I had the opportunity to speak at a women’s meeting for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Ephraim, Utah this week. I was asked to speak on “Your Happily Ever After.” Here are excepts from what I said.
“I was raised on fairy tales: Cinderella, The Goose Girl, Snow White and Rose Red, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, The Seven Ravens, The Little Tin Soldier, The Emperor’s Nightingale and others.
Every fairy tale began with the words “Once upon a time.” Each one detailed the life of the heroine—which always included extreme adversity. And somehow, despite every hardship and challenge the heroines endured, they were obedient; they were kind to others; they performed their labors with a smile; and while every heroine in the illustrations was always beautiful on the outside they also each demonstrated their true beauty, their inner beauty, as they humbly accepted their unjust circumstances and the wicked treatment of other characters in the story and endured to the end, eventually, enjoying a “happily ever after.”
Fairy tales are and always have been absolutely believable to me. My mom, grandmother, female ancestors and other noble women have all lived them: life stories filled with ups and downs, adversities and triumphs, and in the end, a happily ever after. Doesn’t every woman do that? I believe we do when we endure to the end of challenging plot developments in faith, although each of our stories are in various stages of completion and many chapters have yet to be written.
Now you know my background and what I believed in when I was handed my own, but unexpected, “once upon a time” opportunity: a story of adventure, overwhelming darkness, evil, obstacles, injustice, courage, hope, tender mercies, miracles, overcoming, romance, eventually everlasting love and, of course, a “happily ever after!”
My once upon a time began when I was born to goodly parents. Later I graduated from Brigham Young University, married and enjoyed a happy marriage for the next 20 years, had 4 children, served in our church and community and enjoyed many material blessings as well—a comfortable home, a swimming pool, a Sport Court, luxury cars, a second home in Yellowstone, a world-class art collection that was loaned to museums around the world, world travel and financial means. (Over the years, I’d watched our investments and savings grow to well over $10 million dollars. I thought I was on track for, and living, the happily ever after of my life.)
And then our life, marriage, family, world, everything, ended in one moment when my husband sat me down and confessed that his company was a sham. That in reality, all those years I’d thought he’d been going to work every day and running an investment company, he had actually been perpetuating a Ponzi scheme. He’d already hired an attorney, turned himself in to the government and to church leaders, and anticipated serving 5-7 years in prison. Our house, cars and assets were gone; I was left alone, the sole parent and support of our four children; and my parents were dead.
To this day I can imagine very few storylines worse than the one that was written in to mine! (I even had a friend whose young husband was dying of cancer tell me she’d take her life over mine any day! And sadly, I would have, too.) Oh, and on top of everything else, he told me I’d need an attorney even though I’d done nothing wrong and how sorry he was that he’d maxed out the last of our credit cards paying for his attorney!
I can’t adequately describe the despair, the darkness, the shock, the grief, the fear and the humiliation associated with my nightmare—I mean fairy tale. As an added bonus, my husband’s victims included neighbors, friends, family members as well as my closest lifelong friends, and the shock and rage at my husband and what he had done was extended to my children and me, but especially to me. The hatred was indescribable.
My world collapsed, my marriage ended and it all played out on national television and in newspapers nationwide. The stress was so great it led to what I like to call the felony diet—7 pounds GONE that first day! But the worst was facing my children and witnessing the destruction of their world, their childhood innocence and their fairy tale lives go up in flames (or out the door, courtesy of the U.S. Marshalls.) Shortly after my husband’s revelations, I saw my 9-year-old writing on a piece a paper: “There’s a hole where my heart used to be. My dad is going to prison.”
We lost anything, everything and more that had been paid for with tainted funds; we lost everything of worldly value. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to be thrown into a fairy tale like that. Everything I’d worked toward and built my entire adult life was gone. I didn’t know how I was going to live, to feed my children or survive. I didn’t know what was ahead.
I’ve been asked to get personal with you regarding my experience so I thought I’d share the first person account of what I lived through, a few of my journal entries, written in those dark days—mingled with the things I learned and the principles I tried to live by.
1. As you’re writing your life story never forget that the story may develop in ways you never expected, you may get to live some very unwanted chapters, but that doesn’t have to change the end of your story—or that you’re expected to get there anyway.
Right and wrong don’t change just because your life does. Don’t let yourself make excuses for doing or not doing certain things just because things have become “harder.” And contrary to what I was tempted to believe when I was thrust into my fairy tale opportunity, life doesn’t end just because your world does. You have to keep living. You have to keep striving for happiness and joy in it too, you just may have to get a little more creative or work a little harder to make your life is one of equal happiness and joy to the one you lost! Make sure you’re doing everything you can to triumph, keep on keeping on, let go of anger/resentment/fear, and in the end, you’ll become more than you ever thought possible.
2. No matter what you think you’ve lost, you are still left with something you just may have to look really hard to find it! Count your blessings despite your trials. Look for the good.
“I found out today there will be notices on our home that it’s seized by the government. Embarrassing? Maybe, but I’m counting my blessings that at least it’s a roof over our heads for a little while longer.”
“I realized today that while my husband has received hate mail from all across the country, I haven’t received one piece! Nasty comments in the public forum, public speculation, vilification by many but no hate mail! Each week I receive a few letters of love and support and good wishes from people, but I haven’t gotten a single piece of hate mail. THAT is a tender mercy. THAT is a blessing. Count your many blessings!”
Some days the only “blessing” I could see was that for some reason, I was still breathing. That’s ok if that’s all you can find to be grateful for.
3. As you’re enduring your fairy tale, keep walking. Keep pressing forward. Don’t quit.
Years ago, I read a story about a pioneer man who lost his wife crossing the plains, buried her and by that night had lost his infant son as well. He walked back to his wife’s grave, dug her up, buried the baby with her, then returned to the wagon train. He quit writing in his journal for awhile, but when he picked up again, he wrote only, “Still walking.”
“Like that pioneer man who quit writing in his journal for awhile during his adversities, I guess that is me. I haven’t had the time or energy or opportunity to write about my life lately. I haven’t been able to face what is now my life. And I’m not sure why it is my life. I know I shouldn’t ask why, but I am so alone and discouraged I literally can’t hold myself back. I am filled with grief for the many, many things I have lost. And I am so lonely. What did I ever do to deserve any of this besides love and trust my husband—which, I’m told that’s what you’re supposed to do in marriage. I feel so much grief I can’t express it. I hope I can get over it. I hope I can keep going. I hope. I hope. I hope. I guess I do hope, because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t keep trying every day.”
4. Realize how you react to adversity is a critical factor in whether or not you arrive at your own “happily ever after.” It’s up to us to make of our life and experiences what we will.
Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught: “You need to know that you will experience your own adversity. None is exempt. You will learn for yourself what every heroine has learned: through overcoming challenges come growth and strength. It is your reaction to adversity, not the adversity itself, that determines how your life’s story will develop.”
“Winston Churchill said ‘to every man [and woman] there comes…that special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a special thing unique to them…what a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.’ It hit me as I read that that I have an opportunity to let this time be my finest hour. It is a critical time. As daunting as it seems, I MUST make this time my finest hour. I don’t know what the future holds, but I have faith. I know there will be one.”
“It’s taking all of my faith and trust to hope the kids and I don’t end up homeless, on the street, living in a cardboard box. My heart ached all day yesterday and I didn’t know if it’s because my heart is broken or because I was having a heart attack! I’m being dealt so many injustices and there will never be any restitution to me for any of it. I guess I am the one who will just have to let go of it, forgive and go on. I have only one goal: to not hate. Ok, I have two goals: to be cheerful, happy and optimistic again somehow.”
Be of good courage. One day I came across the theme for my new life: “If you can’t jump over life’s hurdles, LIMBO under them!”
It’s all in what you choose to do with it. You can let your trials “ruin” your lives and become an excuse for every future challenge or failure you’ll have; or you can hang in there, get through them, and figure out how to use them for your good, to make you better, and you can learn to smile in spite of them.
5. Remember that your situation never ends up as bed, in the end, as you imagine it’s going to. Things are never quite as bad as they seem. Have patience until things settle. (That was true even for me!)
Jeffrey Holland, president of Brigham Young University when I attended college encouraged: “Every one of us has times when we need to know things will get better. On those days when we have special need… remember there is help. There IS happiness. There really IS light at the end of the tunnel. Hold on. Keep trying. Things will improve…Even if you cannot always see that silver lining on your clouds, God can.“
“It is another day of not being able to comprehend how I’ll make it through another day, but I have no choice. I have to try. Each time I think I am healing, or that maybe we can make it, or that everything will be ok, each time I start to feel even a tiny shade of peace or confidence, something HUGE happens to suck me right back in to the black hole I have been trying to crawl out of since March 18. I don’t believe God caused this calamity to come upon us, my husband did; but it doesn’t mean I don’t get to experience it, it means only that the Lord knew I was strong enough to handle this. It means God knows we can survive it if we choose to. It also means that we have to wade through the most incredible garbage I have ever seen! And I also have to hope it means things will, someday, get better.”
6. Recognize your challenges are opportunities for growth.
“I couldn’t help but laugh at the encouragement from my church leaders regarding tribulation at our recent conference. They always mention economic challenge OR job challenge OR family challenge OR marital challenge OR disappointment OR broken heart, etc…but they haven’t mentioned all of them together at the same time, and THAT is me! (If you add hatred and persecution from neighbors, friends, and many church members; orphaned and without parents; prison, crimes, divorce and everything else with it too!) HOW did I get so blessed? I have been given so many unimaginable opportunities for growth and all at the same time. Lucky me. I hope I can do it.”
You can do it. I did. I’m living proof.
7. Have a sense of humor during the hard chapters of your fairy tale. I firmly believe a sense of humor helps you get through challenges.
“In church today the teacher asked us to think of our 5 most valuable material possessions. Hmmm. I don’t have any anymore! I had nothing to think of. That struck me so funny I laughed. I always thought ‘you can’t take it with you’ applied to death, but it applies to 41-year-old, alive me!
Another funny thing: Today my daughter told me I need to get married to a good man so I’m not alone. I told her I won’t marry again because I am an ‘old bag.’ She helpfully said, “Mom! Botox!” (No disagreement on her end that her mother is a disgusting and old ugly ‘bag’, just a helpful suggestion to me on how to overcome it! P.S. to My Daughter: No shelter, no food, no job, no everything also means Botox IS NOT an option!)”
8. Realize that no matter what develops in your life your dreams can still come true—you just might get to them differently than you expected.
“My high school son dreamed his entire life of playing hockey at the college level. But then our life happened, we moved to Utah, we are literally in the depths of poverty—short of the needed money for our expenses each month—and initially thought every dream had been taken from us. And then today my son was asked, as a high school student, if he had any interest in practicing with the BYU team. Does he? It’s amazing, this experience called life; how things work out for us, and how the Lord moves in mysterious ways and truly can make all things work together for our good. When our world ended, I thought every dream we’d ever had was gone too. Yet, because of my ex-husband’s crimes and the way things worked out for us, we ended up in Utah, right where we are, and my son is probably in a better position now to make his college hockey dream come true than he ever would have been living what we thought was our fairy tale life in Colorado. It proves once again that you can lose your entire life, be gifted a cesspool, and you can still grow flowers out of the manure someone else created for you. That is why you never quit, you never give up, you keep pressing forward, you keep doing what is right and living as excellently as you can, and eventually, you create out of your new life all of the good things you were aiming for in your old one. You arrive at the same happily ever after, you just end up taking a different path to get there.”
Long story short, we survived our losses, my divorce, our move to Utah and everything else which eventually led to a total lapse of sanity on my part resulting in me, on a whim late one Friday night, signing up online for a single’s site; which led me to me re-entering the singles scene!
I wish I could report associations with many handsome princes—and there were a few of those—but the reality consisted of a LOT more frogs! (No disrespect to any men intended.) But I eventually (in fact, a lot quicker than I expected) I found a prince! We married in 2011 and recently celebrated our first wedding anniversary.
9. Lastly, remember every single life lesson will be worth it.
My 2011 marriage was one of the greatest moments of my life. All I could think was, “This is absolutely perfect. It was worth everything I went through to get here.” I was actually grateful for everything that had happened to me. Not only because of what I learned, but because my experience, MY LOSS, looking back on it, actually freed me.
My unexpected life freed me to find and receive what I’d always wanted, what I’d always thought I had but really hadn’t had—a true happily ever after with a wonderful man. And not that every story has to end with a handsome prince; but mine did! And I’m so grateful.
“Life is a precious gift as precious a gift as ‘once upon a time.’ It’s our own true story of adventure, trial, opportunity for greatness, nobility, courage and love. But happily ever after doesn’t come without a price. Sandwiched between ‘once upon a time’ and ‘happily ever after is great adversity. In stories as in life, adversity teaches us things we cannot learn otherwise. Adversity helps develop a depth of character that comes no other way. Your own wondrous story has already begun. Your once upon a time is now.” (Dieter Uchtdorf)
If you remember nothing else from my remarks tonight, please remember this:
Happily ever after is not something found only in fairy tales. You can have it. It is available to you. I am living proof—of that and that by seeking to not just endure but triumph in adversity, our challenges can make us better than we would otherwise have been. So keep living, reading and writing your own story with faith and courage regardless of the plot developments, creating your own happily ever after, until the day that you really do experience this phrase again: ‘And they lived happily ever after.’”