Two years ago, October 2016, Jon and Michelle Schmidt were carried by their trust in God when the unthinkable happened. Their daughter Annie was first reported missing on Wednesday, the 19th. For a month, they searched and searched for her in the lush wilderness of Oregon, along the Columbia River Gorge, where she had been hiking. With family, friends, and concerned citizens, search efforts quickly gained national and worldwide media attention. Jon, founder of The Piano Guys, a performing group of international renown, was used to the spotlight–but not like this. Overcome with grief, he and his wife soon came to realize, through spiritual impressions, that this would be a body-recovery mission, not a rescue. And, sadly, they were right. Her body was found on Thursday, November 10–a day that finally brought some closure to the Schmidts’ excruciating ordeal.
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Fastforward two years. With great care and courage, Michelle has written about their family’s behind-the-scenes spiritual preparations for Annie’s untimely death. Carried: How One Mother’s Trust in God Helped Her through the Unthinkable (affiliate link) is a book of great perspective. With all the care and love of a mother, Michelle shares how she and her family survived their horrendous ordeal. We all watched the news. We all saw the outcome. What we didn’t see is what happened behind the scenes. What carried Jon and Michelle through this tremendous trial in their lives? What message can YOU gain from their experience?
I read Michelle’s book, Carried, coauthored with her sister Angie Taylor. There’s much insight to gain from her experience. There’s much to learn from her daughter Annie, still. Let their experience teach you. I was privileged to ask Michelle a few questions that came to mind while I carefully pondered her message.
Carried: How Michelle Schmidt Trusted God to Help Her through the Unthinkable
Questions & Answers
Q: The unthinkable happened to you, to your family. Many of us will never know what it’s like to experience the death of a child. Yet you did. You tell us in Carried that your trust in God helped you through. Some people may dismiss that and say it’s not enough to trust Him. What would you say to that?
A: I think the reason that I spend so much of the book sharing past experiences from my life is to build a case that we really can trust God in our lives. I know that when we are faced with hard things, it is so hard to just give them to God and rely upon Him to help us through. But I believe that as I learned to do this with smaller hardships, that it helped me to be able to do it with the horrendous experience when Annie went missing.
There is a scripture that says, “As much as ye shall put your trust in God, even so much shall ye be delivered out of your trials and troubles and afflictions” Alma 36:5. Jon and I have come to know that this is true. We absolutely felt this deliverance as we were “carried” through the affliction of the loss of Annie.
But I know it takes time to learn to trust. It is a skill and just like any other skill, it has to be practiced. As we practice trusting God, we will see and recognize Him helping us in our lives more and more. We then grow in our ability to trust Him more and more. My hope would be that this book would be the means of showing that these things are real and available to anyone that is willing to practice trusting God.
Q: Carried mentions a lot of terms relevant to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, your religion. Mine too. In fact, there’s a glossary of definitions in the back. But your story relates to all religions. All families. All mothers. All parents. What would you say to a reader who may be hesitant to read your story because it’s religious in nature or related to your faith?
A: I think the main struggles of motherhood, family life, and loss are universal and relatable to anyone, of any faith. So, it is my hope that those who read Carried will be able to connect to the story and experiences, and not feel excluded because of the declaration of my faith and how my faith sustained me through this hardship.
My expressions of faith are very interwoven throughout the story, because they are such a part of who I am and how I think and feel. And I think reading Carried would be no different than if one were to read a book written by someone who was Catholic or Muslim or agnostic. It would become apparent to the reader how the author felt as he or she expressed their ideas and opinions, and shared their feelings of how they coped and navigated through their experiences, especially a book such as mine, which is so innately personal.
Q: I admire how you and your husband, Jon, handled this extremely tough situation together. You both seem to have drawn strength from it. What can you share with others about building a strong marriage to withstand challenges that lie ahead?
A: Challenges and blessings in life come in all different shapes and sizes. One of the blessings of my life has been the harmony Jon and I have had in our marriage. I don’t say this to boast, but simply to state that our relationship and how we communicate has not been a struggle in our marriage, and I know that is a unique blessing.
Having said that, there is one bit of advice that my stake president gave us when we were preparing to get married, that has been a huge contribution to some of our marital harmony. He said: “Do not criticize. Ever. If there is something that bugs you, or that you’re worried about, or that makes you angry, don’t criticize. Refrain. Pray about your concerns, and 99% of the time the Lord will resolve the problem for you. If there comes a time when you need to discuss an issue you’re having with your partner, do it gently and sensitively, being always willing to look at what you may be doing to contribute to the issue. Criticism kills love.”
We took this advice to heart and have tried not to criticize each other. It has made a world of difference. And I can testify that, miraculously, the Lord does resolve problems for us a lot of the times. It’s a pretty cool thing.
This doesn’t mean that we never disagree or that we have never argued. But the culture of our marriage has been one of being very gentle with each other. Having this established gentleness in our marriage was such a huge blessing as we dealt with each other under the extreme duress of losing Annie. We did not argue during the search-and-rescue season of losing Annie. We tried to be of one accord.
However, since the dust has settled from the loss of Annie, and previously unknown insecurities and worries have surfaced, we have had a lot more issues to work through as a couple. And it has been good for us to grow in this new way. You just never know what life is going to throw at you, and each new experience brings with it new dynamics that need to be worked through together.
Q: Many of us Mother Bears worry so much about our kids being in harm’s way. But we have to let them be themselves and can’t be with them every minute, especially as they grow older. Do you find yourself now, after Annie’s accident, feeling especially concerned for the safety of your other four children? If so, how do you combat those worrisome feelings?
A: Honestly, I’ve never been much of a worrier, and maybe that’s not good. But since losing Annie in such a traumatic way, different insecurities and worries have surfaced in both me and Jon. We’ve looked back and second guessed everything. “Did we do this right? Were we wrong to do that? Are we good parents now?” I feel especially bad for my youngest daughter because she gets the brunt of most of our worries.
But when it comes to worrying, I try to remember that there are productive worries and non-productive worries. If there is absolutely nothing I can do about something, then it is a monumental waste of time and emotional energy to worry about it. If I can do something about it, then that’s a different story.
But I also try to check my thinking by asking the question, “Are my thought processes based on faith or fear?” If they are not based on faith, then I try to avoid making decisions based on worry and fear.
Q: Annie’s body-recovery efforts captured worldwide media attention, in part due to your husband’s success with The Piano Guys. Countless people prayed for you, and hundreds helped in person. You express repeatedly in the book your desire to thank everyone, especially since during the ordeal it took every effort just to stay focused and you couldn’t be aware of everyone’s efforts to help. In the concluding chapter of Carried, you share, “I think the most important thing I’ve learned through losing Annie is how I have been carried by the love of our Savior Jesus Christ.” You continue, “Because of this I’ve learned of our ever-present need to be filled with greater love for one another.” Oftentimes we feel our Savior’s love through the kind actions of others. How have you personally changed as a result of your ordeal? How would you encourage others to minister to one another, regardless of their faith?
A: I hope I have changed by becoming a more compassionate person. I feel slower to judge and more prone to give the benefit of the doubt. I feel like I trust people more, of all shapes and sizes and creeds and codes.
I have come to realize that God reaches out to all of His children in a real way, and that He is working with them, to bring them to Him along many individual and diverse paths. I have a renewed hope in God’s power to bring His children to unity with Him and Christ. I see His hand working through all religions, political back grounds, and cultures. This has taught me that I have to open my mind and my heart, and realize that I have so much to learn from the amazing, good people in this world. They may not agree with me politically, they may not share my religious beliefs, they may look and act and dress in ways that are foreign to me. But they are God’s beautiful children. They are good, and he truly, truly loves them. He is reaching out to them, He is pulling them closer to Him, and is He using them to fulfill His purposes.
I still need to learn to love as He does. I have a desire to be filled with this love. I have felt an increase of this love in my life since this experience, and I have been so humbled at the goodness and kindness that has been shown to us.
So, I would say that all we can offer in return is to love those around us. If we truly love and befriend those in our spheres of influence, God will take care of the rest, and He is searching after all of His children. This means our love toward others is the means to help all of God’s children, regardless of differences in faith and beliefs, to become more unified.
Q: What is one last takeaway you’d like to share?
A: I guess my last take away would be to restate the theme of the book: Trust God. He is real. He is aware of each of us and our individual heartaches, as well as our individual triumphs and victories. If we will reach out to Him and make Him our partner in this life, we will be carried and sustained and helped through everything we go through. He will comfort us in our sorrows, as well as enable joy and good cheer amidst our sorrows. His peace is beyond understanding, and it is real and available to all.
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