Samuel Brown and Kate Holbrook: The Evolving Story of a Marriage
Samuel Brown is an academic, a shock trauma ICU doctor, and a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Medical School. He has achieved much professionally, but it was not until his wife, Kate Holbrook, was diagnosed with cancer in her eye and he faced the risk of losing his beloved that Sam realized he had neglected things in his home. This realization was painful and required work to undo the hurt of the past, but together, he and his wife have rebuilt a home and a marriage they are grateful for and proud of.
Editor’s note: Kate Holbrook passed away on August 20, 2022 after a long battle with ocular melanoma. Our hearts and prayers are with her husband Sam, their children, and her family members and friends.
You can't introspect your way into another person if you don't spend a lot of time with them.
Ezra Taft Benson quotation:
"Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that He can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He can deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, and pour out peace" (President Ezra Taft Benson, "Jesus Christ–Gifts and Expectations" December 1974).
Kate's recipe blog: The Away Cafè
Kate's address at BYU Women's conference, 2020:
2:32-Authenticity or Repentance?
5:23- The Natural Sam
9:55- From Atheist to Believer
26:10- Confronting Selfishness in Marriage
32:46- Forgetting Ourselves to See Others Clearly
43:10- Cheering Each Other On In Being Useful to God
48:55- “Holy” Food Deliveries and Reverence for One’s Spouse
53:23- What Does It Mean To Be All In the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Morgan Jones 0:00
Before we get into today's episode, we wanted to give you a little heads up that over the next couple of weeks we will be taking a little break to allow for a bit of summer. We'll be back July 14 with new episodes. In the meantime, we may republish a couple of our first episodes you may have missed, but we're still trying to decide. Regardless, we will be back July 14. You have my word.
Samuel Brown is an attending physician in a shock trauma Intensive Care Unit. Thus, it is interesting that it was cancer in his wife's eye that changed his outlook on life. In his new book Where the Soul Hungers, Brown writes, "I love my wife with my whole soul. The painful betrayal of her body by the cancerous cells of her eye is her story to tell, not mine. Still, the reality stands–light and grace have gained easier access to my broken heart than to my comfortably proud one. My heart and mind have been remade in tragedy."
Today we talk with Sam and his wife, Kate Holbrook, about the change of heart Sam experienced and how it reshaped their family.
Samuel Brown is Associate Professor of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine and medical ethics and humanities at the University of Utah, and is an intensive care physician in the shock trauma ICU at Intermountain Medical Center. He has authored multiple works, including the award-winning book, In Heaven as It Is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death, which was published by Oxford University Press in 2012.
Kate Holbrook is managing historian of women's history for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She holds a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and a PhD in religious studies from Boston University. She and her daughter Amelia run a recipe blog called “The Away Cafè.” Together, Sam and Kate are the parents of three children.
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 be in the home of Samuel Brown and Kate Holbrook, thank you so much for having us.
Kate Holbrook 2:20
Glad to have you here.
Samuel Brown 2:21
Yeah, glad to have you with us. I'm Sam, by the way.
Morgan Jones 2:24
I'll call you Sam throughout the interview, I just wanted to make sure that people found the right book.
Samuel Brown 2:29
Got it. Perfect. Perfect.
Morgan Jones 2:32
So, speaking of your book, my coworker Emily Abel wrote a beautiful feature that's going to be in an upcoming issue of LDS Living magazine, and she summed your book up this way and I thought that it was so good. She said, "There's so much to talk about being true to yourself and living your truth in the world that we live in today, but Sam seems to be saying that repentance means denying our authentic self and trying to become something better through repentance. Being authentic isn't the point, repentance and change are the point."
And I thought that that was so good, and I just wondered, first of all, as we get into talking about this today, would you two say that that is representative of the message that Sam shares in this book? And is that what you were hoping to communicate?
Samuel Brown 3:20
I guess that was–I mean there's so many words that we're using right now that none of us have any idea what it means. What the word means, we don't know where it came from, we don't know what culture it pulls into being when we say it and “authenticity” is an example of it.
I mean, before the last 50 years, the goal was to be sincere, to be genuine, to be honest, to be virtuous, to be true. Those were the things you aspired to. So when authenticity comes along, it's not like it's inventing out of whole cloth the notion of being genuine or sincere, it's trying to change the terms of what it means to be sincere, honest or true. And it's specifically trying to change the terms–and there's a lot of interesting philosophy written about it–but it sort of boils down to this notion that it's sort of the individual against the horrible society and that everybody's trying to shut us down and get in the way of us communicating to them what is found, rather than what's in the process of creation, and also what belongs only to us, as opposed to what belongs to all of us together as we contribute.
And so it's not that I–it's not that I have any interest in people being insincere or ingenuine or duplicitous, or even of failing to be true to who they are. It's about the reality that we exist in networks–in networks of love and mutual regard. And we in the church are fortunate that we're in the body of Christ which provides this natural, huge, intense and powerful extension to the families that we're born into. But all human beings are able to participate in this.
And so when I say that I would much rather be inauthentic than authentic, part of it's me acknowledging that I want to be the people I love and who love me. I want to be a member, a body part–“member,” the original word "member" just means a body part–I want to be a body part of the body of Christ.
And the other thing that I was trying to get out with this notion about authenticity and wanting to be inauthentic is what I call the natural Sam, right? The natural man or the natural woman and enemy to God, etc. If I introspect, if I look inside, and the mission of authenticity is to look inside yourself, don't look at others, don't look at the world, don't reflect on relationships, just look inside yourself–if I look in there, there's a guy who's, you know, he's reasonably smart, and he's a little too arrogant, and he's pretty impatient, and he's more than a little selfish. So if I'm really going to dive inside myself and find just truly what's found there–sort of a jerk.
Samuel Brown 6:08
And like, I don't want that. I want to be who I can become, in loving my wife and my kids and my family and the other members of the Church. I don't really care that much about being me or not me as I happened to be found, or as my genetics make me. I want to know who can become as we work together in love. And I think, as long as you understand repentance as being a story about that growth together as a community and the overcoming of the barriers and the wounds that prevent that coming together as community, yeah, I'm all in repentance.
If again, we use that kind of 19th and 20th century Protestant idea of repentance that it's a little boy sitting in a room saying, "Don't think dirty thoughts. Don't think dirty thoughts. Don't think dirty thoughts." That's not what I'm interested in, in terms of repentance. It's good not to think dirty thoughts, I'm not recommending thinking dirty thoughts.
Samuel Brown 7:05
But repentance is not this little tiny thing you do all alone in a room. Repentance is a story about healing wounds and about moving together and creating together in love. So I guess with those little–I guess I am an academic, so I’ve got to footnote everything–but with those little footnotes, I think it's a story about repentance and love, and not a story about–you don't want the authentic me. Trust me. I tried that when I was younger. People don't want it. And they shouldn't want it. And I don't want it.
Morgan Jones 7:33
Right. Well, and I'm curious as we talk together today–and this is one reason that I wanted–first of all, Sam, I think that your wife is absolutely brilliant. And I wanted to have Kate on, in general, but I think it will be so interesting as we go through this conversation to have the two of you talk about this together, because of the change that you've experienced as a couple and in raising a family and in finding that change and repentance as you go along in the journey of a marital couple. And so, Kate, I'd be interested in your thoughts about how this–because I imagine as Sam's wife, you became somewhat of an editor as he went through working on this book, is that accurate?
Kate Holbrook 8:18
You know, that's not.
Kate Holbrook 8:20
And I always wonder whether I'm selfish when people ask that question about Sam's books. And I say no, but he is so prolific, and I find that to get my own writing done, and for all of our household duties–
Morgan Jones 8:32
Just let him do it.
Kate Holbrook 8:33
I can't, I can't edit his books. Although I do get to see portions of them and talk through the ideas, and that I love. And I did want to add, I knew we would talk about authenticity, so I brought a quotation with me that to me represents–this is the way I envisioned my own aspiration in that direction. And it'll be familiar to a lot of listeners, it's Ezra Taft Benson in 1984, it was published in the Ensign, and he says, "Men and women who turn their lives over to God will discover that he can make a lot more out of their lives than they can. He will deepen their joys, expand their vision, quicken their minds, strengthen their muscles, lift their spirits, multiply their blessings, increase their opportunities, comfort their souls, raise up friends, and pour out peace."
And that feels, to me, like what we're trying to achieve in figuring out who we are and being who we are, that it . . . it's only done successfully when we're doing it with God and with necessary repentance. And to most experience who we are and what we have to give to the world–we do it with God.
Morgan Jones 9:50
That is one of my favorite quotes of all time. So I'm so glad that you shared that. Sam, when we talk in the book–when you talk in the book–about your conversion, you write this, "It was basically the Alma the younger conversion story set in a small town in Davis County, Utah, in 1990. I didn't fall into a trance like Alma did, but I may as well have. The spirit jolted me out of my former life. Nothing of any importance could remain as it had been."
You–later, shortly thereafter, describe you entering the campus of Harvard College and you say, "My body throbbed with the presence of Christ." So tell me a little bit about this Alma the younger like experience, and how you went from considering yourself an atheist to then walking on the campus of Harvard with your body throbbing with the presence of Christ.
Samuel Brown 10:47
It's a, it's a long story, and I'll try to make it a little shorter to avoid killing everybody. But, you know, I grew up in a troubled setting. My mom really tried hard and I honor her, she really worked her . . . butt off–sorry, to, to be a little coarse–but it was tough. Dad was wracked with mental illness, deep poverty, he finally ends up out, and you know, I was a shy, chubby boy who lived inside his mind. Lived in abject poverty with a lost dad and a mom just trying to keep it together with seven kids total.
And I think it just–my dad was very pious and came from a storied Latter-day Saint family, and I think part of it was feeling like I'd been dealt a bad hand and that the dealer was Mormonism somehow. Part of it was–and I think it's true that some of our first encounters with the notion of divinity is the relationship we have with our parents
Morgan Jones 11:56
Samuel Brown 11:57
And a toxic relationship with just a lost father I think played a role. And then I was, I was quick witted and susceptible to the stories that were told about how religious people are stupid. And so I pretty rapidly saw myself as atheist, alienated, alone. And that's how I understood myself and–but I was lucky that I grew up in the bosom of small-town LDS ward that loved me, no matter how troubled I was and no matter how much trouble I was. Not everybody thought that way. There were a couple people in the ward that just felt like I had crossed the line but on balance, they just loved us. Us, poor, lost family and me, angry atheist.
And it has an effect on you over time, it just softens you a little bit when people are just unrelentingly kind. And then there's this moment that so many of us have, it happens at different points, but there's a moment when it starts to sink in that you will one day be an adult, and you will one day have an actual life. Not the fake life of adolescence, but an actual life. And I'm 16-17 and I'm living my own version of dissolution. And there's just this slow inkling that–there's got to be more than this.
And, and it was that sort of slow inkling over age maybe 16 to 17, that honestly was really facilitated by time spent in the Uinta mountains. In the Uinta mountains, I had these moments of what you might call divinity. A sense of something greater, vaster, more sacred than what we encounter normally. And I think over the course of those experiences in the wilds of the mountains and being embraced in the bosom of this ward, and with these good friends who were better people than I was and still loved me, softened me to the point that I felt like I could make the transition, indeed–had to–make the transition from atheism to agnosticism.
And then from agnosticism, there's this sort of wondering that maybe there is more to my life than being angry and mean and partying. And then that's a point that I become a little more open and aware. And then there were a few different things that felt like God–if that's what it was going to be–was aware of me and hoped for something better for me.
I was honestly planning to get a debate scholarship to the University of Kentucky and live a life right out of Animal House, the movie, that was my aspiration. I was getting set up to do it and my mom was praying and praying and really just wanting me to not throw away my life. And I don't mean any offense to Kentucky, but the specific model I was imagining was not a good one.
And so when one of the local Harvard recruiters called her on a Sunday afternoon, and she was finishing a fast and said, "We really want Sam to apply." And I didn't really care. I didn't–I didn't know Harvard from Howard from Hennessy. What do I care? I'm a wild boy. But my mom really felt like it was a sign and wanted me to fill out the paperwork. So I typed up a bunch of hooka pook and submitted that off and didn't think about it anymore. I didn't really have any sense of it.
And then there was this moment when I felt like a relationship I was in was wrapping up, and I had not been my best self in that relationship, and I think it'd been a part of the story I was telling about myself. And she broke up with me. And I was just sort of wandering around like teenagers do till three o'clock in the morning with my melodramatic grief.
And I got home and it was two or three in the morning, and my mom was in my room. And usually–God bless her–she was fast asleep, like, why would she try to stay awake for Sam, because some nights I just didn't even come home, and we just had an agreement that would work.
But she was there in my room just all smiles. And she said that this Harvard recruiter had called her that evening, and he'd violated the moratorium–the letters had been sent, but they're not allowed to tell you before the letter arrives–but he'd broken the rules to call her and tell her that they'd admitted me.
And still, I didn't have any sense of what Harvard was or wasn't. But I could tell that it mattered to my mom, and it seemed like a big deal. And there was just a sense that I had, it was a really sad ending of a phase of my life, and suddenly, there's this opening to another phase of life that felt better. And that was quite clearly different from living a party animal life in Kentucky to really seeing what the mind could do. I knew that Harvard was supposed to be a place where smart people went, and so I assumed well, I'll learn something there.
So it was that kind of combination that got me thinking. There's more going on here–maybe. So I actually went to my Bishop, who was this awesome guy who really loved us, he passed later from multiple myeloma, but just loved us, as awful as I was, and would take us out in his muscle cars, and they'd have those suicide steering knobs, I don't know whether you've seen them, but they're the size of a saucer, and they have a little grip on the middle of them, and it allows you to turn a car, the speed of light. And so you can just do all sorts of crazy dangerous things. And he will let 16-year-olds drive these huge muscle cars and burn rubber, and he just loved us and was a kid himself.
And I said, "Jeff, I'm agnostic. I don't know if this is a bunch of crap or not. But what I do know is the life I'm right now living, it doesn't feel true. It doesn't feel right. So whether this is true, or there is a God or not, I feel like something's not right. And, and I wonder what you think about that?"
And he said, "Well, you know, why don't you try living the moral principles that you probably actually believe, independent of whether there's a God or not." And back then they would disfellowship kids, and I personally was very grateful for it. I know it sometimes doesn't work at all, but he said, "You know, I think let's take this seriously. Let's just fellowship you. Let's indicate that the stuff you've been up to is not what you think is right, and is not what God sees is your . . . there's a meaningful life you ought to be living," and said, "Let's take a couple months, let's get your act together. And then let's see."
And so that's where we were, and two or three months and then it was coming into August, I was about ready to go off to college, and then the night before I was reinstated–so to speak–I fasted, it was a fast weekend, and I borrowed my buddies two stroke Yamaha–it's a motorcycle, a dirt bike–and I drove it around in this big hollow by our house and I told myself that if I could get up this incredibly steep hill, it was about 40 feet up, that there was a God, and if I couldn't, well there was no God.
And you know, that's the kind of mindset you have as a 17- or 18-year-old sometimes. And I never did get–I kept crashing at the top and finally thought I'm going to break my neck if I keep trying to prove God this way. Went back home and I grabbed some Book of Mormon and I prayed about it. I tried praying. I've never been very good at prayer, but I tried really hard then for about an hour. And then nothing.
I went upstairs, I found my mom up–again midnight or one o'clock–and I wonder now whether it was hard for her to sleep, just saying that out loud now, being a parent of teenagers, but she was awake and I said, "I, I prayed and I got nothing. I'm sorry, I tried. I'm willing to live a decent life, but this is not for me." And she said–and I found out later, even though she didn't realize that she was actually quoting an evangelical Protestant's book, but she said, "Sam, God is not a vending machine. You don't put"–back then it's a quarter–"you don't put a quarter in and get a coke out. It's not how it works. Not a machine."
And I was like, okay–fair enough. Two more weeks. Not a vending machine, two weeks, got the quarter, buy me a soda.
Kate Holbrook 20:47
Still a vending machine is what you were doing.
Samuel Brown 20:50
Yeah. Yeah. Kate knows–sometimes to her great discomfort–how stubborn I can be. So the next day, I was like, oh whatever. I'll give it two weeks. And then we blessed the sacrament. And my friends knew. And I found out later, my friends have been praying for me for years. And there's nothing quite as tender as finding out that someone you love has been praying for you. Just in that kind of–wanting you to be well. I didn't know at the time, but a little bit of emotion as my close friend, blessed the bread, and then I was assigned to bless the water and I got, "Oh God. . . " And I just broke down.
I had. . . and I was just sort of filled with this sense of love and a sense of an awareness outside me that I'd never had before. I'd had hints of it up in the Uinta mountains, but I never had it so immediately. And I've never forgotten that. I'm a tough and complicated guy, I don't think God's always particularly proud of me, have my ups and downs, but I've never forgotten that. I've never ceased to be a theist. I had my rocky road with the Church, particularly in the early years as I was just trying to figure out what it meant to be a lapsed atheist who now believed in God and was raised in the LDS Church, but I've never forgotten that.
And events like that don't happen that often. Some people never have them, and I don't want to be selfish or snooty about it. I don't have those that often by any stretch, sometimes you live in the light and sometimes you'll live in the memory of the light, as my great grandpa told my mom one day.
Morgan Jones 22:42
That's beautiful. Kate, you also grew up in a home that was different than the traditional Latter-day Saint home. Tell me a little bit about your upbringing, and then I'd love to hear about how the two of you met and how those upbringings shaped your marriage and how you approached that.
Kate Holbrook 23:06
My dad left when I was six weeks old. And then the summer before I started kindergarten, we moved in with my grandma–my grandfather had just died. So I grew up in Provo, Utah, an only child, living with my mom and my grandma. And it was a really happy time. I remember praying hard that I could have a dad and then I could have siblings, but they gave me a really happy, good loving life. And I remember it always really hurt my mom's feelings when that term "broken home" would come up because she had created something that wasn't a broken home. And she would have preferred for her husband to stay with her.
Morgan Jones 23:46
Kate Holbrook 23:47Because my grandma's husband had died and my mom's husband had left, we ended up–like we'd sit on the benches at Church with other people who were not married for whatever reason in this stage of their life, and a lot of the people who would come over were not–like some of their close friends in the ward were no longer married or never married. And it made me think that I might not get married. I wanted to get married, be married, and I wanted to have children, but it was always a very live possibility in my mind that that wouldn't be an opportunity that would come for me.
And so when Sam and I were getting to a point of talking about marriage, I felt scared on one hand, I felt very aware of the things that can go wrong in marriage. But I also had all of these models for how you get through that. How you can still have–create a really good life, really good home life, even if something does go wrong and you have to deal with the consequences after. So that was present with me when we were even–I woke up the morning of our wedding, I'd had stress dreams all night long. And my first thought upon waking was, "Oh, whew, we aren't married yet. I can still call it off."
And then I went down and had breakfast, and by the time I was fully awake, I thought, "Oh, I think I'm nervous. But I think this might still be a good thing to do," because I prayed, too. So those things were all present with me. But because I loved Sam, so much, and because, I think, I think it's worth us having the ideal of marriage, even though it can be hurtful in some ways, because we had that ideal, I thought this is worth risking for because if it works out, it's great. And, and it really is.
Morgan Jones 25:42
That's so, so well said. I love in the book, there's one part, Sam, where you said something about that maybe the example of your father was what had given you hesitancy, for a little bit, in marrying your favorite person. And I thought it is such a sweet way of saying, you know, sometimes we do have hesitations. But I love that you approached it as–it's worth that risk.
I want to talk a little bit about change that has taken place within you as you have gone through years of marriage now together and have had children. Sam, one of the things that you said in in the book is, you said, "I know that I come across as sentimental now"–which is different than what you described yourself as initially, you said, "I've become a subject better fit for Hallmark cards than the strenuous realities of our cutthroat economic systems. I still feel the occasional pain of self-consciousness when I realize how soft hearted I've become. Sometimes I miss the strength I perceived in protective indifference. Then I realized that aloof skepticism for all those years stole from me the holy proximity of other people. I know how little the youthful me would admire this turn into weakness, but this new world is where divine love has drawn me, and in this vulnerability stands the possibility of a life beyond my former authenticity." So, what served, Sam, as the catalyst for this desire that you had to change and extend this idea of authenticity?
Samuel Brown 27:27
That's a good question, and one that's hard to answer, but I'll try to be a little quicker than I usually am. I was pretty selfish early in our marriage, and I've spent a lot of time grieving how mean I was that first year. And it was all about my self-absorption. And we're very different personalities. It's not that we're opposites attracting, but we're also not identical, not by a longshot. And I just couldn't see through it. I'd figured out the God question, but I hadn't figured out that people question that was a lot harder to do. And then I got pulled into, you know, one of the terrible downsides to Harvard is that it tells you that you're only worth what Harvard believes you're worth.
If you haven't been inside it, you don't quite realize it, but it exists by token of persuading people, that they're worthless outside it. That's its whole point if you look at it from the side. Now, of course, there are plenty of great people at Harvard doing great things and trying to discover, but fundamentally as an idea, it's the top of the meritocracy. And I got suckered into that. I kept my faith in God, but I got pulled in. And when you get pulled in, you work 70-80 hour weeks, you're doing everything you can to succeed professionally, you're just not around much.
And I kind of let Kate run the family and figured it was in good hands. And I'm busy doing Harvard things, you know.
And that went on. And then about nine years ago, there was a health crisis, there was a cancer of the eye. And all of a sudden I had to woman up. I had to like, represent, do the right thing, and not just always be gone. And then I had to come face to face with the reality that I had not been the husband and partner I could have been and should have been. And that was a kind of heartbreak. And I realized how much I'd hurt her over the years, and that–I'd always wanted to do the right thing, but was often sort of blind to where I was getting it wrong. And that kind of created this crisis. Confronting the possibility that your beloved may die, that's hard. That shakes you up. And, and I saw, I saw a lot of things I've been doing wrong. And–
Kate Holbrook 30:09
It was also, as I recovered, as we had some successful surgeries, and I started to get better and started to get my strength back, it had created a big shift for me. And I realized I was super angry. So while I expected to be having a happy moment of getting better, I had a lot of resentment over–and Sam was not a monster.
Morgan Jones 30:31
Well, I was going to ask, like from your perspective in the beginning of your marriage, what was that like?
Kate Holbrook 30:40
But some, but some of the things he said are true. And I hope that I've also grown to be more supportive and less selfish. But he definitely helps a lot more around the house now. And even if I didn't have a profession, it would still be really important that, that he do that, because otherwise I feel unseen, taken for granted, un-respected, and like our whole family life, which is so important, doesn't matter, you know. For us to get clear together on those messages was kind of rough. Because I didn't–I wasn't immediately able to just open my heart and say, "Oh, it's okay." I had, I had a lot of work to do myself. And I think maybe even pushing back until I could see that I could trust him, that this change was real, that he was going to stick with it. So it was complicated and hard.
Morgan Jones 31:36
I believe it. So how do you, together, work through those things and those feelings that you had?
Samuel Brown 31:43
We did some therapy. We did some couples counseling. It was important, it was painful. Sort of embarrassing, and . . . and I'm so skeptical in general. I sorted the God thing, but it's not like my skepticism disappeared. So I'm always skeptical of authority, and here's the counselor's authority looking into your failures as a marriage partner. So it was hard. But that helped.
Morgan Jones 32:11
Kate Holbrook 32:12
We just started doing a date night. Which sounds, I mean, I'd always heard you should have a date night. But when your kids are young, and our kids were still young, and you have to pay for a babysitter, and then plan it, and we were so overwhelmed, to have to plan something felt like a big deal. So we just started going to a movie every Friday night. And it made a huge difference. I started to feel like I felt when I was in college, and I looked forward to the weekend and looked forward to having some fun. It wasn't just good for our marriage, it was good for us as humans.
Morgan Jones 32:44
Kate Holbrook 32:45
Morgan Jones 32:46
I love in the book, Sam, you wrote regarding this, this realization that you had. You said, "I've lived these stories of identity in my own life for decades now. My selfish commitment to myself was the root of much pain for the people who love me, perhaps especially for my wife. In retrospect, it took years of marriage for me to forget myself well enough to see her clearly. And crucially, it wasn't until I began to really know her that I even had a shot at knowing myself." How do you think that we forget ourselves well enough to see those we love clearly, and then, to then be able to see ourselves and then that change starts to kick in?
Samuel Brown 33:34
You've asked a crux question for religious life and for life in general. And I'm very cerebral, so I like to come up with an algorithm and execute the algorithm. And you can't do that. You can't–you just can't.
Morgan Jones 33:52
Samuel Brown 33:52
But on the other hand, it's not all spontaneous. There's some thinking that's involved and some planning. And I'm not a big Aristotle guy. I'm happy if you're a big Aristotle girl, but this notion that people associate with Aristotle that, what's right is what a person who lives well naturally seeks to do after having built a character, seems right to me. There's some component of deliberately growing into a kind of person that has the Spirit of God in him that is a part of that process.
So for me, a lot of it was some simple things to do that happened repetitively. And that's date night and cooking at least a couple, it varies as the kids have gotten older, they take turns cooking too, but taking a couple of nights in terms of cooking. I was never very good at it, but I kept trying to shut my phone off at a particular time, trying to get some exercise–not because I think fitness matters, but because bodies are meant to move and you feel better when the body moves. Some incorporation of scripture study and meditation I think is important.
And then that's the sort of infrastructure, and then the brass tacks of it is pausing to try to think about the world from the perspective of the other person. And you have to force yourself to do that. There's nothing innate are authentically human about understanding another person. There's a whole school of philosophy about the fact that it's impossible to ever do, but I think they're wrong. I think it's just none of us natively will do it. But careful pausing, periodical, to think about the world from the perspective of the other.
And then there's this thing I teach the medical students and the physicians in training when we're talking about how to make a diagnosis in a patient and manage a patient who's pretty sick, and I talked about what I call "triggered metacognition," which is foolish, but the basic notion is you train yourself to get your spidey sense activated when your mind is stuck in a rut. And metacognition is thinking by stepping out of a rut and looking freshly at something. So when I get mad, or frustrated, or want to say a mean thing, those are metacognition triggers. And so I try to say, why am I feeling that way? And what's the experience of the person on the other side?
And then I think spending time together, that I think is a big part. You can't introspect your way into another person if you don't spend a lot of time with them.
Morgan Jones 36:47
Right, you're just coexisting.
Kate Holbrook 36:50
Yeah. I could add church. I mean, I think if this is an overwhelming list–
Samuel Brown 36:50
Which church are you talking about?
Kate Holbrook 37:00
The one we go to.
Samuel Brown 37:00
Oh, good. Good.
Kate Holbrook 37:01
This is an overwhelming list, if you want to start at the beginning, maybe just add date night.
Kate Holbrook 37:08
But for me to see Sam at church make some of the changes he's describing, and especially when he came to really like other people's babies, because he'd always loved our babies. And it was always fun for everybody to watch him hold one of our babies. But when he started being interested in other people's babies, that just was this sign of this softening of–he was very aware of people, especially mothers in the ward who had young children, and wanting to ease their burdens. And that's something that matters a lot to me, too, and always has.
And so now, if–we haven't been able to do for over a year–but if we go to church, and there's a baby there, first thing we all want to do is ask the parents, can we hold the baby? Or can we take the toddler? But usually toddlers don't want to go with us, so usually it's a baby. And then we fight over who gets to hold the baby, but just those–he started taking cookies to church, and at first he'd only give them to mothers of young children and to women, and then made it a little broader, but seeing him respect those women and the burdens they carried, I mean, there's a lot of joy in it too, but it's just hard to be a parent of young children, mother of young children in particular, that really improved our relationship too, I think.
Morgan Jones 38:28
That's interesting. It's interesting hearing you say that, Kate, because it's almost like, by seeing Sam care about other women and mothers, he was acknowledging you as a mother, which is really beautiful. Were you going to say something Sam? I'm sorry, I cut you off.
Samuel Brown 38:46
Just that Kate had taught me that the Harvard meritocracy had blinded me to the relevance of mothering. I had never thought of myself as misogynistic and never had any desire to disrespect a woman or to treat a woman poorly. I just didn't care. Like, how does that add up? I'm busy being a really important physician scientist. I mean, walking a toddler around, that's what like, young mothers do, like, okay, that's fine. I don't care. And Kate had helped me see that I was blind to that ad hoc crap. I've gotten this upside down. The New Testament says that people who think of themselves as powerful, the people who have political or academic power, they're the people at the bottom of the food chain. The people at the top of the food chain are the people doing Jesus work. They're poor people, they're young mothers, they're people that Harvard doesn't care about at all. And it was another one of those disorienting moments that was like, "Oh my gosh. I have the whole story wrong."
At least I'm in good company because all the apostles in the New Testament got the story wrong too, though. They're like, "I thought you were dead Jesus. I wanted to be the cool one."
Morgan Jones 40:04
Samuel Brown 40:05
But so then I thought, oh, so there's the divine spark, there's scripture, but then there's Kate, my beloved, my favorite person, to guide that. And to realize that part of the moral crisis I had created by accident was disrespecting full-time parents. Not intentionally, but by neglect, by just not . . . I didn't care.
And so it's that combination of scripture, the divine presence, worship, and the people you love and who love you that know you really well, that can help you see–it's not the case that every single Latter-day Saint needs to bake cookies for young mothers. Right? It'd be probably cool if everybody did, but not everybody needs to do exactly that. There are other things that need to get done. So out of the huge just, smorgasbord of ways to carry the divine light, there's going to be a few that are going to resonate, going to be true to you. Again, it's–my desire to be inauthentic is not a desire to be other than fully true. On the contrary, I'll never really be true. And for me, Kate's the one who taught me to bake. Kate's the one who taught me to like sweets. Kate's the one who taught me to respect people really trying hard in pursuits like mothering that are not honored in our modern meritocracy.
So it's that combination of getting in a particular–and then you can see, and I don't think I'd heard it clearly before, but then Kate says that, watching me then carry that out has helped to bring us closer together. So even though I wasn't trying to get on my wife's good side by taking cookies to the young mothers in the word, that's what happened. Because together we have created particular vessels of this divine light.
Kate Holbrook 42:03
That's probably a good life lesson for everybody. If you want to be on somebody's good side, let them see you doing good works. I mean, do good things.
Samuel Brown 42:14
Morgan Jones 42:16
It's funny that you say that. My mom always says that the first time she fell in love with my dad was he–they were at a Church volleyball game and some people were picking on a guy in the stake that had some special needs. And my dad stood up for the boy and my mom always says that's when she fell in love with my dad. I think that there's something to be said for that, absolutely. And I think that it's so fascinating hearing the two of you talk. I'm sure you've thought about the irony of this, but that it took eye cancer for you to be able to see.
Samuel Brown 42:53
Morgan Jones 42:53
And how the Lord just works in such mysterious ways. And so I think if there are people listening who are going through something really hard right now, that sometimes we don't understand the way that the Lord is working in our lives. And I think that that is powerful as well.
You both have supported each other in educational and career endeavors. I'm wondering how that has led to a rich and rewarding marriage, and what your advice would be to young couples who both individually would like to accomplish a lot but would also like to raise a family and to be a strong couple as well.
Kate Holbrook 43:35
I think as far as wanting to accomplish a lot. I think just wanting that isn't . . . I think that that's kind of a waste. I think the question to ask is to God, "What do you–Where do you need me?"
Morgan Jones 43:48
Kate Holbrook 43:49
"What do you want me to do?" Because then you'll have a meaningful life. And maybe it will be kind of exciting, maybe you'll get to be on podcasts–it will be exciting in some way.
Morgan Jones 44:00
Kate Holbrook 44:00
And if you feel God with you, then you will be satisfied with it. If you are venturing on something that's going to be time consuming, like a PhD, or–that's my experience, so that's what I think of first–I think it's really important to remember to cut each other some slack. One night when we were still dating, and they had these–when Sam was in medical school they had these very fancy dinners. The first one I went to I wore a Church dress and learned quickly that that's not enough for these dinners. But one of his older mentors came up, and I think maybe we were engaged because he said, when Sam does these overnight shifts that are coming up, he said, "Just have a little compassion for him." And that was really good for me to remember, sometimes I was better at it than others, but it's–what he was doing was so hard. And it still is hard as he's a physician.
So just trying to help people in our family remember to have a little compassion for him. But the reason I'm still able to do that is because he's also had compassion for me. He's also asked people, oh, there are–when I was finishing my dissertation, the kids were still young. And for a couple of weeks, he had to . . . he just did everything, because I was, I was finishing it up. I was working day and night to finish it up. And, and to see how he took over everything, all of their needs, thinking about food, thinking about laundry, all of that has stuck with me.
If there comes a time when I think, "Oh, he needs to make dinner," or something, and it's a time when the professional demands on him are extreme, then I can remember, "Ah, maybe I can help out. Maybe we can have toast for dinner." And so I think that exercising compassion for each other and cheering each other on can do a lot.
Morgan Jones 46:08
Absolutely. And I think what you said about, you know, wanting to accomplish a lot is the wrong question. It goes back to that Ezra Taft Benson quote, right? If you want to be used by God, that's a very different thing than wanting to just accomplish a lot. Sam, any thoughts from you on that?
Samuel Brown 46:27
I remember one, just one practical example. It–I think we're all sort of–not all of us–but many of us are prone to want a nice car, even if we're not trying to get some luxury obscenity, we sort of just want a little bit nicer car than we currently have. And, and I say that because it's an example of something that for many people, you kind of need it, but you really have a choice about whether it's fancy or not. And one thing I'm remembering is that we decided on cheapo cars so that we get to use the money that would have been blown on a like a Honda or something nice, we're not talking about the fancy pants stuff, I don't like that stuff much. But like, you know, not getting a Honda, getting a cheaper car.
Because we can use that money to then have a Kate professional support fund that can then be used to pay a babysitter to do 10 hours a week, or could pay to get a writing retreat for a few days, just to take off and go somewhere to a hotel and just get writing. Or to have somebody you know, be able to take the clothes to the laundromat or something like that. Because I think we sometimes have this sense that you can't do these, you can't do these things that help with the running of a household that that's somehow not right. But it's okay to get a decent car. And I'm not trying to be a jerk or trying to be prescriptive, but I'll say that for us, recognizing, "Let's get a cheaper car and have a Kate professional support fund," I felt like that was helpful.
Kate Holbrook 48:09
Super helpful. And because it was a fund, it didn't ever make me feel like I was asking for money. Because for whatever reason, in my–I wouldn't want to ask for extra money. I think it's part of that Latter-day Saint self-sufficiency–we should be able to do everything ourselves. But if you are managing children and a household, even if you have good support from your spouse, you can't do everything that you need to do to finish the degree or do your job or–
Morgan Jones 48:39
You're not getting paid.
Kate Holbrook 48:42
Right! Right. So having that money that I knew was set aside so I could just access it without having to make a big deal out of it was great. Really important.
Morgan Jones 48:53
Yeah, that's such a good idea. I love that. Before we get to our last question, I wanted to ask the two of you, how do you feel like you have grown together in faith? And what are you most grateful for about the other?
Kate Holbrook 49:12
I believe in the body of Christ notion that somebody is the pinkie and somebody the kneecap, and–I love to cook, I have a food blog. And Sam and I have found that cooking is a way that we can spend time together and enjoy it. And so my way of serving is often to give people food. And so we–and Sam will cook sometimes, too. And so we'll often find ourselves walking around the neighborhood with a kid or not with a kid, delivering some food to somebody. Maybe it's just somebody we thought of when we prayed. Maybe it's somebody who's just had a baby–that's a very likely scenario. Maybe it's somebody who's broken his wrist, you know, it doesn't matter and those walks around the neighborhood, taking food to people are holy for me. And there are times when I have felt close to Sam, because I think, “We're doing this. We're doing our best the way we as–whatever body parts we are–can, to help our community.”
And it's not just Church members. But we tend to know what's going on with Church members more than we do with other neighbors. That's just the way it works, and that's why Church is so great.
Morgan Jones 50:22
Right. Thank you, Kate. Sam?
Samuel Brown 50:26
I think, again, I'm not natively either particularly pious or reverent. And I think as I watched Kate modulate my soul over these years, we've . . . what is it? 25 years, maybe we've been together? I've just watched it, and I think I've always wanted to do good, but I haven't always known how to do it particularly well. And Kate is a gentle person, I'm not. And Kate is a reverent person, and I'm not. And I've watched that process unfold in me, and I . . . people will not propose me for any position of authority and should not within the Church.
But I'm much gentler, and much more reverent than I ever was before. And, it's becoming true. It's becoming true about me that I'm a gentle guy that didn't used to be. And I mean, I've always loved Kate's great intelligence and her goodness. And I think it's the combination of this wisdom and intelligence and smarts and the goodness of a soul, to me have been really a cause for celebration overall.
Kate Holbrook 51:52
And I didn't finish answering the question. I can't narrow it to one thing I love about Sam, but his generosity has been a real example to me through our whole marriage that he wants to give, he wants to . . . as soon as he finds out somebody's going through some kind of hard time he, he wants to help. And, and I love that. I love, I love feeling the pressure of that. I think it's helped me to be more giving myself.
Morgan Jones 52:23
I love both of those answers. And I want to, I want to end on something before we get to the all in question. I just want to share a quote that I think will kind of bring this conversation full circle. In the book, Sam writes, "In the past, when people wanted to know who they were, they tended to cast their gaze elsewhere at the natural world, at God, at the people they loved, at the village where they lived, that's where they located the touchstone of their identity, the places where they discovered the meaning of their lives. Not anymore. That's not where identity and meaning comes from today for 100 different reasons."
And I think what you just described, Sam, about Kate is how you have found a newness of life in sharing a life with somebody else. And I think that that's the beauty of community, that's the beauty of family, that's the beauty of marriage, and so I just thank you both so much for sharing these things and for your goodness. My last question for you is, what does it mean to you to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Kate Holbrook 53:33
Maybe I'll go first. So Sam can have the last word since it’s his book we're celebrating.
Samuel Brown 53:36
Whatever you want.
Kate Holbrook 53:40
I think one of the most important things I've learned in my efforts to be all in is that other people matter a lot more than what I look like or how they perceive me. So when I'm living the way I believe is best, I'm letting go of my worry about perceptions or my disgruntlement about judgments that people may be making, anything unkind or untrue and unkind they might be saying, and just really focusing on how to do better in a way that builds the Church–it's lucky to be employed by the Church–that builds the Church and builds my neighborhood and my family and my ward.
So, just an example. Right now we get to teach gospel doctrine together, so every other Sunday, we teach. And sometimes it's tempting with gospel doctrine, especially since we're studying this history this year is to just let people know, I mean, some . . . a lot of times people just, they're always really aware of how smart Sam is. Maybe I'll say it that way.
And so sometimes I feel the temptation, "Show them that you're smart. Tell them that you know this history," right? But I really tried to put that away and just think, "What will help people in this lesson?" and pray, "What can I teach in this lesson that will bring people closer to Christ and to each other?" So that's one example of what I'm trying to describe.
Morgan Jones 55:24
Yeah, it's kind of that submission of, you know, the natural man all over again and being like, "I want to do what you want me to do." It's the same principle.
Kate Holbrook 55:35
That's true. That's true. We're finding a theme today.
Morgan Jones 55:37
That's right. Sam?
Samuel Brown 55:39
That's a hard question for me, because I, I think through every angle, I think of all the counter examples, I think of all the inaccuracies and inadequacies, so the notion of being all in is really hard for me, but I keep going back to the Sermon on the Mount and that reference to being perfect as God is perfect. And it seems to me that what it means to be all in for me is to know that the only way I can truly be whole is in God.
So it's not that I'm perfect, right? I'm not all in, I'm never all in. I've always got some grumble or . . . you know, there's always something noodling at the back in my brain. But I can know that the only way for me to be truly whole is in God. For me, I think that's what it means to be all in.
Morgan Jones 56:41
Thank you both so much. I appreciate you having us in your home and for everything that you've shared.
Kate Holbrook 56:47
It's been wonderful to spend this time with you, Morgan. Thank you.
Samuel Brown 56:50
Yeah, thanks to be with you.
Morgan Jones 56:53
A huge thank you to Kate Holbrook and Sam Brown for joining us on today's episode, You can find Where the Soul Hungers in Deseret Bookstores now.
We are, as always, grateful to Derek Campbell of Mix at Six studios for his help with this episode, and a huge shout out to you, as always, for listening. We'll be back with you again on July 14. In the meantime, go ahead and preorder the All In book with the code "ALLIN6," you can get 15% off between now and the books release date and you can even select the ship to store option, avoid paying shipping, and still get the discount. So go ahead and do that and we'll be back with you on July 14.