Taylor Ricks just wanted a casserole.
A young mother of two children with another on the way, she was also a foster mom for a beautiful 2-month-old baby boy named Zane, who had been in the hospital for two weeks. Zane had Down syndrome and congenital cataracts, and as Taylor finally came home with him and was unsuccessfully trying to set up his medical equipment, her own feelings of exhaustion took over and she cried out to Heavenly Father for help.
“I remember just being so hungry. My kids were in bed already—the babysitter had put them to bed, and I got home ... and I was praying that someone would bring me a casserole,” she says. “I was just like, ‘Please, Heavenly Father, I have so many good people in this neighborhood and ward. Please, can someone just bring me some of their leftover dinner or something? I’m so hungry.’”
An hour passed. And then another. But as the night wore on and the sky grew dark, still nobody had knocked on the door.
“I [was] just crying and holding this new baby and saying, ‘Heavenly Father, I don’t think I can do this. I can’t do four kids under 4—one that’s really sick. I don’t think I can do it,’” she recalls.
But amid these overwhelming emotions, memories came to Taylor’s mind over and over of people with Down syndrome whom she’d loved as a child and how God had prepared her for this challenge. So while she didn’t know at the time that she would later be able to adopt Zane, those thoughts helped her realize that she had been given a gift to care for him—even if it was only for a short time. Though no neighbor or friend showed up on her doorstep with the casserole she’d prayed for, Taylor came to see that dinner wasn’t what she really needed—what she did need was an experience where God could quietly teach her. And when harder challenges arose in the future, the memory of that experience was a strength to her.
“I think sometimes we’re praying for a casserole and some outside healing, ... and sometimes that casserole never comes. But it’s not because He isn’t aware of us. It’s because He has something better and bigger to teach us. And so that was a good reminder to me that sometimes we just need those unseen moments,” she says.
Unseen moments have long inspired Taylor, not only in her personal life but also in her scripture study, where she has searched for quiet heroes who are often overlooked. Recently, she even wrote a book about what she found called Everyday Disciples: Lessons Learned from Unnamed Scripture Heroes. In it, she highlights her personal heroes in the Bible and the Book of Mormon and what Latter-day Saints can learn from them.
As a woman who has experienced the pain of racial prejudice, the struggles of foster parenting, and the challenges of being a single mother of four, Taylor has often relied on unnamed scripture heroes and their examples during her darkest hours. She’s also found that quiet heroes aren’t only in the verses on a page. Many are in wards and neighborhoods and among family members and friends—but she believes that as with the unnamed heroes in stories of old, to notice them, one first has to be looking.
The Quiet Heroes
For years, Taylor marked unsung heroes in the scriptures on her phone: Ishmael and his wife. Priests who prayed for Alma the Younger. The individual who escaped to tell Abraham that Lot had been captured. Over time, she had noted over 100 quiet heroes in her digital scriptures. So when she decided to start writing a book about them, they were easy to find—but her initial thoughts about the scripture heroes evolved as she followed the inspiration she received.
“As I started writing, more insights about them [and] their lives would come to my mind. ... It was really a revelation-based process,” she says. “I felt impressed that I needed to do it and then [allowed] the Spirit to carry it the rest of the way.”
With four kids ages 5 to 9, Taylor found that relying on the Spirit was key to the balancing act of being a mother and making progress on the book. So she would write whenever she had a spare moment, which meant having her laptop close by and working outside anytime her children kept themselves busy with activities like jumping on the trampoline. Then she’d pause to do things like make lunch for her kids before writing some more, and in just a matter of a month or so she’d written an entire book. But she knows she had divine help all along the way.
“I was willing to put in the work that I needed to. But He magnified that work and that effort,” Taylor says. “So if I sat down and only had an hour, I felt like I was able to pump out a lot more in that hour than I normally would.”
While the speed with which Taylor wrote may surprise some, that number doesn’t include her mom, Tonya Haddon. Whether her daughter is writing a book or is single-handedly building a playhouse for her kids, she says Taylor always accomplishes what she puts her mind to.
“She just wants to do all the things that she feels prompted to do. And then she sets out to do it. It’s amazing—she never sits still,” Tonya says.
That determination has been a valuable trait throughout her life, helping Taylor achieve many things in her 31 years. But it’s also helped her stay spiritually strong during times of great need.
To Be Seen
Since her childhood, Taylor has dealt with racial prejudice. She was the only student of color at her school in Spokane Valley, Washington, so when she moved to another state at age 12 she was excited to live somewhere with more diversity. But even there the racial prejudice persisted. In her book, she recalls being on the bus one day in middle school when she heard a group of girls talking angrily about someone whom they were planning to ambush and attack. When she arrived at her locker and saw those girls waiting for her, joined by 10 to 15 other students, she realized they had been talking about her.
“In what seemed like an instant, I was surrounded. I looked in every direction, but there was nowhere to go, no refuge. The words they screamed inches from my face should not be written. Words that have long since been penned in history books and marked for removal from daily vocabulary. Words that brought images to my mind of hatred, captivity, abuse, and murder. The words reserved only for racism and hate. These were now the words laced in between threats on my life. They were now more personal than they had ever been and stung in a way my 12-year-old spirit had never felt before,” she later wrote in her book.
Although the school principal dispersed the crowd that morning, Taylor was encircled again by the angry students—some of whom were in her ward—as she made her way to the bus at the end of the day. Fear took over her body, but fortunately a group of high school boys who were also from her ward were already on the bus; they got off, shielding her and helping her to board. As they sat around her and then walked her home for protection, they became her own humble heroes.
Those high school students continued to sit by Taylor, and by summer she had relief from the daily attacks. But unfortunately, the bullying wasn’t an isolated experience—Taylor recalls how one woman would wait at the bus stop in her car and drive by calling Taylor names, once even throwing something out her car window at her. On another occasion, Taylor sat through a lesson in her Young Women class where the teacher said those who married outside their race would be damned. But Tonya says that during these difficult times, her daughter always relied on her faith.
“She would turn to the scriptures. She didn’t even tell me a lot of times what was going on, and I would just find her in her room. ... That’s where she knew she could find peace,” Tonya says.
I prayed that others would see my heart. See my worth. See my efforts. See my work. See my soul.
Although these experiences were challenging, Taylor feels a deep empathy toward people who, like her, just want to be seen beyond their outward appearances and be recognized for who they really are.
“As a multiracial sister in the gospel, this has often been the cry in my heart, too. When I was a child, I was the only one in my congregation who was a different ethnicity. I cried as I prayed to understand why I was different. I feared that my skin color would hold me back from entrance into heaven or other good gifts. When people would say, ‘I don’t see color,’ I thought that meant they didn’t see color because people of color were not worth seeing,” she wrote in her book. “I prayed that others would see my heart. See my worth. See my efforts. See my work. See my soul.”
Throughout her life, Taylor has also found peace in staying true to her standards. Her mom remembers how one day a woman came in to the copy shop where she and Taylor both worked. The woman started chastising Taylor, upset that because her daughter was living a lifestyle Taylor was uncomfortable with, Taylor wasn’t pursuing a close friendship with her. But Taylor, who was only 14 years old at the time, didn’t let the woman’s opinions affect her.
Tonya recalls Taylor’s response to the woman: “She’s like, ‘So you’re telling me that I should just let go of everything I believe and how I want to live to fit in with your daughter? I love your daughter. And I’m never mean to her. But I’m not going to do those things just to make her feel better or you feel better.’”
But while some may fail to accept Taylor for who she is, that doesn’t stop her from helping others. In fact, her natural ability to put herself in someone else’s shoes may be why many people gravitate to her when in desperate need.
Room at the Table
When Miken Garcia’s teenage daughter passed away unexpectedly due to a natural medical disorder, Taylor was one of the first people Miken’s husband called for help. As next-door neighbors, the two families had become friends when Taylor and her husband helped the Garcias prepare for their temple sealing, and they knew they could count on them. So Taylor met the Garcias at the hospital, fielded calls for them, and had meals brought in. But while her help was needed on that horrific day, in many ways the days that followed were just as important.
“After the funeral and a couple of weeks [went] by, she offered to have us over for Sunday dinners so that we wouldn’t be alone—you know, there [are] a lot of ... hours left in a Sunday when you have early-morning church,” says Miken. “So it was just really [kind of her] that she would be so open to have her home and her family be vulnerable during our vulnerable times, and be loving enough to cook a meal and maybe play a card game or ... put in a movie—anything like that just to help us feel loved and not forgotten.”
Inviting guests to her home is a priority for Taylor, who has two dining rooms and 20 chairs ready and waiting to be filled. Her goal is to make sure everyone feels welcome and wanted.
“I think about the scripture [where] Jacob says to feast on the love of God, and I love to host events in my home and create big feasts,” she says. “When I invite people, I don’t care if they come and only eat the broccoli—I just want them to be there and to partake of whatever they’re willing and able to partake of. And if they want all of it, that’d be awesome. But if they only want the broccoli, I just want them there.”
In the scriptures, Taylor says, everyone is invited to do similarly and partake of what the Savior is offering—and if they’re only ready for a small portion, that’s OK.
“With every call to repentance and every invitation to come to Christ, who just wants us there, that’s a good enough start—just be there. And then if we are willing to partake of all of it, then He’ll give us more. But He’s just happy with whatever we’re willing to give or whatever we’re willing to feast on,” she says.
In addition to hosting friends, neighbors, and family, Taylor has opened her home as a foster mom. She has found that everyone has a story—and even though those stories often include terrible circumstances, she’s seen how Heavenly Father has watched over His children through those times.
“It helps me to remember that everyone we meet has dark stories that we may never know, and they have miracles that we may never know. And that we need to treat them as such—that they are children of God ... and that He’s creating miracles for them and opening doors for them.”
It’s not just in other people’s stories, though, where Taylor has found this to be true—in her own dark moments, she’s found that God has been watching over her too.
What Motherhood Means
Taylor’s life turned upside down earlier this year when, within just a few days of her book’s release, she became a single mom. Coming to terms with her new situation—and especially what her role as a mother would be—was anything but an easy process.
“It really made me look at what motherhood meant and was to me. And I think, especially in the Church, we have an idea or a definition of this stay-at-home mom that has all the perfect things figured out, all the home evening and prayer and scripture study every night, and all of those things. And I just felt like I was all of a sudden in this place where I was barely doing what I could,” she says.
But Taylor found that when she stopped comparing herself to other people, aligned her will with Heavenly Father’s, and followed the promptings she received, her feelings of failure fell away. And she came to an important realization.
“Our roles as mothers are ever evolving and ever changing,” she says, “but the important part is walking that journey with our Savior and with our Heavenly Father guiding us.”
As a mother, Taylor does her best to meet her children’s needs—and, depending on the child, that can mean different things. For instance, because her son Zane has Down syndrome, Taylor earned a master’s of education in applied behavior analysis so she could be better equipped to help him. That degree has come in handy at the Utah Down Syndrome Foundation, where she volunteers by creating and teaching curriculum that helps parents prepare their children with disabilities to attend school. At church, Taylor is the ward disability specialist; she meets with families, auxiliary leaders, and the ward council to look for ways to change patterns or habits so they’re more inclusionary. There has been a great need for this calling in her ward—when she started serving as the disability specialist three and a half years ago, Taylor says that 27 children in their Primary had a disability and nearly half were on the autism spectrum.
“We had to get creative with, Does Primary only look successful if everyone is sitting in their chair the whole hour? Or can we sit on the floor? Can we hold different things? And so, to me it’s a calling where we’re just remembering to be a little more Christlike to make room for people that didn’t feel like they had room before.”
Members of the Multitude
When she isn’t busy volunteering, ministering, working, and being a mom, Taylor maintains an Instagram account she started inspired by the lyrics “To cheer and to bless” from the hymn “As Sisters in Zion.” The idea began when she read an invitation on President Russell M. Nelson’s Facebook account to share the gospel, and although she had never been on Instagram before, she felt a prompting to create a page that would brighten people’s days and help them feel closer to Christ. She’s steadily been gaining followers since then, but for her, the account’s success is less about the numbers and more about following the spiritual impressions she receives.
This mindset holds true regardless of the project Taylor decides to tackle—and by following small impressions, big things like her book have come about. Her friend Miken adds that Everyday Disciples has great potential to positively influence readers.
“I hope it will change others’ lives when they read it to know that ... [there are] unsung heroes—and that whatever good they’re doing doesn’t go unnoticed,” she says. “And it’s not all just a waste of time. It’s not all just a waste of energy and love. There are others out there that do see them quietly serving the Lord.”
Quietly serving the Lord can take strength and humility, Taylor says. But, just as much as the Church needs members of the multitude who lead, Christ also asks for disciples who are willing to be led.
“The Savior needed people to teach,” she says. “He needed people to follow Him, and He still does—and we can be those people.”
Everyday Disciples testifies that every voice is needed, every testimony is important, and every soul is great in the sight of God.