Less than two months after returning home from her full-time mission to Santiago, Chile, Jennie Ashworth met her future husband, Brent Taylor, on a blind date. He had served a mission in Maceio, Brazil. They were both Brigham Young University students.
Three days after their engagement in June 2003, Brent Taylor enlisted in the National Guard. They were married that September.
“Long before Brent Taylor and I ever knew or loved each other,” she said, “we both knew we loved this country. And as cheesy as that sounds, that patriotism is really what drew us together.”
Maj. Brent Taylor of the Utah National Guard — a father of seven who had been reelected for a second term as mayor of North Ogden, Utah — was killed on Nov. 3, 2018, in an insider attack during the final months of a deployment to Afghanistan.
Jennie Taylor recently joined the Church News podcast to talk about what patriotism means to her, how personal revelation has guided her life and where she has found the strength to move forward.
The podcast episode will air tomorrow, July 6, on Brent Taylor’s 42nd birthday.
Episode 38: Jennie Taylor discusses ‘infuriating unfairness’ and heaven’s compensatory blessings after her husband’s death in Afghanistan
Brent Taylor’s military service “was always ours, as a family,” Jennie Taylor said. Shortly after they were married, he went to basic training. Over the next several years, as their family grew, Brent was deployed three times — twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan.
He also became involved in local politics. He ran for the City Council and later was elected mayor of North Ogden. He was running for reelection four years later when he learned he would be deployed again in January 2018.
Throughout their 15 years of marriage, Brent Taylor often quoted President Ezra Taft Benson’s three great loyalties: God, family and country.
“For Brent Taylor, service to any one of God, family or country was really service to all three,” Jennie Taylor said. “And that right there is patriotism, when it’s all encompassing. You don’t put on this hat and take off the other. It’s who you are, and it motivates everything you do.”
When Jennie Taylor thinks about patriotism, “really for me, the principles about America that Brent and I love so much are the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s freedom. It’s opportunity,” she said.
Brent Taylor died defending freedom. “He really died for freedom around the world, for the freedom of the Afghan people, for the freedom of other countries, other generations not yet born.
“He was fighting for that cause that we read about so much in the scriptures, in the history of any country, where you realize you’re part of something bigger than yourself, and the freedoms and opportunities you enjoy don’t belong to you.”
Read more: ‘Gratitude softens grief’: Jennie Taylor shares how her husband’s legacy of service will live on at BYU, U of U
Since her husband’s death, Jennie Taylor said she has seen with even more clarity the sense of duty and purpose in each individual life.
“I never went to boot camp. That doesn’t make me a bad American. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about my country. Not everyone needs to put on the uniform. Not every mom needs to have seven kids. … Each member of this human race has specific strengths and abilities and contributions to make.”
Whether that contribution is made in a pair of military boots, running for office or loving a child, “our purpose is the same. We’re here to build up the kingdom of God on the earth, whatever that looks like.”
As Jennie Taylor reflects on all the big decisions and seemingly small ones she and Brent made together since they met, she can see that “the sum total of those decisions took him to Afghanistan and took me where I am today.”
“And I know without a doubt, those decisions were guided,” she said. “The Lord gave us one step at a time, sometimes two or three steps at a time.”
That personal revelation has become the backbone of her faith, she said.
In reference to President Russell M. Nelson’s invitation to “Hear Him,” Jennie Taylor said she has learned the Lord speaks to her in words. As she now finds herself in a different day-to-day life than she did three years ago, she often wonders what it is that she should be focusing on.
“I’ll find the Lord quietly just telling me literally in words: ‘Don’t worry about what I might need you to do later. You’ve got plenty I need you to do now.’ And focus on today. Focus on the callings, the mission, of course my motherhood, my children, different opportunities that have come to me in a moment of clarity. Stick with that. And then one step at a time,” she said.
Jennie Taylor credits her community for keeping her and her children “afloat” since her husband’s death. She has felt the sustaining power of the prayers offered by hundreds of people on her family’s behalf.
“I think one of the most beautiful things I’ve learned through the community service that’s been shown to our family is that the purpose of helping each other in life and ministering and buoying each other up is not to try to fix what’s broken,” she said. “So often, that’s not our place. You can’t fix the fact that my husband died. But you can help me face that trial.”
Perhaps one of the oldest questions of humanity is, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
“One of the biggest things the Lord has taught me again through those whisperings of his Spirit is that He doesn’t cause these terrible things to happen,” Jennie Taylor said. “God did not kill Brent Taylor. I’m not even sure I believe that Brent Taylor had to die in war.
“Brent Taylor died in war because the Afghan with the gun had accurate shooting skills, and it happened to hit him in a way that mortally wounded his body. … Brent Taylor died because of an act of mortal agency, from an Afghan that Brent was fighting to give agency to. So that’s the great irony.”
The Atonement of Jesus Christ, she said, “is bigger than that unfairness.”
“We pray for the miracle. We look for the miracle to cure cancer. We look for the miracle to stop the bullet. … But I’m learning that some of the greatest miracles God sends are the miracles that come after the miracle we thought we needed didn’t come.
“The greatest miracle in my life is that I know Brent still exists. I know God can take this horrible mortal tragedy and work into something beautiful beyond compare.”
Jennie Taylor said without her faith, “there would be no reason to move forward.”
“If I were to sum it up in one sentence, I know that [President] Gordon B. Hinckley was right when he said, ‘things will work out.’ Period. Things will work out. When we put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, things will work out. We can face death, destruction, despair, and things will work out. Not because we’re so great or because we have all the answers, but because the Atonement of Jesus Christ is just that infinite. It’s that big. His love is that real.”