26: It's the Little Things
Stories in this episode: Emily finds a tiny but meaningful evidence of God’s care for her in a convention center bathroom; A disappointing answer to one prayer leads Alexandra to a new kind of prayer with interesting results; Scott returns to a difficult area from his mission five years later and is met with a happy surprise; One creatively placed word helps Serena find hope; Marianne sees the hand of God in a perfectly timed knock at her door.
"The Tender Mercies of the Lord"—Elder David A. Bednar
Emily Belle Freeman, our first storyteller in this episode, is the author of a lot of really awesome books about coming closer to Christ. She's also a TOFW speaker and her 2015 talk called "Finding God's Fingerprints" is available here.
This episode of This Is the Gospel is sponsored by Bookshelf PLUS+. Bookshelf PLUS+ is my absolute go-to for audiobooks for those long summer road trips with my teenagers. They act like they're bored at first because that's what teenagers are supposed to do but it doesn't take long for them to tell me to turn it back on when we get back in the car.
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Welcome to This Is the Gospel an LDS Living podcast where we feature real stories from real people who are practicing and living their faith every day. I'm your host, KaRyn Lay.
For today's episode, we've got a little something special for you. And when I say little, I mean just that: little, small, tiny even.
Listen, I'm a huge fan of the big gesture. I mean, who doesn't love that moment in the romantic comedy when the protagonist holds the boombox blaring music at the window in the rain while wearing a heart-decorated bear costume? But honestly, that's not real life for most of us most of the time, right? And I think that's especially true of our spiritual life, or at least it's true of mine. Big moments come—the undeniable miracle, the angelic visit, the sweeping conversion, the answer to a big prayer. And, of course, we celebrate them. In fact, we tell some really great stories about them. But more often than not, it's those small evidences of God in our everyday moments that sustain our faith while we wait for the big gestures to come.
So today, we're celebrating those little things that we've themselves into the bigger tapestry of our faith, with five storytellers and five small but mighty stories.
First up, we'll hear from Emily who has a story about a truly tiny thing that made a big difference in her wardrobe and her understanding of God's care. Here's Emily.
I'll never forget an experience I had several years ago, I was speaking at a huge event that thousands of women were attending. For the event, I had purchased a red dress that had a black satin sash around the waist. And that morning, as I was preparing for my turn to go on stage, I found that I was concentrating more on trying to keep that black satin sash tied together than I was on the details of my presentation. I kept going into the bathroom over and over again and realizing that that sash untied it would fall down at my feet.
And finally, just before my turn to go on stage, I walked into the bathroom one last time to figure out what to do with my black satin sash. The woman who was in charge of running the event walked in right behind me and walked into a bathroom stall.
I sat in front of the mirror and just focused on retiring and retain that sash. And finally, I said to her, "You wouldn't happen to have a safety pin, would you?"
I could hear her start laughing from behind the bathroom stall door. And I thought to myself, "Oh, maybe this is awkward. Maybe she's one of those people who doesn't appreciate when people talk to you when you're in a bathroom stall." But then she said to me, "You are not going to believe this."
And I said, "What?"
And she said, "Hold on just a second." And I could hear her take a picture with her camera and then a text popped up on my phone and I open it up and I looked, and there on the handle of the stall that she was in with a safety pin that someone had attached earlier, who even knows when?
And she said to me seriously, "What are the odds that this would happen, that there would be a safety pin on the door of the stall that I am in?" And I thought to myself, "It is so true."
Think about it. What are the odds that we would have gone into the bathroom at the same time, just before I was going on stage, that she would have chosen that stall of all the eight stalls that were in that bathroom? That on that door would be hanging a safety pin, that was just the right size to pin the sash on to my red dress so that it would stay still?
This is one of those moments that someone might call a coincidence, but I knew it was a little thing, a way that God was showing that He was aware of me and aware of what I was doing. It was His way of removing a distraction that would allow me to focus on the greater purpose to teach His word to a group of women who had come to that event to be able to focus on what was the most important thing because He would be focusing on the little things. I love those moments in our life when we see His hand when we recognize His fingerprint, and sometimes it doesn't come with the big miracle or the huge answer we've been waiting for. Sometimes we see it in something little like a safety pin hanging on the back of a bathroom door.
That was Emily Bell Freeman. And guess what? We have that picture from the bathroom stall in the show notes for this episode. You know you want to see that safety pin.
The first time I heard this story was at a Time Out for Women event where Emily was speaking about how sometimes it can be especially hard to see God's hand in our life. And my favorite quote from that whole talk was this, Emily said, "When you can't see God's hand, trust His heart, and then look for His fingerprints."
That analogy of the fingerprints has helped me so many times when I'm feeling like we probably all do at some point, that God has forgotten me and my struggles. So I've basically decided that when things seem overwhelmingly underwhelming, I need to put on my detective hat, pull out my spiritual black light, and dig deep for those fingerprints. For me, that usually means adding more quiet reflective time in my day to write and pray and remember, and I hope that whatever that looks like for you, you'll start to see those fingerprints everywhere to our next storyteller is Alexandra. Her prayers about a mission and a loss necklace left her wondering if God cared about the same things that she cared about. Here's Alexandra.
I had been disappointed by answers from the Lord before but this felt the most confusing.
In 2013, I'm at BYU. This was my first senior year. So I turned 21 the year before. And I'd always intended on serving a mission if I was still single, and I was, and that had been a big deal for me. I had taken mission prep. I had always been preparing for this thing.
And then when it finally came time for me to start actually working on my papers, I finally realized you're supposed to pray about this decision. So I did, and received a very clear impression that the answer was no, you are not to serve a mission, which was surprising and disappointing and frustrating by then because I had to go to the rest of the semester of mission prep, knowing that I wasn't going to be doing this and it was really hard.
I didn't know why the answer was no. There's no obvious reason here. And a lot of people now asking me even more often will you be serving a mission? And why not? And that was the thing that I was now having to talk about with a lot of people often.
When you tell people you prayed about and the answer is no, they go, "Oh, well, you know what that means." With the hints of well you're getting married in the next 18 months.
Six years later, still unmarried.
It made it really hard for me to want to come to God with questions or desires. And it was just it was really hard to, to look at that and see a purpose in what was going on.
And I was feeling distant from the Lord and really alone.
Most of my friends were currently serving missions.
At that point, I didn't know what I was supposed to be doing. I didn't know really what I wanted to be doing. Because I didn't want to be there. I wanted to be on a mission.
And I had just bought this necklace that I liked. And within a few weeks of me getting it, it had broken and it kept breaking. I kept losing it. And finally, one day, it was just it was gone. And I was annoyed and upset because I really liked it. And I'd only had it for a few weeks.
And you always hear the stories of children, they lose things and they pray about it, and then they find it. And I again was kind of mad at God for not letting me serve a mission. So I said, "Please, help me find my necklace. And I'm gonna I'm putting this on you, Lord, please. I want this. This is the thing that I want. I want that necklace. It's not a big deal, but I want it."
It felt so dumb. And like a week and a half went by, and one day, I got out of my car and I looked down and the necklace was on the ground. I think it had fallen out of my backpack. But I don't know how or when or where. But there it was and it was the strangest little miracle. And it was so dumb, but it just felt like God saying, "Alexandra, I know you. And sure, if this is the thing that really really matters to you, here you go. Thank you for trusting me." Like, you know, "I've got you." Like, "Don't give up on me. I'm here. I do care even for your dumb necklace."
I had felt like maybe my desires were not important to the Lord, that He really just needed me to do what He needed me to do. And it didn't matter how I felt or what I needed and what I wanted in my life.
And this little experience kind of showed to me that no, He does. He really does care about the desires of our hearts, big or small. And He can work these miracles in our lives. And I, I'm grateful that I've gotten to witness a few tiny ones in my own, even when it's been hard to see past bigger disappointments. Maybe He can see deeper desires than I can, and He can fulfill those away that I don't even understand yet.
That was Alexandra.
I think in our sincere efforts to faithfully follow God's guidance, sometimes we may assume that a "no" or "not yet" from God about something that we desperately want means that our desires and hopes don't even matter to Him. And I love that Alexandra tested that assumption by going to the source of all good things with a little bit of boldness.
And I love it even more that she understood His message for her when He answered her prayer about the necklace. It's like Heavenly Father was sending Alexandra a little note to say, "Listen, I know no or not yet here doesn't mean a no to everything that you want and love. You liked that thing. And I love you. So here's your necklace back. The rest will be clear soon enough, dear girl."
I think if we can imagine God talking to each of us that way, He would say a very similar thing.
So Alexandra's story was about not serving a mission but our next story goes in the other direction. As a missionary, Scott gave it his all, but he still wondered if his service was really making a difference to anyone.
I served my mission in Barcelona, Spain, from 1999 to 2001.
And my second area was a place called Benidorm. It's is basically this crazy beach town on the east coast of Spain. And it's full of Spanish tourists who have their vacation but also British tourists. For some reason, it's a really popular vacation spot for British tourists.
These two beautiful beaches. They're lined with hotels and skyscrapers and souvenir shops and minibars and British pubs. And it's a really fun place to go I think if you're on vacation, but a really strange place to be a missionary.
It was just me and my companion. There were actually no members of the Church in the city. There was a very small branch where members would come in from outside of the city on Sundays. And basically, we just spent our entire time walking up and down the streets of this beach town, looking not only for people to teach but even people who just live there because basically everybody was on vacation.
And I was there for about five months and during the entire time, we never had anyone to teach. You know, I love the members loved the experience, but it was pretty trying place to be.
On one of the last weeks, we were walking, and this woman just flagged us down. And she was like, "Hello, hello," trying to speak to us in English. And so we kind of stopped. We were taking it back. Again, it was hard for us to get anyone to stop, let alone anybody stop us.
She said, "You know, I've seen you walking up and down the streets for the last several weeks. And I just always wanted to stop and talk to you, but I never had the chance."
So we, we got her name and told a little about who we were. And then she said she'd be interested in meeting with us. So we started meeting with her. And it was amazing. I mean, she was just this incredible person. She was from Venezuela. Her name was Elizabeth. Turns out she lived in England, but he had just been visiting in Benidorm for a short period.
And, and so we started teaching her about the Church and she just loved it. She was like a sponge. She loved the lessons. She was so full of light and great questions and wanted to learn so much about the gospel.
But it turned out that within about a week and a half of meeting her, she was going back to England. So we only got to meet her for like a week and a half. And so during that period, she came to church and loved it. We taught her a few of the lessons. And then we had to part ways.
And I remember I mean, I read my journal like, you know, she, she said, "Well, now what?" And we gave her the phone number of the missionaries in England and said, "You know, when you get there, you got to get in touch with them." And basically, said goodbye. And that was it.
That was the year 2000. So fast forward about five years later. At that point, I was married. I'd finished my undergrad and I was just finished my first year of law school. And my wife, she was a teacher so she had a summer off. And the two of us went back to Spain for the summer so I could do a study abroad. And then it was great because most weekends we then would travel and I would show her different places my mission.
So one weekend, we went out to Benidorm where I had served. And we were walking around and she was just kind of soaking up the atmosphere of this crazy beach town. And she asked me, she was like, "Man, what was it like to be a missionary here?"
And I told her, I said, "Honestly, it was a pretty challenging place to be a missionary." Again, I love the members, but it was just such a weird and challenging place to try to teach people about religion where, really, they just wanted to go to the beach.
But then I told her the story about this woman, Elizabeth. And I said, "You know, if I somehow—you know, I completely lost contact with her—I said, "If I somehow knew that things had worked out with Elizabeth, then I think all the all my time and Benidorm would have been worth it."
And, and that was that. I never, never really expect anything to come of it. And then the next day, we decided to go to the church in Benidorm to visit everybody. And we walked in and I gave her a little tour. And we actually were in the Relief Society room where I had taught Elizabeth the lessons and then we walked from there into the chapel. And there, sitting in the back row, was Elizabeth.
And it turned out she had just come from England and was visiting and Benidorm at that period. So I looked at her, and I kind of took a double take that she looked at me and did the same thing. And Elizabeth, she was just like "Elder?" I was like, "What are you doing here?"
So we gave each other a big hug. And then and then immediately the meeting started. So we sat there, like, shared a hymn book. And it was just this like incredible experience and just blew my mind. And then after the meeting, we were able to reconnect. And she explained to me that she had gone to England and she had connected with the missionaries, and actually had been baptized. And then a year after that, she had gone to the temple and England. And then she had stayed active in the Church and just still full light. But just at that point of really just experienced and happy member of the Church.
After that experience, I wrote about it in my journal. And on that trip, and I said, "Over a week has passed and I still can't believe or fully comprehend the significance of seeing Elizabeth and knowing that she's faithful."
Long ago, I resigned to the idea that these types of stories were for other missionaries, not me. I never expected to know in this life that one of the seeds that I helped plant would turn into fruit. I obviously can't take too much credit, she was prepared from the start and Elder Carlson, my companion, and I just happen to be the guys with the name tags that she stopped first. But I'm so happy to be a small part of her conversion story.
Most missionaries, especially if you're in a place like Spain, you just kind of resigned yourself to the fact that you're planting seeds and it'll be maybe in heaven when you find out that, that any of those seeds for fruit but it was kind of a small but, but great sign to me that Heavenly Father appreciated my work there.
That was Scott.
I don't think his story just applies to people who served missions. I think whenever we're laying it all down to serving God's kingdom, it's really natural to want to know if that our offerings been accepted.
We know that we don't get to control the outcomes and that sometimes we may never know if what we did mattered. But isn't it a sweet bonus when God lets us see that our small effort was huge to someone else. I think these moments if we see them and take note can really motivate us during the times when we're feeling burnt out on the pressing forward of gospel life.
Serena has our next story. It's a short one all about a prayer that was answered with the creative use of just one word. Here's, Serena.
My whole life I was waiting to go to college. When I was growing up, I was so excited to go out there and learn new things and meet new people. And most importantly, at that time, was to start dating.
When I went out there, I had this expectation that it would be raining men, hallelujah! You know, men would just be lining up at my door, and it would be great.
And it didn't turn out that way at all like I was expecting.
And so the first year went by, and I remember thinking, "Okay, that was like a weird fluke." And then the second year started to go by, and I started getting angry and frustrated and bitter. And when I got really frustrated about this, and I knelt down in prayer.
And at first, it started off with me just pouring my heart out. And then it turned out to angry demands.
I started saying, "You know, I'm a good person. I'm doing all the right things. I deserve this. You're going to make it happen. I'm going to go out on a date this weekend. And not only that, I want the date set up by the end of tomorrow and you're going to make it happen." And then I ended my prayer.
And I remember thinking, "Okay, yeah, that wasn't a very good prayer. If you ignore that Heavenly Father, I'm okay with that." And then I kind of just left it at that.
And then the next day I was in a class, and I got a text from my brother. And then he had written, you know, "Hey, do you want to go out on a brother-sister date this Friday night?"
And we had hung out a couple of times before, but this was the first time ever that he specifically used the word "date."
And I just couldn't help but laugh and cry a little and just really appreciate what the Lord did right there.
I learned a lot from that experience. I learned that the Lord listens to all of our prayers. He answers in ways that would be best for us individually.
I, at that time, I don't think I would have reacted well to a scolding or reprimand, or even just disappointment. I was angry, I was lashing out. And this loving and comical response was exactly what I had needed at that moment.
I learned that He cares about what we care about. I mean, a single date was something so small and insignificant when you think about the grand scheme and the eternal plan of happiness, but to me at that time, it was so important.
And the Lord knew it was important to me and because it was important to me, it was important to Him.
That was Serena.
Serena's story made me laugh because I could see myself in it so much. There were many of those frustrated bargaining prayers throughout my life. But isn't it so good to know that Heavenly Father doesn't fault us for those moments when our faith wavers and we resort to temper tantrums?
And just in case you're wondering, Serena says that when it finally started to rain in her dating world, it poured. She had plenty of dates and those last years of college and she's now married with three kids.
Our next story comes from Marianne. We found her story from our pitch line, and anyone who's ever been in a tight financial spot might recognize themselves in her story.
My husband and I lived at the University of Utah in the married student housing in the early 1980s. We had two little children. My husband was a student at the law school, and therefore he was gone almost the entire day every day. So that pretty much left me home alone with the children.
So my children and I spent a lot of time on the playground with other children and with the other moms. One of the women that I met on the playground was a Nigerian woman.
She was pregnant with her first child. Her husband was also a student. She didn't speak English so we, we didn't speak more than a few words to each other. She always had a big smile on her face. And she said hello to everybody. She was just a really lovely lady. You could tell she was very kind but that was the extent of our relationship.
We were very financially poor. We lived under the national poverty line. We didn't have a lot of money for food. My husband budgeted $15 a week for food, that's what we had. My husband, he quit eating two meals, so he would only eat one meal a day so that we would have enough to feed me and the children. And when that $15 was up, we didn't have any more to spend until the next week when we get paid.
But one morning, it was in the fall time, and I woke up. My husband was already gone. There were dark clouds outside was kind of dark. It was cozy. But I felt so sad. I felt kind of a lonely feeling. I just felt really kind of forgotten.
But I went to make breakfast. And my favorite comfort food is Cream of Wheat cereal.
When it's cooked, it's mushy. So we called it mush. And after it's cooked, I would mix in a piece of buttered toast. I would tear toast up in pieces and then I would mix it up and you'd have that butter and you'd have that bread taste. And then on top of that, I would pour sugar on it.
And it was delicious. It was like I said, comfort. But that particular morning I didn't have any sugar.
And it just broke my heart, broke my heart to think I don't even have any sugar to feed my baby.
Now I know there's so many needs that are greater than sugar. And we had our greatest needs met. And I knew that there were other people in the world that had so much less than us, that also need blessings.
That particular morning, I, I just needed some sugar. Like I said, I felt frustrated. I was feeling a bit angry because of my situation. I felt lonely. I felt forgotten. And as I was feeling this before breakfast, I got a knock on my door.
And there was this woman with a great big smile. And in her hands was a jar of sugar. And she handed that to me. And I just, I just looked at her totally flabbergasted. Like why would you bring me sugar? How would you even know I wanted sugar?
It wasn't cookies. It wasn't a cake. It wasn't a loaf of bread like so many traditional things you would share, what other people bring to people. It was a jar of sugar. That was just like the oddest thing in the whole world. But yet, to me, it was that greatest blessing to me.
She didn't know, she couldn't have known. We never discussed anything like that. She doesn't know my situation. But there she was with the job sugar.
I didn't even kneel down and ask for sugar from the Heavenly Father. It wasn't a prayer spoken out loud.
But yet, through this woman, this sister, I knew that Heavenly Father loves me. He heard me. He heard my silent prayer. He could feel the frustration. He could see that I just needed to show that I was not alone.
While we were living in that apartment, we had twin sons that were born prematurely and passed away after a few hours old.
I also knew because of this experience, that the Lord knew me and He knew that I would need to know that to help me get through harder times.
I'm forever grateful for this sister and her simple act of kindness of bringing me a jar sugar. What an odd gift, what a great blessing, it has been to me throughout all my life.
That was Marianne.
To me, Marianne's story perfectly encapsulates this theme. There was that small gift of sugar from a virtual stranger and it gave her the knowledge of God's love that she would need later when facing an unforeseeable heartache. I'm sure there were bigger, bolder moments of revelation in the midst of her loss, but I think it's still telling that Marianne remembers this particular experience with such clarity and that it holds such a sacred place in the narrative of her testimony.
I feel like most of us will remember Elder Bednar's general conference talk on tender mercies from 2005. And if you weren't around when he gave that talk, you'll at least have heard that phrase at some point over the last few years. In fact, it's become sort of a thing for us as Latter-day Saints, which I personally love. I think it ushered in this culture of concerted effort to see and recognize God's goodness in the little things.
And in that talk, Elder Bednar spoke about preparing to speak as a general authority for the first time. And how, as he stood there nervous and overwhelmed, the intermediate hymn that was sung, chosen long before he was even called as a new apostle, was his personal favorite, the one that would best give him comfort and strength at that moment. And after singing that song with the congregation and just before he got up to speak, a scripture from the Book of Mormon came into his mind. It's in 1 Nephi 1:20, "But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance." Did you catch that? These little things, these tender mercies make us mighty as followers of Christ. And I suspect that they are small and simple for a reason.
They're tiny enough to fill the spaces of our faithful foundation and to shore us up against the things that would tear us down. They're light and nimble so that they can float to our hearts in the moments when we need them. And they're sweet and quiet and often make sense only to us so that we can understand really understand that we are singularly and intimately known by our Father in Heaven.
I was reading my old journals the other day, looking for something specific for Young Women's lesson, and while I didn't quite find what I was looking for, I did notice something interesting about the way my testimony of Christ has developed over the years. There was no big bolt of lightning. I didn't write about any parting of the Red Sea. Instead, what I saw in those journals was a soft and steady flow of moments, tender mercies gathered together over time to show me that I belong to something bigger than myself.
His fingerprints were all over that personal record. And more importantly, they were all over the moments when I needed deliverance and felt strong enough to wait for it. That, to me, is a tender mercy indeed.
We hope the stories this week have inspired you to seek for and record the tender mercies and fingerprint-moments in your own life and to make yourself available to be the mercy and someone else's.
That's it for this episode of This Is the Gospel.
Thanks to our storytellers for sharing their stories and their faith. Don't forget to check out the show notes for this episode where we'll have a link to Elder Bednar's talk and Emily Freeman's to TOFW talk "Finding God's Fingerprints," as well as that picture of the safety pin.
And don't forget, we have a pitch line, as if you could forget that. You have a story to share. Whether it's funny, touching, or little and mighty, we'd love to hear it. We listen to every message that you leave us on the pitch line. And if your story works for one of our upcoming episodes, we may give you a call. So call us at 515-519-6179 and leave us a message with a short synopsis of your story.
And don't forget to share your experience with this podcast by leaving a review on the Apple Podcast app or on Bookshelf Plus from Deseret Book. It will help more people find us.
This episode was produced by Sarah Blake and me, KaRyn Lay, with story Editing by Davi Johnson. It was mixed and mastered by Mix It Six Studios and our executive producer is Erin Hallstrom.