43: The Best Worst Christmas

Mon Dec 16 14:44:22 EST 2019

Stories in this episode: Tammy’s Rockefeller-worthy Christmas tree doesn’t bring the holiday spirit like she hopes but leads to a new take on Christmas with her blended family; A not-so-magical Christmas causes many of Paula's holiday plans to go awry but helps her reflect on the sacredness of Christ's birth; From gifts gone wrong to hospital holidays, four stories straight from our pitch line show how even the worst Christmas can be the best; Kevin reexamines his motivations to help reunite his family over the holidays after his pornography addiction leads his wife to ask for a divorce.

This episode of "This Is the Gospel" is sponsored by Light the World. If you’re looking for a meaningful addition to your christ-centered Christmas traditions, the brand new short film "The Christ Child" at LighttheWorld.org is a beautiful way to go. In our little family, we have a special Christmas Eve dinner and I know that I will be showing this video as part of that celebration. Speaking of gathering with friends and family, Latter-day Saint wards and branches all over the world (that means your ward and my ward!) will be holding a special Christmas service this coming Sunday on December 22. Don’t you think it would really light the world if we could invite everyone—neighbors, friends, family—to come celebrate the season with us and our temporarily beefed-up ward choirs??? I’m in and I hope you are too as we light the world together.

Show Notes

Tammy's Rockefeller-worthy Christmas tree she created her first Christmas with her new family.
Tammy's Rockefeller-worthy Christmas tree she created her first Christmas with her new family.
Tammy with her husband and four children at the beach.
Tammy with her husband and four children at the beach.
Paula with her son Benson during the Christmas of 2002. That year, Paula spent much of her time with Benson as he recovered from bouts of bronchitis.
Paula with her son Benson during the Christmas of 2002. That year, Paula spent much of her time with Benson as he recovered from bouts of bronchitis.
Carissa and her family with the missionaries at Christmas. While her son was in the NICU, Carissa felt prompted to help these missionaries connect with their families on Christmas Day.
Carissa and her family with the missionaries at Christmas. While her son was in the NICU, Carissa felt prompted to help these missionaries connect with their families on Christmas Day.
Carissa and family with her son in the NICU on Christmas. That day was the first time Carissa's young daughters were able to hold their baby brother.
Carissa and family with her son in the NICU on Christmas. That day was the first time Carissa's young daughters were able to hold their baby brother.
Patricia with her family near the same spot she found her watch in Disneyland. The day after Christmas, Patricia lost her favorite present, a Swatch Watch, and then miraculously found it near this same spot.
Patricia with her family near the same spot she found her watch in Disneyland. The day after Christmas, Patricia lost her favorite present, a Swatch Watch, and then miraculously found it near this same spot.


"28 And we know that all things work together for agood to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).

"What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can abe against us?" (Romans 8:31)


KaRyn Lay  0:00  

Merry Christmas friends! Before we hop into our episode, we wanted to let you know that this is "This Is the Gospel" is taking a few weeks off to enjoy the holidays with our people. But don't worry, we'll be back in the new year. So keep an eye on us on Instagram @thisisthegospel_podcast because the pitch line will still be open. And we've got some exciting upcoming themes including an episode dedicated entirely to the new youth theme. So as those stories start rolling at your family gatherings, do not forget to share the stories from your holiday with us.

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. We're deep in the throes of the Christmas spirit around here. And as we barrel our way towards Christmas Eve planning our word Christmas socials, thinking about our ministry assignments, and trying desperately to learn how to wrap round present, we wanted to take a minute to tell the stories of Christmases past.

You may think our theme this week is a little . . . well, grim for holiday celebration episode. In fact, if you've ever heard of the term "schadenfreude," which is a German word that loosely translates to taking pleasure at someone else's pain, you may worry that listening to other people's stories about their worst Christmas would be like indulging in this terrible practice. But I promise we're no schadenfreuders! Is that a word? Schadenfreude-ers? Schadenfreuders? Well, this is "The Best Worst Christmas" episode.

And now I can hear you asking, "But KaRyn, what does that even mean? How can the worst Christmas also be the best Christmas?" Well, don't worry. Our seven storytellers today are going to show us exactly how that's done. So buckle up for "The Best Worst Christmas."

Our first story comes from Tammy who wanted what we all want at the beginning of a new adventure: magical firsts. Here's Tammy.

Tammy  2:00  

I waited 34 years, eight months, and 14 days to get married. . . finally! I felt like I had totally been prepared to get married, but nothing prepared me for our very first Christmas together.

We had been married for five months when we celebrated the first Christmas, which was so exciting. I married a widower, and with that came two little darling girls so I became instant-mom overnight. So you can imagine my anticipation at celebrating Christmas as a family.

We went as a family and picked out the most beautiful Christmas tree and came home and decorated the house and then got out all the ornaments to decorate the tree. Now, I had had a few ornaments and a few things that I had collected over the years of being single but not really a lot so there wasn't much that I could contribute to the decorating festivities. So we used everything that the family had had before I joined them. And when we got everything out to decorate the tree, I had not anticipated the grief that I would experience.

Ornament after ornament, of course, I'm being a little dramatic. I would say a majority of the ornaments though, were decorated with my husband's name and his wife's name. And after 14 years of marriage, of course they would have ornaments together. And, of course, they would have collected ornaments, but I didn't even think that that would be a thing on Christmas morning. And so as we pulled each ornament out, and I sat on that couch, the girls would pull the ornaments out and go, "Oh look, Dad, remember when you and mom got this?" And I just sat there and it was every ornament they pulled out. My emotions just swelled and I got more and more emotional. And then I started crying on the couch. And I just was so sad and I didn't even think that I would be. And my husband looked at me and I tried to hold back the tears and I couldn't and we both recognized what a difficult Christmas this was going to be for both of us.

So I just did what any adult, responsible, mature woman would do and I had myself a full-blown adult tantrum. And the next day I went out and about my own tree and my own decorations. And I decorated that bad boy and made it the most beautiful thing that I'd ever seen. We put it in another room of the house. we affectionately refer to it now as the Rockefeller Center tree because it was a little bit audacious. It was gigantic, and the ornaments were big. And I did that thinking that that would make everything better. And it didn't because here's the reality and one thing I recognized is that we'd only been married five months, and their mom had only been gone for a year. And those years of firsts are rough. And it was a year first for all of us. Because I think what the Savior taught me in that moment was everybody was grieving. My girls and my husband were grieving the loss of a wife and a mom, and I was grieving the loss of the dream of being just someone's first choice, I guess, first wife. I would never get a year of firsts. I mean, I would have our first Christmas together, but it wouldn't be like a newlywed with no kids. It was just a different kind of first. And so I think I realized that we all were grieving, we all were sad.

We left the Christmas tree up as is and didn't change anything. And then when January came when we took the tree down, my sweet husband took all those ornaments and put them in a separate box. And we've just kept them and stowed them away until the girls grow up and then they can have those ornaments.

I just think it's so important for me to recognize that Christmas really is about Christ, and it certainly was that day. And throughout that holiday season, I feel like He kind of healed all of our hearts. Specifically mine, and I grew up and I recognize that while I didn't get what I hoped for, I definitely got what I wanted, which was a family and a husband who I adore. And I love being a wife and a mom, being a mom is harder than I thought it would be, but I do love it. And we've added two more little girls to the family and Christmas morning is glorious and the festivities are wonderful and we decorate and we have so much fun.

I loved the talk by Elder Wirthlin in October 2006, the year I got married, called "Sunday Will Come." And it just made me kind of think about how no matter how dark our Fridays are and how lost we feel, and that decorating day was a dark Friday for me, my Sunday did come and my heart healed. And everything turned out just wonderful.

KaRyn Lay  6:50  

That was Tammy Uzelac Hall. And I'm excited to tell you that Tammy is the host of LDS Living's newest podcast the "Sunday on Monday" study group podcast. It's a "Come, Follow Me"-based scripture study, which is going to be available on Desert Bookshelf PLUS+ starting at the beginning of the new year. Tammy hosts a different group of women each week to talk about, expand on, and explore the gospel through the scriptures. And if you thought she was real here, you will not want to miss her take on the Book of Mormon.

You know, Tammy and I often chat about the highs and lows of step-parenting. And one thing I realized as we were listening to her story is that sometimes, the worst things become the best because of a little bit of empathy. When we open our hearts to even consider the perspective of those around us, like Tammy did with her stepchildren and even her new husband, well I think that opens the door for God to do His work in our hearts just like He did with her. It also doesn't hurt to have a healthy sense of humor about ourselves, which my friend Tammy has in spades.

Our next story comes from Paula, who found herself one Christmas unexpectedly removed from the holiday cheer that she so desperately wanted to be a part of. Here's Paula.

Paula  8:00 

Growing up, Christmas was very magical for me. My grandparents would have a huge Christmas gathering for our family on Christmas Eve. When my husband went for the first time, he said it was really kind of like something off of a TV Christmas special. And that was probably my favorite part of Christmas.

When my kids came along, I wanted Christmas to feel as special and magical to them. We had six children, so it got kind of crazy at times. We just kind of would buckle up at the beginning of December and kind of just take it one thing at a time. There were dance recitals and music recitals and Christmas church socials. My husband always had a work Christmas party and both of our families live here in North Carolina so there were extended family gatherings on both sides. I always did kind of feel a little guilty as the Christmas time would come to a close and I would stop and think, "Oh, I've been so busy and haven't really stopped to take a few minutes to reflect like I wanted to." And it just seemed like it kind of came every year and you just kept going.

Christmas of 2002, we had our fifth child at that time, Benson. He was about 18 months old. He had kind of a rough year with some sicknesses. At the early part of December, he had bronchitis that kind of kept me out of the cold with him. We would stay home and there were several things that we missed right at the beginning of the month. You know it was disappointing, but we still had the rest of the month and I thought, "We'll just get him well and then everything will be fine."

But as time went on, it was one thing after another. There was an ice storm. Here in North Carolina when an ice storm hits, pretty much everything shuts down. Everyone goes to the grocery store and stocks up on bread, the bread gets gone really quick. So if you don't get there soon enough, you're out of luck. The bread's gone. And you kind of come home and then when the ice storm hits, you are pretty much house-bound.

I had planned a Young Women's Christmas party at our house that I was really excited about that year. And that just happened to fall during the ice storm so that was canceled. I was pretty disappointed about canceling that because I had put a lot of work into getting ready for it and was excited about having the girls over.

So after this ice storm, then Benson had a relapse from his bronchitis that kind of sent us back inside again. He was pretty sick. And then my husband usually has a work party that he and I would go to. The work party was something I looked forward to every year. It was a chance to get dressed up and have a date night in the middle of all the other stuff that was going on. But this year, I wasn't able to attend that either. There still were several things to look forward to in the rest of the month. But just before all those things happened, we all came down with a stomach bug. It started with one person and it was one of those things that would take a day or two before it hit the next person. And it just slowly went through our whole house. Our Christmas was not turning out very magical at all.

A large part of the month I felt like I spent at home alone with Benson, my youngest. We would sit there and rock with the lights turned down. We'd usually sing him Primary songs if I was getting him to sleep. But because it was Christmas time, I substituted those songs for Christmas carols. As I was alone and had that time to reflect and think about the things that really happened during the first Christmas, I realized that those Christmas carols made those events that happened over 2000 years ago come alive for me. I felt what a silent night it was in Bethlehem. I could almost see the bright stars in the sky and picture the beautiful virgin mother with her little baby and how precious and tender and mild he was. I felt a little bit of the wonder that the shepherds experienced they were visited by the heavenly messengers. And I could hear the songs and the sounds of the angels singing. It was during those times with my little baby boy that the birth of our Savior became so real to me. I felt like I was given a gift and a chance to go back to those many years ago and experience a little piece of it myself.

I think it's interesting that going back to when I was a little girl and the thing that made Christmas so magical to me was the music that I heard at my grandparents' house on Christmas Eve. And then this Christmas in 2002 I had such a special experience with Christmas for myself was also because of the music, that I realized that probably the thing that kept me home and caused me to miss a lot of Christmas that year was because my little boy was sick. But it was that same reason that calls me to have this special experience with the birth of our Savior.

KaRyn Lay  14:46  

That was Paula.

I think we can all relate to those seasons in our lives, like Paula had, where God invites us to slow down and just be with Him. It might be hard initially to be very appreciative of that gift because it's easy to feel the deep disappointment of all that we've missed or the fear of disappointing those we love. But what I'm reminded of from Paula's story is that we can find the gift if we're willing to let go of the pressure of our own expectations and open our eyes to the offerings around us. And though I don't have a baby to rock to sleep on the dark nights before Christmas, I'm going to try harder to carve out some quiet time to just sit and dream and think about the things that matter most during this Christmas season.

Our next few stories came to us directly from our pitch line. We asked you to call in with your best worst Christmas stories, and you did. We got so many fun and touching submissions from gifts gone wrong to tragic decorations to difficult moments in your lives that somehow showed forth the power and goodness of God. Well, we got them all and here are a few of our favorites.

Patricia  15:53

Hi, my name is Patricia Henderson. My story begins when I was about 13 years old. I grew up in Northern California and I had, it was Christmas. And I had just received the greatest gift in my little brain and that was a Swatch watch. It was awesome. It was see-through and the band was colorful. It was awesome.

So, the day after Christmas, our family took a trip to Disneyland. And we had stayed at a hotel and I was very careful when I put my watch by my towel at the pool when we were swimming and I forgot my Swatch watch down by the pool at the hotel by Disneyland. So I rushed back down when I realized and, of course, it was gone. I was devastated. I went back to my room and just cried and cried and cried. And I've pleaded with the Lord, "Please Heavenly Father, please help me find my watch."

So the next day was the day we were to go to Disneyland. Disneyland that day was at full capacity. It was so busy, people everywhere. And my heart was heavy because I had lost my watch. And I was so devastated about it. So I went throughout the day kind of standing in line at a ride. And you know how the lines are, they go back and forth and back and forth with people and you just stand there. And you move a little ahead and then you stand there. And I look over on a boy's arm and I see a watch that looked just like mine. And I feel like the Spirit told me, "That's your watch, ask for it." And so I did. I got the courage. I wasn't that kind of teenager. I was very cool, I thought, and I didn't do things like that. But I did. I asked him I said, "Hey, where did you get that watch?" And he said, "Funny story, we staying in a hotel and it was down by the pool at the side of the pool and so I put it on." I said, "What hotel are you staying at?" And it was the same hotel. And I said to him, "I lost my watch down by the pool and that's my watch. I just got it for Christmas." And guess what? He gave it back to me. And I got my watch back on the busiest day of probably the whole year at Disneyland.

To me, that has been a miracle in my life. I was young, I was impressionable, and this was very important to me at that time and my prayer had been answered. I've often gone back to that story throughout my life and remember the undeniable power of prayer. Of the thousands of people at Disneyland that day, Heavenly Father led me to my watch. I've always felt like it was my special connection to heaven. Where this could have been the worst Christmas ever, it showed me the powerful lesson of how aware my Heavenly Father is of me. Thank you.

Suzi  19:07 

Hi, my name is Suzi Hjorth. I grew up in Southern California and my grandparents had a Christmas tree farm in Vista. And every year, our family of nine would pile in the Suburban and go to grandma and grandpa's house and we could pick any tree we wanted on the lot. And it was a pretty magical time.

When I was about 12 or 13, my grandparents sold the farm. And for the first time, we had to go buy a tree at the store like normal people. And we all piled in the Suburban and went to the store and were quickly dismayed at the cost of Christmas trees. And we were on a fixed income and my mom finally looked at us and said, "Guys, you want more presence or a tree?" And we left the store without a tree.

But my mom isn't one to be messed with, and so she went out into the backyard and cut a branch off of our pine tree. And then she got a drill and she drilled holes anywhere that there wasn't something green coming out of it. And then she went and cut more branches and she stuck them in the holes and made her own Christmas tree for our family and we put it in the regular spot. But being 12 or 13 years old, I was mortified by this Christmas tree. It wasn't triangle-shaped. It wasn't neat and tidy. It didn't look like anyone else's Christmas tree. It was wild and unkempt. And I could have just died from the shame of that Christmas tree.

People would come to our house and say it was amazing and I would roll my eyes thinking they're just trying to make us feel better about ourselves but we are so lame. Years later, I look back and I realize that was the most beautiful Christmas tree ever. And every year now I make a wreath out of the pine branches that I go and cut off of the tree in the backyard. And every year my kids complain that it's a little too sloppy and it's not round and neat like all of the other people's Christmas wreaths. And it makes me happy and joyful that I've turned out a little something like my amazing mom. Thanks, bye.

Greg  21:15  

Hi, my name is Greg Davis. One of my most painful Christmas memories, which is that when I was about 8 years old, all I really wanted was a football for Christmas. I was so excited to get it. And I saw that odd shape under the Christmas tree and thought for sure I knew what it was. And sure enough, I opened it up and it was a brand-new football. So what else do you do on Christmas Day when you get a football besides throw it across the room with your brothers? So I took this brand-new football, threw it across the room to my brother, and he threw it back to me. Only, I didn't catch it but it went off my fingertips and into the fireplace. And inside the fireplace, there was a hot nail sticking out of a board, and it punctured right down the heart of that ball within 30 seconds of getting my brand-new Christmas gift. I watched to sizzling there in the fireplace. Even when we pulled it out, it was not salvageable.

So was I upset? Yes. Did I cry? Probably. But what's amazing about that is even though it was so frustrating at the time, it's now one of my favorite Christmas stories. So crisis plus time equals laughter. We laugh about it now. And things that seem big in the moment aren't always as big as we make them out to be. That's my Christmas story.

Carissa  22:36

Hi, my name is Carissa Abrams. Christmas 2016 was a really hard time for our family. We had recently moved from St. Louis, Missouri, to Richmond, Virginia, for my husband's military training. And shortly after we arrived in Virginia, our baby boy was born 13 weeks early. To give you an idea of how early and how sick he was, he weighed two pounds exactly and just really, really sick. And it was hard because all of our friends were across the country in St. Louis and our closest family members lived in Idaho. It was just really isolating. One of the hardest things was that our daughters, who were six and seven at the time, couldn't hold him. He was too little and too small.

Fast forward to the Sunday before Christmas, I was talking to the missionaries in our ward. We had two sets of elders at the time. They could only talk to their parents twice a year on Mother's Day and on Christmas and I asked them if they were excited for Christmas and excited to talk to their families. The two elders I was talking to looked at each other and they looked a little sheepish. And they said, "Yes, we're really excited to talk to our families, but we're not sure how and when we're going to do that." And I realized that they didn't have any plans for Christmas. No one had invited them over. Immediately, I felt the Spirit whisper to me, "Carissa, you need to have them over to your house." I said, "No, I can't. I have, my son's in the hospital and my family's really struggling. It's a hard year, I just can't." And I felt the impression again so I invited them over.

And it was such a wonderful experience to have them. I actually called all four of their moms to set up the time for them to call. And one of the elder's mom said something that really touched my heart. She said, "I've been praying that someone would be taking care of my son on this mission because every time I get the opportunity, I take care of the missionaries and I see them at my house. So I knew that if I took care of these elders, that someone would take care of my son." And I realized that was just like my family situation. I couldn't take care of my son that year for Christmas. I couldn't see him or really do much for him. There were other women taking care of my son, but I could take care of other women's sons at Christmas.

And we had a great day and it was so healing for me to be able to care for those boys when their moms couldn't. And the real miracle came that night when we went to the hospital and my daughters were able to hold their little brother for the first time. So what should have been our hardest Christmas was our best.

KaRyn Lay  25:22  

That was Patricia, Susie, Greg, and Carissa.

Thanks to everyone who submitted their best worst stories on our pitch line. We absolutely loved seeing how many of our friends are able to find the good stuff in the midst of the hard stuff so thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And just to be clear, Patricia, I feel you. All I ever wanted was a Swatch watch, and I never got one so I feel a little bit jealous of you right now.

Our final story today of "The Best Worst Christmas" comes from Kevin, who after 15 years of marriage found himself and his family in very different places during the holiday. A quick note for those of you who might be listening with small children, this story openly discusses addiction. And while there's nothing to really worry about, you may want to preview it yourself before sharing. Here's Kevin.

Kevin  26:09 

My worst Christmas actually started in August. It was an August that after many years of having to deal with me and honestly my pornography addiction, that my wife finally decided to take my three children and leave.

She told me that she was going to leave, and I totally understood. She had taken the time through much prayer, and I believe she even went to the temple and considered it. I knew that she needed to do this if that's what she felt, and I didn't blame her. I totally put all the blame upon myself.

She went out to her parents with my three children and it was extremely hard for me. I was absolutely devastated. Let's be honest, I was bawling my head off. It was terrible. I knew at that very moment that this was "do or die" for me. That I had a very, very serious decision to make in my life at this point. Either I make changes or I go into a very, very scary route, one that I did not want to go into.

So I decided at that point that, you know, if she's not there, who's pushing me to do things? Who's pushing me to make these changes? Well, it had to be me, and I knew it had to be me. And I was already starting the repentance process. I was meeting with my bishop regularly, I was going to addiction recovery meetings, and I started to see a therapist. And you know, I was doing these things to help me heal and a lot to try to get my family back. I really wanted my family back. That was, you know, a lot of my motivation at the time. It was if I, if I made these changes, my family will be okay. We're going to be back together. That was my motivation. It was good motivation, but it wasn't quite the right motivation.

It was looking like we were going to be just divorced. And when I talked to her, she'd be like, "Yeah, we're, I don't think this is going to work out." It was Thanksgiving of that year and I was preparing for them to come visit. And I was having a really hard time. I was, I was in a moment of deep depression, deep anxiety, deep, deep fears. They were going to be here for Thanksgiving for about a week, and I wanted the house to be perfect. I wanted there to be no reason for her to come and be like, "Oh, he's not changing." So I was doing things. I just, I got to a point where I couldn't do it. I was, I was cleaning and I couldn't do it. And I, the anxiety totally took over. I was sitting on my bed telling myself, "Kevin, you gotta get up, and you've got to clean more." And not being able to move. I picked up my phone and I called my best friend and then another good friend, to come give me a blessing. I was bawling my eyes out. Not understanding why, why I could not move. Why I could not do this simple task for my family. I went downstairs in preparation to get my blessing and I still could not stop bawling.

I got a phone call from my son Keagan. And he said, "Dad, I just wanted to talk to you. I needed to talk to you." Heavenly Father heard my prayers, and through Keagan, He answered them. Afterward, my wife told me that my son said he wanted to call me and she said, "No, he, you got to go clean your room first." And so he went in to clean this room and he came out and said, "No, Mom, I gotta call Dad." There's no doubt in my mind that, that was the Spirit telling him to call me.

It was most definitely a panic attack that I was experiencing. The brethren came and they gave me a blessing. And at that point, you know, I knew I just couldn't worry about how the house looked. I just had to worry about taking care of them when they're here. So they came and things went well. Things went very well. I was feeling really good thinking, you know, "Oh yeah, things are great. I'm gonna, we're gonna get back together, yeah, yeah." So afterward, I talked to my wife again and she's like, "No, no, we're still on the road to divorce here, Kevin." That hurt, you know, that was really hard for me to hear.

I had made some arrangements for me to be able to go out to my in-laws' where my wife and children were staying for Christmas. Before I'd go to my in-laws, I was going to visit my brother and sister in Utah. When that time came, I flew out with some really difficult flights. But you know, more than happy to do it just to see my family. Had like a Christmas dinner with my sister and her family. It was, it was a hard time. I was emotional because it was family, right? It was a family thing, but it wasn't because my family wasn't there. And so it was extremely difficult for me. And unfortunately, my sister had to feel that from me.

So my wife meets up with me and I transfer my belongings over to the van and we drive up to her parents. The kids are in the car and we're all just, you know, we're having a good time driving up. We get to my in-laws and, you know, I know that my in-laws love me. They're really amazing people. My mother-in-law, so very supporting, and as is my father-in-law. However, I do have to say I was really uneasy when I first got there. I was not sure how my father-in-law was feeling about me. And the reason I was uncomfortable was because I had actually told them why we were separated and called them before she came out there and had apologized to them. It's not an easy thing to talk about. There was a lot of shame involved, a lot of—I had hurt his little girl. Not physically, but emotionally, and it was painful. I'm sure it was painful for both of us. I know it was painful for my wife. So here I am in their home, feeling awkward with my family. But again, not truly with my family. So I'm here at Christmas with the hope of being able to fix things. So I'm, you know, serving I'm helping I'm doing all kinds of stuff. And I'm doing it because I love them but in all honesty, I also was doing it because I wanted them back.

Christmas Day came I, I honestly do not remember a whole lot about the day. My children made these wonderful gifts for me. They got me a drawing tablet because I like to draw. And inside, they wrote me a little note, you know, telling me that they love me and everything and it was wonderful. I mean, the morning felt nice. It did. I mean, it felt nice, but it's still hard because I knew that I was going to be leaving soon.

My wife and I, we had many conversations. I shared things about me, about my life, about my life experiences, and I'm not very good at sharing my life experiences. I'm very guarded about those things. I knew though that if I did not start opening up, that I would definitely lose her. She was still talking about divorce. And so, you know, I had to, I had to open up. I'm always willing to like to listen and I'll talk about things but I don't share. But I know that in a relationship, it's not just about talking but it's about sharing.

So we finished up Christmas and it was again time for me to leave. Things seemed like they were going well, but I felt like things weren't going to be still how I was hoping where we are gonna just reconnect. Everybody's gonna get back together. We were going to be a happy family. I did not feel that. So then as my brother picked me up to take me back to the airport, I was sitting reflecting. I was actually, a lot of, we talked about a lot of things. Um, I don't know if I talked to him about this or if this was just in my mind as he was talking, but it came to me that I was serving, I was trying to serve my wife with the expectation of her coming back to me. With the expectation that if I did all of these things, then she would come back to me. And I realized that no, that's not why I need to be doing this. But I need to be doing it just because I love her with no expectation of anything other than showing my love for her. It was very significant for me to realize this, to realize that, that I needed to do these things for love. And as I realized that, I also realized that my heart was changing.

Before this, I did not feel like I was worthy for Heavenly Father's love. I did not feel like I deserved His love. I know that Heavenly Father was there. I just didn't feel like I was important. I think at this point, I started to begin to love myself. I began, not, you know, not to this degree of, "Oh, yeah, I'm great." No, but I started to understand how Heavenly Father sees me. I still don't fully see how Heavenly Father sees me. But, you know, it was nice to be able to feel a glimpse and to see a glimpse of that. I think the really cool thing about this is I'm pretty sure that Heavenly Father has been trying to tell me that for years. I think that it's through the repentance process that I came to this understanding. And it wasn't necessarily that He told me this because I repented. It's that because I repented, I was now open for this. I was now ready to receive this information, this, this knowledge.

I came back home and it was confirmed she was still talking about divorce. But after the revelation, I believe I was more vested in my personal, mental, and spiritual and physical health. I really wanted to just be a better me. I started to do things that I had never done. I went and saw a doctor. I was starting to recognize the depression that I had and so I went and saw a doctor to get help with that and I continue to see a therapist. And I started to randomly send flowers to her, randomly sent her treats, I randomly just did things. I am, I would get flowers for her home, but there was something else to it.

So as I was starting to send these things, these random things, my wife calls me and thanks me for one of them. And she says to me, "Kevin, why did it take you this long to do this? Why didn't you do this while we were together?" And honestly, in my mind, I thought, "Well, I thought I had done some of this." I think that Heavenly Father was just opening up some more things, again, to be seen differently. But even that at that point, she still was like, "You know, but we're still on this road for divorce." And honestly, at that point, as much as I loved my family, I was okay. I was okay because I knew that I was going to be okay through the Savior. As long as I do what I need to do, as long as I keep Him in my life, as long as I let the Atonement work in my life, I would be okay. That doesn't mean that I still didn't have my struggles with depression and whatnot, but at least I knew that I will be okay.

I am happy to share that that spring, spring break, my family came home to visit. Near the end of that visit, my wife pulled me aside and she started listing off the pros and cons of being with me. That as she did this, I'm like, "Oh crap, this does not sound good for me." But apparently, the things that were pros to her were much more important than those cons because she told me at that point that she was, she was ready to try to make it work too again. That she was willing to give me another try. I know that that was not my, I did not change my wife, but that it was the Savior. It was the Spirit. There is no way that I caused that change. But I do know that the things that I would, was doing, helped, helped get us there.

We're together as of August. They came back and we've been together and we've been working through things. I do know that there's still work to be done as a family, for healing and for, for everything, but with the Lord's help and as long as we're open and willing to share and willing to do the things that we need to, our story will continue. It'll be rocky, but it will continue. I'm so very grateful that my wife had the courage to leave me. And that my Savior, while I felt so alone, made sure that I knew that I was not alone.

KaRyn Lay  42:38  

That was Kevin. I am proud to say that Kevin is my brother. And I'm the sister he worried about at that Christmas dinner. But I want to say for the record, that we were just happy to be with him and high emotions are no big deal for the Lay family. So whenever any of you are ready for your breakdown, just come to our house. There's a place at the table. We're ready.

You know, it's hard for me to imagine that a Christmas separated from your partner and your children, a Christmas spent wondering if you'll ever find healing for something that seems like it's held you hostage for a really long time, could possibly become the best Christmas in your memory. But that's the thing about difficult experiences and memory. I heard recently on this other podcast that I love that we are scientifically wired to forget the feeling of the high emotions and pain that we experienced during stressful times in our lives. Otherwise, honestly, no one would ever have more than one baby or more than one family Christmas party. And while that science is helpful and explaining how our minds work, to give us courage to get back in the ring and keep fighting, I think the scriptures teach us how heaven helps our hearts to have that same courage.

One of my favorite scripture passages of all time is in the New Testament when Paul is writing to the Romans. In chapter eight, he's reassuring the disciples in Rome of the nature of Christ and the power of living His law. And he's teaching them how to become conquerors in the cause of Christianity, despite their setbacks and trials. And in verse 28, he says, "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose."

I think I love that verse because it explains how something that is the worst can possibly become the best in our hearts. I think it's really all about perspective. I think that's what Paul was trying to teach us. According to Paul, loving God and seeing ourselves in service to His purpose instead of whatever purpose we've dreamed up for ourselves, those are the only two requirements for all things to work together for our good. And things working together for good doesn't actually mean that the minute we choose faith and belief that our football will be resurrected from the fiery furnace, or our baby will miraculously be healed and home from the NICU in time for Christmas, or our fractured family will need less time to make their way back together. But what it does mean is that through our love and our commitment to His plan, we can see the light in the darkness. Our eyes will be opened, we'll be able to see our baby in the eyes of the homesick missionaries that we comfort and place of their own mothers. We'll recognize the gift of dark nights in a rocking chair while we miss the glitz of the holiday party. And we can feel the hope of our own connection to the Babe of Bethlehem at the exact same time that we feel disconnected from the people we love most. Our hearts are turned and turned again so that we can actually see and believe when Paul says in Romans chapter 8:31, "What shall we then say to these things? If God before us, who can be against us?"

Biology may sometimes lighten the mental load of past pain, but it is our Heavenly Father who lightens the spiritual load. And suddenly, what was worst is now and forever best. We say to these things, "God is with us. We are His. And because of Him, we are made new and whole."

That's it for this episode of "This Is the gospel." Thank you so much for joining us as we celebrate the beauty of Christmas together through stories. And thank you to Tammy and Paula and Suzi and Patricia and Greg and Carissa for sharing their stories. And a special thanks to my brother Kevin and his family for being unashamed of the brave path they have taken to healing.

It's probably not easy to have me and your family or your ward asking you to tell the stories for the greater good. So I'm truly grateful to everyone that I've hit up for stories.

And if you're as excited as we are for the "Sunday on Monday" study group podcast, it launches December 30th on Desert Bookshelf PLUS+, and we cannot wait for you to discover it. You can get a free trial of Desert Bookshelf PLUS+ for 30 days by going to deseretbook.com/thisisthegospel to check that podcast out and to see what we're all talking about. You're going to love it.

As we head into the short break for the Christmas season, just a reminder that we're still gathering your stories on upcoming themes. So follow us on Instagram and Facebook @thisisthegospel_podcast to find out what's coming up and to keep connected with us during the break. If you have a great story about your experience living the gospel of Jesus Christ, well we want to hear from you on our pitch line. So leave us a three-minute story pitch at 515-519-6179.

All of our stories on this podcast are true and accurate as affirmed by our storytellers. And this episode was produced by me, KaRyn Lay, and Sarah Blake with additional story producing and editing by Katie Lambert. 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, merry, wonderful best Christmas. See you in the new year.

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