Stories in this episode: A tragedy at Columbine High School hits close to home and creates chaos for Kelli on the same day as her first trip to the temple; April receives the gift of peace while learning to accept a detour in her life plan; Jacob and his family test out different ways to make their home more peaceful and rediscover the power of the Sabbath day.
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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 want to be honest about something. It has been hard for me to find the right words for this week's episode. I feel like I've been staring at a blank Word document for at least four days because I just didn't know what to say to kick off this beautiful episode about peace. In fact, I have felt downright unpeaceful about it, squirmy even. I think it's because the only authentic way to kick this thing off is to tell you that I rarely feel AT PEACE, in all capital letters. It's so rare for me, in fact, that when I do feel it, it's worthy of a long journal entry and a commemorative Instagram post. I am prone to chaos and the swirl of emotion that accompanies that. And I have been from the time I was young. So I keep busy. So, so, so busy. Busy enough that I don't have to notice or feel much of anything, but I especially don't have to feel that lack of peace. And that's a vicious cycle. All that business well, that leaves little room for quiet, stillness, and the sweet sense of settling that are the fruits of peace. At the end of the day, I feel like I'm left longing for some kind of a magical, cosmic, weighted blanket that can settle over all of my busy doing. I know I can't be alone in this, but actually, maybe I am. Maybe the rest of the world is filled with peaceful Zen masters who have it all figured out. But I'm actually feeling pretty confident that's not the case. For example, listen to the lyrics from the hymn, "Be Still, My Soul," which just so happens to be the inspiration for today's theme.
“Be still my soul the Lord is on thy side
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain
Leave to thy God to order and provide
In every change He faithful will remain”
Those words were written by Catarina von Schlegel, in the 18th century—over 200 years ago. Apparently, in disorder, change, tumult, grief, pain, disruption and chaos. We're all very much a part of that universal experience then. So, it feels like we're in pretty good company guys. Those of us who seek peace and have a harder time finding it, we're not alone. But the good news is, peace is possible, and it comes through our Savior Jesus Christ.
Today we've got three very different stories about seeking peace in tumultuous times from three storytellers whose experiences with stillness can hopefully teach me and you a little about leaving it to our God to order and provide. Our first story comes from Kelly, whose very first visit to the temple as a 12-year-old came at a time when her whole Colorado community was reeling from tragedy. If you're listening with young children, this story unavoidably talks about violence in a school setting and you might want to preview it before sharing it. Here's Kelly.
Kelly: I remember sitting in my classroom hearing the announcement come over the speakers, saying that we were on lockdown. April 20, 1999, was a very very scary day. But also, it was probably the most spiritually memorable day of my life. It was the day that the Columbine High school shootings happened.
Columbine was the first mass school shooting in the history of the United States and 13 people lost their lives. I grew up in the same county as Columbine, so my own school was on lockdown. There was no real explanation really of why, so we just kind of went on with the rest of the day and breezed over the whole event. When I got home from school, my brother was there and he had just gotten home as well. He was in high school, so we were at different schools and I asked him, you know, "Was your school on lockdown today? What was the deal? Do you know anything?" And he said he knew a little bit but we went to the TV and we turned it on and started watching the news. There was heavy coverage, continuous, uninterrupted. And we just sat there and watch with our mouths absolutely dropped to the floor.
I saw many images on that TV screen that I'll never forget. I saw lots of kids running as fast as they could away from the school. And there was a boy who was trying to get out of the second-story windows, these windows were all broken out. And there were some firefighters on top of an ambulance just under this window and they were trying to help him get out of those windows and get him to safety. I couldn't really understand or grasp what this whole event meant, you know, how could this happen? How was this real? Why would anyone do this to anybody in any setting, much less to school kids in their own school?
There was all this chaos going on in the world around me and I was like, "Oh yeah, I'm going to the temple for the very first time today. Wow." When we got there, we went to the side door where the baptismal area was and I remember just kind of pausing and looking at this magnificent door. It wasn't even the main door, but it was still really, really magnificent. And I was so excited to partake in this ordinance and I was so ready to step into the temple for the first time.
It was very literal. The very first step that I took into the temple. I literally felt the world get stripped away from me. I felt an incredible peace and I didn't think of anything going on outside the entire time I was in the temple. I felt very safe in there and that peace that I felt was so comforting in a time that was so chaotic, so confusing, so scary of a day. When it was time to go, I took my very first step outside of the temple. The only way I know how to explain it, it was like somebody was waiting out there with a bucket filled with water, and they were just getting ready to throw it on me. And the water in the bucket was everything awful in the world. And I was instantly saturated by the world again. It was like a literal wave of water hitting me. And I very physically felt the world come back to me. And I thought, "Oh, yeah, Columbine happened today. Wow. I completely forgot." And all those things came back immediately.
This experience is such a huge part of my testimony of this church and this gospel. Because that day, it was proven to me that the world is not allowed in the Lord's house and the temple is truly his house. It made me realize how saturated we really do get, being among worldly things and out in the world. And that's why it's so important for us to go to the temple. That's why our leaders tell us to attend the temple as often as possible so that we can feel that peace, that peace that only our Father in heaven can give us. My Heavenly Father is real because I know He was there with me that day. And I got to go into His house and feel of His love and feel of His comfort and feel of His peace. And I will forever be grateful for that throughout my entire life.
KaRyn Lay: That was Kelly. We are so grateful for her willingness to share such a formative and special experience with us. While most of us might not be so physically close to such a traumatic event, we can all take something from that lesson she learned about the power of the temple to help us cut through the chaos of the world.
Our next story from April is a perfect example of the way that peace can come even when we're in the middle of our difficulty. Here's April.
April: Infertility isn't something that I ever thought would be one of my struggles in life. When my husband and I first started to have kids, we had two fairly fast that we're 20 months apart and didn't think that we would struggle if we decided to have any more children in the future. And I had known family members and friends who struggled with infertility and I always felt bad for them, and sorrow that they couldn't enjoy experiencing that, but I didn't know how how deep it went until we decided to try for our third baby.
It started off with a miscarriage. I was not very gracious. I was mad I was so angry at Heavenly Father. How could you do this to me? I wanted this baby. And I had people reassure me that it's for the best, probably wasn't healthy, you can try again. And that's what we did. We kept trying and after about a year, nothing was happening. We went through different tests to see what was wrong, how we could fix it. And I spent my entire growing up learning and knowing that the harder I work at something, the luckier I get. If I want to achieve this accomplishment, I need to do step one, step two, step three. Through going through this journey of trying to get pregnant, that was just not the way it works. I had no control over it and it was very hard. People would say relax, you just need to relax and it will happen. And that was one of the worst things I could hear, I hated hearing that so and so got pregnant as soon as they relaxed. I'm like how do you relax when this is something that you want so bad? How do you just forget about it? How do you just move on and not worry about it? We entered doctors and started just try some infertility treatments. And during this time, emotionally, I was really struggling because a lot of my friends were having babies They were in this club of, "Hey, when are you due? Are you having a boy or a girl?" And I didn't want to hear about it. I really isolated myself, I was mad. I pretty much only had my husband to lean on because I didn't want anybody to know I was struggling. People would say, "When are you having another baby?" "Are you going to have another baby?" And I'd just be like, "Oh, not yet. We're not ready yet." But inside I wanted to die because we've been trying for one for a long time. And it was very hard. I felt ashamed like I was less than somebody because I couldn't get pregnant.
Physically, it was very difficult with all the drugs that you need to take for your body to help you get pregnant and I was in pain from that, moody. So that was hard to be a mom because I didn't feel good. I was so busy going to doctors’ appointments and I started living my life every two weeks—in two-week cycles. Two weeks to work through treatments, to try to get pregnant and then two weeks of waiting. Two weeks that involve me mentally trying to convince my body that it was pregnant. And always, you know, do I feel nauseous? Am I sick, is this it? Then finding out that I wasn't pregnant, and then going through that all again the next month. And it was exhausting, it was very difficult. I would get after myself because I thought, I have two beautiful children here. What is my problem? Why am I given this desire and this want that's so intense when I have two beautiful children. And there are women who struggle for years with infertility and I am so ungrateful. It was very hard because I couldn't shake those feelings.
I heard somebody relate secondary infertility to having chocolate cake on your kitchen counter. And you get to walk by that chocolate cake every day, you get to see it, but you can't taste it. You can't have any part of it. You get to see your kids and be with them, but you don't get to have another and add to that. It was just a very difficult time in my life emotionally and physically. After our sixth time of going through a fertility treatment and finding out that it had failed, I found myself one night sobbing in my closet on the floor. The pain, emotionally and physically, was just too much, I was done. I needed to just be able to be happy and move on and I was praying to Heavenly Father, begging him to take those feelings away because I could not function feeling that way I wanted to move on. I wanted to be a better person and be okay with this challenge that was given to me. So I finished my prayer, cried a little more, crawled into bed, cried a little more and fell asleep.
The next morning I woke up and I have never felt so light, so full of hope, so full of joy. And I almost couldn't believe it because it was so distinctly different from what I had been feeling for months and months and months. It was like the sun had come out of these dark clouds. And it lasted for about a month. And I kept testing it going, "Is going to go away?" I feel good. I'm not worried about this, I'm happy, I want to go out with my friends. I want to be there with my kids, I'm not just stewing over if I'm going to get pregnant or not. My infertility problems were not solved right away. But I am so immensely grateful for that tender mercy of calming my soul and for Heavenly Father letting me know that He is completely aware of the situations that we go through. He knows how hard they are and that He has control over everything, that He can bless our lives if we let him. He can take that burden if we let him.
It came to my realization that, you know, this might not be anything that has to do with me, this trial might be mine to hold because it's just not right for a child that I'm wanting to have right now. I know that Heavenly Father loves me and that He hears my prayers and that when I go to Him in prayer, when things are hard, that He can lift that burden and He has an ultimate plan for us. And if I trust in His timing and in His grace and in His love, I can trust that everything is going to work out and be all right.
KaRyn Lay: That was April. I can relate to her pleading prayer for peace in her heart. We can't always control what's happening around us but we can sure work towards making our spirit an unshakable vessel for the Lord's peace. Sometimes, our lack of peace situational like it was for April through her struggle with infertility. And sometimes our lack of peace is clinical like it was for me when I was a missionary. During the first few months of my service in the mission field, it became pretty clear, pretty quickly that something was not quite working. I was tired and deeply emotional, which isn't really that unusual for a new missionary. But when you pair that with the constant stream of negative self-talk, confusion, and anxiety, well, there was a darkness and an emptiness that overtook my days, and I couldn't shake it with a prayer or with work. I'll always remember the day that my lack of peace hit an all-time low. I was crying through study time and wishing that I could just disappear, feeling like that would be better for everyone. I wrapped myself tightly in a thick blanket, like a sad, exhausted, desperate burrito. And then I rolled under my bed into the back corner against the wall so that the darkness could envelop me. I stayed there for a really long time, staring at nothing. I don't even know how long I was there, but it felt like days or months or maybe even years. However long it was, it was long enough to know that I needed more help than me to find and access the Lord's peace. And frankly, so did my long-suffering mission companion. We went to the doctor, and eventually the mission therapist. I was diagnosed with clinical depression and honestly, it was devastating at first. To think that I had a broken brain, well that was really hard for me because I've always been someone who prided myself on being a good thinker. And I definitely didn't want to live up to that damaging stereotype of the crazy sister missionary that's just not true. But thank goodness that my need to feel peace outweighed my perceived humiliation. And although it was so difficult to do my part to engage with myself and my father in heaven in humility and faith, eventually, through His grace, and a good therapist, and careful doctors, and necessary medicine, my body, and my brain were ready to feel the peace that the Savior was always offering. First, it came in a trickle, then a stream. And finally, on really good days, that peace flowed like the river that the Savior promised. He didn't see me as crazy, He saw me as His, always His.
And even now, feeling peace can be a tricky thing. But I truly believe that if we're willing to do whatever it takes to prepare our spirit, even if that means admitting that we need help, our peace can become solid, strong and stalwart like an eye in the middle of our own personal storm. Maybe you are feeling the same way. Maybe peace is just so far away right now that you're not sure how to get it. If that's the case for you, I pray that the Lord will guide you to the people who can help you open your heart to that kind of peace.
Our final story today comes from Jacob and if you've ever wondered what it would be like to spend seven days in absolute silence, well, this story is for you. Jacob is a mental health professional who regularly participates in week-long silent retreats for work. And what happens when you come home to three little boys after seven days of silence? You're about to find out. Here's Jacob.
Jacob: So when you arrived for the first time, at a seven or 10 day silent retreat, it's kind of a panicky moment where you give up your cell phone and your schedule. And you finally send your last text to your family and say, "I'm going in." And there's a physiological kind of angst that sets in as you realize you're really doing this and you're going to be with yourself, by yourself, for 10 days without the thousand flavors of distraction we have.
So you wake up and instead of filling the day with all sorts of things to check and this and that, you go and sit, and sit in silence, and you do that for a couple of hours before breakfast. And then after breakfast, you do it for a couple of hours, until lunch. It's not entirely silent because you have a teacher there who is guiding you, leading you, helping you. You're silent, but the teacher is not. And then you practice for a couple of hours and then it's dinner. And then you practice for a couple of hours and it's bedtime. And it sounds boring, dreadfully boring, but that's actually the point. So I'm feeling the angst and the anxiety and the normal fears that come up. But then, I sat with them and I just experienced them and I said, "Well, I've committed to this, I'm going to try it." And as day two finished and we moved on to day three, things started to settle more, and get calmer and get quieter. And then as three went to four and day four went to five, there's a change that happens that's interesting, where I just started to feel more and more peace and deeper and deeper settling and calm. So by the time I got to the end, it really was deep insights coming up and clarity around things that I've been grappling with for a long time. And a sense of okay-ness and joy and impressions, spiritual impressions. And a sense of revelation on questions that have been on my mind. All this is coming up just naturally as the silence is going along. For me, in a typical day, there's so much to pay attention to and be distracted by that I don't often notice what I'm actually feeling or what's going on inside. So retreat, for me, is a chance to bring complete attention to that and really notice where my heart is and my mind and my body. So by the time we're ready to go home, all that initial craving for the schedule and the emails and the work, I felt a repulsion like, I don't want to go back to that.
As I get home, I arrive in the driveway and my kids are there waiting for me and excited to see me and my ride drops me off with all my bags and my kids run and throw themselves on me and it was just like this beautiful moment I'll never forget. And not only are they beautiful, but I'm fully present and I'm this dad that's 100% there and nothing to do, no place to go but be with my kids. And then I look over at my wife, and it's very apparent that she's had a very different week.
At the time, we had three boys, all toddlers of different ages, full of energy and fighting every other minute, then forgiving each other, then fighting again, that sort of constant rolling chaos. And my wife had been steeped in that all week while I was off on a silent retreat, she had very much had a noise retreat. And she's exhausted and she's smiling because she's glad I'm home, but she's not refreshed. The dramatic contrast between my experience and my wife was a real powerful moment for us as a family. So one of the natural questions that came up for us as a family is number one, how can we hold on to some of this silence and space and stillness? Not just for me, but for my wife who was, at this point, wanting more of this and wishing that there was a way that we could experience this more as a family. So the last couple of years since the retreats, we have pondered and prayed about a lot of ways we as a family can bring more stillness and silence into our home. And we've experimented with simple things like three breaths before prayer. Before anyone starts to pray, just have three breaths. And three little boy breaths is not very long, but it gives us a chance to just settle our minds and kind of be still and calm before speaking. We also experimented with vacationing, in a way. Instead of going all these places with little kids, which is like a form of torture in some countries. We would go to one place with our kids that was contained and literally say we're going on vacation in a retreat-like way at a cabin, or to a hotel room. And so we've oriented our vacationing a little different. And we went through all these kind of crazy ideas like we considered having a day where my wife and I would be silent, but our kids wouldn't. And we just said, "Okay, this is our day when mommy and daddy get to just like, not talk." But pretty quickly we realized if our boys were sort of rolling chaos with us talking, it just sort of like overflowed when we went into silence so that that was sort of an eh okay moving on.
But the biggest difference for us as a family came when we realized that we may not need to do anything exceptionally Eastern or Buddhist as a family because we've got this thing called the Sabbath. That for us, as a family, has often been the more stressful day of the week. We have found the Sabbath sometimes, at the end of the day, feeling exhausted and anxious to get back to our schedule, right? So rather than a day of deep rest and reprieve like I found on the retreat, we had often experienced the Sabbath, quiet the opposite. Lots of screaming as the boys were corralled into getting their clothes on and their hair combed and getting up in time to make it to church and eating breakfast without spilling it on their clothes that they just put on, and drama. I mean, I only have boys but they can do drama as well as any little girls. And fighting and complaints and we're late for church again and all this. And then church itself is sometimes a production and who's going to be willing to go to class without crying? After church, we head off to some family dinner, which happened a lot. And we would get in the car and zip off and then get home, exhausted, go through the whole routine and put them to bed, and be exhausted as we start the week and end our Sabbath.
Something about that felt really wrong to us. Isn't this supposed to be a recharge of some kind? At the end of one of these painful Sabbath's, one of these exhausting Sabbath's, where we both felt like this isn't right, this isn't the way we want to do this. There's got to be a better way. There has to be a way to do and practice Sabbath that isn't exhausting. It just seems kind of contradictory. And on the heels of the mindfulness retreat, that taught me that, my goodness, if we can experience even a portion of that, if we can create some atmosphere that's more mindful, maybe we could end the Sabbath feeling a sense of recharge as a family, ready to reengage life in a different way. So we decided to try a number of things just to see if we could get closer to that goal, including, like lots of people try to lay aside their email and place their phone in different places so we're not just on the screens all day. That did work. Another thing that has worked is structuring the morning so that there's more space and we're not rushing to have to get everything ready. We'll set up things the day before, so clothes are all out so that our Sabbath morning is not so rushed. But the biggest experiment that we tried, and maybe the scariest, was letting our family know that we may not be showing up as often to these family dinners. We realized that if we went to a family dinner—and I love my family, and I love food, and there's nothing about like gathering with them that isn't enjoyable, except that the drive there and back, the kids, it adds a kind of hectic, chaotic sort of "going to an event" energy that made the rest of the day kind of follow suit. The first time I told one of my sisters that we weren't going to make dinner, there's like a what? Like, this is what we do. And that conversation was a little awkward, but it wasn't bad, because it opened up a conversation about what our experience had been. And it turns out that others also feel exhausted on the Sabbath. And so we're kind of giving them permission to try out things. So we experimented, we went to dinner, then we said, we're not going to go, we're going to just see what it's like to stay home and make more time for just being together. And yeah, eating simply, not putting on an elaborate meal. And we literally practiced sitting on our couch and opening up books, sometimes talking with the kids, but sometimes sending the kids downstairs to play and spending hours talking, reading, sometimes watching something or listening to something, but quiet time, the kind of like, kindergarten time, "Okay, it's quiet time." We, as a couple, found that even making time for an hour or two or three of this kind of time on the Sabbath meant an oversized impact on our refreshment. And I actually woke up Monday morning happy, like, so happy. And I'm like what just happened? It's like dramatically different than my typical like, end of Sunday, beginning Monday routine. And it hit me, I ended the Sabbath similar to how it ended the retreat. I was able to reengage life from a very different place on Monday morning because I had to actually stop. And that allowed me to start in a way that wasn't this frenetic, crazy energy. I have actually ended a Sabbath day I can say, many times, feeling like this. Instead of, "Ugh, I gotta get back to work." It's a miracle. And it seems to me like finding a way for us to make the Sabbath a refreshing day has been a miracle.
Now, it's something that if we miss, if we actually have an event, we run to a dinner, we miss it. Even if it was a fun event, we're like, there's something we didn't get. In the past, I have sometimes tried to pursue more of a relationship with the Savior by doing more, like trying to serve a little bit more and make another call or read a little bit more, pray a little more. What the Sabbath has been teaching me is sometimes it's doing less and stopping all the doing, that I feel closer to the Lord. That's been the big revelation is that sometimes my mind's going so fast in so many directions that I just don't think there's a whole lot of space for the spirit to reach me. And if I just kind of push back a little bit, like I'm a terrible basketball player, but I can rebound. That's the only thing I know how to do in basketball. It kind of requires a little bit of elbowing back, pushing back a little bit. So there's space for the most important thing to happen. And of course, that is connecting with the Lord and feeling His presence and feeling His love. I think with the best of intentions, we sometimes fill our Sabbath day with so much stuff, so many activities that no wonder we end the day surprised that we're exhausted because we're doing so much good. But should we really be surprised if we don't actually rest? I think the Lord knows we're exhausted, I really do. I think He wishes we would see this day as like, not just a day to have to get a bunch of other stuff done. But actually a day where we can lay that aside and say, I just need to stop for my own sanity and my soul, and my family and my marriage and just be. I would just say to any other of my brothers or sisters out there, who are like asking these same questions, don't give up on the possibility that you could end this day not exhausted, and actually start the next day from a very different place. So make it an adventure, kind of an ongoing experiment where you try out different things, knowing that things can move in a better direction.
KaRyn Lay: That was Jacob Hess. Jacob is one of the authors of an upcoming book called, "The Power of Stillness: Mindful Living for Latter-day Saints," that I am so excited about. It's coming out at the end of this year from Deseret Book and I can't wait to learn more about using mindfulness to bring peace. In fact, I've already started by adding those three cleansing breaths before my prayers. So thanks for the top tip Jacob.
I was thinking about how Jacob's pursuit of peace on the Sabbath required that he and his family opt-out of some experiences that are generally good and worthwhile. And while peace is ultimately a gift of the Savior, our quest for that gift, I think sometimes requires that we lay something upon the altar too. Maybe it's a kind and gentle "no," or strong boundary where there needs to be one. Maybe it is a heartfelt prayer in a closet to a Lord that you're not sure is listening. And maybe it is laying down your pride and accepting with humility that you need help. When Christ was on the boat with his disciples resting, a terrible tempest arose. I've always loved James E. Talmage's description of the storm in "Jesus the Christ," which incidentally, I read as a missionary. “The storm increased in fury; the wind rendered the boat unmanageable; waves beat over the side; so much water was shipped that the vessel seemed about to founder. The disciples were terror-stricken; yet through it all Jesus rested peacefully. In their extremity of fear, the disciples awakened Him, crying out, according to the several independent accounts, ‘Master, Master, we perish’; ‘Lord, save us: we perish’; and, ‘Master, carest thou not that we perish?’ They were abjectly frightened, and at least partly forgetful that there was with them One whose voice even death had to obey. Their terrified appeal was not wholly devoid of hope nor barren of faith: ‘Lord, save us’ they cried. Calmly He replied to their piteous call, ‘Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?’ Then He arose; and out through the darkness of that fearsome night, into the roaring wind, over the storm-lashed sea, went the voice of the Lord as He ‘rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.’”
Like those disciples, our faith may be little at times. I mean, big storms kind of have that effect on things don't they? They make everything around them feel and look just a little bit smaller, a little less significant. But if we take whatever amount of that little faith we have to reach out to our Savior, laying aside our pride, our people-pleasing, our avoidance, our fear of failure, our business and placing it on the altar, He can and He will calm our seas. And according to our sweet poet friend Catarina von Schlegel:
"Then shalt thou better know His love His heart
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears
Be still my soul the waves and winds shall know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below”
That's it for this episode of "This Is the Gospel." Thanks for joining us today and thank you to Kelly, April and Jacob for sharing their stories and their faith. We'll have the transcript of this episode as well as pictures and links from the stories in our show notes at ldsliving.com/thisisthegospel. So go check it out. And if you're as anxious as I am to get your hands on Jacob's book, "The Power of Stillness," follow us on Instagram @thisisthegospel_podcast. We'll let you all know when the book is available at the end of the year.
All of our stories on this podcast are true and accurate as affirmed by our storytellers. If you have a great story about your experience living the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we want to hear from you on our pitch line. Leave us a short three-minute story pitch at 515-519-6179. You can find out what themes we're working on right now by following us on Instagram or Facebook. If you love this podcast, please take the time to leave us a review on the Apple podcast app or on Bookshelf PLUS+ from Deseret Book. We love to hear your thoughts about certain episodes and we read every one. This episode was produced by me, KaRyn Lay, with story producing and editing from Katie Lambert and Kelly Campbell. It was scored, mixed and mastered by Derek Campbell at Mix At Six studios. Our executive producer is Erin Hallstrom. You can find past episodes of this podcast and the other LDS Living podcasts at ldsliving.com/podcasts. Have a peaceful week.
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