36: Broken Hearts to Mend
When Dorothy came home from school to find the Relief Society in her living room instead of her faithful but imperfect mom, Rene, she was ill-prepared for how drastically her life would soon change. But despite the heartbreak of circumstances beyond her control, and with the help and support of her youth leaders Kurt and Naomi, Dorothy found the strength to believe in the healing power of the Atonement for every broken heart, including her own.
Remember that talk from Elder Oaks we mention in this episode? Click here to find it on ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
KaRyn Lay: 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 think it's safe to say that not one of us is going to get through this life without our fair share of heartbreak. It's just a very real part of being human and an even more real part of being a disciple, a follower of Jesus Christ. There are literally over 18 mentions of the phrase, "broken heart" in the scriptural canon for a reason. We are meant to come to Christ with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, but that's not the intended end state of our hearts. Because we believe in a Savior whose very existence promises us that a heart presented to him in pieces, shattered by that beautiful hammer of humility, will be given back to us and glory and wholeness as we come unto Him. Well, today we have a moving story of four people whose hearts were broken by circumstances beyond their control, and ultimately mended together by their choice to follow the Savior. First, you'll hear from Dorothy, who shares how her own heart was impacted by the faithful but imperfect life of her mother Rene. And as her story in her life starts to take shape, we'll meet Kurt and Naomi, two more people who are seeking understanding and answers to their own heartache. Here's Dorothy.
Dorothy: So we get home from school and the Relief Society is in our living room. They said, "Kids, your mom's in jail." We're like "Mom's in jail?" We couldn't process it. We needed a glass of milk or something.
My mom was into a lot of drugs. My brother and I are both heroin babies. She did a lot of heavy drugs with us. And she was part of a biker gang. And this biker gang was pretty well known and pretty dangerous and she wanted out. Around the time that we joined the church, my mom wanted to kill herself. And so she took us and sent us to our grandparents. And we spent a lot of time at my grandparents' house when I was little. She would disappear for months at a time, we wouldn't see her and then she'd pick us back up. And I don't know the time frame, but two sister missionaries found my mom in San Diego and taught her about Joseph Smith and about Jesus Christ. And I think that was the first time she felt that she mattered. She didn't know about Jesus Christ, she didn't know about the gospel. She turned to what the world taught. And I think that's the only reason she went down that path. So then when she heard about Christ, she became even stronger. She took what she learned and was trying to be better and she was using her strength. So a very incredible woman, incredible woman. So my mom picked us up from my grandparents' house and then that following weekend, we went to church and I've been going to church ever since.
She had a boyfriend in that biker gang and when he found out that my mom was trying to get out of this biker gang, she got beat really bad. And my mom went to the bishop and the bishop told my mom, he said, "Rene, you've got to get out of here. You got to take your kids and you got to go. It's not safe here. You're trying to change your life. You need to go." The rival of this biker gang in California is in Texas. And so she put a map of Texas on the wall because she's not going to find a lot of her old crew hanging out in Texas. And so she put a map of Texas and spun my brother around and he pointed to Corpus Christi. And so we moved from San Diego to Corpus Christi, not knowing anybody but the Church. So when we moved to Corpus, we were going to find ourselves homeless. And so my mom over a period of time, I'm not sure the length of it, started writing checks to herself forging her boss's signature. And she stole close to $30,000 from this company over a period of time. I think the reason she stole that money was because she was in a hard spot. But she was also stuck between the natural man in her and she went back to her worldly ways for a second and then realized, "I don't want to be like this. This isn't who I am." She went to the temple, and she felt awful. She said that when she went to the temple, she wanted to climb out of the walls, she felt so sick to her stomach. And so I guess she came home, she wrote a letter to her boss, and then she called the cops on her herself, she turned herself in. I think how amazing that must have felt knowing that nobody's there to take care of your kids, but you're still willing to sacrifice to make it right with the Lord. And so I'm not quite sure if it was a few weeks or a month that she was in jail. But instead of putting us in Foster, they moved us from family to family in the ward and they took care of us until the judge put her on probation. I just remember every Friday morning or something, we would take the city bus and she would have to go see the probation officer. And she had to pay back her debt. So not only were we really poor, but now we're poor, almost homeless, and the only money that's coming in is now trying to pay back what she stole. Obviously, naturally, she lost her job. And so she got another job, and that job moved her up to Austin, Texas. We joined this amazing ward with amazing people.
Naomi was my young women's president and Kurt was my Sunday school teacher.
Kurt: The story of Dorothy started, for me, one Sunday I was called to be a Sunday school teacher. And I was in the classroom talking to the kids, I hear this [noise] and Dorothy walks in the room and she's like making all this noise.
Naomi: I instantly fell in love with her. She's super spunky and she became kind of a staple in our home. So we had a plan in our head how life should work out and it was the complete opposite. We always wanted a big family, we'd always wanted four or five kids. We wanted to have children right away, and I just wasn't getting pregnant and I think that was the biggest challenge. We did fertility for 15 years. We had three failed adoption attempts, lots of money, lots of tears, lots of emotions.
Kurt: I never worried about having kids, I kind of always had in my mind that "Oh, it will happen someday." And we got to the point that I felt like we were trying to push her body so hard to do something that it did not want to do. And I remember we were standing beside our bed and I just, I just held her my arms, I'm like, "Babe, we're fine. We have each other things will work out. I trust that the Lord has a plan for us, I don't know what that is. It would be nice to know maybe sometimes, but you don't really have to. And he's got something ready for us."
Dorothy: Around my 18th birthday, my mom had gone to the judge. Her probation was coming to an end and the judge said "Rene, you owe a lot of money still. You're going to spend a couple of years in prison because you're gonna have to pay off the rest of your debt." And so he goes, "I want you to come back in a week and I'll give you your sentence." And so she came home and it was just her and I, and she sat me down at the kitchen table and she said, "Dotty, I'm gonna go to jail." She said, "I don't know how long but then I can be free of this debt."
And I said, "Okay, Mom. Don't worry about me. I'm okay." I went to my closet that night, and I prayed. And I said, "Heavenly Father, my mom's gonna go to jail and I don't really have anybody." I was really scared.
Kurt: Her mom came to us, she told us her backstory and some of the challenges she'd gone through and what she was going through currently and was afraid that she was going to have to be out of Dorothy's life for some time.
Naomi: She asked if we would take Dorothy into our home for her senior year.
Kurt: And obviously, we're like, "Yeah, of course. We'll take care of her, we love Dorothy."
Naomi: We didn't bat an eye at that. We would take Dorothy at any time. It was very heart-wrenching. I remember exactly where they are sitting on the couches, I remember all of it. Rene told us how sorry she was. And she looked at Dorothy in the eyes and told her how sorry she was that she had made those decisions and that she was making it right. And she was making restitution for what she had done.
Dorothy: So we continued to pray and I think my mom fasted again. And the judge completely cleared her record, took everything and cleared it.
Naomi: I wish you guys could have seen her. She was just bouncing down the hall and she just had this glow about her and she was so happy and she threw her arms around me. And she said, "Naomi, the judge cleared me of all my charges." And I will remember this for the rest of my life, she said, "The Lord could take me now, and I will feel like my work is done."
Dorothy: I always think to myself that my mom had done everything she could to be a better person. And I like to look at that as Christ, how he can clear our records. And she would tell everybody that, "Whatever happens, I'm okay, because I'm free. I'm free." And she was doing exactly what the Lord wanted and she had changed.
After my mom was cleared from her records, she was able to go to the temple. She went to the Dallas, Texas temple, and she had a feeling that she needed to give me away. And so she came home, and she went back to Kurt and Naomi.
Naomi: And I told Kurt, I remember on the way home, I told him, I said, "Weirdest conversation with Rene, like, so awesome that she got clear, but she said these words: 'It's so great to know if something ever happened to me that you would take care of Dorothy.'" And I said, of course, we would take care of Dorothy. It's not even a question.
Kurt: It's not—I mean, there was never a hesitation, you know. And again, I never thought anything would ever happen. And like, that's fine, that's cool. Sure.
Naomi: So Kurt was on a business trip in Boston, and I get a phone call from one of the other young women and she said, "Naomi, Dorothy and her mom have been in a serious accident." And I said, "Well, what happened?" And she didn't have much information. But she just said they got in a rollover accident, and we need to get up there as soon as possible.
Dorothy: I don't remember the car accident. I do remember us upside down and I just remember this banging sound. And it was the jaws of life, they were trying to pull our car apart and get us out. When they pushed us through the emergency room, and I don't remember saying this, but they said is there anyone we can call? And I said I'm from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was in the pre-operating room, and they were prepping me for surgery. And the doctor walks in and says, "Ma'am, you have company." And it was the Bishop of this area, his wife and his first counselor. And this was on a Friday and he turns his phone off, they were on a date night. But that night he had a feeling to leave his phone on. And so he gets a phone call and I remember him walking through the room and I felt at complete peace. I didn't know anything about my mom. I was kind of in and out but seeing him, I knew that I was okay. I said, "I think I was in a car accident, can you give me a blessing?" And so he gave me a blessing. I don't remember anything that was in it. Then, a knock on the door and it was the officer. And the officer came in and said, "Ma'am," and I said, "Yeah?" And she said, "Honey, your mom didn't make it through the car accident." And I held that bishop's hand and the warmest feeling came over my body. And I knew at that moment, that my Savior, I knew he was with me. And I never worried about my mother. At about three in the morning, I woke up in my hospital bed, and I felt someone holding my hand. And I look over and it was the bishop's wife. She had stayed with me the whole night and she held my hand. And I think that's what—I think that's what the Lord would do. And I think that's what ministering is, is listening to the spirit and being there when someone needs you. The next day, Naomi came up.
Naomi: When I got there, it was surreal. And I walked into Dorothy's room, and I instantly felt like a responsibility to her. Like I instantly felt that she was going to be part of our family.
Dorothy: She called Kurt who was on a trip in Boston and they talked about it. And she said, "Dorothy, I talked to Kurt. We were praying, we were thinking really hard about it and we think your mother knew. And I think if you want to be a part of our family, we would love that." And I said, "Okay." And what was funny was I never worried where was I going to live? What was I going to do? Nothing like that crossed my mind, and normally, that's terrifying. I just lost my mom, which means I'm losing my house. Everything I know is gone. And I never felt any anxiety or fear. I just knew that I was okay. I am okay.
I show up to their house and I didn't go to my house, I went straight to her house. Which was so weird because I'm so sick, I had just lost my mom, I'm showing up to this couple's home, you know, that is absolutely spotless and I did not grow up spotless. And I just remember feeling very, almost out of place. I think just naturally it felt like a dream. And something that was difficult was joining Kurt and Naomi's family, I had my mother, I had my life before, you know, I almost couldn't feel a bond with Naomi.
Naomi: I think that Dorothy and I being so close in age definitely had a lot to do with us fighting. It was probably more like an older sister. She never had a dad. So her and Kurt were best friends from the second that she walked into our house. It was a little bit of a different dynamic for her and I because I was her fun young women leader, and then I turned into more of a motherly role.
Kurt: She didn't need another mom.
Naomi: She didn't need another mom, she already had a mom. And you know, there were many talks that, "I'm the queen of the house," that sort of thing. Which, I didn't know what I was doing at all. And you know, there were times that Kurt had to say, "Naomi, you go to your room and Dorothy you go to your room we're going to convene back in 20 minutes and we're going to talk about, you know, what we need to talk about." We learned together a lot
Kurt: We learned. It's hard getting a teenager
Dorothy: It almost felt like she was intruding, but it wasn't really intruding, she was adding to what my mom was already giving me. She added her strength and her divine to my life. It's almost like we're two sisters now instead of two different people trying to figure things out. They helped me with my education, they helped me see a better way of life and they helped me get on my mission. That was the biggest thing. They taught me how to rely on my Heavenly Father. And I think my mission is what set my foundation for who I am today.
Kurt: The fact that she wanted to go on a mission was amazing and to see her change was incredible. She came back a different woman.
Dorothy: When I was on my mission, I was teaching other families the importance of being sealed together and I wasn't sealed to anybody. And when I got home, I asked Kurt and Naomi, I said, "You know, there's a reason we need to be sealed in this life."
Naomi: I'll never forget the day that she asked us to be sealed to her as a family. She told us that she had been praying about it and that her mom wanted her to be sealed to us. And we always wanted that, but we didn't want to ask, we wanted it to be her decision.
Dorothy: So we went to the courthouse, and we filled out the adoption papers and the judge looked at us crazy, like, "You're adopting a 22-year-old?" And so they legally adopted me and I got sealed to them.
Naomi: I longed to be a mom and I thought when I got Dorothy that it would just be automatic, and it wasn't. It was hard, it was work and it put me in a dark place, emotionally, sometimes when it didn't work out the way that I thought it should, just like so many other things in life. And when we knelt across the altar at the temple, like instant walls were coming down and there was a healing that I didn't know could happen. And that's when my dreams came true. She completed our family and I didn't worry about all the failed infertility, I didn't worry about the adoption, I didn't worry about kids anymore because we had a daughter. And it was a long wait, but it was so worth it.
Dorothy: I remember we were in the temple, and we were sitting across from each other. And at this time in my life, I felt I could not control my emotions. I knew that I was doing the right thing by being sealed to them. And I knew that my mother was there supporting me. My mom wanted—she wanted the best for me. And she knew that going and living with Kurt and Naomi would provide everything that I needed to become better and to break the chains and to spiritually find myself. I think to myself, "I don't think I pushed my mother out. I think we just added more family members." I have received blessings from being sealed to Kurt and Naomi in ways that I can't explain. It's a feeling that is very deep in my heart but that I know I did what was right. And I love my Heavenly Father for having that plan. Naomi and I, our relationship, after she corrected the things that she needed to and I started to change my attitude, and that sealing in that we had, we saw each other in an eternal aspect instead of a temporal. Our relationship has changed. The Lord put two broken people and put us together to make us whole. Isn't that funny how He takes broken hearts and he mends them with other broken hearts? And it's kind of crazy. They are grandparents to my children, and they take care of them, and they call them "Papa Kurt" and "Nona."
Naomi: Being a grandma is the best. It's the best. We have London, Maverick, and Jackson. They come play at our house and we swim and we jump on the trampoline and run around and eat and eat and eat.
Kurt: Maverick loves to eat.
Naomi: He loves to eat.
Kurt: I don't know how he does it.
Naomi: Yeah, it's so fun for me to have her and the kids and the family come over. Through this experience, I have a greater faith that the Lord knows each of us individually. And he's not always going to make it easy and it's not always going to just be a smooth road.
Kurt: There's no doubt in my mind, the Lord has a plan for each and every one of us. It's going to be better than you even thought. It's going to be better than you could plan for yourself. We had a plan, and it didn't happen. And this is better.
Dorothy: The Lord has been in my life, every single step, even in times that maybe I didn't feel Him there, He was always there. Just like He was always in my mom's life from the very beginning. He had a plan for her. He has a plan for me. He has a plan for my children and I'm excited for my life. I am today, I think, even better because I have the strength of my past and my mom. And I have the testimony and how to grow in the Gospel because of Kurt and Naomi.
KaRyn Lay: That was Dorothy, Naomi, and Kurt. There's this one part of the story that I've now heard, oh, probably 20 times since we first recorded with Dorothy and Naomi and Kurt in Texas. It's that part where she tells us about her relationship with Naomi and how it was healed in part by the power of the sealing ordinance. You'll probably remember when she said, "The Lord took two broken people and put them together to make them whole." And I really love that part where she says, "Isn't it funny how He takes broken hearts and He mends them with other broken hearts?" It really doesn't matter how many times I hear that, I ugly cry every single time. Because there is a deep and poignant gospel truth in those simple words.
When we seek the master of our hearts, we inevitably find ourselves drawn to the covenants and promises that He has in store for us. Just as Dorothy felt that clarion call to the sealing ordinance during her mission, that sealing power binds us to one another and ultimately to him through the Holy Spirit of promise, which President James the fast explained is the sealing and ratifying power of the Holy Ghost. He said, "To have a covenant or ordinance sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise is a compact through which the inherent blessings will be obtained, provided those seeking the blessing are true and faithful. That compact is binding on Earth and in heaven." So while God's goodness and the healing power of the atonement are not limited to work only in the constraints of the sealing ordinance, there's absolutely power in binding our hearts together through those covenants. When we bind ourselves to one another by covenant, God is bound to us and then we are bound to Him. And that binding pulls us closer to heaven while we're here on this earth. Closer to the source of all healing, closer to the source of all wholeness, all hope, and restoration. And isn't there an even deeper beauty in that unorthodox way the sealing happened for Kurt, Naomi, Dorothy, and Rene? I don't know about you, but sometimes I can get caught up and worrying about how it's all going to work out. I suspect that there are very few of us who have what we think is an ideal family situation. In my case, I have no biological children of my own, and I won't. And though I love my stepchildren with all of my heart, we're not sealed to one another. Sometimes I get pretty tempted to let my fear of the unknown take over and besides my very justified concerns about who will feel obligated enough to pluck my chin hairs in the nursing home, I sometimes wonder too how the love I feel for them here on earth is going to translate into eternity. But here's what I learned from Dorothy and her mother, Rene, who were never able to be sealed together in this life: We don't know everything there is to know about the binding power in the life after this. And in fact, President Oaks said just that in the recent October General Conference in his talk, "Trust in the Lord." So we do what we can here, in the sphere of our influence, and we trust that we will all be connected in all the right ways in the life after this. And we wait for further light and knowledge. And if our hearts are broken about it, if the wondering, and the concern and the not knowing weigh heavily upon us, as I suspect it does for many of us, myself included, I know that we can bring that, that heaviness and that heartache to the Lord for mending too.
That's it for this episode of "This Is the Gospel." Thank you for joining us today and thank you especially to Kurt, Naomi, and Dorothy for sharing their story and their hearts with us. We'll have the transcript of this episode as well as the LDS Living video of this story, pictures and links in our show notes at ldsliving.com/thisisthegospel. That's ldsliving.com/thisisthegospel. Go there, find the episode and the show notes are listed right under the episode.
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This episode was produced by me, KaRyn Lay with story editing from Kelly Campbell. It was scored, mixed and mastered by Derek Campbell at Mix At Six Studios and our executive producer is Erin Hallstrom. You can find past episodes of this podcast and other LDS Living podcasts at ldsliving.com/podcasts. Thanks for being with us.