13: Collateral Beauty
You can find beauty even in the hardest things when you put your faith in God. Stories in this episode: Teresa has a strange prompting that helps her find the compensatory blessings from God when her plans for retirement are upended by loss; A bid for a spot on the village council places Shauna in some crazy situations, with outcomes that only God could have foreseen.
KARYN LAY: Hey Friends, KaRyn here. Before we get to the stories in this week's episode, I wanted to ask a quick favor of you. If you're getting something from the stories that we're sharing each week, would you take a quick minute and write a review on iTunes for us? Every written review helps this show to show up on iTunes for more people who could use a little storytelling magic in their week. We really appreciate it. Thanks!
Welcome to This is the Gospel, an LDS Living podcast where we feature real stories from real people who are practicing and living their faith every day. I'm your host, KaRyn Lay.
I'm the kind of person who loses things pretty much all the time. From small things like my cell phone every single morning, to bigger things like my grandma's antique necklace. I've gotten kind of used to it, though I don't think my poor husband has, he's the one who has to call my cell phone every morning. But there are some losses that I can't just shrug off. Like this one time, I was living in South Korea and I left my beautifully marked up mission scriptures on a fast-moving suburban bus. After desperately trying to chase it down and then calling the bus depot in my hilariously inadequate Korean to see if they'd been returned, I had to give up and admit they were gone forever. And with them, all of those sweet mission memories and written lessons in the margins. While your loss might be bigger and more painful than some lost scriptures on a bus, the feelings might be the same. It's hard in those moments to believe that Jesus Christ can fill in the gaps of what we used to have. Today, we have two stories from women who experienced big loss and in the process, discovered the blessings beyond the pain of what might have been. Our first story comes from Teresa, who had some really beautiful plans for her retirement that were upended by an unexpected journey that required all of her faith in God. Here's Teresa.
TERESA: A month after 9-11 my husband and I were going back to Virginia to surprise my daughter who was attending school there. He had never been to Washington DC and I had several times, and so I was showing him around. And we were standing on the steps of the Capitol and the city was very solemn at that time because it was shortly after 9-11. And as we were standing on the steps of the Capitol at night, looking down the mall and feeling all these different feelings about our country and what was going on and about our future, I turned to my husband and I looked at him and I said, I'm going to work here one day. And he just looked at me like, yeah right. And so that was the end of that. And so fast forward 13 years later, after raising a family of five, my husband and I were both very much looking forward to his retirement, to serving missions and to spending time with our grandchildren. We had lots of plans and dreams like most couples do.
My husband had been experiencing severe headaches and fatigue for about a year actually, we could not figure out what was wrong with him. My husband was the hardest, most conscientious worker I've ever known. And I knew something was really wrong when we were at my son's wedding, we had a reception, and my husband was on the sofa and just not like him at all. So when we got home and took him to the emergency room, it took us three trips to the emergency room before we got a diagnosis and they had to send us bloodwork all over the country. And he had a rare form of multiple myeloma. So we, of course, were shocked and my husband was determined that he was going to be fine and we were going to work through this. And we got the name of a doctor in Los Angeles, who only dealt with multiple myeloma patients. So patients from around the world were coming to see this doctor. And he told us that not to worry that he was going live long enough to see his grandchildren graduate from high school. And so that gave us a lot of hope. So that's how he went forward. He fought very hard to live. When he went into the hospital for the final time, of course, I didn't know it was the final time, but we tried to get an airplane, a friend of ours had an airplane and we were going to try and transport him as soon as he was stable. The Holy Ghost had blessed me with a clear, clear impression that he did not have long to live. And when the Holy Ghost said that he doesn't have much time to live, I'm thinking okay, well, you know, the Lord's time is-- he doesn't really have time, you know, so I'm trying to figure out how long that is. Is that, you know, a couple of weeks, is it a couple of months, is it a couple years? And it was, as it turns out, a few weeks. And so my last conversation with him, actually, he asked me if we were there yet. And I told him, "Oh, honey, I'm sorry. It's time for you to go home. You need to go home to Heavenly Father." And he still was fighting, he was like, "Nope, not going."
But I had great peace. And it was actually a very sacred experience with friends and family members surrounding him. I was never angry because I honestly felt that I had sufficient faith that if he was supposed to live, that he would live. And if he wasn't, you know, was I supposed to say to God, "No, you're wrong." And so I trust Heavenly Father. And after that, I was trying to figure out what I'm going to do with my life now that he was he was gone and those plans and dreams are no longer a part of my reality.
So I decided I was going to go back to school and finish at BYU and finally get my bachelor's degree. And so the following year after his death I, very surprisingly, got accepted into BYU. And for me, I think making that decision was very difficult because I was actually going to have to leave my home in California, where all of my children lived and my grandchildren. And this was something that I had wanted to do over the years. My husband knew that I wanted to finish school, I had gone to my local college and taken a few classes here and there. And so I had prayed about it very much and also discussed it with my children and they were very supportive. So as hard as it was to leave them, I felt confident knowing that it was the right thing to do, that I was going to be okay and that my children were going to be okay even though I wasn't there. It was a little scary because I was living by myself for the first time in, you know, since I was in college before. And to walk onto that campus with all these young people, and here's this Grandma, is she going to be able to keep up? Is she going to be able to get back in, you know, into the swing of things with school and dust all the cobwebs out of the brain? So I started school there and it was wonderful. I loved being around young people and made some really dear friends. And then it wasn't until after the first semester at school when it started hitting me really hard. I had not given myself time to grieve. And I had to drop a class and I was crying all the time and I couldn't sleep. So that transition took a period of time and to be honest, I'm still kind of in it.
I had decided to apply to the BYU Jerusalem program. And I was very much looking forward to that and hoping that I was going to get accepted, and I did. And so I had decided to take a couple of days off, away, over the anniversary of my husband's passing just to be by myself and make sure that I was making the right decisions. And so I had prayed about whether or not this is the right decision to go to Jerusalem. And I got it from that prayer and I, for some reason, felt it wasn't the right thing to do. And I wasn't sure why. But that was the answer that I got. So I got into my bed and I am laying there thinking about it and then I sprang up in bed thinking, "Oh my goodness, I do not have a place to live and school starts in like three weeks." So I laid back down in bed and went to sleep and at seven o'clock in the morning I get a phone call and it is the secretary of a friend of mine, who he and his wife were mission presidents in Uruguay at the time. And his secretary wanted to know if I would like to live in the basement apartment of his home while he is in Uruguay. I just started bawling, I couldn't believe it because I felt like the Lord knew my concerns. And I knew that he was aware of me and He said, "Teresa, you made the right decision. And here you go. Here's a place to live." And so I went back to school, I was studying American studies with an emphasis in political science, and got an internship with one of our local Congresswomen. I decided to apply to the BYU Washington seminar program. And I applied for an internship with one of our senators and I got accepted. And so off I went to Washington, DC. When I got accepted, and I went back to Washington, I was so thrilled. And I was able to meet wonderful people, young people, I love young people, we have a connection, it was wonderful.
And so as I look back on those series of events, it has made me realize, although I do not have my husband with me, and times are lonely and I miss him, I feel like this time that I have without him, is really a gift from the Lord. That I have received compensatory blessings from him because he took my husband home. And I am so grateful for the many tender mercies that He has bestowed upon me in allowing me to utilize my talents and to grow in areas that I never thought I would be able to grow. I know what the Lord has done for me in the past, and he has always provided tender mercies for me. God is good. And as hard as it is sometimes to be by myself, I trust the Lord will lead me.
KARYN LAY: That was Teresa. And what a lovely way to think about our tender mercies as compensatory blessings from a loving God. Our next story comes from Shauna who followed a prompting into a difficult situation that definitely didn't end the way she thought it would.
SHAUNA: I'm in a small town, it's about 50,000 people, it's a suburb of West Palm Beach, Florida. And I did a lot of work in the community, service in the schools, I was on the school board committees, boundary committees, working as a PTA president and I felt like I wanted to do something more. And at the same time, while I'm praying about what I need to do, people in the community were coming to me saying you ought to run for the village council office that is coming up, because there will be a seat that will be vacant. And I thought about it, back and forth, back and forth and I felt strongly about it, but I didn't act on it for a while. And I can clearly remember the day that I prayed about it and I got a very clear answer to my prayers, "You need to run for that council seat, and use your talents and get out there and meet people and make an impact on the community." The election was taking place in March of 2012 and I made that decision in December of 2011 after a lot of back and forth. And away we went and just started meeting with people and having gatherings in people's homes and offices and restaurants, and asking people what they felt we needed in our community, and trying to listen to people. And I would be invited to a lot of people's homes and it seemed like the one thing people wanted to talk to me about more than our community was my faith. And they wanted to talk to me about being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. People would always ask me about the temple, they'd asked me about my temple clothing, they would ask me things that I think they didn't feel like they could ask someone else and here I am, sitting at their table. So they would ask me about the word of wisdom all the time and just where the lines were, because they maybe knew another member of our church who maybe drank this, or they would-- they just wondered. They asked me many times if I believe in Jesus Christ, many times, and so I had an opportunity to testify of Christ. And I loved that because it gave me this commonality with so many people. People would say, "Oh, okay. You believe in Christ? Well, then we can have a conversation further." So I did love that, being able to clarify that my life and my faith is centered in Jesus Christ. And all the peripheral stuff was fine to answer, but I loved being able to share that. So everything was going well, we have the signs out in the community, I have a big, big group of people working for me, I have a lot of donors because I needed to raise a lot of money, even though this is a small community. Wellington, Florida is known for Polo. It's the winter capital of the world where people come from literally all over the world to play polo, horse polo, not water polo. And there's some very, very definite opinions about keeping that area of town preserved, and safe and this beautiful, wonderful place. And then there's another train of thought that wants to bring in as many more people and build big hotels and all that. So it divided the community and it got very, very ugly, and people were very passionate. It turned, I'm going to say, the election was in March and I'm going to say, in February, so about six weeks before the election, we got a letter on our front doorstep threatening us, threatening our children's safety. We had two teenage daughters at the time living at home. And so we had to involve the local police who would wait at the bus stop every day when the girls were getting dropped off by their buses. And it just started to get very, very strange and I didn't like that and I didn't want to do that because that's not what I was about. I just wanted to do good and do what's best for my community make good choices. And know I was supposed to be there. So I would pray, I definitely would pray and I would ask Heavenly Father, am I still safe? Should I still do this? And I'd feel like okay, pull yourself together, keep going.
And then a few weeks before the election, I came home on a Friday afternoon. It was a Friday, I was coming to unload groceries and I opened the door and I have a dog that was in his crate and he was just going crazy. Bark, bark, bark bark just crazy, which he doesn't do. So I went to let him out and he went straight to the bathroom. And I heard a voice in the bathroom. I just thought, Wait a minute, wait is the TV on? You just you're not sure because it was so unreal. And this voice told me to get out of the race and then no one would get hurt. They wanted me to drop off because the poll showed I was way ahead. And this person ran off. And there I am, just I literally was planting my body into the wall, I felt like I was making a hole in the wall. And again, I'm praying and I'm praying to be safe, is there somebody else in my house what is going on. And I called 911 and I just hid in a closet until they go out there. And they came in and searched my house and it was evident that someone had been going through my house. But there was no one else in my house and everything was fine. They took fingerprints and footprints, actually, and couldn't ever find who did it. It was just this person ran off onto the golf course behind my house and they were never seen again. And that was on a Friday and all weekend I just really questioned what am I doing? But I always go back to yes, you're supposed to be here. You're supposed to do this. And I remember asking for a blessing that weekend from my husband and again, I was told "You're in the right place, you'll be protected. It's okay, get back in there." So having that blessing was enough to help me keep going and finish strong, that was the next few weeks. And so, race came, I was ahead all the way to the end, every poll put me ahead. So the race came, I won, you know, we had a big celebration that night and I didn't feel happy that I won.
I didn't feel happy because it had been so ugly and we had this very divided community. And I felt like I know needed to now go and unite the community. That was on a Tuesday and all week, I just started doing everything you would do if you'd won and started making plans to be sworn in that following week. And people were asking me to meet with them and I was meeting with people and meeting with the media. But I didn't feel happy. And I kept praying, "Heavenly Father, help me be happy about this. This is what I was supposed to do. I felt really good about it, now I need to feel happy." And the Sunday night before I was to be sworn in, I even said to my husband, "I don't want to do this. Why don't I feel happy inside?" And he said, "Well, I don't know. But you're the winner, and you need to get going." So he was right and Monday morning is when I got a phone call from the supervisor of the elections, who said we can't certify this vote, the count does not match the ballots. The machine count doesn't match the ballot count. We were able to get a judge to approve and order a hand recount. So the hand recount came and at the end of the day, things were reversed and I was not a winner. And I was so happy. And I was so relieved. And I called myself the happiest non-winner. And as the days would go forward, and I would pray about it and people would interview me and ask me how I felt about it, you know, aren't you upset about this? And I would say no, I'm not upset about it. This is what needs to happen. And I truly believe that the Lord wanted me to go through that experience so that I would be able to share my faith during everything. I mean, that was a side of every single meeting I had, I don't think I had any meetings where people didn't ask me about my faith, and not in a negative way they wanted to know. And so I was able to share my faith with people that would never meet a missionary on the street, they would never open their front door, they have the kind of homes a missionary wouldn't be able to get up to their door. And they felt very comfortable talking to me.
So I had that experience, I felt I had the experience of feeling like what it felt to win, to go through that race, to follow what I knew was right, and then to have the blessing of not having to go through all the volatile, divisive issues. So I've just feel like I was protected from a lot of negativity. And it gave me a chance to ponder, okay, the true desire of your heart is to make a difference and to help other people in your community. And so what can you do without having to be a political candidate. Sometimes things don't turn out the way you think they're going to turn out. And you learn things that you didn't set out to learn. And you grow in ways that you couldn't have grown any other way. And sometimes we think I'm following this prompting because I'm going to go from point A to point Z, and we know how the end is. But what I really learned is the Lord knows how the end is. And I've learned that in my life over and over. And he knows how to help us stretch, he knows how to help us grow and if we'll have our faith strong enough that we can follow what we know is a prompting, He'll take care of us.
KARYN LAY: That was Shauna. I've known Shawna for years and can vouch for her ability to stay cool under intense pressure, including a stranger in her bathroom. What struck me most about this story though, and Teresa's is how confident these women were in God and in his plan. Their ability to reconcile the loss of what they thought was a perfect outcome, with what they knew God had in store for them, that's inspiring to me.
There's this one moment in the story of Job that always takes my breath away. It's that section of scripture where messenger after messenger brings news of loss and tragedy to Job over and over again. His world is falling down around him and the loss is just palpable. His response in chapter one, verse 21, is filled with a wisdom that I longed to have in the midst of my own struggles, "the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." It's true that when I look back on experiences of loss in my life, I can see how God was blessing me and how it all fits the bigger plan, but only when I look back. The middle, where Job expressed his gratitude and faith in God is often a lot more murky and confusing for me, and probably for all of us. These stories this week, they reminded me that there's space in the middle of that loss, where a loving Savior is continuing to bless us. And if we believe in Him, we can seek Him, even there.
That's it for this episode of This is the Gospel. Thank you to Teresa and Shauna for sharing their stories and their faith. And thank you for listening. If you have a story to share, call our pitch line at 515-519-6179 and leave us a message with a short synopsis of your story. And of course, be sure to check out past episodes of this podcast and the All In podcast at LDSliving.com/podcasts. And if you love the stories we've shared, leave us that review on the Apple Podcast app or anywhere you listen into your podcasts and tell all of your friends. It'll help more people find us. Have a great week.