No, I'm fine." So this went on for like a month or two where he just would text me randomly and say, hey, I'm going to go visit these people, do you want to come along?" And I'm just still confused on why this guy's even texting. I just didn't understand it. And one night, I got this text and I was like, all right, let's see what he wants, sure. And he said, "Hey, no teaching tonight but do you want to go out for dinner? I'm hungry, are you?" I was usually out with my friends, vut I was home and I was hungry. I'm always hungry. I said, "All right, that's fine. Let's do this."
We go out to a restaurant and he actually took the time to talk to me instead of wanting me just to come to the next event or whatever. Nobody has ever done that for me. I want to say a month later or so, he sent me a message saying, "Hey, just a little reminder, I'm going to see a family. Do you want to come?" And I just had to say yeah. I just really liked his company and he just was really nice to me. And I'm like, "You know what? Why not? I've got a free night. I'll give it a shot." So I went to go see this family. And we talked to them, had a great time, actually. And as time kept going on, I kept going. And I started to really fall in love with this teaching thing. This was kind of cool to me. Well, one night, he was dropping me off. He just sat in my driveway with me and we just talked about everything. And in my mind, I was always still thinking about what was happening in my life. Was I progressing, was I doing anything with my life? And he must have had a spiritual impression to talk to me about that. Because he started to really pick apart my issues and say, "What are you doing with your life?" I told him, I have no idea. It's a great question. He said, "You should go on a mission."
I said, "I don't know about that. I've got a girlfriend, I've got a job, I'm probably gonna go to college." And he just was really nice and supportive and said, "You know what, College is a great, great thing. And I think you should stick with that." And then he said, "But I really feel like you would do so well on a mission. I feel like you can touch people's hearts in a different way than anybody else. I feel like if you go, there's going to be somebody that will need you and only you." And it was a little heavy for me. I remember thinking about my mom, even though we weren't active in the church at all, my mom still said prayers every night without fail. I knew that because I walked into a room plenty of times while she was praying. And so I wanted to give this a shot. Got down on my knees and I said a prayer and I said, "Heavenly Father, please just guide me to where you want me to read so I can get whatever answer I need to get out of this sense of confusion." I said "Amen" and I opened it up, it was the Book of Mormon, and all I read, and I didn't know much about the Book of Mormon, but it was talking about the Nephites and the Lamanites, and they're going to war. An impression that I felt was "Whose side are you on? Are you on the Lord's side? Are you on Satan's side?" And it hit me hard. So at that point, I just really felt prompted to say another prayer, but this time, get on my knees and say one vocally and start talking to Heavenly Father, because if He gave me that kind of answer, then maybe He can give me more. So I got on my knees and I started saying a prayer. I just started feeling that I really needed to do something with my life. And that thing was actually to go on a mission. The first people I told were my parents. And initially, they were both a little shocked, because they never thought that I would go. It was funny because my mom was actually very skeptical. Because I mean, she even looked at me and said, "Wait a second, I'm not sure if I'm speaking to my son. You know, I'm a little confused here, where my son go?" And I said, "No, this is real. This is really what I want to do." And they both embraced me and gave me so much love and support.
The next person I wanted to tell was my home teaching companion that kind of helped me get to this point. And I simply told him, like, Let's meet for lunch, I got something to tell you. And so we went to a place to sit down and eat. And he said, "So what's this all about what's going on?"
And I just said, "I want to go on a mission." And I remember he just, he stopped eating his lunch. I think he dropped his fork, like actually, physically dropped the fork. And he was like, "You're lying to me, you're pulling my leg, this can't be real." And I said, "No, it's it's real."
We both started to cry together. Because this was something that he knew that I needed, and other people needed. And I knew that I needed it to.
And so after that, I told my Bishop and said, "Hey, I'd like to prepare to go on a mission." And obviously, he was shocked. And he said, "Well, I guess we need to get started on on the process of going." And so, you know, I went through the repentance process, and I started to do the right things so that I could prepare to go. And so he said, "You know, I have some scriptures for you to read. And also I'd like you to go into mission preparation classes." This was about March or April or so. And so we were a little bit into the year, and I kind of missed out on some of the lessons. And I didn't really know what was going on necessarily, because it was all kind of new to me. But I felt like I was getting so much more knowledge and it was amazing. And as I was going through these classes and kind of meeting my Bishop every week, you know, I expressed to him that I just don't know if I have enough knowledge to go on a mission. I just didn't know if I did. And he looked at me, he says, "You know what, a talk just came out recently by Elder Neil L. Anderson, it's called 'You Know Enough.' Go home and read that. And I just want you to know that you do know enough, that you've got this." So, for the next 60 days, I just prepared as much as I could, getting as much knowledge as I could. And in August, I left on my mission.
In the Missionary Training Center, you do a lot of role-play teaching, where you teach other missionaries the lessons that are in "Preach My Gospel" and help them to teach you back so that you're ready to go out in your mission field. I remember we were about to teach the first lesson, which talks about the restoration of the church, and I remember just reading over it and being like, "Oh yeah, I got this. This is fine. The restoration, Joseph Smith, First Vision, lots of things, I knew a lot of that. And so I said my part and then my companion took over. He started talking about the Book of Mormon, and how the Book of Mormon was the writings of the ancient people here in America about Jesus Christ. And I looked over and I was like, wait, what? I kind of did like this doubletake. And I was so blown away because I had no idea that the Book of Mormon, the whole thing is actually about the people here on the American continent. I had no clue. Talk about culture shock. The one key piece of our gospel is the Book of Mormon, and I had no idea that the entire thing was based here.
Another experience I had in the Missionary Training Center, we were all gathered together for a devotional, all the missionaries were gathered together. And the opening hymn was a hymn that I'd never heard of, and it's "Hope of Israel." And I remember all the missionaries, every single one of them, at least I felt like, all of them were seeing with such fervor and such power. And they were all like— it's like they've known this since they were young. And I was clueless. And I just sat there in silence, looking at all the other missionaries and I knew at that point that this is definitely something that I'm going to have to work on, you know. And that I didn't, I didn't have a lot of the knowledge that I feel like all the other Elders and Sisters had. As I progressed on my mission, I finally read the Book of Mormon, all the way, cover to cover and I was able to feel that it was true, instead of just having a little scriptures here and there. There was a quote from Elder Anderson's talk, "You Know Enough," that I always kept with me, that helped me to keep going and to feel like I actually was doing the right thing. And he said, "Nearly 40 years ago, as I contemplated the challenge of a mission, I felt very inadequate and unprepared. I remember praying, 'Heavenly Father, how can I serve a mission when I know so little?' I believed in the church, but I felt my spiritual knowledge was very limited. As I prayed, the feeling came, 'you don't know, everything, but you know enough.' That reassurance gave me the courage to take the step into the mission field."
You know, when I first read this, I thought, wow, like, what he was going through 40 years ago, was the exact same thing that I was going through right now. That quote helped me to conquer all these feelings of inadequacy and lack of understanding. This whole experience really taught me a lot about myself. And even though I didn't have all the lingo and all the knowledge of the gospel, and all the songs memorized, or any of that, my desire to serve the Lord and my desire to be a disciple of Jesus Christ was enough. And I'm so grateful for that.
KaRyn: That was Derek. While Derek's experience at the MTC was definitely unique, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find any returned missionary who didn't think going on a mission was a shock to their system. I actually think it's built that way on purpose. Truly, truly, because transformative experiences require a sort of humility that is quickly invoked when we have to rely upon the Lord for everything. And what better way to invite us to be humble than to give us moments where, as Derek put it, we are truly fish out of water.
I don't know about you, but I hate to feel stupid. Nothing makes me feel stupider than being wrong. And there's nothing that can make you feel more wrong, and bumping up against a different way of moving in the world. Because if my Korean friends can eat their shrimp with those big dangly black eyes and 4 million legs on them, and I can't, what does that mean about me? My anger during the negotiation phase of culture shock was often a result of my fear of being wrong. That fear may have been irrational most of the time, but it was still present, I had to deal with it. And here's what's amazing about that talk that Derek shared from Elder Neil Anderson, at the beginning of the talk, Elder Anderson says, "You don't know everything, but you know enough." That tightrope act of not knowing everything, but still knowing enough requires that we let our Father in Heaven guide our steps when we're faced with surprising new situations and experiences. A while ago, I was in Florida for work, and we attended a sacrament meeting in a ward that was filled with so many different cultures. If you've ever been to South Florida, you understand this. There were so many different ways of understanding the world present in that one room. And everything in the meeting seemed totally normal, completely in line with the church culture that I was accustomed to. But when it came time to bless the sacrament, the young men in that ward did not get up and stand in neat rows in front of the sacrament table like I was used to. Instead, they gathered around the table tightly, shoulder to shoulder with one or two boys even standing on the steps of the rostrum to get closer. It looked like a football huddle. And everything in me wanted to say, "Whoa, whoa whoa, that's not how you do it. Line up, get in line." But the spirit pierced my heart and told me just watch, see things in a new light. As they prayed and blessed those Sacrament emblems, suddenly, I understood that ordinance better than I had ever before. This was a family feast and those were Christ's children circled as close as they could, to the body and blood of our Savior. They were rejoicing together, celebrating the beauty of that shared and yet miraculously individual touch of the Master's hand through the sacrament. And I was humbled because I don't know everything. And in fact, my way of doing things isn't the only way to do things. But I do know enough to know that God was present in that huddle. Culture shock is a gift, an opportunity to let down our carefully guarded walls and our ever-present need to be right so that we can see things differently. Maybe, more importantly, so that we can see ourselves differently. And when the honeymoon is over, and we're done negotiating, we can find adjustment and adaptation through God's greatest gift, the grace of Jesus Christ's atonement, which is actually the only culture that truly unites us all.
That's it for this episode of "This is the Gospel." Thank you to Kristin and Derek for sharing their stories. We will have the transcript of this episode as well as the links to Elder Anderson's talk and Kristin's best advice for surviving big life transitions in our show notes at ldsliving.com/thisisthegospel. You can find the episode on the list and then the show notes are on the individual page, so go there and check it out. We love hearing from you on our pitch line. If you have a story to share, leave us a short three-minute pitch at (515) 519-6179. You can find more about this episode and what themes we're working on right now by following us on Instagram and Facebook @thisisthegospel_podcast. And now that we're back in the full swing of the season, would you do us a favor? Will you please share your experience with the podcast on Apple or Bookshelf PLUS+ by leaving us a review? We have instructions on how to leave a review on the website if you're new to it. We really do read every single one and they are an important way for us to get your feedback and help other people find the podcast.
This episode was produced by me, KaRyn Lay with story producing and editing from Kelly Campbell. It was scored mixed and mastered by Mix at Six studios and our executive producer is Erin Hallstrom. You can find past episodes of this podcast and other LDS Living podcasts at ldsliving.com/podcasts. Have a great week!
Stories in this episode: Brooke’s love of buying cars on eBay sends her on an epic road trip through Church history; an unexpected breakdown in a small town puts Cheryn’s family in the path of miracles; Retta discovers the power of reaching out when her travels to the Greek Isles land her in a precarious position.
To see pictures of Brooke with her trusty eBay cars and Retta in Greece, go here.
KaRyn: Welcome to "This is the Gospel," an LDS Living podcast where we feature real stories from real people who are practicing and living their faith every day. I'm your host, KaRyn Lay. I honestly don't think there's anything quite as satisfying as that moment on an airplane after you've been herded down the jetway, and you've listened to the safety instructions and put away all your devices. That engine starts to whir and your body lurches back against your headrest as you barrel down the tarmac for takeoff. I love that little stomach flip as the plane takes flight. Or what about when you finally settled into your spot in the backseat of the family station wagon, and you've got pillows tucked all around you and a huge bag of Twizzlers—not Red Vines, never Red Vines—and you're ready with the next installment of your book series. And don't even get me started on the virtues of trains and boats. I love traveling. There's just something about that space in between everything. Between where you've been and where you're going, that seems to ignite every ounce of my imagination. And listen, I'm also a huge fan of arriving at my final destination, especially if I've been squeezed into a middle seat in coach. But I think it's possible to focus so much on the endpoint that we might miss some of the beauty inherent in the act of getting there. This can be especially true of our spiritual lives as we labor in our faith. Well, in this episode of the podcast, forgive me for saying it, if course I have to say it, we are celebrating the joy we find in the journey. We've got three stories of travel and how the trips we take can become solid spiritual touchstones along the road of discipleship. Our first story comes from Brooke, whose epic solo road trip started with eBay, and ended with a very important lesson about where we put our time and our energy. Here's Brooke.
Brooke: Okay, I just need to tell you, I never wanted a new car. And when I say new car, I mean a used car because I don't buy new cars. And in my life, cars have always been a thing. I grew up with a dad who just had a thing for cars, not nice cars, not fancy cars, not fast cars, just cars. And when we would hang out together, he and my mom and I would go out to town. And we could cruise the used car lots. And that's what we did. And he tell us all the specs and the make and model and why this is good. And so I knew a lot about cars. And the funniest part about it is my dad had, you know, back in the early 90s, mid 90s, I guess discovered eBay. And so all of a sudden, this was a new source of cars. People would put a car on there for $1,000 and then the bidding war would start and then you just, you win or you don't, you know, and it was very exciting, this adrenaline rush, plus, you get a car out of it. And then, since my sister was a flight attendant, he would jump on a plane and, you know, go look at the car and usually drive it home to Montana. And so all through graduate school, I drove just kind of a clunker car that got me from here to there. I mean, they were kind of these, like it was an Acura, but it had like 200,000 miles on it. And if a car could get you from point A to point B, that's all we really needed. And so as we're nearing graduation, we're, all the classmates, are talking about what we're going to do with that first paycheck and what they're going to buy. And a lot of my classmates wanted, you know, a new car. And they were all driving clunkers, well, I was driving the clunker and I was totally fine with that. And I didn't need a new car. And my dad's eBay wisdom was working for me where I hadn't had a car payment, didn't need a car payment, didn't need a fancy car. Well, sure enough, my first day as a therapist, I am, you know, making a left-hand turn and another woman just went through a red light and t-boned me and totaled my car that I was just going to drive forever. So here I found myself needing a new car with the first paycheck that I was going to have as an adult. So what do I do? Look on eBay. I knew what kind of car I wanted. And again, nothing fancy. It was $8,000, which is more than I'd ever spent on a car. So I bid on this car, and I won and the car was in Florida. Great, perfect. So I get on an airplane and I fly to Florida to pick it up.
PILOT’S VOICE: Ladies and gentlemen this your captain speaking, prepare for takeoff.
Brooke: Now mind you, I'd done this the time or two. But this is probably the longest distance that I'd ever traveled to purchase the car. But you know, excited. I'd never really spent any time in Florida. I get the car, it's everything I thought it would be, it runs great. So I start driving. Of course, I was smart enough to pack a huge binder of CDs. This was actually 2005 and so I had a cell phone. But you know you didn't have music anywhere else besides CDs. And so I had a binder of CDs and realized very quickly that there were at least 40 hours of driving I was going to be doing and my CD and music selection was probably going to get boring, and definitely did. As I was flipping through my CD binder to find something new, I came across the CDs of the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants. So my dad had burned these CDs for me, probably, I don't know, maybe two or three years prior. And you know, going to school and I was working full time. Yeah, I just didn't think I had the time to, or maybe even didn't want to, you know, listen to the Book of Mormon. And I'm about 25 and I would say I'd kind of coasted in my life a little bit spiritually, I was focused.
I'm in the car, I'm somewhere around Tennessee, Nashville and I find these CDs of the Book of Mormon. I'm like, all right, well, all I got is time now, so maybe now's a good time to, to start listening. And I'd read the Book of Mormon a couple of times, just kind of going through the motions. So I pop in the CDs to start listening. And I was surprised like it was one of those CDs where, I can't remember the narrator, but he kind of comes in and gives a little inserts about what's happening in the Book of Mormon at that time. So it kind of helped me understand on a new level. And I was kind of like, oh, wow, I'm learning a lot here. This is great. I realized pretty quickly, like, Hey, I have all this time. And I don't really have to take this southern route home. Man, I could probably hit some church history sites like that's out here somewhere, right in the Midwest. So you know, I pull out my Atlas— and oh, I literally had an Atlas. There was no Google mapping at that time, or at least probably not that I was savvy enough to use. But yeah, I pull out the Atlas and realize like, Oh, hey, if I just went north a little bit, like I could hit Nauvoo. So I called my dad, which he was obviously well versed in road trips with all of his eBay car purchases. He's like, yeah, you should really yeah, you should go to Nauvoo and then you could hit Independence and Liberty Jail and you can kind of do that route. And I was like, cool.
So I start heading north, and I'd gotten, you know, probably halfway through the Book of Mormon and I realized, oh, I'm headed to these church history sites. And I have all these Doctrine and Covenants, CDs, maybe I should get some background. And so I popped in the CDs for the Doctrine and Covenants and started listening. You know, pioneer stories, that sort of thing we're never really a huge part of my life, my parents are converts and I didn't grow up in Utah. And so I just feel like I probably breezed over that in seminary and just, you know, thought, oh, must have been hard for them.
So as I'm listening to the Doctrine and Covenants, and I get to Nauvoo, again, never having been there before, and probably not really feeling the sacrifice and having the vision of that place. I was really just struck. I think when I walked up to Carthage Jail, and, you know, just reading the plaques and the story, again, I don't know how to explain it. It just, I mean, it touched me, it hurt a little, it felt like, how did I not know this? Or how did this even happen to our prophet? And I think that's really what it was, is that the Spirit confirmed to me that Joseph Smith was a prophet there. I mean, I feel like I knew that, kind of. Because honestly, if you would have asked me, I would have said, "Yeah, you know, I believe Joseph Smith was a prophet." And, of course, I believed that those people, the saints, and the pioneers made that journey, that was never a question in my mind, necessarily. But it was almost like this fable that had come true to me. You know, it's something that I'd heard for so long, but it was real. And the people were real. And their hardship was intense and real. I spent a long time in Nauvoo and it was the most gorgeous night. I mean, the sunset was incredible on the river. And I just sat there for a long time and I remember just lingering there. And I didn't leave until dark. I think I just, I think, really, my mind was blown.
So I finally I left Nauvoo and the next day drove to Independence, Missouri. And again, you know, now all the sudden, this, like fire was inside of me, like this curiosity. I was like, oh, give me all the church history. Why don't I know about any of this stuff? Like, who has been keeping this from me? And I'm calling my parents like, "Okay, what happened next? What's in the story?" Like what, you know, and where do I find all of this, and my dad is probably laughing at me. But I think he was also like, really eager to share, which was fun. I'm like still kind of listening to the Doctrine and Covenants and then the Book of Mormon, you know, I kind of switch back and forth. So I come to Independence, Missouri. Well, first of all, when you pull into a church history site, and there's missionaries and senior couples everywhere, and you know, people eager to show you the sites or help. And they're like, "Hey, what are you doing here?" And I said, "Oh, I'm on this road trip."
"Oh, why are you on a road trip?"
"Well, I bought a car. And I'm driving, you know, back home."
"Oh, well, who are you with?"
Well, I'm by myself."
And oh, that sets off alarms with these senior couples, they get very worried about you, by yourself. So I raised a lot of eyebrows, I think, and again, cool experience there. And that just kind of learning about what had happened there and drive from Independence to Liberty, Missouri. When I arrived there, I remember a senior missionary couple, greeting me and welcoming me and, you know, asking again my story about why I was alone, traveling, and I think I was the only one at Liberty Jail at that moment. And if you've been to Liberty Jail, you know, there's kind of a visitor center section, and then they walk you down where you can sit right in front of the room where Joseph Smith was held. They led me down to the jail area. And it felt a little awkward because this senior couple was kind of following me around a little bit and hovering, which was kind of nice. But then, she sat me there on the bench and we just kind of sat in silence for a minute. And then she left. And I was just alone. Before I got there, I had listened to the Doctrine and Covenants, to those verses that Joseph wrote during the jail and his hardships there. And so of course, my emotions were definitely on the surface. And I just was sitting there with this piece of history of the church. But I think even more than that, it was like the piece of the puzzle of just the restoration for me, the gospel, like what I believed in. I don't think I ever questioned that Joseph Smith was the Prophet, but he was so pivotal to this gospel, and that he, being a human, being flawed, just like the rest of us could receive such inspiration and guidance, and to set that example, that I can do the same thing. And I think I learned that in those moments, especially in Liberty Jail when he was at such a dark place, questioning himself probably, questioning was this revelation, was this his path? Was this what God wanted him to do? I mean, I think we've all been there. And if he did what he did, and all these saints did what they did, to bring forth this book, that I was now gaining this understanding of the Book of Mormon as I was listening, that I knew that my savior lived and, and died for me. So it was a moment that I'll never forget. And I feel so grateful to have had that time to just be quiet, and to listen, and to feel the words of the Book of Mormon, the words of Joseph Smith, and to feel their sacrifice. I mean, it really is, you know, kind of this anchoring point as the years go by, and a witness that I feel like I can never, that I can never deny.
When I got home from my road trip, I started back into work. But I realized, I think I realized what I was missing. There was this desire that had never been there before. I started taking three Institute classes. I just, I just that's what I wanted to do. I took a church history class, and I think I had an institute three or four times a week, different classes. And the funniest part about it is that's how I met my husband at an institute class. But to have a desire as now "adult" to learn, and really, like, dive into the gospel. I feel like Heavenly Father knew that I was kind of coasting. And I, you know, I've done that since. There are definitely moments that I coast in my spirituality. I remember saying this in church, actually, this year, when we change to the "Come, Follow Me" program. And I was like, oh, man, wait a minute, this isn't being spoon-fed to me anymore. And I think that's what that road trip taught me is that I have to seek after it, I have to go after it. I have to make the time, I have to be present, be open to learning, be quiet. Because I can coast, I can fake it and if I don't take the time, I won't receive a witness. I won't have that desire, that fire to make my testimony grow, unless I'm quiet, unless I take the time.
KaRyn: That was Brooke. Since that road trip, years ago, Brooke's eBay car-buying criteria has changed just a little bit to include room for four more people and some car seats. And as you can imagine, the time for quiet seeking is even harder for her to find. But that's the whole point of Brooke's story, right? We have to choose to keep the fire of our testimony even when, and especially when it's harder to do. I also find it so interesting that it wasn't until Brooke was on the road with a relatively solid plan that God offered her the opportunity to take that detour that would affect her testimony so powerfully. Maybe those unexpected but holy deviations in our path are the place where God finally has our attention fully enough to show us something new. And I also think that whether they are thrust upon us, or offered as an option, we have a choice to show up to those detours with a curious heart to learn what he wants us to learn along the way. Our next story comes from Cheryn and while it's also about a car and a road trip, her experience is so unique and so surprising that we couldn't help but share it here Cheryn.
Cheryn: Around Christmas time my family had gone to visit my grandparents who lived in Preston, Idaho. When it was time for our trip to end, we headed home. We were going along and as per normal for a family road trip, our car broke down. My dad got out of the car to see what was wrong. And if it was something that he could fix, but it was so cold. And the thermometer said that it was 17 below outside and that didn't take into account the wind chill factor and it was crazy windy. It was so windy I remember sitting in the van and it was just shaking from the wind blowing it. And he kind of looked to see if there was anything obvious that he could see and he got back in the car. And we said a prayer. And I remember that we prayed that we could figure out what was wrong, that we could get somewhere where we could fix it or that we would you know at least get home safely. As we waited in the car, a state trooper stopped and he asked us what was going on. And he actually called the tow company for us. So we were towed to the closest town which was on the border of Utah and Nevada. Now I had six kids in my family growing up. And this was before you could ride in the car as it was being towed. And so we had to all pile into the cab of a tow truck with the driver. And it was so crowded and cramped and crazy. And the tow truck driver kept asking my brother to get his foot off of the accelerator because there was just no room and his foot kept spilling over into his space and he'd move his leg and his knee would pop the gears out of place. We were very cramped, there was a lot of groaning as we would turn or hit a bump and a lot of laughing. We just laughed so hard because it was exactly something that would happen to us on a vacation. But we ended up at a gas station.
We all slithered out of the tow truck as our legs were numb from sitting in those positions for so long. As we were there at the gas station, my dad was trying to figure out what was going on. But it was so bitterly cold that taking his gloves off, it just was killing his hands. And so he couldn't have his gloves off for very long, which made it difficult to figure out what was going on and how to fix it. Meanwhile, the kids, you know, it was just an adventure for us. We were running all around trying to stay warm and to stay positive and play. One by one, we each needed to use the restroom. And so my mom, you know, first she took my oldest brother, they went to the bathroom and came back and five minutes later another had to go. And then later another had to go. And so she kept going back to this gas station bathroom. And you could tell that they were not very happy with us there. She even bought snacks to try and you know, say well, we're customers, can we use your restroom? But they were getting irritated. And by the time my youngest sister had to go to the bathroom, my mom was feeling a little insecure about the thought of using the restroom again. And so instead, we walked down a little ways to a little cafe that was open so that we could use their bathroom.
When we walked into the restroom, I saw a woman from my Sacramento, California ward in the bathroom. And I said, "Mom, look!" And they, you know, they looked at each other and they recognized each other and they started chatting.
"Well, what are you doing here?"
"Well, we were visiting family, we're headed home. What are you doing here?"
“Well, we were visiting family, but our car broke down. And so we're stuck here just trying to figure out where we go from here."
And as they chatted about it, they decided that they were not going to leave us until they knew that we could get home safely. And so they joined our family at the gas station. And the two dads together tried to fix the car. And after not having any success with that, decided that they were going to use the 20-foot tow rope that my dad had in the car, and they were going to tow us home. So most of my family joined them in their van. And they had a lot of kids too. I can't remember exactly how many they had, but I think that there were about 13 of us in their van. And it was a, you know, big passenger van. And I think if I'm remembering correctly that all of the seats were taken out except maybe a couple of them. So we were just a pile of kids, tons of blankets, lots of pillows. And I remember being very warm. I remember being in there very tight and snuggly and secure. And we were singing and playing games and falling asleep on each other.
But my parents and my older brother had a very different ride home. They rode in our van and it had no power to keep them warm. So they were bundled up in sleeping bags. They were just really cold in the van riding home and trying to keep that tow rope tight. We were traveling home over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which were very, you know, it was the middle of winter, so it was really icy and very slippery. There were five times that the driver of the good van would, the brother and our ward would start too fast and the rope would snap. It snapped five times. And they would stop and you could just feel, you know the van as a kid, I just remember thinking, oh, you know, there's a little extra power here. And that's because the tow rope had snapped and they'd have to pull over, back up to my parents. They'd get out, retie the rope, and we'd be on the road again. We really finished our trip with about seven foot of the rope left because it had snapped and broken so many times. So they ended up taking us all the way home from the border of Utah and Nevada to Sacramento, California to our little suburb of Alberta. And they dropped us off at our house. I remember thinking how grateful I was. And I remember, at 10 years old, how that experience solidified my testimony of prayer and that prayers are answered. Because we got home, we didn't know, you know, we didn't fix it. We hoped we could fix it, we hoped we'd be able to get ourselves home. And it didn't work that way. But because of the love of our neighbors that we found in a bathroom, in the middle of nowhere, 520 miles away from home, we were able to get home and they were willing to make their trip home harder in order to get us home safely. Through the years I've thought about this, as my struggles have come personally or as a parent now with a family of my own. There are times that you just you feel maybe a little defeated. But I know, because of this experience that I had when I was 10 years old with my family, that prayers are heard and answered. And you never know how they're going to be answered. And you never know who's going to answer them. I just hope that someday that I can be the hands of the Lord in the life of someone else who needs a miracle.
KaRyn: That was Cheryn. We received Cheryn's story from our pitch line and while I love the miracle of bumping into her board member at a random cafe, I honestly think my favorite part was the role the grumpy gas station owners played in helping God's work get done. It's a total testament to me that our Heavenly Father can use every circumstance, including people who are not having their best human moment, to show us His goodness. It's an invitation for all of us to give everyone in our stories, including the ones behaving badly, just a little more grace than we might otherwise.
Our final story of travel comes to us from Retta, who despite her best attempts to learn the language, found her communication skills lacking when she was struck with a sudden illness on a trip overseas. Here's Retta.
Retta: I don't really consider myself an adventurous person, although I love to travel. Even though I really wanted to see the theater of Dionysus and the theater of Epidaurus, Greece seemed a little far. It just seemed a little too exotic and out of my comfort zone to go there. So when my son called and said their friends had backed down on a trip that they had planned for Greece, my husband and I were up for it, a little nervous, but we thought it'd be really fun and I thought it'd be pretty exciting to see the Parthenon. My daughter-in-law had planned this trip out to the T, we knew exactly how many days we were in Athens, how many days were in the Peloponnese. Everything was planned out, where we were staying, everything. So we felt secure about that, it's just the difference in culture, language. I had tried to learn some Greek before I left. I put an app on my phone and found out how terrible I am about languages. I kept getting the wrong consonant sound. I couldn't say much. That made me really nervous because I like to at least know how to say, "Where's the restroom? How much does this cost? Is it left of the building," or, or whatever, just little common things that you could say. It took me forever to learn to say "thank you" and "hi" in Greek. And it just seemed impossible to me. When I landed in Athens, we took a bus into town which took about an hour and a half. It was like a spiritual experience looking up and seeing the Acropolis and the Parthenon up there. I took my breath away every time I looked at it. I've been a high school and middle school theatre teacher for many, many years, so it was exciting to see all of the things that I had been teaching all those years.
So we're moving along on the agenda, and everything's going wonderful, but I'm starting to feel some pain. And I have had some health issues a number of years ago. So I knew exactly where this was headed. And I started to get a little concerned that I was going to be very sick because it comes on pretty rapidly. So we had, for our next destination, just a little town. And by this time, I'm really not feeling well. We arrived in the early evening, we had dinner, I'm starting to feel more and more pain and feeling more and more concerned. And we are in lodging that's called the "Captain House." And it's a beautiful, redecorated home that that's very old and historic. But I can barely enjoy it now because I am feeling so much pain. And I asked my husband if he could give me a blessing. Because in the past when this happened, I would end up in the hospital and I had surgery. He didn't have any oil, but he gave me a comfort blessing. And he started to search on his iPhone for some medical facilities. We found out there were no medical facilities. We were like two and a half hours to three hours away from Athens. We were out in the middle of nowhere, literally. And in this little town of Galaxidi, they had a clinic that was open once a week from seven to 10 on Monday morning, and that was it. This was Friday night and I knew that would not make it, especially when we're supposed to fly out Sunday.
So he looked around in the area to see if there was anything that was even available. And he found a little Hospital in a little place called Amfissa and it was a half-hour away. But that was the closest thing. So we thought, that's a possibility. But as the pain increased, I just really felt the strong need to reach out to some of my friends and my niece to pray for me. Now, this is really unusual. This is not something I do, I feel very private about health issues. I know that Heavenly Father answers prayers for other people. I just didn't think that this is something that I needed to ask for. So this was really unusual. And my husband was shocked when he asked me, "What are you doing?" And I said, "I'm texting to have my friends pray for me." And he gave me a strange look because he knew this was very, very unusual. And then he, I think he thought is that bad that you really feel like you have to ask people to pray. In fact, I was getting to the point where I just felt like I needed to go home. And it was just ridiculous. The flights were like 10-hour layovers in London, another layover in New York would've been like 20 hours. And I knew with this kind of pain, I would not make it. So what we decided is that in the morning, if I could make it through the night, we would drive up to Amfissa, the little town that had the hospital. I think the blessing helped me through the night, I really do. I know the Heavenly Father could have just stopped the pain and healed me right then, but that didn't seem to be the answer that I needed. But I did make it through the night. So I felt blessed. I felt like I had been blessed. So my son drove us 30 minutes away up to the little hospital. And when we pulled into the emergency entrance, we pulled clear and back at the hospital because we didn't know how to get to the front. And you went in and there was a little desk and the two doctors that were on duty were around that little desk talking. And then there were three beds, not far from that desk where, I guess, they'd put people who'd come in for the emergency. And I thought, "Oh, dear." It was so different than our medical facilities in the United States. But they asked me what was wrong. My son understood some Greek, but not anything medically. And I couldn't say anything but hello, or thank you. But the two doctors did speak some English. And then they had explained to me that I needed a blood test and some lab work. When they got the results, they called me in and said they were actually quite surprised that the infection was as bad as it was. They said, "You need to stay in the hospital tonight." This was Saturday and we were supposed to fly out of Athens for Naxos the next day, that was the next step of our agenda. And I was going to ruin the trip for everyone. And I said I can't stay in the hospital tonight, we're supposed to fly to Naxos tomorrow. And the doctor looked at me horrified, "You can't go to Naxos." And I said, "Well, I can't stay here." I said, "Is there a train or some way I can get to Athens from here?" And she said, "No, I'm sorry." And I said, well, then I have to leave with my family tomorrow. I was starting to panic because the pain was really, really severe at this point. It was nonstop, it didn't even let up. I didn't know what I was going to do. And then she told me I had to stay in the hospital that night. And I thought I can't do this. It's going to ruin it for everybody and I have no way to get home. So I was really panicking. And she looked at me and she said, "Well, what we can do is admit you and put an IV in with some very strong antibiotics and just see what it's like from there." And I said, "Please," because that sounded like our only option. So she sent me up on the second floor.
No one, and I mean, no one was in the hospital. A nurse came in who didn't speak English at all, and she let me know, "No English." That was what she said, don't even attempt to speak English to me, because I don't understand one word. So we would gesture, but she put the IV in. They said that this would take till five o'clock. That was the time my son was supposed to come back and pick us up. And the doctor came in to talk to me for a little bit. And she said, "Are you sure you can't stay tonight?" And I told her that wasn't a possibility. So she gave me a very strong prescription that we need to fill at the pharmacy and gave me, before they took the IV out, a very strong painkiller. And that is the last pain I had. It was like a miracle. Because the doctor had told me I would not feel well. She still tried to talk me out of the flight, she said, "You will not feel well tomorrow, you could probably go to the even the next day where you're not going to feel well." But the minute I left that hospital, I felt better. And I kept feeling better and better until the next morning. I literally woke up and felt great and I knew that I could get on the flight to Naxos. I made it through the rest of the trip without any further incident. I took it easy, but I was fine. When we finally landed in Naxos, I texted my friends and my niece back because they were concerned how I was and had found out that not only had they prayed, but they had texted their extended family and had them pray. And my niece called and had my name placed on the prayer roles in two different temples. Besides the blessing my husband gave me, I really felt like their prayers were answered. I guess it was just— this was a time where I needed to learn that sometimes you're in a situation where you need more than your faith. Sometimes Heavenly Father wants you to know that you have to ask others to help you. And as uncomfortable as that may be, to ask other people to pray for you, sometimes maybe that is going to be your only solution. That their prayers, their faith, sometimes when you're feeling weak, and not strong enough, their prayers can get you through it. And maybe that's why I wasn't just healed immediately. Whoop dee doo, I'm, you know, I'm healed, you know. So maybe that's what I had to learn, that no matter where you are, even if you're in a little remote area in Greece, where you don't speak the language, where you don't have access to church members or the most up-to-date medical facilities, I could have other people pray for me, and that I was taken care of.
KaRyn: That was Retta. When we were recording this story. I was so surprised to hear her say that while she believed that her prayers for others reached the heavens, she wasn't sure that prayers from others could help her. Because I have truly never met a person who embodies generosity of spirit more than Retta. But I actually think that the lesson she learned is one that we could all use, I know I could use it. If it was only so easy to strike that balance between selflessly extending God's love to others while also believing ourselves worthy of God's love, I don't think the Savior would have had to spell it out so clearly when he told us that greatest commandment to love others as we love ourselves. Asking for help and seeking support is one of the most self-loving things we can do. And sometimes, I think it can take a lot of courage to believe that we're worthy of it, and welcome to it. But the thing that struck me about Retta's story is that God knew. He prompted her to reach out and when she courageously obeyed, she was blessed to know just how He felt about her. We have one more part of Retta's story that I wanted to share. It's short, but I think it's important. Here's Retta.
Retta: I do have to say, though, I listened to "This is the Gospel." The night I was in pain, I sat and listen to other people's stories. And I particularly listened to the podcast about the simple things. And when the lady told about the story about the woman from Nigeria, bringing her a cup of sugar, it really touched my heart and gave me the strength to spiritually stay strong, even though I was so frightened.
KaRyn: There's this part of any trip that doesn't work really make the cut when we're picking out all the pretty pictures for our Instagram feed. It's that moment when you've been driving for seven hours and everyone else is asleep, but you. You're in the middle of nowhere and the radio is just a mishmash of jumbled signals. You're tired, but you have to keep going because what waits for you on the other end of the cornfields on those never-ending cornfields is something worth driving toward. Or maybe it's that dark night in a Greek hospital bed, wondering if the pain will subside in time for you to make it to your scheduled flight off the island. Those lonely moments where exhaustion and doubt and even boredom threatened to derail our hope is the exact moment when we need our fellow travelers to find us. Of course, God knows where we are, but He definitely expects us to help illustrate it to one another. To meet each other on the road or in the cafe bathroom on the border of California and Nevada. He needs us remind one another that our travels are worth it and that we are connected to something more than ourselves. He wants us to walk together as we traverse the sometimes rocky terrain toward our Savior. And isn't it amazing to think that your stories, our stories, can do this for one another even when we can't be there in person? We give each other strength in the middle of our travels and detours and dark nights when we bear witness of His goodness with our authentic true experiences. They don't have to be perfect, we don't have to be perfect. We just need to show up and get on the road, He'll take care of the rest.
That's it for this episode of "This is the Gospel." Thank you to Cheryn and my friends Brooke and Retta for sharing their stories and their testimony. We'll have the transcript of this episode as well as some fun pictures from Brooke and Retta's stories in our show notes at ldsliving.com/thisisthegospel. That's ldsliving.com/thisisthegospel. Go to the episode and then down at the bottom you'll see the transcript and the show notes. So head on over. We love hearing from you on our pitch line. If you have a story to share, leave us a short three-minute pitch, a story pitch at 515-519-6179. You can find out what themes we're working on right now by following us on Instagram and Facebook @thisisthegospel_podcast. And don't forget to tell us about your experience with this episode or with the whole podcast. Take the time to leave a review on the Apple Podcast app or on Bookshelf PLUS+ from Deseret Book. Believe it or not, your reviews actually help us to move up in the rankings on Apple, which helps more people find it, and couldn't everyone use a little more storytelling in their lives?
This episode was produced by me, KaRyn Lay, with story producing from Katie Lambert. It was scored, mixed and mastered by Mix at Six Studios and our executive producer is, as always, Erin Hallstrom. You can find past episodes this podcast and other LDS Living podcasts at ldsliving.com/podcasts. Have a great week.
We might be on a break, but we're still working hard to gather your stories! In this bonus episode, KaRyn and Katie give you a sneak peek at some of the themes for season 2 so you can submit your stories to the pitchline AND share a pitch that made it into one of our upcoming season 2 episodes.
Stories in this episode: Vai Sikahema was a small boy in Tonga when his family sold everything they had to go to the temple in New Zealand to be sealed. Decades later, that experience helps him be the right person at the right time in a meeting that could very well decide the fate of another temple; When Keala Sikahema decides to put the temple at the center of her family life, she sees its power emanating in ways she didn't expect.
Hi friends! This is the last episode for season one of This Is the Gospel, but don't worry! You can still follow us on Instagram and Facebook until season two begins in September 2019.
LDS Living Video about the Sikahemas and the Philly Temple: Temple Blessings from Tonga to Philadelphia
President Howard W. Hunter's message "A Temple-Motivated People"
Click here to view the ChurchofJesusChrist.org's temple landing page.
Stories in this episode: A surprising request from a frightened mother reminds Steve that being spiritually prepared is just as important as physical preparation in rescue work; Lindsey feels guided to save the elderly man under the tree but her plans are changed when she realized what she’s really there to do; With a mysterious illness plaguing his wife, Baron’s flagging faith gets a boost from allowing others to serve his family.
Remember how I said that there was another story for another day? well here it is.
How Neighbor Steve Saved Me from The Backyard Burglar by KaRyn Daley Lay
I didn’t even know that anything was wrong until I opened the door to find the police standing on my porch. I had heard the pounding knocks while I was getting out of the shower and quickly threw some clothes on thinking that it was probably a neighbor or a salesperson (although, why in the world would there be sales people at 8:30am on a weekday?Pest Control?). Instead, I was greeted by two of Salt Lake’s finest who informed me that my neighbor had called 911 regarding a home invasion that was in process at my house. RIGHT NOW.
Stunned, I walked with them to the back of my house where they pointed out the footprints in the fresh snow that seemed to be going back and forth between two windows, both of which had bent frames where someone had clearly tried to jimmie the window open --- One of those was the window to the bathroom where I had been just minutes before. Apparently, when the intruder had not found luck with the windows, he had tried to kick in the back door. The door was damaged, but had not quite given in. Thank goodness.
I was shaken to say the least. I called my husband Justin who had already left for work and we tried to piece together what must have happened. We’d had a rash of burglaries in our neighborhood in the recent months, so that part wasn’t at all surprising. But the fact that someone had tried to get in while I was home was super weird. We figured that they had made their way to the back of the house in the time that I was gone to the gym (back when I did such things) and Justin had left for work, and while they were going between windows and doors, I had come back and gone into the house to shower. Maybe they were so tweaked out on drugs or adrenaline that they hadn’t heard the car drive in? Or maybe they had. I shuddered to think about the latter option.
We learned later that there was another drama playing out at the house just behind ours. We share a fence with Steve and his wife Rachel and when we’re standing on our respective porches in the winter when the trees are bare, we can just barely peek over the fence and see the back of each other’s houses. That morning, Rachel was making breakfast when she noticed something outside the kitchen window. She couldn’t quite make it out, but it looked like someone was trying to break into our house. She yelled to her husband who, because of his SWAT training and emergency work was the resident neighborhood protector. Steve, who was in the middle of getting ready for the day and wasn’t even fully dressed yet, threw on some sweat pants and grabbed his gun while Rachel called the police. He told me that he was just waiting for them to break in so he could hop the fence and catch them mid-burglary because then the police were sure to catch them...He ran to his porch, barefoot in the snow, waiting and watching.
And then he saw my car in the driveway and realized that I was in the house. As Steve says in the podcast, he “loves making decisions under duress in a time competitive environment” and he now knew that the stakes were much higher so he made a decision right then and there to change tactics. He yelled loudly and waved his gun around at the burglar letting them know he was there and he was coming for them. The burglar got spooked and ran off.
The police took pictures of the shoe print in the snow and left with the promise to contact us if anything came of it. We replaced the back door which was severely structurally compromised and only moments from giving way when Steve intervened. We got a few new deadbolts, some motion sensor lights for the carport, and I baked my very best loaf of “thank you for saving my life” chocolate coconut banana bread for Captain Steve, who shrugged the whole thing off as if it was a daily occurrence. Thank goodness for good neighbors who can hop fences in their bare feet with a gun, but don’t.
Losing their dad in a plane crash when they were just kids left KC and Brian without someone to do the things that dads do—like building a pinewood derby car and making sure they made it to the father-son campout. When the men in their local ward stepped up to fill the gap, KC and Brian learned how a Heavenly Father uses others to be there for us when he can’t.
Eric and Chris were best friends and drinking buddies during and after high school and while Chris was a member of the Church, religion was definitely the farthest thing from their minds. When a personal crisis led Eric toward God, his lifelong friendship with Chris and their shared experiences years before showed them both that the path back to the Savior can look very different from the way you might expect.
CLICK HERE to view pictures of Eric's baptism day
Watch our THIS IS THE GOSPEL: Converted Unto the Lord video series featuring eric's conversion story.
Stories in this episode: As a newly enlisted soldier in the Royal Canadian Navy, Warren finds himself and his faith at odds with military tradition during a fancy dinner; Verdi makes a surprising traffic stop on a late night policing shift that changes his perspective about human dignity; Nicole learns what it really means to trust God when she is left to hold down the fort during her husband’s military deployment.
I didn't mention it in the host segments, but Nicole and Chris Fairall grew up with me (KaRyn) in Pennsylvania. Nicole and her mother and three siblings all joined the church and joined our little branch in Northeastern PA when we were in our early teens. It has been such a joy to reconnect in our adulthood as we've migrated to Utah for various reasons. You can see pictures from this episode here.
Thanks for listening! If you loved this episode, please leave a review for us on Apple iTunes. Click here and then click on "listen in iTunes" - once iTunes is open, find the RATINGS AND REVIEWS tab and click on it. That will get you ALMOST all the way there... once you're on that page, you'll see WRITE A REVIEW. That's it! Click and write. We really appreciate it.
Our sponsor is Bookshelf Plus. You can get a free trial for 30 days here!
Stories in this episode: Emily finds a tiny but meaningful evidence of God’s care for her in a convention center bathroom; A disappointing answer to one prayer leads Alexandra to a new kind of prayer with interesting results; Scott returns to a difficult area from his mission five years later and is met with a happy surprise; one creatively placed word helps Serena find hope; Marianne sees the hand of God in a perfectly timed knock at her door.
We referenced this talk from the April 2005 General Conference. You've probably already heard it once or twice, but it's ALWAYS worth a revisit! Happy reading!
"The Tender Mercies of The Lord" - Elder David A. Bednar
Emily Belle Freeman, our first storyteller in this episode, is the author of a lot of really awesome books about coming closer to the Savior She's also a TOFW speaker and her 2015 talk called "Finding God's Fingerprints" is available here.
Looking for the picture of the safety pin on the bathroom stall door? Head on over to the show notes on this episode at LDSliving.com/thisisthegospel.
Thanks for listening! If you loved this episode, please leave a review for us on Apple iTunes. Click here and then click on "listen in iTunes" - once iTunes is open, find the RATINGS AND REVIEWS tab and click on it. That will get you ALMOST all the way there... once you're on that page, you'll see WRITE A REVIEW. That's it! Click and write. We really appreciate it.
“Going to high school as an adult is hard! Way harder than when you were a teenager!” When Lauri decided to get her diploma in her 40’s, she was unprepared for the way it would stretch her. But when she realized that going back to school was connected to her efforts to come back from excommunication, the difficulties and lessons she learned took on new meaning.
Stories in this episode: A missionary visits a recent convert in jail and leaves with a crazy new plan for her post-mission life; Erin gets a crash course in motherhood when she takes four small children to a restaurant for the first time by herself; Years of unrequited love in her dating life prepare Megan for a surprising twist when she becomes a mother.
After a year of asking and waiting, Donald finally got permission from his mom to join the church when he was 15. Being a part of this new church family felt like the right next step for this Jamaican immigrant living in Florida, but he soon learned that while the restored gospel was perfect, the people weren’t. In this story, Donald shares the moments that left him wondering about his place in the body of Christ and what helped him to chose faith and forgiveness.
But I can tell you instead of the "why", I can tell you how you move forward. And how we move forward is by focusing on Jesus Christ because we're all, black, white, Jew, gentile, green, whatever color you are, We are all His sons and daughters.
We met Donald Kelly and his wife Cristina when we were filming in Florida in the fall of 2017. In fact, the audio for this story was taken from the video that we made of donald for the VIEWPOINT series. You can watch the video HERE on our youtube channel.
This episode of This is the gospel is sponsored by BookshelfPLUS+ . --- With BookshelfPLUS+ you can have unlimited access to every audio book that Deseret Book has ever released from all your favorite authors -- fiction, non-fiction, even the newest books like Sheri Dew's "Insights from a Prophet's Life" which is full of stories, and well, insights from President Nelson's extraordinary life of service Read by the author.00:00:25So if you want more uplifting, good stories after this episode is over, try BookshelfPLUS+ free for 30 days by visiting deseretbook.com/thisisthegospel.00:00:48KaRyn: Welcome to "This Is the Gospel", an LDS Living podcast where we feature real stories from real people who are practicing and living their faith every day. I'm your host, KaRyn Lay. There are now over 16 million members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints around the world. And when you think about it, that's a lot of people who've put their hearts and their souls into the hands of a church family seeking opportunities to learn together and grow together as we individually work towards our salvation. That's a lot of people from a lot of different cultures meeting in the proverbial chapel every Sunday.00:01:26I come from a family with seven kids so I understand that the bigger the family the more room there is to feel neglected, misunderstood, or forgotten or in some cases, even overly protective of your status in the family structure. In fact, I understand this because my favorite book when I was a little girl was called "Noisy Nora" (by Rosemary Wells) and it was about a mouse who was constantly making noise just so her family wouldn't forget she existed When a new baby came. So, I get it. But here's the other thing that I know about big families. They also give us more opportunities to brush up against the kind of, what I like to call, "divine friction" that can only come from so many different personalities, backgrounds, races, and cultures engaged in the work of God. And that "divine friction" asks us to change and to be better. Sometimes we get it right. And sometimes we get it wrong.00:02:20Today our story comes from Donald, whose conversion at 15 (sic) and membership in the Church was often complicated by some of this divine friction around race. As a black member living in a predominantly white stake of the church in Florida, his experience with racism sometimes left him wondering about his place in that body of Christ. How he chose faith and forgiveness is a story that truly is the Gospel.00:02:45Here's Donald:00:02:48DONALD: I'm 33 years old. I was 31 and I was called to be a bishop and it was definitely something that I was not expecting. He definitely has a lot of trust.00:03:00Anyone who wants to be a Bishop... they're more than welcome to be the Bishop. It's a lot of work when you're a bishop.00:03:08Why I do what I do? For the money, man!!! (laughter) It's all about the money -- the bling bling, baby. (laughter)00:03:15The reason why I do what I do because I feel people need to know it.00:03:20My life has been changed because of the truthfulness of the Gospel, the direction that it gave me.... and I know that there is more, there are more Donalds and out there and more people who need that direction. And that's why I do what I do . It's because of the love Jesus had for me and spared me so I can go and do his work and help spare somebody else.00:03:45I grew up in Jamaica and moved to the United States when I was nine years old and my mom was a single parent raising two kids. Then my sister came along later on and there was three of us. And when I moved... in Jamaica they refer to anyone in the United States-- you're a "Yankee" so the Jamaican term, "You're a Yankee man, turned yankee man no junior!"00:04:09My mom came to the United States for a better opportunity. Jamaica economy had different challenges especially in the early 90s.00:04:17So she came here with hopes of a better life earning more money and also providing for us. Giving us the opportunity as her children to get quality education and to get an opportunity just to better ourselves. My mom did everything to make sure that opportunity came through. She worked hard. She is a hard worker. She still works right now. You're not a Jamaican unless you have two jobs. So she embodied that, where she worked multiple jobs and just, I call it "the hustle" hustled and did whatever she could to provide for us. And it didn't seem like much -- making thirty thousand dollars a year.00:04:53I grew up in a not so safe neighborhood and it was... a lot of us in the neighborhood were poor and some people were poor and didn't know it. But, some of us knew it. I knew that I was poor but my mom always made sure we had what we needed. We never went hungry. We always had food and we always somehow found out a way to get clothes... if we got to McDonald's? That was cool. (lau00:05:23My childhood growing up and my early adolescent going into teenage years, I went to middle school, Bear Lakes Middle School and that was.... I had some friends who were kind of rough around the edges and my mom raised us as a good good kid. I never drank, never smoked ...I never never saw her drink or smoke and it was just this good environment and it was... it rubbed off on me. So when I selected friends, I just selected friends who were people in the neighborhood and even though they did things that I didn't necessarily agree with or approve of, they were friends. We hung out with them. So the four of us one evening, we were hanging around in the neighborhood and went to this fence and we were being teenage boys and the neighbors thought we were breaking into his house... came outside and he chased us. I got caught out of the four of us and I was arrested that evening and wasn't taken to jail but I was booked and released back to my mom. And I was put on house detention - no bands on your legs, you're just put on house detention so I just was home and my mom being a strict Jamaican mother, she said, (donald in Jamaican accent) "you're grounded for life." So I was was... I was grounded for ever. Pretty much that was my prison was home.00:06:44we went to church every so often. After being arrested and being at home and now having a lot of time to myself, a lot of time to think, I knew I need to get back into a church. I know what church or any church. So one of my friends, Ralston Campbell, Dane we called him. He introduced me to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints. Invited me at a National Junior Honor Society meeting to come to scouts and play basketball on Tuesday nigh00:07:09I blew him off but then he reminded me and invited me again and I took him up on it. I went to church, my first time was on Easter Sunday 1999. I think it was a General Conference that time and then I had all these questions and he said, "I have two friends for you." and introduced me to the missionaries. So I started taking lessons and the missionaries invited my mom to take the lessons and to learn about it but she was stuck in her ways and didn't want to learn anything about it. But didn't have a big deal with me go to church and it was a good thing for me at that time of my life.00:07:41Growing up in Jamaica is really interesting though. People don't get baptized until you're later. It's kind of like you're done making all your mistakes in life -- your sinning. Your're an adult, you understand what you're doing. So when I approached her that I wanted to get baptized... I started going to church April and I approached her really soon after getting to the lessons that I want to be baptized. And she said, "no, you need to wait until you're 18."00:08:03and then she pushed it back "until you're 16." So several months later I asked her and she said, "no." So the missionaries were transitioning through and then it came down to the end of the year was December and I really want to get baptized so I asked her. I remember seeing all my friends passing the sacrament and I was like I want to do this too. And she said no.00:08:23It Was a fast Sunday so all of us the teachers and the young men's and some of the members they said we're gonna do a joint fast. And we fasted that my mom would allow me to get baptized. She had said at 16 at this time and I just turned 15. So we went that Sunday again in December. I asked her and she said, "yes, you can get baptized." It was amazing. So that gave me a huge huge testimony of fasting. And if you have something, you bring it to Lord to help you. And I was baptized when I was 15.00:08:58We went on this high adventure (scout campout) and I remember we were in North Carolina and there's, you know, five six of us kids... scouts... that were black and the majority of us were just white and we all friends and so forth. But we're gathered together and some of the other kids had doubts about the Church and about the Book of Mormon and the blacks and the priesthood and I remember that really hitting me.00:09:21And that was the one time I started to think like, "well, is something wrong here? Is something wrong with the with the Church... is something wrong with that?" And I really... I stopped reading the Book of Mormon. You know, something doesn't seem like it's right. I had good leaders at the time who gave me good mentorship and guidance and taught me to study the scriptures, to go to get an answer. So I read the Bible and I read the Book of Mormon and I would study and picked up and I came to know that it was true but it's still in the back of your mind.00:09:54The High school I went to was predominantly white and I didn't have any black leaders. I didn't necessarily see it as an issue but one time there was a guy named brother Carter and he came to our ward and he was a bishop previously. But seeing him in the churchv- that he was a black man that was a bishop at one point. It was like, "that is cool." I remember the day that when I did see that, it was awakening to say - oh, Brother Carter. It just gave me that vision that - oh, you know, we can have opportunities." It was just interesting. It was just different.00:10:29For the majority of our life my mom was a single mom raising us and my stepfather was in the picture for a little bit of the time. He was... it was an abusive situation... physically abuse, domestic abuse from my mom and he was in the picture for a few years and he was thrown in jail.00:10:45So that left us with a financial situation. My mom was recovering from abuse and missed a couple of weeks of work. And that led us to being evicted from our home. I remember coming home seeing the fluorescent orange sheet of paper on the door and you know what it was because you've seen it before in the neighborhood. Somebody is getting evicted. And that was us.00:11:07I knew things were rough but not that bad. And we threw everything in a small storage unit and my mom, brother, and sister went to live with one of my cousins on the other side of town and I stayed with another relative, a cousin, because that was the busing route to my high school.00:11:25One of my best friends in the Church is Andrew. So we always hung out, always spent time together. a few of us together. And so when I stopped we got evicted and I lived with my cousin and his small apartment. I stopped going to seminary because I didn't have my rides to pick me up and take me to seminary anymore so he knew something was wrong. So I just pulled it out of me and I told them what was going on. That we were evicted and family was separated and I was staying with my cousin in the laundry room. He said, "well you know, we're already brothers already like brothers. I think my parents be fine you come and stay with us."00:12:00And I went home with them that evening and they said, "Of course you can stay with us." And I used to live with them for about a year until my mom got back on her feet. T hey have seven kids and always the extra was Donald. I remember the youngest son Matthew, He was so confused because he was a little kid at a time when I lived with them...00:12:21but they would say, "yeah we have six kids and seven kids." and hew was like, "What about Donald?" (laughter) And it was always uh... cute.00:12:30My friend who introduced me to the church at 14, He's also Jamaican and black American as well. And his mom left the Church... he left the Church too.00:12:46There was that thing that started it... someone at the time was teaching Relief Society and said (or some meetings) said that the blacks were the seed of Cain and taught that false doctrine and it was very difficult for her. I can see how tough it was. So not seeing her come to church and not seeing Dane come to church, It was really hard for me to figure out how I was going to get to church.00:13:13I knew I was right. I knew deep down that it was right. So I kept going and it was again that escape for me and I went and went. Those questions came later on. There were times... I remember one situation where a girl that I had interest in and she had interest in me, But her parents would not approve because the fact that I was black and it's that that idea. How do you feel about that? When people read and misunderstand the Book of Mormon and to say don't mix your your seed with someone... like, what did I do? And that was really a difficult time to grasp that again.00:13:47But the Church was like the thing for me. It was an escape away from, you know growing up and in the way I grew up, in the environment. And being in a wholesome environment... having a vision. And I did get my Eagle Scout and naturally that's the next progression. You go on a mission. And I knew I wanted to but going on a mission I got called to Detroit Michigan. And Detroit. It's a lot of African-Americans, right? And being a black missionary in Detroit it was like a big deal for our mission. So I got placed in the inner city a lot of times and it was it was really neat to be in the city. But stuff came up.00:14:24Out of the hundred and fifty, one hundred and twenty missionaries only a couple that are black, the population of the Church majority are not black. So people ask that question, "how can you be a part of a church like that?" And it brought me to think a lot. I knew that this was the Church of Jesus Christ and knew it was restored. There are things that I didn't understand and it brought a lot of questions and I can humbly say it did bring me to question certain things.00:14:53"Is this the right place for me? Is this correct? How come blacks couldn't have the priesthood?" and and it brought me to my knees a lot to study and to try to understand. How can I teach people, how can I go out every single day and tell people that this is a church for them when no one looks like them.00:15:16The cool thing about Detroit, they saw us as Christ followers -- Christians who were out there doing the Lord's work... but it was... there was a tension. The members in Detroit, you have to be rock solid. You have to gain that testimony to know that, "yes, I understand there were issues in the past but I know without a shadow of a doubt that is true."00:15:35And I've seen so many of those members that became the bedrock and the foundation in establishing the Church. When Gladys Knight became a member of the Church that... she is in Detroit ... that was pretty big as well because that helped people understand somebody who's prominent who is African-American as well was also remember the Church. It brought the church out of this obscurity that it's a church for everyone.00:15:57The history in the past happened but it doesn't mean that the Church isn't Christ's Church. Things happen. That helped to see those strong members and that guided us and gave us direction and companions who are just like you know you saw us brothers who were just really awesome. I can tell you the thing that kept me going was just getting on your knees and praying and knowing that Jesus is the Christ that he truly did die for my sins and he truly did made the way. He (was) resurrected and gave us an opportunity. That doctrine, that ideology is the bedrock that kept me grounded. To understand that this is Jesus' work. It was that guidance that helped me through. Through all of that even understanding that people make mistakes and that we're not perfect and if that was the case there would be no need for the Atonement. Made me realize that everyone makes mistakes and people can repent and can change and in due time they will come to understand and I hope they did and I hope they do.00:17:02But for me, it doesn't make sense to hold a grudge or to be angry. It makes sense to keep going in the testimony of Jesus Christ and I do have and that has guided me and forged a path and kept me going and led me to the opportunities in life I have today .00:17:22Being a bishop and being African-American, younger folks come to me and ask, "Well,I have trouble with this. I have concerns about this. And why did this happen in the past in the Church?"00:17:33And some of them, I really don't have answers to and I think that's one of the interesting thing with life. We don't get answers to everything.00:17:39And I remember, being one of the times as early as a bishop I went back into some of those studies and I studied for a couple days and just diving into more on the topic and a final answer it came back down to that I give to people as my final answer is that they're imperfect people in the church and some people say things are not right. But the truth is the gospel is restored. And don't let anyone take that part away from you. And though we may not have all the answers --I can't give you everything about "why" -- In due time those answers will come . But I can tell you instead of the "why", I can tell you how you move forward.00:18:21And how we move forward is by focusing on Jesus Christ because we're all, black, white, Jew, gentile, green, whatever color you are, We are all His sons and daughters.00:18:33And he wants us to go back and live with Him.00:18:46KaRyn: That was Donald Kelly. I don't know about you, but it's hard for me to hear those stories of times when we as members of the church didn't quite get it right. And I really appreciate Bishop Kelly's personal revelation that helped him make sense of the things that we don't yet understand or know about our history. I also recognize that there are many brothers and sisters who are still waiting for that personal revelation that will heal their wounds. But I revel in the hope that each of us can be healed through Jesus Christ and those of us who have done the wounding, whether intentionally or not, can seek repentance and forgiveness. And isn't that just like being part of a family?00:19:25There's this part in "The Family:A Proclamation to the World" that says, "Successful families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion,, work and wholesome recreational activities."00:19:41I think as a church family, we've got that recreational activity part down if our Ward's block parties and chili cook- offs are any indication. But what if we could do better at all the other things to help make our family, our ward family, our stake family, our church family more successful? I asked Donald to share his thoughts about what we could all do better to minister to our brothers and sisters of color. And here's what he shared:00:20:05DONALD: Now, this is a very sensitive topic for both black members and white members as a whole and I feel the answer is complex but still yet could be very simple. But, in order for us to understand it simply we must recognize or go through the complex answer that I feel first. .00:20:21It comes down to education and empathy. Hear me out on this for a second. Personally, this is my opinion, personally I feel for years that many members of the Church don't talk about race because they just don't understand enough about race or don't talk enough about blacks and the priesthood because they don't understand enough about blacks and the priesthood or they don't understand where members are coming from with it or just simply don't have an answer. And is ignorant to what they should be saying or how they can help other members go through it. So the easy answer, "let's ignore it. Put our heads in the sand, so to speak, and maybe what will happen... They just won't experiment with anything.00:21:01It is not easy to talk about. We can do what Stephen Covey said, "Seek first to understand then to be understood."00:21:07Because what happens, especially when I served my mission in Detroit, Sometimes you will find that members, they were they were taught years ago by the missionaries. These two guys came through the neighborhood started preaching about scriptures, about the Book of Mormon, about the restoration of the Gospel and it made sense. They felt something. They knew, they had this spirit tell them that this was true. They made the decision to get baptized and then maybe couple years later somebody mentioned this idea about blacks and the priesthood and then they start to question like, "wait, what do you mean about that??"00:21:43Now understanding you're probably saying, "yes they got a testimony so why in the world would somebody start doubting?" It's not necessarily doubting and this is where empathy needs to come in play. It's putting yourself in a person's shoes. Oftentimes these individuals who are maybe newer to the church and first time hearing about race and blacks and the priesthood, they probably... they feel... and this is what I'm just sharing what I've heard is.." I feel like I wasn't told everything upfront before I made a decision."00:22:13This caused them to have some kind of question and start questioning everything. How come the missionaries didn't say something about it? How come my bishop didn't talk to me about it? How come some of these things are not taught to me? And then those questions lead to more questions. And more resentment. And then more confusion and frustration.00:22:31Now when they start having conversation with, say a member of the church about it, Because We don't necessarily understand how to Have that conversation with A black member, We go back to just simple saying, "You need to just have more faith. And stop doubting."00:22:49It's depicted, "Well, This person just seems like they don't believe in the fact that we have The restored gospel or that we have prophets on the earth today because if they believe that, They wouldn't ask these questions." Which by the way, is totally not true. It is because I do believe that there is a restoration because it is because I do believe that there are prophets and apostles On the earth. It is because I do believe in the fact that we have priesthood authority. That's why I am asking -- to get better understanding. Again, having a question isn't bad. Maybe you recognize -- yes someone has questioned or going through this challenging time in their life and they're trying to figure things out. Help them. Don't shun them. Don't say they're not faithful. Read scriptures with them. Study with them. Have them over for come follow me.00:23:36Or maybe you can... There are things that you research and you could talk about with them. And just maybe as a bishop, you have more dialogue. As the elders quorum or Relief Society or Young Man or Young Woman president. Taking time to recognize someone's questions and helping them. And for black members of the Church or any one of the Church that may have doubts or have questions, who have these these things they wrestling with, I share this a lot, but I just say, don't jump out of the boat. Stay. In. The boat. Right now. You are safe. You're protected. You may not understand everything. Stay in the boat. Continue to progress. Serve in your calling. Help the ward. Help the members share the gospel of Jesus Christ ,live the gospel of Jesus Christ.00:24:19And as you continue to do this, I pray and I hope that you will gain the answer and insights and revelation that you need. And perhaps maybe we will all come to a better understanding. As we have more of an open dialogue. So again my answer is quite complex. But it comes back down to the simple part. Of. Us. All. Making sure that we educate ourselves and to have open dialogue. And to have empathy. I think those things will help. 00:24:45KaRyn: Donald is always quick to say that he doesn't speak for every black member of our church family so I was thinking that one of the ways I could put his ideas into practice would be to actually ask my friends of a different race, "What is it like for you to be a part of this church?" and then to really listen to their story --not to try to fix it for them or to offer solutions-- but to simply listen and make space for the hard things they might say. And then we can celebrate together the shared faith that brings us all to the sacrament table every week to feast together as brothers and sisters in the same family of Christ... while vowing to do better at being part of that family.00:25:26Well, whatever you feel inspired to do to make our church family better, I hope you'll write it down this week and find a way to put it into action. Let that divine friction change us so we can be better.00:25:41That's it for this episode of This is the gospel. Thank you to Donald for sharing his story and his faith.00:25:46And if you have a story to share whether it's funny touching or miraculous we'd love to hear it. Call our pitch line at (515) 519-6179 leave us a message with a short synopsis of your story. You can also listen to our bonus episode that tells you all about how to become a storyteller on this is the gospel. We've heard from so many of you that this podcast is making a difference in your day. I f so would you please take the time to leave a review on the Apple podcast app? Or anywhere you listen to your podcasts and be sure to tell your friends. The more people know about us the more we're able to keep telling great stories.00:26:21This episode was produced and edited by me KaRyn Lay and Sarah Blake with story editing by Davey Johnson. It was mixed and mastered by mix at six studios and our executive producer is Erin HALLSTROM.00:26:32You can find past episodes of this podcast and other LDS living podcasts like the ALL IN podcast at LDSLiving.com/podcasts . Have a great week.
Stories in this episode -- from the campfire in Paradise, CA: Charelle watches from afar as fire engulfs the town she grew up in and finds comfort in the things she didn’t see; Bryant follows a seemingly hopeless prompting only to discover the real reason God sent him into the fire; Emily and her family narrowly escape danger while trying to find one another in the chaos and reunite to a new future.
Do you have a story to tell but you're not sure how to do it? TITG story producers Davi Johnson and Sarah Blake are here to help! This bonus episode will give you insights into the story producing process with tips and tricks to help you get your story ready... AND! They'll share upcoming themes for the episodes. When you're ready, call our pitchline: (515) 519-6179
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