Jennie Taylor: God, Family and Country

Wed May 20 10:00:14 EDT 2020
Episode 81

It was his love for God and country that originally made Jennie Taylor fall in love with her husband, Brent. It was also that love and loyalty that took him from her as Maj. Brent Taylor was killed in Afghanistan in 2018. On this episode, Jennie shares the faith that has helped her through the loss of her husband and has given her hope that she will see him again.

My husband and thousands of others have died so that I have the opportunity to live. What I do every single day of my life decides whether or not his life was given in vain. What I do every single day of my life decides whether or not it's worth it that we keep sending soldiers into harm's way to defend freedom and liberty and justice for all around the world.
Jennie Taylor

Video: "Service and Sacrifice: The Brent and Jennie Taylor Story," see youtube.com 

New York Times Article: "Brent Taylor, Utah Mayor Killed in Afghanistan, Was on 4th Deployment," Julie Turkewitz, November 2018

Video: "Brent Taylor's Full High School Graduation Speech," see youtube.com

Standard-Examiner Article: "A year later, Jennie Taylor and her 7 kids are moving forward, in stops and starts," Tim Vandenack, November 2019

KUTV Article: "EXCLUSIVE: Interview with widow of Major Brent Taylor," Dan Rascon and Adam Forgie, November 2018.

Book: God, Family, Country: Our Three Great Loyalties, President Ezra Taft Benson

Show Notes: 
1:42- November 3, 2018
16:02- Meeting Brent
21:10- Three Great Loyalties
31:04- All Enlisted
44:07- Spiritual Preparation
51:16- Honoring the Sacrifjce of Heroes
57:40- What Does It Mean To Be “All In” the Gospel of Jesus Christ?


Morgan Jones 0:00
In his high school graduation speech as student body president of Chandler High School in 1997, Brent Taylor went ahead and invited his fellow classmates to a class reunion that would be held in the White House in the year 2020 on one condition—that they would go ahead and promise him their vote. The funny thing is, people who knew Brent best believed it was really possible and they were sure to save the Christmas cards his family sent in subsequent years, just in case it would someday serve as a claim to fame. But the Lord had other plans for Brent Taylor. He would go on to enlist in the United States Army, serve multiple tours overseas, and would eventually become the mayor of North Ogden, Utah. Most importantly, he would become a husband and a father to seven children. But on November 3, 2018, Brent Taylor was killed while deployed in Afghanistan. Taylor is not the President of the United States in the year 2020, but he did become an American hero. Jennie Taylor is a gold-star widow from North Ogden, Utah. She is the mother of seven children, and earlier this year she was sworn in as the civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army for the state of Utah.
This is All In, an LDS Living podcast where we ask the question, "What does it really mean to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?" I'm Morgan Jones, and I am honored to have Jennie Taylor on the line with me today. Jennie, welcome.

Jennie Taylor 1:38
Thanks, Morgan. I'm really excited to be with you today.

Morgan Jones 1:42
Well, you have a story that is very different from any other story that we've ever had told on this podcast, and, I would argue, so incredibly rare to anyone and their life experience. Let's start out. Can you walk us through what November 3, 2018, was like for you?

Jennie Taylor 2:04
Yeah. So, you know, first I'll just throw in there—my story might be different on the details, but the longer I live, and especially the more I talk with people who are facing their own stories, I think our stories are a lot more similar than we think. And those details take different shape, but we're all kind of going through this mortal journey with hopes and dreams that do or don't work out, and ups and downs, and that's exactly what November 3 was.
The funny thing is, it was a Saturday morning, it was right after my birthday—I'm a Halloween baby—and I wasn't even home. I was in Provo staying at a rental condo off-campus near BYU. My college roommates and I had met as college freshmen 20 years ago, and we thought it would be so fun to get together, to catch up, to leave the kids home and just have, you know, this really quick one-night girlfriends getaway. So my husband was in Afghanistan. I have seven young children. My baby at the time was not even one. She had recently been weaned from nursing and my mom and mother-in-law talked me into just getting away for a minute. And so, Friday night I went to Provo, met up with my girlfriends, we stayed up way too late talking and catching up.
Saturday morning I woke up early, which, for any mom that's ever gotten away from her kids, that's really annoying, because you want to wake up not early when your kids are not there to wake you up. I woke up early and made a conscious decision. I remember thinking, "I could roll back over and go to bed, or I think I'm gonna get up and enjoy some quiet for a minute by myself." I got out my scriptures, I got out my journal, and I just kind of started gathering some of my thoughts. My husband had been deployed for 10 months, and with those seven kids at home, our house had flooded, we'd had to move out and remodel the whole thing. It had been a really, really difficult year for me. And I felt like I never had enough time to think, let alone catch up with my thoughts. And so I took advantage that morning, beautiful morning, of this chance to kind of get in the zone and just have this quiet time.
It was about nine in the morning after I'd finished some of this, and my phone rang. And it was my mom, who was home with my kids. Now remember, she's the one that really talked me into getting away. She told me I needed a break. And I was really surprised. She called I thought, "Surely somebody's broken an arm or something, she's not just going to call to say good morning," and I picked up the phone, said, "Hi, mom." She said, "Jenny, wherever you are, you might want to hit your knees. There are two military officers here on the door, and they won't tell me anything. They said they can only talk to you."
And I will tell you, that whole beautiful moment of some quiet peace and getting the Spirit together in the morning just fell to the pit of my stomach. I mean, I've been a military wife for 15 years, and anybody who's ever seen a Hollywood movie knows, soldiers don't knock on your door to say hi. And so I'm sitting here thinking, just total shock running through my body, and my mom puts them on the phone. And I tell them that I'm in Provo, I'm not even home. I'm an hour and a half away. I don't even have a car with me because I actually took public transit down to meet up with my friends and they picked me up. And I just told him, I said, "I can't wait to get on public transit two hours from now and come back for you to tell me what you need to tell me." They said, "Ma'am, we understand but protocol is we have to tell you in person."
So we decided we would meet in the middle. There was one other of my roommates who was already awake that morning and she and I jumped in her car. I simply said to her, "Brent might be dead. I need a ride." And from that moment forward, it was just such an intense day. And during the drive from Provo to Draper, I had my Book of Mormon. I had a notebook and I had a pen. Anybody who knows me knows I'm a really verbal processor. I talk to think and I write to think, and I just began writing furiously in my notebook, and I told my girlfriend, with all due respect, I said, "I need you to just be quiet. I need to think, I need to be able to talk out loud. Please don't say anything." I remember processing every thought. I wrote down in my notebook, you know, "Maybe he's sick, maybe he's injured. Maybe he's been medically evacuated to Germany." And then my first thought was, "I don't even have an active passport. What if I can't go see him? What if he's paralyzed? What if I have to be the breadwinner for the rest of our lives? What if I have to take care of him?" You know, every thought, in my mind, trying really hard not to let myself think, "What if he's dead." Until finally, toward the end of my scribblings on the drive, I wrote down with great clarity what I felt the Lord told me and I wrote, "If Brent is dead, I cannot fall apart. The kids matter too much." And that's kind of the end of that entry in my notebook.
And we got there, the state chaplain comes in, he escorts us to a conference room. I remember walking through it felt like dozens of doors. I mean, we just walked through the door, walk through another door, another door. Soldiers were standing at attention at each door, but nobody would look me in the eye. And with each step I took, the weight, meaning the heaviness of the moment got more and more certain that he must be dead. Because if he were injured, surely it wouldn't be this somber. And we entered the conference room. The state chaplain is an older gentleman, a member of our faith, and he was there with a younger chaplain guarding that door, the final door, and they offered to give me a blessing, which of course I accepted quite readily. And the younger chaplain gave me the blessing and was the voice of that.
In the blessing, he started to bless me to be able to deal with these very significant changes in my life, at which point the older chaplain stopped him, you know, with their hands still on my head, kind of looked at him and said, "Shh. She doesn't know yet." Which, okay. Well, now, you know, okay, I guess I do. It just felt like every moment was making it more and more and more certain that I already knew what nobody could tell me until we were face-to-face. So by the time those army officers arrived from my house and got to the Draper headquarters building for the Utah National Guard, I sat down, they sat down next to me. And then they begin to say what they are instructed to say, and it's quite scripted that they regret to inform me that my husband, Major Brent Taylor, had been killed that morning while on a ruck march, which is basically an army term for a hike in Afghanistan. They told me it was an inside attack. They told me that he was the only one killed. And really, after that, I can't tell you anything else they said. I have no idea, it was just a blur. I think I went into total shock.
I remember pacing the room. I remember feeling like I was going to pull the hair right out of my head just from running my fingers through my hair so much. I hadn't eaten anything. Remember, I'd woken up early and had a couple hours of just this quiet Zen meditation and writing and reading my scriptures. I began to get very weak. I remember asking them for some juice because I needed sugar. And they brought me in a juice box, like a little child's juice box with a straw. And the irony of the moment hit me because I thought, "I feel like I'm drinking out of a fire hydrant, and you've given me this teeny straw to try to process everything."
And so we went through a lot of very pragmatic things. The process of how it will work. They told me I'd have 24 hours between that moment of notification and when they would release his name to the public. They told me there'd be a press conference, they talked a little bit about going to Dover. We tried to reach Brent's parents—they had their own notification team, and they were to be informed seconds after me, as Brent's next of kin. And once his parents had been notified in person, the army officers and I got in the car and drove north to my house to tell my seven children. And so they had, of course, been home with my mom, and as soon as my mom got off the phone—you know she had been there when the officers knocked on the door—she called my sister, and they immediately started driving south.
They left my kids home with Grandpa. So when we got home a couple of hours later, Grandpa had just taken the kids to McDonald's to go get Happy Meals and play in the playground. They got home right about as I pulled up, and I pulled up with two army officers in their full dress uniforms, hats and all. And my teenage daughter, who's our oldest, got out of the car with Grandpa, she looked at me, and she just said, "Mom, no." And she kind of knew what I had already known before anybody told me or told her officially. There was just the weight of the moment.
So the officers came in, we gathered all the children and they told them the same thing they told me. That was a difficult decision to make, for how to tell them, but I felt, for the dignity of the moment, I wanted them to have the official notification from the United States Army. I wanted them to hear what I had heard. I think as they look back, they'll see the dignity and respect with which that terrible notification is treated. So the officers told them, and I immediately reached for all of them and felt so overwhelmed because I have two arms, and I have seven kids, and my oldest was only 13—she'd just barely turned 13. My little baby was not yet even one. Our youngest child's first birthday was two days after we buried Brent. So to say I felt overwhelmed that Saturday morning is, you know, almost a comical understatement.
But the day after that went very—feels like just very mechanically. Family started to come, friends started to come, word started to get out. The army had promised me 24 hours of privacy, but the fact of the matter is, when something like that happens, people start to know. My husband was the mayor of our hometown of almost 20,000 people. I think he's very well-respected and beloved of many of our residents. He and I know a lot of people in this town, I'm from here, and so I think probably within an hour, the news was fairly well-known, and the public press conference the next day was almost just a formality at that point. So we spent the rest of November 3 with people flooding our home, well-wishers coming, people coming and crying with us and bringing flowers and so much food. You know, when someone dies, we show up with food because we don't know what else to do.
Priesthood leaders came, my grandfather came, he gave me a blessing. My stake president came and assured me that my best days were yet to come, that life would still be beautiful and happy—just so many emotions that day. And then as the day went on down and it got dark, and people went home, and everybody asked what I wanted to do overnight, did I want to go stay somewhere, did I want someone to come stay with us and I just told them I wanted to be home with my children. My kids had gone with various cousins and aunts and uncles to get away from the public hoopla and to be able to just try to feel a little normal for a minute. And the kids all came home. And then, I remember we drove down to the local gas station, because on our main street in North Ogden City, we have banners up of our various military members, not just Brent, but anyone from the area who would like to have a banner hanging that shows their military picture and what branch of the service they're in. Well, my husband's banner sits right in front of the local gas station. And several people had mentioned that they basically visited his flag and kind of set up a little bit of a vigil there, a little memorial site.
So I think it was close to midnight, I took all seven of my kids in our big van down to the gas station. We took a picture in front of his banner with flags and flowers all over it, and then we went inside and I let everybody get a treat. Because it just seemed like there was nothing else to do than to say, "You know, what? It's midnight and you're at the gas station, go get a Slurpee, go get Starbursts, what do you want?" And then we went home for one of the longest, worst nights of my life. But we chose to all just be home together that night. I wanted my kids here with me, I wanted to be here with them, and I didn't really want the rest of the world with us for a few minutes. I felt like we just needed some space. So that's November 3, in a not very fast nutshell. But it was quite a day.
You know, so many emotions that I'm sure I'm skipping over many, many things and other people who visited that day would be able to maybe lend their viewpoint of what happened. One thing I think, looking back, I wish we'd had a recorder going, like an audio recorder in the room as so many people came and expressed their love for Brent, their admiration, their sorrow that he's gone. There were a lot of tears, but there were also a lot of really happy memories being shared. A lot of laughter and a lot of admiration for who he is and what kind of life he'd lived. And I wish we'd have recorded that. I mean, you don't think of that, when someone dies, to hit play on the recorder. But I wish we had because of the great celebration of this man's life that began to pour in from family, from friends and from perfect strangers. So as much as it was a very heavy, horrible, awful day, I remember going to bed thinking, "We laughed a lot today. We laughed a lot today through the tears." And I think that's a great gift from Heavenly Father. And I think that's what Brent would want us to do. He was always much more light-hearted and easy-going than I am. I'm the worrier in the family. I don't know if it's just mom territory or what, but I'm a really good worrier. And I remember even right away recognizing, it's almost as if I inherited his sense of humor, and his positive attitude. Almost immediately. It's as if it came to me as an inheritance so that I could have help in bearing the burden of the grief of losing him and missing him.

Morgan Jones 16:02
Jennie, that is so beautiful. And I got chills multiple times. And I think that you're so right, that even when we haven't experienced a certain thing, we have experienced, many times, the emotion behind that circumstance. And so, I think so many people, as you share your experience and your story, will be able to relate on a very deep level and find comfort and peace in their own circumstances. I want to go back now if it would be okay with you, to when you first met Brent. You were set up on a blind date, and you said it was a terrible blind date. Can you tell us about that when the two of you first met?

Jennie Taylor 16:46
Yeah, well, if anybody's ever been on a blind date, like I think "blind date" and "terrible blind date" are really just one in the same thing because they're terrible. So we were students at BYU, I had just returned from my mission literally three and a half weeks before. He'd been home off of his mission for a couple of years. So you know, at BYU, once you're home from your mission like everybody just wants you to marry somebody. And so he'd been set up on several dates and dated some girls. And I'd only been home a couple of weeks, but already I swear, I'd been set up by like every with every young man under the sun. And I had been on a couple of really terrible blind dates, and my husband just really wasn't interested. I think he dated for a while and was kind of just, this isn't working or going anywhere. So that's kind of the backstory behind the story. Then we had some mutual friends, one of his roommates at the time was friends with one of my roommates. And I thought that we would just be a perfect pair. And so they set us up where a bunch of kids from his apartment and the girls from my apartment all came on this big group activity, except they wanted us two, the two of us to be singled out on a date, and everybody else was kind of hanging out, so just totally awkward. And you could tell he didn't want to be there, you could tell I wasn't sure I ever wanted to date again, like I could have just been single the rest of my life and been happy. And so it was just awkward from the get-go. We went and saw the Young Ambassadors perform—go BYU—and one of his roommates was in that. After that we went and got ice cream, and he ended up running into someone that he used to home teach, spent the whole time at the ice cream shop talking with that person, not even part of the group. So I'm kind of left with all of his roommates, my roommates. Just awkward, awkward, awkward, but very forced. Because everyone who knew us was so sure we would be such a perfect match. But the last thing either of us has ever wanted is anyone to tell us what to do. Because we're just both that kind of person. Like, you are not going to pick my husband, thank you very much. And so it kind of went like that, and at the end of the night, that's kind of how it ended too. The next day would have been when it was Sunday of that same weekend. Several of us had gone to a fireside at UVU on campus, just a young single adult fireside, and while there several of us ran into several of his roommates, who then invited everybody over to have dessert after the fireside. Totally a typical college kid thing to do. Well, he wasn't there, but one of his roommates called him. He was visiting family that lived in south Utah County, called him, and said, "Hey, you need to come over, that redhead's coming. You need to come over, you need to come back home." And he, of course, again, doesn't want to be told what to do—dragging his feet, rolling his eyes. Finally, he agreed. He showed back up from his aunt and uncle's house. And then he and I, in the middle of this group of everybody just casually being there, got to talking about my mission, about what we're majoring in, about our shared love of this country. He had started the BYU constitution club, and I loved everything America. I thought, "No way. I'm the most patriotic person I know, and then who's this kid who's more patriotic than me?" It was just like, amazing. Totally cheesy. You would think we'd made it up but that really is what our first conversation was about. And, again, we talked of my mission, we talked of kind of this general goal life. We're both really ambitious, hard workers that feel like the Lord has a great work for us to do and big zealous approach to life. And then at the end of that evening, after everybody was getting ready to go home, I said, "Well, I'm going to go home," and went to walk to my car, and he walked me out. And as I got in my car, he said he'd like to ask me out on a real date, because of how terrible that blind date had been. And so we went out the next weekend. And really after that, I don't think either of us ever dated anybody else. I think even though we didn't say it out loud, we both knew very early on, we knew we wanted to marry each other, and that we would spend the rest of our lives together. So after that horrible, terrible, awful blind date, within 24 or 48 hours, we had chipped away some of the pride keeping both of us at bay and realized, "Hey, maybe we really are a good match, even though somebody else had the idea first, maybe it's still a good idea." So that's kind of how we began.

Morgan Jones 20:57
I love how you said that when you and Brent finally started actually talking, that you found this common ground. And one of those things was that you found that you had this love for the United States of America. And I read a quote where you said, "Long before I loved Brent Taylor, I loved America." So I want to know, you said it was God and country that drew you to each other. Why were these two things, God and country, so important to you, and how did you know from that first conversation—I guess the patriotic club is a good indication, but—how did you start to sense how important those things were to him?

Jennie Taylor 21:51
Well, you know, from the very beginning, we spoke of the fact that he was a political science major and I was a teaching major, but I was teaching history and government classes. And so that was obviously what we had chosen for our field of study, our future careers. We spoke about the fact that he'd wanted to join the military since he was a small child and really, really wanted to join the military since the attacks on 9/11. Now, I had been in Chile only three weeks, at the very beginning of my mission, on September 11, 2001. And so that impacted me in a way very different from maybe people who lived in New York or even Salt Lake City because I wasn't here for any of that. Missionaries don't watch the news. We don't read the newspaper. We we didn't get the chance to get engrossed in all of that like I've heard really happened back home. And I'll admit, there's a part of me that for several years felt like maybe I'd missed out on that beautiful moment of America coming together, and maybe I'd missed out on the significance of 9/11 on my generation.
Well fast forward 10 or so years after Brent and I had been married, and he had been deployed several times, September 11 rolled back around and I thought, "You know what, September 11 has been hugely significant in my life, because that's what really led Brent to want to join the military. So back to that first real date, not the blind date, but the real date. As we're getting to know each other and kind of just sharing, "Here's my major, here's what I enjoy doing," he mentioned that he really wanted to join the military. We were driving on the interstate—I can still picture where we were. I'm sure you've had moments like that in your life where you can just remember exactly where you were when you heard or said something. He said he'd always wanted to join the military. I felt my stomach hit the floor, like just [gasp]. And then I kind of shook it off and thought, "Why do I care if this kid wants to join the army? Like, what does that have to do with me?" You know? Now I look back and say, "Huh, maybe that was a little bit of foreshadowing."
So we knew from the very beginning. I remember one of my fondest years of elementary school was my fifth grade. I had a fabulous teacher. That was the year of the Gulf War over in Iraq Desert Storm. Remember that teacher walking us little 10-year-olds through that war, showing us on the big tube television the footage. We had a kid in our class whose family had emigrated from Afghanistan seeking freedom and political asylum and trying to avoid being drafted into the Soviet military. So it had always been a part of me, it had always been a part of Brent to love this country. And it wasn't really like a side part of us. It wasn't like sometimes we opened the patriotic box, and then we closed the patriotic box. It wasn't like we walked around talking about I love my country. I love my country. It really kind of permeated everything we did. From the very beginning, we spent so much time talking about our potential future together as we started getting more and more serious dating, and how it would involve him joining the military, and how he had known from a young age that if he were to join the military, it would be a family decision. And if I'm going to become his wife, that means I'm his family and am I okay with that? And what might that mean? We began talking a lot about what that might look like.
As it turned out, we got married and he went to Basic Training about four months later and was gone for almost a year. So we spent the first year of our marriage separated. He deployed four times. Besides that he was gone often for training. You know, of course, the drill weekend that comes with National Guard. So, when we talk about loving God and country, it wasn't this big, "Check the box, I'm gonna go do something for my country now." It really underlies everything about our family, even to the point where he, after he graduated from BYU, he got a Master's in Public Administration. He then decided to run for city council. He then decided to run for mayor and all the while serving in the National Guard, always looking for ways to serve our country. And it was shortly after Brent died that, someone brought it to my attention, this great quote that Brent had shared himself on Facebook. Right before he left, when he was publicly announcing this fourth deployment, publicly announcing that he was stepping down as mayor for a time. And he quoted President Ezra Taft Benson as having these three great loyalties: God, family, and country. And Brent himself had said that, "Though I'm not perfect in any one of these, everything I've tried to do with my life has been centered around these three great loyalties: God, family, and country."
Now, that's something we'd never talked about in so many words, but as I've really reflected on our marriage and our life together over the past year and a half since he's been gone, I've come to see that, for Brent Taylor, and really for our family, service to God, family, and country, it's a package deal. When you're serving God, you're serving your family and your country. When you're serving your country, you're serving God and your family. When you're serving your family, you're serving God and your country by making the world a better place. And so I've really come to see that, for Brent, service to any one of those three great loyalties really was service to all three of those great loyalties. And that's helped me find great peace in knowing. You know, it's easy to look at it and say, "This is a man who gave his life for his country, because he was in a uniform the day he was shot on a deployment." That's easy to say, "This guy died for America." But you know what? I know he died for me. I know he died for my family. I know he died defending us, protecting us, fighting for our liberties. And above all, I know he died for the Lord. I know he died for the cause of freedom, which is the very cause of Christ. And so even though it hurts and feels completely like a rip-off and unfair, that he's given his life. It's not just for this country. And it's not just for me and the kids. It's not even just for the rest of our family and our neighbors and loved ones. He served the Lord with every breath he had. And he did that as a soldier, he did that as a mayor, he did that as a member of our community. But he also did that as a husband. And he did that as a father. And he did that as a friend.
So when I see memories in my mind, when I look back on those turning points where I feel like, you know, we took this path that led to military. We took this path that led to politics. We took this path that led to having seven children, for crying out loud. Everything was part of that great devotion to God, family, and country, which, above all, is devotion to God. And so I can say, long before I loved Brent Taylor, I loved America. And I knew long before he loved me, he loved America. And I know that more than his love for me and America, I know Brent Taylor loves God. And I know I never came first in his life, because God always did. And I'm happy with that. And I'm at peace with that, because I know when we put the Lord first, everything else can fall into place. And so, what sounds kind of trite—God, family, country—really is the foundation of what's keeping me going with so much positivity and hope. Because I know as I continue to try to help my family, and be of service to my fellow men, I really am drawing closer to God. And as I do that, I'm inviting him into my life, and it's giving me purpose. It's giving my husband's death a sense of purpose.
You know, I was interviewed by a reporter from Time magazine last year, and he was talking a little bit about the war in Afghanistan. It's been going on a long time. We're talking peace treaties, we sign a treaty, sometimes we back away from the treaties, we have surges and waves. And he kind of asked, if I thought, we brought everybody instantly home from Afghanistan, and shut the door, if that would make me feel like Brent's life had been lost in vain. And I looked at him and I said, "There is nothing that will ever happen that will ever make me think my husband died in vain. Ever. Because he died serving his God, his family, and his country." And there's no political decision, there's no military decision, there's no legal decision that could be made on this earth that would change the fact that his loyalty was, first and foremost, his God. And if God required his life, as much as it hurts to be separated from him for so long, I know Brent Taylor would never shy away from doing what he's asked of by the Lord. Because for him, everything came down to that loyalty to God first, with family and country being completely part of that, in harmony, not ever competitive with that, but one in the same.

Morgan Jones 30:39
Yeah. I want to talk a little bit, Jennie, about the choice that you two made. I think it's interesting. So you got engaged, and then three days later, Brent enlisted in the Army. Is that right?

Jennie Taylor 30:53
Yeah, he proposed on a Saturday, and he enlisted on a Tuesday. Three days.

Morgan Jones 31:01
So with that, I think it's neat because it is like it was a choice that the two of you made together. And I wonder how that unity of choice has aided you in the wake of his passing.

Jennie Taylor 31:17
Yeah, absolutely incredibly so. Because it's been a decision he and I made. It wasn't that he loved the military and wanted to join, and I was kind of dragged along and had no say in it. It was a decision we made together. And that doesn't mean it was necessarily always an easy decision. Even after deploying several times and training around the world several times and being a soldier for more than a decade, I found a journal entry of Brent's where he talks about how difficult it was to leave us every single time. Just because you know you're doing God's will, or you know you're doing what you need to do in your life doesn't necessarily make it always easy. Just because I love America and I love God and I can pledge allegiance with true, genuine sincerity doesn't mean it also doesn't hurt that he's gone. But I think the fact that we always approached his military service as a family affair—his political service was a family affair.
I remember when he first decided to run for mayor, we had a meeting in our home with some different community members that were learning more about his campaign and his intentions to run. And I remember one of them kind of pausing and saying, "Yeah, but what does your wife think?" And, you know, at that time we had five little kids, our baby was a newborn, our oldest was seven, not even eight yet and, obviously, hands full even then. And I remember feeling like I had a chance in that room almost to bear my testimony of my support of what my husband was doing, of my shared commitment to the values of our country, and of the fact that we as a family would be willing to sacrifice and serve in this way. And I don't remember what I said, but I remember feeling very impassioned with whatever it was I said, and I remember after I spoke, the people in that room kind of looked at me, and looked at Brent, and just kind of nodded their heads like, "Okay, they're both in this together."
Again, it wasn't Brent chasing these wild ambitions and dreams, dragging me along. And so because of that, because I know that we very carefully and prayerfully made decisions for those turning points in our life together, I can draw peace, even though they've led to this unforeseen destination. Because when I go back to those pivotal points, where maybe we could have chosen a different path, maybe we could have taken an easier way. I know we made the choice the Lord guided us to make. And I didn't see this coming. I mean, really, like probably we should have talked about the likelihood of this, or at least the possibility of this, but we just didn't. We didn't worry about it, and I'm grateful for that. I'm grateful I didn't spend 15 years fretting over what might happen to him as a soldier. We just knew this was our path to take. It's not everyone's path to take, I would never criticize or judge anyone else for what their path in life is. But I would say to anyone listening anywhere, I challenge you to find what your path is. Because I truly believe the Lord has certain experiences and opportunities in mind for each of us that are so personalized. In fact, they're so personalized, sometimes they hurt. But He knows us. He knows what we're capable of. He knows what refinement we need. And I have found that by being unified with my husband on those bigger decisions, those pivotal points, and then walking in faith, they've always led us to be closer to the Lord, even when the outcome of those decisions doesn't look at all like we thought it would on paper.
But I think that's true for everyone. How many of us really are living the life we thought we would 10 or 20 years ago, right? Like we're all living once upon a time I had a dream, and then something fell apart, or something went wrong, or a plot twist came up. That's the human story. But when you can be unified, I think in marriage especially. That doesn't mean we agreed on everything. But we made decisions together. I know for a fact he would not have gone to Afghanistan in January of 2018 if he did not have 100% my support. In fact, he never would have even volunteered for the deployment. He wouldn't have ever joined the army if he didn't have my support. We never would have decided to have seven kids if it wasn't something we both agreed on, or run for office, or the different things that we did. And again, that doesn't change the outcome. It doesn't make it so it doesn't hurt that he's not here, or shock me that he's not here. But it gives me a peace of mind in knowing, one step at a time, we've tried to make the right choice. We've tried to follow the Lord. We've tried to act in faith. And if this is where it's led us, I guess we're going to be here and try to take one more step forward at a time knowing that the Lord knows, better than we do, the bigger picture.
But I do think that unity of decision has been tremendously helpful because, again, it wasn't him living his dream and me struggling to allow him to, it was us committed together to the same cause, to the same opportunities, understanding that we each had very different roles. And we spoke of that quite openly too, that his role was very different from mine. And neither one was more important, or better or worse, or higher or lower, but that we would have different roles in our in our marriage and our family and our community service. But neither one of us could do what we've done without the other. And I'll say that's still true now, even though he's dead. There is no way I could be doing what I am doing now without the power of the covenant I have that connects me to him. You know, for a long time, I was the one behind the scenes in our family, and he was kind of the public face in politics and military and right up front, but I was always a part of his service. Now I feel like we just flipped the tables, and he's 100% behind the scenes supporting me. I feel like he's very near me. Sometimes I feel he's prompting me on what to say, or what to think, working very closely with the Holy Ghost, through the power of the priesthood and my covenants. And I know that we are every bit as much of a team now, if not more, than we have ever been for the last 17 years. We're coming up on 17 years since we were sealed. We had 15 of those years together on this earth and they were beautiful. But I figure I've got another 50 to be married to him while I'm here, and then eternity to go. So that's kind of exhausting if you try to process it all at once. I'm just gonna take it a day at a time.

Morgan Jones 37:29
Yeah, absolutely. Well, I remember right after the news came out about Brent. I was working at Deseret News, and there was a story that came through and it was about how you received a letter from a man that had served in the Afghan military alongside Brent, and he said, "Your husband taught me to love my wife as an equal and treat my children as treasured gifts." And I thought that was such tribute not only to him but to your marriage. And you've talked about how this was a sacrifice for your children as well. And I loved watching clips, as I prepped for this interview, of Brent with your children and you could just tell how much he adored them. And you've talked about how this wasn't something that they signed up for. So while this was a decision that you and Brent made together, for him to enlist in the army, that they didn't really have a say in that, and that sometimes that that has weighed heavy on your heart. So I'm curious how you've seen them come to understand that, although this wasn't something that they signed up for, it is a sacrifice worth making.

Jennie Taylor 38:47
Yeah, you know, you've hit the nail on the head for my biggest worry through all of this. My own grief is nothing compared to what I worry my children will face. And just like you said, I've had that thought over and over again, that Brent and I made every decision together as a couple, but our children were little, and really they were just born into this. They were born into a father deploying, they were born into a military family. Half of them were born into politics because he'd already been elected before most of them were born. That bothered me, that weighed heavily on me until, even though it still worries me, I'll tell you where I got some peace of mind, that was in the temple. I remember feeling the weight of, "What have I done, how have I cursed my children with this? They were born into this horrible tragedy." And in the temple, the Lord reminded me, they were also born into beautiful covenants. And they were born into the beautiful promises and blessings of those covenants. And so we've tried as a family to make it very much an open conversation that Brent is still part of our family. He is still their priesthood leader. Everything the family proclamation teaches us about the role of a father still applies, it's just a little tricky now that he's on the other side of the veil instead of the other side of the world. But my oldest daughter, who like I said was 13 at the time he was killed, she was quick to point out just in the days right after Brent died, that he had been deployed a quarter of her life. A quarter of her young life he'd already not been here in our home. And yet we always knew that he loves and adores us, that he cares for us, that not only would he, but he did, give his life for us. And so my hope and prayer is that, through open conversation and opportunities for my children to feel the Spirit themselves, they'll be able to come and see and feel what I have been able to come and see and feel, and that is that their father is still here, that he did die for a cause greater than any of us, and that, as hard as it is to be kind of at the center of that sacrifice, there really are some things worth dying for. I'm very open with how I talk about it. Some of my kids are open, some of my kids are really reserved and I try to respect how they each feel about it at different ages and stages, but as we study Come, Follow Me as a family, some examples comes up in the scriptures, and I won't be shy about saying, "Hey, that's kind of like Dad," or, "That's what our family's been asked to do." You look at Nephi, his life didn't go how he planned either. His brothers tried to kill him, he had to leave the promised land after he finally found the promised land. And sometimes life doesn't go the way you want it to. Right now, we're reading about Abinadi, and how he's a man who had a chance to save his own physical life if he would have just denied his testimony, but he wouldn't. And I was bold with my children and saying, "That's like Dad." He could have avoided the dangers of being an American soldier, if he wouldn't have cared about the freedoms being defended as an American soldier. But I know if Brent had been given the choice, a horrible choice that no one ever wants to choose, but if he had to choose to live or die, and the choice was about freedom, and liberty, and agency, and service, and sacrifice, I promise you, I know what choice he would make. So we try to be open with it. I try to be sensitive to the kids and I try to apologize to them a lot, that I am not a perfect mom by any means. I'm open with them about how I'm trying, I need their help as we try together to navigate this. Some days we do pretty well, and some days we do pretty awful. And we just kind of have to hug each other and give each other some space and say, "Hey, let's try better tomorrow." You know, this experience has given me an incredible humility as a mom, to say to my kids, "I don't have all the answers. There are a lot of questions I can't answer. But together, we're going to make it through. And together, we're going to pray that the Lord is going to help us, and trust that He will."

Morgan Jones 42:34
I think that is so inspiring because I think that, sometimes when we go through hard things, I can see how it would be easy to just be like, "You know what, we're not going to talk about this." And I think, by talking about it, that is giving your children, whether or not they're vocal in the way that they're processing these things, it's giving them a space to do that. And so I admire that so much. I wanted to ask you another thing. I was watching a video and it showed a video that Brent had sent home when he was over in Afghanistan. And he said that he had prepared spiritually for the experience of serving in the military, and he was talking to your children. And so I wondered what the two of you did to prepare for that, and then what role your faith played in sustaining you during those deployments. Because Brent was deployed how many times?

Jennie Taylor 43:38
So he was deployed four times overseas, plus different couple-weeks assignments here and there, but there were four Middle Eastern tours of duty.

Morgan Jones 43:47
And those were a year long. Is that right?

Jennie Taylor 43:50
Yeah, they varied. The first one. The first one was about a year. The second one was kind of shorter, it was an add-on to the first, so it was maybe a year and a half or so that he was gone all at once, not two full years, but usually right around a year, yeah.

Morgan Jones 44:07
Okay, so how do you prepare for that spiritually? And then how does your faith sustain you in the midst of that?

Jennie Taylor 44:15
I love it. I think the second question is answered by the first question or vice versa. But what I mean is, for Brent, again, serving our country really was service to the Lord. So he treated his time in the military as if it were a priesthood calling. And I think he approached it the same way as if he were in a bishopric, as if he were serving in the elder's quorum. He was prayerful about what he did as a soldier, but also he was very self-aware of the importance to stay vigilant and keep his own testimony strong.
It's easy in the military to not feel the spirit. It's not necessarily the environment that's super conducive to love and harmony and spiritual revelation if you just let it be. In fact, early on, when he went to Basic Training, those first couple of days were so hard, and so harsh, and foul language, and horrible humor, and just all kinds of things offensive to the Spirit. And he wrote in a letter home to me how unbelievably powerful the Spirit was that Sunday, when he was able to attend a church service. He was in Missouri, and they had a couple missionaries running a little branch there on the base that Military Basic Training soldiers could go to. And he said, he got into that chapel and heard the hymn play. And he just started to sob because the Spirit was so strong where it had been so tramped on for that first few days of Basic Training. And it was early on in his military service that he, and we together, made the commitment that living the gospel would not be a side thing, but that it would be the underlying of everything. And so he went to church every Sunday, no matter where he was, if it was ever possible.
Obviously there, I'm sure, were times that he was not able to physically attend the meetings. Several times he would be the only one, or maybe one or two members of the Church. In his first deployment, he was called and set apart as the group leader for the different members of our Church who were on the same Iraq base at that time, and he conducted those meetings, he organized home teaching at the time among soldiers in that group, and so they would check on each other and keep spiritually strong. There are a lot of problems with pornography, with infidelity, with bad language in the military. And Brent was aware of that and would make sure to never take for granted the fact that he had a strong testimony. He would never say, "Oh, I would never do that," or, "That would never happen to me." He was always vigilant with reading his scriptures every day, attending church services. This final deployment, he was the only member of the Church where he was stationed, and he received special permission to administer the sacrament to himself, by himself, and he'd have his own Sunday worship service where that became very meaningful to him. And something he didn't take for granted. He participated in Bible study classes. Every Thursday in the cafeteria, there were several Christians of different denominations who would gather to study the word of the Lord. And he would attend that where he didn't have a traditional Sunday school or a priesthood quorum to attend. And so when he talks about preparing spiritually for military service, as he would train his body and his muscles and his mind to be a strong officer, a strong soldier, he was also conditioning his spirit to stay in tune with the Holy Ghost. And when you're in an environment that's that foul or filthy, you have to fight harder. And he was well-known and well-respected for his values. People knew who he was, they knew of his faith. They knew he didn't drink. They knew he lived to clean and a chase life. They knew he had a wife that he loved and was faithful to. And that gave me peace of mind because I knew he was at war, I knew he was in a horrible environment sometimes, but I also knew that he was true to his priesthood covenants, to both me and the Lord, to our children. I knew that he wasn't taking for granted the fact that he knows what's right and wrong. He was daily feeding his spirit, feeding his testimony.
We talked a lot about the parable of the 10 virgins keeping oil in your lamps. He would help me remember to do it as a mom and not get so depleted, because sometimes you just run so fast, you feel like you're going to fall over, and he would make sure he did that in a spiritual sense to keep his spirit in prime condition just as his mind and body needed to be for his service. And then he had opportunities as a priesthood leader in the army to help other soldiers do the same.
And it's been very touching in the months since he's been killed. I've been contacted by some of those other soldiers who said, "Hey, your husband helped me reconnect with my faith while we were deployed," or, "Your husband helps me find that Jesus where I didn't really have him in my life before." There were several people that Brent baptized at Basic Training that he taught the discussions to. These young soldiers that, when thrown into boot camp and thrown into the thought of going to war, began to search for their own testimony and their own faith. And so it really was an opportunity for him to exercise the priesthood power that he held. And he treated it as such, I treated it as such. In fact, it's kind of funny, and this is something I've more put together in the months since he died, but when I was a young missionary, there was an area in my mission that had no Bishop, because there wasn't Melchizedek Priesthood holder that met the qualifications required. They needed someone who held the Melchizedek Priesthood worthily, who paid his tithing, and who had a wife who would agree to that calling. And there was no one in that area for almost two years. So I, at the time, made the commitment that I would never be the hindrance for what the Lord might need my future husband to do. I would never be that third question where the wife needs to be supportive, I would never be weak on that. And in my young sister missionary days, I'm sure I thought I'd be the bishop's wife someday I'm sure I thought I'd be the stake president's wife someday, I'm sure I thought we'd serve missions together someday. Well, that's not the path that the Lord took us on, but Brent served through the power of the priesthood, and he served the Lord through politics. He served the Lord through the military. And I'm proud to say I never got in the away. I supported him, I loved him, I helped him be better at what he did. And, like I said, in the months since he's been gone, I've been able to look back and say, "Oh, my goodness, that young, ambitious 22-year-old of me that said, "I will never get in the way of what God asked my husband to do." Well, I didn't know he'd asked my husband to give his life for our country. But I'd already made that commitment. I had already made that covenant that I would help my future husband absolutely magnify his calling, whatever that calling was. So Brent was spiritually strong, spiritually prepared, anyone who knew him, his family members, his friends, would would recognize that in a heartbeat. And it wasn't just a natural thing. It wasn't just because of the faith of his childhood. It was something he worked on and cared about and prioritized every single day.

Morgan Jones 51:16
Jennie, first of all, you are incredible. I am blown away by your faith and your example. I want to touch on something that you said previously, I found this quote to be so interesting. You said, "I don't think it's taking the bullet that makes you the hero. It's a willingness to put on the uniform when you might take a bullet, every day that makes you a hero." And that's true of all our men and women in any uniform, any generation of time. Vietnam, Cold War, World War I or II, Korea. I feel Brent would want that message to be conveyed strongly, that his being shot in Afghanistan did not make him a good American soldier. His being willing to serve our country and spread freedom around the world is what made him a good American soldier. Jennie, this episode is going to air right before Memorial Day. And so I wondered what advice you would give to others who have made this incredible sacrifice of serving in the military, in their own families? And then also, how would you say that we as citizens—many of the people that listen to this podcast live in the United States, some do not—but how can we best honor your husband's sacrifice?

Jennie Taylor 52:34
Oh, that's such a good, such a good question. And such a good thing to ponder. You know, first of all, what would I say to any family who's faced a similar sacrifice to mine? I think I'd say two things. I'd say thank you, and I'd say I'm sorry. I'd say thank you for being willing to pay the price of freedom. Because we talk a lot about the individual soldier or military member who gives his or her life as being the one that pays that price, but you know who really pays the price? Is the weeping mother left behind, or the children without a father who are left to be raised without him, or the spouse, or the brother, the best friend. That's who really pays that price. And so I think it's important to say thank you, and I'm sorry, and the best way that we prove our gratitude and our sorrow for that answers that second question.
How do we best honor those who have given their lives for us? The answer is, by making something of honor out of the lives they've given to us. My husband and thousands of others have died so that I have the opportunity to live. What I do every single day of my life decides whether or not his life was given in vain. What I do every single day of my life decides whether or not it's worth it that we keep sending soldiers into harm's way to defend freedom and liberty and justice for all around the world. Now, it's never worth it in the sense of putting a cost on a life, that's not what I mean. But what I mean is, our best way to honor them is to take the lives we've been given and do something honorable. Is that not exactly what the Savior asks? I mean, you talk of those who have given their lives for us, is that not exactly what Jesus Christ did? He gave his life for me and my freedom. He doesn't force me, he's not going to guilt trip me. All he's going to do is offer it to me and invite me to then live to the best of my ability, to live to the greatest degree of honor and integrity that I can. And that's exactly what the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us to do. So for those of your listeners who have also helped bear this price, I would say thank you. I would say I hope you feel your loved one near. I hope you know how much our country grieves with you and for you, and how grateful we are, even though sometimes we get busy in our day-to-day lives.
You know, 19 months ago, I was not a Gold Star widow. But I was already very grateful for the Americans who have paid the price of freedom for me. I'm committed to teaching my children, it's what I got my degree in, to teach school children. It's what my husband majored in to spend his life doing, was teaching other people the importance of honoring those who have gone before us. And that is a great honor that we now have, especially those of us whose family members have pitched in to that great sacrifice. But for all of us, you know, I hope it doesn't take becoming a Gold Star family to be grateful for freedom. And I also hope that becoming a Gold Star family doesn't make us bitter for helping to pay for that price of freedom. I imagine the sorrow Mary and Peter and James and John and Heavenly Father must have felt when Jesus died on that cross. And even though they knew the gospel, and even though they knew the atonement must be affected, and they knew the price that must be paid, that personal pain just feel so heavy and so unfair and so out of proportion. And yet I would ask, what if that price were not paid? What if Jesus had refused to actually go through? What if in the garden when it was too heavy, he had said, "Father, not Thy will, but mine be done," and then walked away from it? He didn't. That's not what He did. That's not what these brave men and women have done. And it certainly can't be what we do, metaphorically speaking, when we face our trials and our hard times, and we hit our knees and feel like we just can't stand another moment. It's okay if we say, "Dear God, I can't take this anymore." And then we let Him take it, and we let Him guide us, and we let Him find a way to turn our tragedy into triumph through the Savior, to find ways to love and to serve others, to lift them, and to know we're not alone. Going back to Gold Star families—if you know a Gold Star family in your neighborhood, no matter how many years it's been, reach out to them. And again: thank you, and I'm sorry. And if the way you express that is a card or a casserole or a flower or just a hug or a text message—it doesn't matter what exactly you do. Don't be afraid to do or say something.
We often say, "On behalf of a grateful nation." Well, we are a grateful nation for hundreds of years now. I hope each Gold Star family feels that, I hope we as community members reach out to our Gold Star families and our Blue Star Families. Blue Star families are those who have living military members in their family. Let's not wait till they're Gold Star to celebrate them. Let's celebrate all those who are willing to fight for my freedom, willing to defend my opportunities in life. And then let's best honor them by living honorable lives.

Morgan Jones 57:40
So well said. Thank you, Jennie. I just have one last question for you, and it's the question that we asked at the end of every episode of this podcast. And that is, what does it mean to you to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Jennie Taylor 57:57
I think being all in the gospel of Jesus Christ is a beautiful two-way street. I think sometimes when we feel like we need to be all in, or we're supposed to be all in, or we've been asked to be all in, it feels like this great thing we're supposed to give, and we're supposed to do. But the truth of the matter is, when we commit to being all in in the gospel of Jesus Christ, it opens up the other side of that two-way street, we are all in to receiving His love, we are all into receiving His support, we are all in to receiving His forgiveness and His grace and His mercy. So it's not that we commit to being all in the gospel because we're so great and noble and giving. We commit to being all in in the gospel because we know that opens all the blessings of heaven into our lives.
Years and years ago, when Brent and I were first married, I was asked to speak in stake conference, and the title of the topic I was to speak on was fuzzy lines and shades of gray. And our stake presidency asked me to address living with fuzzy lines and shades of gray versus the black and white of truth and righteousness. And the bottom line of it was, with the gospel of Jesus Christ, there's no room for fuzzy lines and shades of gray. There's no room for one foot in the water and one foot out. There's no room to try to live in Zion and stay in Babylon. Like Elder Maxwell used to say, "We need to be all in, not only because that's what we've been asked, invited and commanded to do, but because that's the only way we're going to make it."
The only way I can survive as a widowed mother of seven children with 50 years of mortality ahead of me to bring who knows what my way is by saying, "I'm all in to the gospel of Jesus Christ." Not because I'm great and noble, because that means I am going to access all the blessings of my covenants, I'm going to receive all that He offers to give me. I'm going to trust Him that He knows better than I do. And I'm going to let Him work beautiful miracles out of the sorrowful tragedies of my life.
So for me, being all in in the gospel of Jesus Christ is trusting Him. It's turning to Him, it's acknowledging that He knows and has and is so much better and more and greater than I am. And that's a beautiful two-way street. As I turn my life over to Him, He'll take the wheel. He'll help me, He'll lead me, guide me, walk beside me, and help me find the way, and all of those childhood promises from our primary days are that we will get to live with Him someday. And we don't have to wait until we die to be able to live with His Spirit in our lives. That's a promise available to us now.
I'm all into the gospel of Jesus Christ because I see no other option in my life. The only way I can get out of bed and face the demands of each day and live happily ever after now and forever, is because I am all in to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And a good friend of ours in our ward, he's actually a member of the Utah National Guard, put it this way. He said, "You know, we've been commanded to make Christ the center of our lives, and that's a great goal, and we try and sometimes we fail, and we try again. We really want Christ to be the center of our lives. But the truth of the matter is, Christ is 100%, perfect at putting us at the center of His life." And that's what it means to be all in in the gospel of Jesus Christ, to open ourselves up to being able to be the center of His love, His grace, His mercy, His guidance. And when you look at it that way, I see no other way. Certainly not a better way, but really no other way to live this life than to be 100% all in to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Morgan Jones 1:01:34
Jennie, I cannot thank you enough. Thank you so much for sharing your story, your example, your thoughts, your love for God and country with us, and I just am so appreciative.

Jennie Taylor 1:01:48
Oh, thank you so much for letting me speak and kind of collect my thoughts. I feel so grateful for the opportunities the Lord has given me to learn through my trials and also to be inspired by what other people have endured and the grace with which people around me face the difficulties of their own life.

Morgan Jones 1:02:07
Thank you, Jennie. We are so grateful to Jennie Taylor for sharing her inspiring story on today's podcast. This week in particular, we honor all of those who have died while protecting and fighting for freedom. We also want to express thanks to military families of all kinds. Thank you for your sacrifice and for your service. Thank you all so much for listening. Thanks to Derek Campbell from "Mix at Six" Studios for his help with this episode, and we'll be with you again next week.

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