41: Angels Among Us
Stories in this episode: Encouraging words at a low point in Matt’s mission show how missionary work can be done beyond the veil; Melissa finally finds a way to share her testimony with her extended family after an unusual prompting; Amidst her son's battle with cancer, Cheryl finds angels sometimes come in the form of a kind neighbor with a red wagon; Brooke learns how angels can help us in ways we don’t always anticipate after the unexpected passing of her mother.
This episode of This Is The Gospel is sponsored by #LightTheWorld. Receive daily service prompts through texts by texting the word “LIGHT” to the number: 71234 and make sure to visit LightTheWorld.org to watch the new short nativity film "The Christ Child".
The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square join with superstar singer Kristin Chenoweth for a Christmas performance before a combined audience of 60,000. This show sparkles with excitement as Kristin’s renditions of Christmas classics breathe new life into old favorites. Her stage presence and world-class vocal ability shine in perfect complement to the 360-member choir and full orchestra backing her up. With holiday songs, choruses, dancing, bell-ringing, and seasonal orchestral favorites, this inspiring concert is a celebration of the season unlike any other.
"I believe we need to speak of and believe in and bear testimony of the ministry of angels more than we sometimes do. They constitute one of God’s great methods of witnessing through the veil, and no document in all this world teaches that principle so clearly and so powerfully as does the Book of Mormon."
—Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, "For a Wise Purpose," January 1996 Ensign
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.
Last year right around this time, I was lucky enough to attend the Tabernacle Choir's Christmas concert featuring Kristin Chenoweth. And even though our seats were far from fancy, my friend and I were literally going to sit in the nosebleed section of the conference center, you know those seats up at the very top that makes you feel just a little bit dizzy if you look down too quickly? I didn't even care. I am such a huge musical theater nerd that the thought of watching Glinda from Wicked singing with Mack Wilberg, it totally had me fangirling.
But then, just moments before we made it into the Conference Center to find our seats, I got a phone call from my mom telling me that my grandma, my nanny, was not doing well and was not expected to live through the night. And even though I knew this might be coming, I found myself unable to keep my emotions at bay. I cried all the way to my nosebleed seat. I wept through the first half of the concert. I ran out of tissues by intermission. And I really thought that the tears were not going to stop.
But as I sat there listening to that beautiful music, suddenly they did stop. Somehow, in the midst of my feelings of deep loss and sorrow, something else came over me. And I don't really know what else to call it, but it was a wave of comfort, of sweetness. It washed over me, and I was finally able to breathe again. The theme of that concert was "Angels among Us" and many of the songs were pointedly dedicated to the angels, both earthly and beyond, who point us towards the Christ child. It might seem strange to say this, but as the choir and sweet Sister Chenoweth, as I like to call her, sang about the work of angels to herald the birth of Jesus, it's like I could feel the angels there with me too, reminding me that heaven and earth are not that far removed from one another. And that I can take comfort in the birth and the life of One who restores the distance that does exist.
My nanny surprisingly rallied. And, in fact, she's still with us today. But I knew when we were thinking of story themes for this season, that I wanted to honor that moment in the conference center with stories about angels. About the angels in our lives, both earthly and heavenly, who continue the work of drawing us towards the Christ child. And today, we've got four stories that do just that.
Our first storyteller is Matt, who didn't realize he needed the help of angels until it was already in progress. Here's Matt.
I was the first person in my family to be called on a mission that required the learning of the language. I had been called to serve in Nicaragua, Spanish speaking, and I didn't get any insight or counsel from my brother, for example, or my dad because they didn't know what it was like to learn a language.
I was naive at the time and for whatever reason, I thought that the gift of tongues was something that came more immediate. I was four days into my stay at the MTC, and I was thinking to myself, "Gosh, this is just not coming to me." With hindsight and perspective now, it's funny as I look back on that. That I would have thought that somehow four days in I'd be learning and understanding and being able to speak the language.
I was in a meeting one day and I had my head down, and I was discouraged. I was really discouraged. I was missing my, my house, my family, and having a difficult time with what I perceived to be the inability to learn Spanish. While in that frame of mind, and with my head down, I began to wonder, "Can I even do this? Is this worth it?" And I had a very clear message come into my mind. It was the voice of a man, nonaudible but almost felt audible. And he said, "Elder Hill, pick up your head. I need you to find my family." And I thought, "Wow." I knew it wasn't me because it wouldn't have been a thought that I would have had at the time. My thoughts were far distant from that thought. My thoughts were, "How do I get out of this? How do I go home?"
I wrote in my journal that night and thought nothing of it. I actually didn't even mention it that night. It wasn't until the next day it, almost as an afterthought, I wrote in parentheses, almost as like a P.S., "Oh yeah, by the way, while in a meeting the other day, I heard the voice of a man tell me to pick up my head because he was counting on me and needed me to find his family." And then I wrote, "I guess he's dead. I guess we'll have to see if I can find his family." And that was it.
You know, I didn't think much on this experience the rest of my stay there. I didn't even share the experience with anybody. Nobody in my district there at the MTC, I didn't write about it in any letters, it was something that just had taken place that day. And I thought, "Well, I guess I'll write a little bit about it. And we'll see at some point if that ever really translates to anything."
I know it sounds funny that I put this thought in parentheses almost as like a P.S. at the end of my journal entry, but there's a reason for that. I had an experience prior to my mission in a similar nature came while in the Logan temple one day. I had just received my mission call and I was going into be confirmed for the dead. And I close my eyes and out of nowhere, I felt the presence of my grandpa, who I have never met. My grandpa passed away when my dad was nearly turning 12 and so I've never met him. And so for me to have an experience where he's there, it seems like this would be something kind of out of that world, but it just felt so natural. I knew that it was my grandpa. And I'm not sure how I knew that. I could see him in my mind's eye. And I absolutely felt that it was him. I knew it was him. As I think back and reflect upon that, that experience, it seems odd, even to my mind, to consider and to think on that. How did I know it was him? I instantly knew. There wasn't a second guess. I close my eyes and there was my grandpa.
In fact, the very second I perceived his presence I said, "Hey gramps, how are you?" And his response to me was, "So Nicaragua, huh?" And he expressed how proud he was for my decision that I had made to go and to serve a mission. And I got the chills. And I immediately was just so, it was like a longing, like a, "I haven't seen you forever," kind of a feel. And that's the way it felt is, "Grandpa, how are you?" And I missed him, and I knew I had missed him. And I guess it was my spirit who knew him and who missed him. Because like I said, I had never met him before. So the idea of that sounds very strange that I may have known him. And he told me that he had come to tell me he was going down to prepare the hearts of people that I would come in contact with and to give me a bit of advice, and he gave me some advice. He told me that, "While on your mission, I want you to make sure that you are obedient to the mission rules." Because I will find protection and safety through my obedience. And then he said, "I want you to go home and I want you to tell your mother that you will be protected on your mission. She is worried about you, where you've been called to serve."
And I went home and I told my mom the experience and she broke down, and she had hid it really well. My mom had hid it, I had no idea that she was concerned and that she was worried about where I was going. She'd been looking up all about it that they had recently had a war not long prior, a civil war in the country. And I was pretty clueless. I was just excited to go. I had prepared for it and was excited and had no idea that my mom was beat up inside about this. And so I look back on that experience with my grandpa in the temple that day, I think in part it was maybe for me. But I think the bigger reason, I should say, for the experience was more for my mom to give her some peace of mind.
Three months later, I was walking out of a pueblo one day with my trainer, that the pueblo was Sunny Isidro. And as we were walking out of the pueblo, I looked over to the right at the very last house in this little pueblo. And I saw two little kids playing out front in the dirt. I kind of looked at him and then continued to walk forward. And I had an impression that we should go talk to that family. So I turned to my trainer and said, "Hey, do you mind if we go introduce yourself to them real fast?" He said, "Okay, yeah, let's do it." So we get into the house and my campaign starts to talk with the mom and she was knitting a little piece of clothing at the time and sitting in a rocking chair. And I, as I mentioned, I didn't speak very much Spanish. I had kind of suggested we'd come introduce ourselves here.
And, and one thing my dad, one bit of counsel he gave me before I serve my mission, he said, "You know, when you go into these homes, look at the walls and look at things that are on the walls. Typically, those are things that have meaning to people and comment on them." So, I made that a practice of mine and I noticed a picture on the wall of a police force. I walked over to the picture, and I looked at it, there was about 15 or 20 policemen in this picture. And as I was looking at the picture, there was a man who jumped out at me, and I didn't know why. With my limited abilities in Spanish, I said, "Quien es el?" Which meant, "Who is he?" And I pointed at him. And the mom as she was knitting, she put her head down, and she began to cry. She said, "He was my husband. And he was shot and killed this last year."
I immediately had the chills overtake my body and the hairs on my arms stood up. And I was so excited because I knew this, the Holy Ghost had confirmed to me this is that man's house. And I knew I had found the family. And so my reaction, I know that the normal, typical reaction in a scenario such as this would be to say, "Oh, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry for your loss." But inside what I was feeling is just complete joy and excitement and I wanted to scream out, "Your husband is alive and he cares about you. And he wants you to be happy. And he spoke to me." I had no words, I couldn't speak Spanish. I knew I had no chance at articulating that thought, and I knew the moment wasn't right to express joy and to be excited. And so what I did is I said, "I'm sorry." But inside, if she could have seen my true emotions, my emotions were jumping for joy. And that's how I felt. I had forgotten about the words that I had come into my mind in the MTC, I'd forgotten all about it. It had been months and there I was, standing in that home and connection was very vivid and clear. This is my family.
We left that home. And I said to my campaign, my trainer, I said, "Elder, they're going to join the Church. They're going to accept the gospel. And he looked at me and he kind of chuckled, he says, "You know, I felt the same way. You know, when I was new, I felt the same way about everybody I came in contact with." And I left it at that. He was, he was getting close to going home and I didn't feel like the moment was right to share the experience I had had.
So a couple of weeks later, my trainer went home, and I was sent a new campaign. His name was Elder Wilson. Elder Wilson only had himself maybe three or four months out in the field as well. And so he came and said, "Hey, tell me about who we are teaching in the area." And I said, "Elder, I want to share an experience I had in the MTC a few months back." And he looked at me and he said, "Elder Hill, if we do nothing more together with the time that we have then help this family by giving them every opportunity to join the gospel, I believe our time together will have been a success. And I thanked him for that. And I said, "I agree." And he said, "We cannot and we will not give up on that family." And, oddly enough, I started to laugh and he looked at me, he said, "What are you laughing about?" And I said, "I'm laughing because of the idea and thought of you and I going out and trying to teach this gospel because you don't speak much Spanish and I speak far less." And we both just started to laugh as we envision what it might be like to receive the gospel in that way. And we realized that in there, it wasn't going to be much what we did. It was really going to come down to the Spirit testifying that whatever we were trying to say, was true. And we relied heavily upon the Spirit more so during that phase of my mission than any other just simply because of the fact we didn't have the benefit of our words to help express what we were trying to convey.
We didn't give up on that family. And a couple of months later, I was in the baptismal font watching as the mother entered the waters of baptism with tears coming down her face. And I was in a similar emotional state at the time and I was crying as well and we embraced. And again, I wanted so badly to tell her so much about her husband and how excited and happy he would be because I knew it. But, again, I didn't have the words in Spanish to express and convey that message.
The next day she received the gift of the Holy Ghost, her and her daughters. And it was fast Sunday and she bore her testimony. And in her testimony, she said, "Ever since my husband passed away, I have felt the yearning to come to this church. And I haven't known why. Now I know why." She said that this gospel, with the limited time she has spent in it and learned about it, has brought her so much peace and joy. And she is convinced that her husband is super happy with her and her daughters' decision.
Having the perspective of being a father myself, there isn't anything that I wouldn't do for my children. It connects me with the father who spoke with me in the MTC in a very real way now because I have the perspective that he has. I understand the, the longing that must be present there as he watches his family live their lives in his absence. It helps me to know that I would do the very same thing. That I would do anything in my power to help my family in any way possible. I didn't have the ability to ever have a full conversation with that family, to express to them what had happened to me and what their dad had come and told me. And I look back on that and maybe I'm grateful that I didn't have the words to express that, because maybe they joined the gospel more free willing of their own accord rather than feeling like they were doing it for their dad.
I don't think there's anything special about me, per se. The times where these experiences have happened. It has always been for the benefit of somebody else. And why I've been having the ability to have that happen or to be able to perceive those words and those thoughts, I don't know. But I do believe that our Heavenly Father does know how to reach us. And oftentimes I think the way He chooses to do that is different for all of us. The gospel of Jesus Christ is very important to those that are living and those that have passed on. I've learned that our Father allows those on the other side to be very much a part of the work that we are doing here. He allows my grandpa, as an example, to go and to go in advance of me and help prepare people for people I would meet. And every time I had somebody accept the gospel, I would always think back on my grandpa, and I would think, "Man, I'm grateful to have a grandpa that cares enough to be out here. And that cares to help me find these people."
That was Matt.
Matt first shared his story with us on the pitch line and when we contacted him to develop it for the episode he, like so many others, wondered if this experience was too sacred to share. I get that. Telling our stories is a sacred business because our stories are powerful. And because of that, we have a duty and an obligation to seek counsel with the Lord about how we share our stories and when we share them.
I'm always humbled when the right place and time to share the story is on our podcast and even more humbled when someone realizes that the time is not right. I honor that. Ultimately, the choice to share a personal witness of a sacred experience is between the storyteller and the Spirit. In his own process of determining the timing to tell this story, Matt found this beautiful quote from Elder Holland's message entitled "For a Wise Purpose" from the January 1996 Ensign. In that message, Elder Holland said, quote:
"I believe we need to speak of and believe in and bear testimony of the ministry of angels more than we sometimes do. They constitute one of God's great methods of witnessing through the veil, and no document in all this world teaches that principle so clearly and so powerfully as does the Book of Mormon," end quote.
I really believe that our stories, when used for a wise purpose or gift to one another, testify of Jesus Christ and His power and His glory.
Our next story bearing witness of the ministry of angels comes from Melissa, who believed she was alone in her new faith until a unique heavenly message helped her see that she was anything but alone. Here's Melissa.
I grew up with the memory of my cousin. She was nine months old when she passed away. She actually passed away before I was even born. But I was named after her, my middle name was after her, and I missed her. And I couldn't figure out why, I didn't understand why I missed her so much. But I knew that I wish that she could be here.
That was until I learned about the plan of salvation. And I learned about how we live before we were born. I learned about how we had relationships, and we chose to come to this earth to be able to progress. It made sense that we had relationships because I felt this bond that I probably was best friends with my cousin. And she's probably been rooting for me this whole time. So I knew I had to be a part of that kind of truth.
But joining the Church wasn't really the easiest thing in the world. My mom wasn't very excited about it. Neither my mom or dad were excited about it. I think it was because I was 18 years old. I was just graduating from high school about to move away to a new world, a new life away from them. I was the oldest too so it's the first time any of us are going through it. So not only my throwing in moving away and experiencing life but also I threw in a new religion and a new way of life. And I think my mom at one time told me she just couldn't go with me. She couldn't follow where I was going. And it really broke her heart. And it was hard for me because I felt like I was going to truth and I was going closer to my Savior, and if anything, I was doing things so that way my family could be together forever. So going to Church was a little bit tough. As much as it's so exciting, and I felt so whole and connected to my Heavenly Father, my Savior, it was very lonely going to church.
I would walk into church and you see all these families, regardless of probably how hard it was to keep everybody reverent during sacrament, you can feel and tell the love that just embodied everybody and their families. And it was, I was so jealous to see that and be able to have those families sit together and be able to share these experiences together.
And don't get me wrong, I was pretty popular. Everybody wanted me to sit with them. They always wanted me to make sure I felt welcome and loved. And so definitely was not a lack of support from anybody. But it was hard when you go with friends when they go through the temple of the first time and you see this crowd of family at the luncheon afterwards. And you just see this, people from so many different sources, whether aunts, uncles, cousins, grandmas, all there to support you in your decision and your journey spiritually. So I always felt super lonely and just really sad and longed for the day that I could be able to be sealed to somebody and be able to have family that I was able to share the gospel with.
Luckily, my husband took me on, and we have four beautiful children. And we've been sharing testimonies and stories and it's wonderful to have that. But again, it's so, it's just saddened because I wish that I can share it with my family, too.
About a couple years ago, I started hearing this voice in my head, "Ugh, aye mi hija!" And my grandmother has passed away 10 years ago. When I was a kid growing up, I did a lot, a lot of dumb things. And whenever she'd catch me doing something she'd be like, "Aye, mi hija!" And she was so disappointed in me for being, making just dumb choices. And I was hearing that sound, "Aye, mi hija!" And I knew what it was. "Aye, mi hija!" It was my grandmother. "Aye, mi hija!" Why have you done my work yet? Why have you not gotten me sealed to your grandfather yet? "Aye, mi hija!"
So I knew I had to get her work done. Because I was not gonna be here that was the rest of my life. So I start, I started working hard getting all of her work done. Through my grandparents, who had passed away, I was able to get all of their parents' work done and sealed. And so we got this nice lot of work done now for my family. And it was super exciting to be able to get all that stuff done.
Well, a couple of months ago, I was training for a marathon and I was on a 20-mile run that day. I had to leave at four in the morning. I was 10 miles into my run, and it was just a beautiful, was a beautiful day. The sun hadn't come out yet and the stars were shining. The area that I happened to be in was a gated community so there wasn't any streetlights. So the stars were able to even shine brighter, and it was a completely clear sky. So I looked up to the sky and it was just gorgeous. And I couldn't help but admire how beautiful this creation that God had given me, this earth that just naturally brings beauty. And then as I was running, I felt somebody running beside me. And I knew it was my grandmother. She started running beside me. And then, then someone became beside her. And on the other side, there was someone else that came beside, and all of a sudden I had a row of angels running beside me. And I knew It wasn't just angels. It was my family. It was my grandfathers, it was my cousin, it was my great-grandparents.
And they ran with me for a little bit. And so I started bearing my testimony, my soul, sharing up all the wonderful things that I have found by coming to know of the truth of the gospel, that I was able to share my testimony and able to share my experiences with my family.
Because of that experience, I have felt them so much more lately in my life. I even felt them actually on my marathon. I was running, and I was only at mile seven, and I felt them coming down and I was like, "Wait on guys, hold on, hold on. Appreciate you coming down. But I'm going to need your help around mile 18. Mile seven, I'm good, keeping good pace." And they did come at mile 18 and had to stay with me the whole entire time because I barely made it till mile 26.
I was reading in the Doctrine and Covenants when the Kirtland Temple was being dedicated. And it talks about how to leave this temple with angels having charge over us. It made me really connect that to my family, that the angels being charged over me are not just any random angels, they're my family. That loneliness has been able to to go away because I do have those family members that are part of the gospel. That were most likely there when I got sealed to my wonderful husband. That had been there when my sons have gotten baptized. That will continue to be there as we go through these great moments. I am so grateful to have that knowledge, to have those angels with me as I go forth.
That was Melissa.
I love the image of her ancestors coming to run next to her. Every time I think about it, it reminds me of some kind of scene from the end of a movie. It's like, after the montage and there's this amazing music playing and then all of a sudden the heroine looks to her left and looks to her right and realizes that she is not alone. And honestly, couldn't we all use a little shove in the middle of a marathon from those who've already finished the race? I know I could.
Our next story is a short and sweet one from Cheryl whose angel came right to the front door. Here's Cheryl.
My son Lincoln was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which is the cancer of the blood when he was 2-and-a-half years old. We also had a 1-year-old, Sawyer. So our hands were pretty full, and it was pretty devastating to get that diagnosis.
About six months later, we moved to Greenville, North Carolina, so my husband could do his residency program. Shortly after we moved to North Carolina, things got really hard for me. Lincoln was in a phase of his chemotherapy treatment that was really intense. And he was on these medications that made him super cranky and really agitated, particularly the steroids that were bad. They caused him to want to eat constantly. He ate so much, he retained so much water that he had what the doctors called moon face because his face got so big and round that it looked like the shape of a moon. On top of all that, I was pregnant and in my first trimester. I just remember being so nauseous and waking up with Lincoln, sometimes multiple times a night, to spoon-feed him chicken broccoli casserole and Pasta Roni, those are the two things he always wanted because he was so hungry. And it broke my heart to see him so uncomfortable and so miserable.
Meanwhile, Sawyer, his little brother, was almost two and I felt so guilty for the life that he'd been experiencing for the past several months. I felt so bad for him being stuck inside all the time with a sick brother and a sick mom day after day, and I did, I just didn't have the energy and I couldn't do much about it. I couldn't take him out and play with him and go to the park, anything like that. And we just moved to the area so I didn't know anybody so I didn't feel like I had friends or support to draw on at the time.
And I remember one day, I just hit an all-time low and had a bad night hadn't slept. And I just I picked up my phone, and I text my three sisters who live all across the country. And my text said something like, "This is awful. I can't do this anymore. Help." And I'm a very dramatic person so I knew that text would be alarming to them. But I was just so desperate.
Right after I send the text, my sister Wendy called, but I was busy and I couldn't answer the phone. So then about five minutes later, she called back again and that time I, I did answer. About a minute into our conversation, the doorbell rang. And I told my sister and she said, "Well, go answer the door." and I said, "I'm not answering the door. I am not expecting anyone. I don't know anyone here. My house is a mess. I look horrific. I'm not answering the door." And then she told me that for the past five minutes since she received my text, she'd been on her knees praying that someone would come help me because she couldn't. So I swallow my pride going out to the door, and standing there was my neighbor who lived down the street. And I had only met her once before that, maybe twice, just in passing. And she was there with her daughter who was in a red wagon. Carolyn told me she felt like she should just come see how I was doing and she wanted to know if Sawyer, my son who had been feeling particularly bad about neglecting, if he might want to go on a wagon ride with her daughter around the neighborhood.
It was such a simple act, such a simple gesture, but it meant the world to me. I started crying and I told her that I felt like she was an angel and that God had sent her and she was an answer to prayer. And I'm sure she thought I was a little bit crazy but in that moment, I was just so grateful. And I really, truly felt like she was an angel that had been sent. I knew my Heavenly Father was aware of me and I felt His love so strongly. It just washed over me. I knew He'd heard my sister's prayer, and I felt His love and His awareness so strongly that I just, I couldn't deny it, and I still can't deny it today.
Though nothing really changed drastically after that day, Lincoln and I continued to feel sick and struggle together. But I had received a witness that God was aware of me in my darkest hour, and He sent my neighbor who I barely knew as a ministering angel to offer the perfect act of service. And that was just enough to keep me going.
Lincoln continued to have chemo treatments for another three years but he made it through and he's cured. He's in remission now and he's been cancer-free for the past four years. And I'm just so grateful.
I often look back on that experience with Carolyn and it just reminds me that we can get through hard times. And we can be angels for other people just like she was for me. So we can lift each other, and we can be the hands of heaven here on earth.
That was Cheryl.
Do you ever worry that what you're offering is weird or wrong or might offend somebody? I know I do. And I think that sometimes that stops me from showing up for people in their time of need. But Cheryl's story is exactly what I needed this week to kick my shame to the curb. Ministering is all about trusting that who you are and how you move in the world is already enough for the people you've been paired with or prompted toward. And that God will transform your offer of a red wagon ride into exactly what your neighbor needs. I also think it helps me to remember that the work of heaven and angels is not limited to those and other realms. We get to be a part of that work, too. And what a privilege that is.
Our final story today comes from Brooke and if you've been silently listening to today's stories, wondering where your angels are, well, this one's for you. Here's Brooke.
I was on a conference call with Whitney and Soni, the two girls that I sing with. And we were discussing our upcoming tours and I got a phone call from my mom. My mom was diagnosed with the flu the day before, so I thought, "Oh, she's just calling to tell me how she's feeling." And she kept calling. She'd call hang-up, call hang-up, which is normal for my mom. That's, that's what my mom does until you answer the phone. So I finally texted her and just said, "Hey, I am on a conference call, I'll call you back as soon as I'm done." And I sent this text and as soon as I sent the text, she called again. And I thought, "Okay, that, that's not like my mom." It was my dad calling from my mom's phone and told me that my mom had stopped breathing and the ambulance was on their way and to just hang tight until they got to a hospital. And then he would call us from there. But I live fairly close to my dad so I told him I would just jump in the car and just run over and just be with him until they get that figured out. And I remember driving and just praying, "Just let her be okay." I just assumed she'd be okay. It's the flu, right? It's 2018, it's not 1740, so I felt okay about it but obviously a little nervous.
When I got there, there was two or three ambulances there and a police car and they were rolling out a stretcher, the stretcher was empty. And I thought, "Oh, maybe she's okay." So I asked them quickly, "What happened? Where's my mom?" They said, "Well, are you Brooke? Just go inside." And my dad was standing there with the most blank look and said, "There's nothing they can do. They couldn't do anything." And I just froze. I couldn't believe this was actually happening. And I even remember kind of yelling at the, yelling at the EMTs saying, "How long did you try? You didn't try long enough." They just kind of stared at me. And I just I couldn't believe that I had lost my mom to the flu. You know, she'd been at my house three days before just loving on my kids and she was, she was gone.
My mom was very full of life. I know that sounds cliche, but I don't know how else to describe her. Everything she did was so big: her actions were big her, her voice was loud, just her hair was big. She even would had this whistle. And, you know, it was interesting no matter where you were, what event you were at, what school play you were at, you knew where my mom was sitting because of this whistle that would just kill everybody's ears. That was her signature thing.
She was the person that would walk up to strangers, even like homeless people, and hug them and talk to them. Sometimes the, the stranger's face would have a look of confusion like, "Who is this lady touching me and why is she touching me?" But a lot of times you'd almost see their faces just kind of melt just, "I just I really needed that." Even though she's a stranger, you know.
We found out all these really great stories about her after. She would visit her Young Women with flowers when their sister moved away to college because she knew that this little girl was struggling with her sister leaving. Or, she'd show up at lacrosse games or she did tea parties for my kids. She was a grandma that came to things and showed up. I think we definitely took it for granted.
I don't know if you're ever really done grieving. I think the first year was fog and a lot of drowning. And I think that's typical. Second year, maybe it's a little bit easier. That first year was horrible. I still have a lot of triggers. It sounds so funny, but she loved "Downton Abbey." She thought she was British. We always laugh like, "You're not British, Mom." But she thought she was British so she loved "Downton Abbey." It was her ringtone on my phone. And after she passed away, you know, the show is not on anymore and I was sitting in the movie theater just a couple months ago and the preview for the new movie coming out came up. The second I heard the music, it was just, just waterworks. You know, I don't expect to be sitting in a movie theater crying about a song that represents my mom. There's triggers everywhere and I just, all the firsts you expect, but the little things are hard. I don't even know how to tell somebody how to get through this other than I just know you become a part of this crazy club of people grieving lost ones. And so there are days where you feel really alone and days that you know you're not.
One of the things that comforted me after I lost her was that I knew angels existed and I knew that they were very present in our lives. I have had experiences with that before. I have felt my great-grandmother with me through really hard times. My great-grandmother was a singer and there was no other singers in my family. And so I've always felt connected to her. I've never met her, but I felt her presence. I don't know how to explain the feeling. I don't see her or hear her. I just know she's there. Even times before I'm going to go on stage and I'm nervous I felt my great-grandma with me. You know, she's a singer so she knows what it's like to to step on a stage and be nervous.
During the birth of my last baby, it was a really traumatic experience where we almost lost her, and it was bad enough that even my life was in danger. I was, I had to be sedated for that one. Waking up and kind of slowly opening my eyes, I could see my husband and I could see my mom in the room, but the room felt full of people. And I just kind of sat there thinking, "Who else is here?" And the room was just filled with love, a bigger love than can be contained in just the two people that were there. And, even from that moment, I've always felt like my youngest, Claire, belongs to a collective group of people. I just get to be her, her mom here.
Having had those experiences, I had an expectation that I would have the same experiences with my mom. And my patriarchal blessing even talks about angels and that the presence of my loved ones will be very important to me in my life. I expected my mom to come and visit me just the way I had been visited in the past. I thought that she won't feel very far away. She'll always feel close. What added to that belief was that a couple years before my mom passed away, I had a very strong impression to study angels, not just because they were mentioned in my patriarchal blessing, but I was really intrigued with the idea of them. So I studied scriptures and talks and books and I went to the temple, they're talked about all over in the temple. I would read experiences that people have had, and I just really gained a huge testimony in their existence and in their roles in our lives. All of these things led me to believe and to expect that my mom would come to me in certain ways, and I will feel her presence on a regular basis. But I haven't.
I haven't felt my mom since she's passed. It's been a year and a half, and I had all these expectations. Maybe when I was, after the year when I could see more clearly or I wasn't in this fog or during some big life thing that would happen: my daughter's baptism, during my dad getting remarried. Would I feel her that week? And I haven't, I haven't felt her.
That's been difficult. It's been hard because I have expectations. And I know what it feels like and I know it's possible. So why, why not my mom? Why my great-grandma, why people that I don't know? Why can I feel angels but not my mom? Why does it talk about my patriarchal blessing how important they'll be in my life, but the one who's the most important feels silent?
So the questioning did come to a point where I, I was angry. And it's interesting because, throughout the entire process, I never felt angry at God. I know death is a part of this experience. I saw His hand in all the service and all the love that we were given. I even looked back and saw all the ways He actually prepared us for her passing. I was never mad at God. I really wasn't, until one night I really wanted to talk to my mom, and I don't even remember, honestly, what it was about. And I remember praying out loud and I was in the car driving and I was praying out loud. And I asked him, "Why? Why have you let me have all these experiences and gained such a testimony of angels and their existence and their involvement, how close they are. And I've been led to so much study and pondering and praying about the subject of angels. Why have you not let me feel my mom?" And it was a really clear moment, a really clear answer that came to me and it's, I don't have a lot of those in my life. I have seen the Lord's hand and the Spirit has spoken to me, but this is one of those clear like, "I hear the words. I'm sitting on your shoulder in your ear." And He said, "I had to come to that knowledge, I had to study all of this so that you would know she was there even when you don't feel her."
Everything kind of turned at that point, my vision shifted a little bit. I started to look for my mom in different ways. It's interesting because I still, still haven't felt my mom the way I felt my great-grandma. But I see my mom through the actions of other people. Right when she died, a sweet friend did a painting for me. And she said, "I felt like somebody took my hand and the paintbrush and painted this," and had a painting out in 10 minutes. I wish like everybody can see this painting. It's a painting of an angel, which she didn't know that that's my love. You know, I have an angel wall in my office and the colors that she used were all the same colors on my wall and the angel looked just like my mom. Big hair, you know, and she's never met my mom.
It was just really interesting that I thought, "Oh, that's my mom. She knows I love angels, of course." In fact, even at Christmas time, this gal in my neighborhood, she had a very strong impression for two weeks, "You need to buy Brooke an angel." And she kept saying, "Why? I don't even know Brooke that well. That's gonna look so weird." And so she's like, "I'll just buy her a candle or something like that." She bought something else. But it kept coming, "No, buy her an angel. Buy her an angel." So she's like, "I finally just bought you an angel. I'm so, I don't even know why." She doesn't know that I have this love of angels.
You know, I got a letter, this beautiful letter from a friend that said, "Was listening to your song and your mom was there with me and this is what she told me and this is what she wants me to tell you." And it was a really beautiful moment for my friend that became a really beautiful moment for me. We were both blessed from this, you know, and that's how my mom operates. That's what she, that totally sounds like my mom. My mom works in heaven the same way she works on Earth. She works with other people a lot and I, it's interesting because I think she'll do something to bless somebody who will then turn and tell me so that we kind of both get blessed. So it's like a two birds with one stone kind of a thing you know, she just, she knows she can bless two people with one action. So that's what she's gonna do. And it makes sense to me that she's going to do the same things in heaven that she did here on Earth. They don't change, you know.
I still want to feel her all the time. I think I'll always miss her and there will always be moments where I'm just kind of, maybe angry is not the right word, but sad. Sad she's not here with me. It's been interesting to see the compassion that's grown and how much I've learned to lean on Heavenly Father instead. Like, I had an experience one night. I was praying and telling Heavenly Father I was frustrated I couldn't talk to my mom about my, my mothering. My mom was really good at telling me I was doing a good job. I can't talk to my friends about that because we're all, everybody's in the trenches together. We all think we're a horrible mom. All of us think we're ruining our kids. But my mom was out of the trenches and could tell me from a different perspective I was doing okay. And I remember praying and saying, "I miss my mom being here to tell me I'm doing a good job. And the Spirit said, "Well, I can tell you you're doing a good job." I thought, "Oh, of course, why don't I just go to Christ? Why don't I tell Him everything?" And honestly, it's been interesting because I've never before relied so much on Him, even as being a connection to my mom. I can't tell you how often I've said in a prayer, "Will you please tell my mom I love her?" And how often the Spirit has said to me, "She knows."
So even though I can't feel my mom, or even sometimes I don't know if she hears what I was saying, He does. Christ knows how I feel. He knows what I'm saying. He hears my thoughts. And if there's something that my mom needs to know, He'll make sure it happens. And I trust that.
That was Brooke.
Brooke Stone is one-third of the music group Mercy River, and she first shared part of this story at Time Out for Women where I heard it and realized that it had to be a part of this episode.
We celebrate heavenly visitation when it happens because in these latter days, we do believe in angels. We believe in a realm beyond this one, but we also believe as with any friends form of divine communication, that heavenly visitation is only one way that God reaches us in our need. And just like Brooke said, how we receive that revelation is no indication of our goodness or lack of goodness. We may long for and work for and study and seek for angels only to find that God needs us to hear His message a different way at a different time.
Like Brooke, I don't understand the whys of revelation. I don't understand why one time it's an angel and the next time it's a feeling and the next time it's silence. But I do know that someday it's going to all make sense. And I hold onto that day with hope that I'll rejoice in my heavenly, "Aha," moment.
One thing that is clear from our stories today is that the work of angels is always beautifully related to the work of discipleship. As I was sitting in the Conference Center listening to what felt like a choir of angels heralding the birth of the Savior with those tears for my grandma falling freely, I heard the lyrics from the chorus of the song "Angels among Us," and I felt something shifted in me. I felt a new understanding beginning. Here's a little piece of that song for you.
Oh, I believe there are Angels Among Us,
Sent down to us from somewhere up above.
They come to you and me in our darkest hours
To show us how to live
To teach us how to give
To guide us with a light of love.
That guiding light of love that the song speaks about? Well, that light was the guiding force for Matt and the families he taught as a missionary. It was the homing beacon for Melissa as she found her place in the family of Christ. It was the knock at the door for Cheryl who just needed to know that she was known. And it was the gentle reminder for Brooke that even in her grief and her loss and her longing for comfort, He can be the one to tell her she's getting it right, that she's not alone, and that she's got back up. Our angels, whether we feel them or not, will always show up. And they will always point us towards the true light of all love, our Savior, Jesus Christ. So as we feel inspired to, as Elder Holland suggested speak of and believe in and bear testimony of the ministry of angels more than we sometimes do, we can trust that those inspired expressions will also bear witness of Him and His holy life and His holy work.
That's it for this episode of This Is the Gospel. Thanks for joining us today. And thank you to Matt, Melissa, Cheryl, and Brooke for allowing us to help tell their stories of divine communication.
We'll have so many good things in the show notes for this episode, you guys, so many good things. You really, really want to go there. We're going to have a transcript of the episode along with some pictures and we will have a link to the Tabernacle Choir's Angels among Us album, which is so beautiful and it has that song that we played from Kristin Chenoweth and the choir.
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This episode was produced by me, KaRyn Lay, with story producing and editing by Katie Lambert and Kelly Campbell. It was scored, mixed, and mastered by Mix at 6 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. Have a beautiful week.