Episode #25: Published May 13, 2019
“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. Read or listen to Elder Holland's talk, "The Laborers in the Vineyard" here. And if you are interested in TOFW events, click here to find one near you.
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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'm not sure how it works in other countries, but if you grew up in the US, you probably remember that moment from your school days when the teacher would finally open that classroom window for the first time after a long and brutal winter. Okay, okay, so maybe not in California and Arizona, but in other places where there are actual seasons, that smell of newly cut grass and budding trees that wafted into those open windows always signaled that summer break was around the corner. And I'm pretty sure it also turned us into a bunch of wild things, at least for the entire month of May, #BlessTheTeachers. I also think, now that I'm an adult looking back on that, it's a special reminder that what was once buried under the snow and grime of December, can and will come back to life in the spring. And I think it's really beautiful that we end the school year and celebrate graduation at a time of such renewal. Well today, in celebration of all those endings that lead to new starts, we've got a story about the power of the lessons learned and how God can use our earthly education to teach us what he needs us to know for our spiritual growth. Our storyteller is Lauri, a woman who decided not to let anything stop her from conquering her past and graduating to the next level of discipleship. Here's Lauri:
Lauri: I was 41 and a half when I graduated high school, not 18, I was over 40. My story is about a five year period that took me from this brilliant light bulb moment, when I thought it would be a good idea to complete my high school diploma as an adult, having completed my sophomore year of high school back in the late 80s, and taking my GED to the parallel story of coming back from my excommunication and the lessons I learned.
So my middle daughter was a senior in high school and this was November 2007, and she was short a bunch of credits. We were just looking at different opportunities that she could take in order to get her graduated. One of the stops along the way was a local adult school. I just felt this crazy, brilliant light bulb moment, it felt at the time, that I really wanted to finish my high school diploma. I was told that I only needed 10 classes. I registered right on the spot. It was probably a little bit crazy, in hindsight. I was running my own business with my husband and working on my high school diploma and having health issues and working on getting back to full fellowship in the church.
But it turns out that the Lord is in the details of my life. When I was excommunicated, and I read the letter that I had been excommunicated, you lose the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. And it is felt physically and spiritually, but mostly just physically felt, that you have lost this power. Eight months after I had registered for high school, I was able to re-enter the waters of baptism. It was one of those things where you meet for a church Council and you don't know if they're going to say yes or no, at the time. It's not like your children's baptisms or even your own baptism, where you invite all your family and friends and you have a program and it's going to be this wonderful thing that everybody's going to get together, we just didn't know. So I just invited a few friends, a few local family members and they were all dressed in their church clothes for a big maybe. And they just didn't know and so that was kind of nerve-wracking, as you sit in church Council, and you might have to walk back out and tell them, "Not now, we'll just have to wait again."
So fortunate for me, everyone was there and in their church clothes, and I was able to be baptized. It was beautiful. It was wonderful. And I was able to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, which was the hardest thing to lose three and a half years before when I was excommunicated. I think we sometimes take that for granted, that wonderful, big, huge, powerful gift of the Holy Ghost.
When I got that back, eight months later, after I had signed up for high school, and I had that gift, and that power, and that constant companionship, that's what kept me going. That's why I would never give up because I knew that heavenly father wasn't giving up on me, ever.
In the midst of this five-year journey, it was September 2009, and I was attending a "Timeout for Women." And when Wendy Watson Nelson spoke, and she gave out this wonderful challenge, it was a 30-day scripture challenge. And she said, "I want you to take one question to the Lord. And you are going to pray and study your scriptures and look for the answer for 30 days." And I was ready. I made a plan. I'm OCD, I have to have lists, I'm a complete list maker. I made this whole little chart, and I was going to make hashtags out for my whole 30 days. So my question was, "How does the atonement apply to me personally? I wrote a place that I can write all my little hashtags for 30 days, I gave myself room to journal all during those 30 days so I could keep track of what my answer was going to be. I was going to have this huge aha moment at the end of 30 days I felt, and I was just going to be scripture studied by the end of this and just be so ready to get my answer.
So I just began, day one, day two, day three, day four, day five. And on day six, I was reading scriptures about the atonement from the topical guide, from the Bible Dictionary, just anywhere that I could find anything about the atonement. And on day six, I read Mosiah 4:6-12, and I received my answer. So on the seventh day, I rested. So it was just really awesome that after six days because I go into things kind of being the martyr, I am going to be the martyr, I'm like, I am so ready. I'm going to dedicate these 30 days and I want to do everything that I can to receive my answer. And the Lord, in all of his wisdom and glory, after six days, gave me the answer that I was searching for. I think Heavenly Father wanted me to learn that hope was real. And what a mercy that was, a tender mercy, just of grace and love and knowing that Heavenly Father, again, in the details of my life and just gave me that answer.
So back to the high school diploma, going to high school as an adult is hard, way harder than a teenager. If you have a teenager at home who's struggling, I wish that I could just talk to them because it's way harder as an adult to graduate high school. Back when I was in high school as a teen, I stunk at math and as an adult, I still stink at math. And I even hired a tutor. We each had kids, the gal that I hired, she was my friend Nikki. She would have wait until after her kids had gone to bed and I would go over to her house at like nine o'clock at night and we would do homework and do the math, and I hate math. And then she would come over to my house, early in the morning before everyone else was awake and moving around, just so that we could get this math done. I literally, when I took my last math class at school, I told the teacher I don't even care what my score is, I don't want to know my score, just tell me if I passed or not. And so she did, true to her word, she came in just told me that I had passed and I said thank goodness, that's it. I don't even care what grade as long as it was passing.
One month before my graduation, you have to go in, and I'm sure anybody who has a senior in high school or if you're a senior in high school, you have to go meet with a counselor. And they just sit down and make sure that you have all your ducks in a row. They want to make sure that you have all the credits that you need, what are you looking for, for college, you know, all of these different things. And I put mine off because I thought whatever, man, I've taken my 10 classes, I've done everything that I need to do, I'm probably fine, so I put it off. So it's just a few weeks before graduation and I go in and I sit with the counselor and it turns out, they had made a mistake. So back when I had registered in November 2007, they took all of my transcripts and they said, okay, you need 10 classes, here are the 10 classes that you need. And they had done it wrong. It turns out I needed 11 classes. So I was freaked out, I was already panicking about getting all the other stuff done before graduation. So luckily, I had some really awesome teachers who got behind me and found an extra English class. Thank goodness it was English, that I could read this book, and do this report, and take these couple of tests and get it done. I was a zombie for a week after I finished all of that. I did nothing. I didn't work out, I didn't cook meals, I didn't go to work for several days. I just I had stayed up late at night,I had got up early in the morning, I was at the school campus all of that time. But I finished, I had finished.
So in the same timeframe, right in the middle of this last month of school, two weeks before my graduation, I had put in my application to the First Presidency to have my temple blessings restored. That, in and of itself, is a huge undertaking. It's a huge undertaking. There's a huge application and there's a bunch of forms to fill out. And there's letters that you have to get from other people that you affected with your excommunication throughout that time period. You have to write a letter and you're basically turning it all over to the judge, which of course, is the First Presidency and they get to decide whether you're going to have your temple blessings restored. And it takes a while, it takes a long time. So that was in though, two weeks before my graduation. And then I finished all of these classes. So in June of 2012, I had the honor of graduating high school as an adult from Oxnard Adult High School, which is the next city over from me. I had graduation photos taken, I borrowed a cap and gown, I hired a photographer to come and do photos, which was completely awesome for me. I sent out graduation announcements, even at 41 years old. Some of them had my puppy in the photo with me because I had a black cap and gown and he was black, so it worked. My sweet hubby bought me a class ring, that was one of my goals is that if I finished high school, I was gonna get a class ring, so literally I'm wearing it right now, it says, "2012" on it and has my birthstone in it. I had friends and family there. There was a mariachi band and I totally danced, I couldn't help but dance. It was such a great thing and I had lei's all around my neck and I was able to, I was asked, and had the honor of speaking at my graduation. It was awesome. It was a really cool thing.
Two months after graduation, I had the honor of a completely different kind, and a huge celebration, as I met with my stake president to see if I indeed, would have my temple blessings restored. So much like the bishop's council years before, you go in and you don't know. So it's really nerve-wracking. So it was just my husband and I, my husband sat outside the stake president's office and I went in and sat with the Stake President and he asked me all the questions, plus a few more, that you would answer if you were getting your temple recommend. And then he told me, I had been approved to have my temple blessings restored.
I just cried. I just cried. It was the most awesome thing, I was able to call my husband in, and we just had this very intimate little meeting with my husband sitting there, and the stake president, laying his hands on my head and restoring my temple blessings. And it was such a long journey. And so many things happened in that five year time. I was so excited to have come through five surgeries, running a business, getting my high school diploma, getting re-baptized and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost and then getting my temple blessings restored.
Looking back, there were just essential parts for me. Faith, trust and hope seem to be the highlight of all of this. Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Trust that everything is going to work out eventually, for your benefit. And definitely hope that you never ever, ever, ever give up. When I graduated high school, I felt like Superwoman. I felt like I could now do anything. If I wanted to be a doctor, I was going to go to school and be a doctor. I could do anything I wanted to do, years of school, whatever it took, but I knew that I could do it. When I got re-baptized and received the gift of the Holy Ghost, I felt like whatever came my way, in my life moving forward, that I had the knowledge and the faith and the trust and the hope to get through it. I knew that whatever came up, it was never going to be excommunication again, I'm never going to have to graduate high school again, but that I could get it done. Heavenly Father has taught me that I can do anything again. It's okay to restart things, even at a ripe old age of 40. So you ask for help, and you get blessings, priesthood blessings, over and over and over again and you ask until you're exhausted of asking, and you think you can't ask for anything else. And you ask again. And that is what gets you through.
I don't think it's a coincidence that I would be getting my high school diploma and struggling with that, along with struggling to get my blessings restored and to be re-baptized. I think that Heavenly Father took me back to a time in my teenage life where I started making bad decisions in my life, that ultimately led to my excommunication. That I messed up not graduating high school, or at least I felt that way. So he took me back to that time, where things started going wrong and rocky in my life that brought me to my excommunication, it was also the same time that I didn't finish high school. And I went and got my high school diploma again, and I got my life in order.
When I was excommunicated, I had no idea that it would take three and a half years to get back and have that gift of the Holy Ghost again, or an additional four and a half years after that, before my temple blessings were restored. I didn't know that I would have to hire a tutor or the sacrifices that would need to be made in my husband picking up the slack at our family-owned business. Every time I started a class, I would just be on board and rah rah and something else would come up, a health struggle, something with work where we had to be there 14 hours that day. Never once did I doubt if it was worth it. Sometimes we have to struggle for the things that we want most. And I knew once I got baptized and I had the gift of the Holy Ghost, that it didn't matter to me how long it was going to take to have my temple blessings restored. That I would just keep acting as if I had my temple recommend and keep doing that every day, every week, every month, every year, until the time was right to get my temple blessings restored. But I never doubted, I would just never ever, ever give up. I have a lot of faith and a lot of trust and a lot of hope and I have gained that through my excommunication. I have said, more than once, that if I had to sign up to do this all over again, if I had to go through all the struggles if I had to get excommunicated again, to get to the place where I am now, with the faith and the hope and the trust that I have, I would. I would sign on the dotted line and I would do it all again because I have a testimony now that is unshakable.
KaRyn: That was Laurie. Laurie has gone on to get even more education and successfully run several businesses with that same tireless energy and positive attitude that she brought to her high school days. If you want to see pictures of that photo shoot, that graduation photo shoot with Lori and her dog and her cap and gown, head on over to our show notes, we'll have some of those pictures there. One of the things that I love about the story is the message that it's really never too late to start or restart on the path of discipleship. It reminded me of Elder Hollands talk, "The Laborers in the Vineyard," that he gave in the 2012 session of general conference. In that talk, which I highly recommend revisiting, he offers some insights into how we can put time and timing into perspective. He said, "However late you think you are, however many chances you think you've missed, however many mistakes you feel you've made or talents you think you don't have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you've traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ's Atonement shines. To each of you, one and all, I testify of the renewing power of God's love and the miracle of His grace. His concern is for the faith at which you finally arrive, not the hour of day in which you got there."
And then Elder Holland offers this apostolic invitation: "So if you have made covenants, keep them. If you haven't made them, make them. If you've made them and broken them, repent and repair them. It is never too late so long as the master of the vineyard says there is time."
Really, I don't think Elder Holland could have said it more powerfully. The master of the vineyard, our Savior, is always reaching out to us to remind us that there's time to reconcile. That Spring is coming and that summer is just around the corner, and with his help, we can be renewed. I'm so grateful to have that reminder as we celebrate graduations and the new adventures that come with every season. And I hope you'll feel that renewal that comes through our Savior and His gospel.
That's it for this episode of "This is the Gospel." Thank you to Lauri for sharing her story and her lessons learned. We'll actually have a link to that conference talk from Elder Holland in our show notes, as well as pictures from Lauri's graduation. So visit us at LDSliving.com/thisisthegospel to see those. 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 and leave us a message with a short synopsis of your story. And don't forget to share your experience with this podcast on the Apple Podcast app or the Bookshelf Plus app from Desert Book, it will help more people to find us.
This episode was co-produced and edited by Katie Lambert and me, KaRyn Lay. It was scored, mixed and mastered by Mix It Six studios and our executive producer is Erin Halstrom. You can find past episodes of this podcast and other LDS Living podcasts at ldsliving.com/podcasts.