Episode 38: Jennie Taylor discusses ‘infuriating unfairness’ and heaven’s compensatory blessings after her husband’s death in Afghanistan

Nearly three years ago, Jennie Taylor was away from home when her mother called to tell her that two army officers had come to her home and needed to talk to her face to face. Later that day she met the officers at the same National Guard headquarters where her husband, Major Brent Taylor, had enlisted when they were newly engaged. She was told her husband had been killed in Afghanistan. 

Since that day in November 2018, Jennie has resiliently continued to carry her husband’s mantle of service and faith, for herself and for their seven children. She joins this episode of the Church News podcast to talk about their relationship built on serving God, country and family, as well as how personal revelation has been a stalwart tool for moving forward in that spirit of faith in spite of life’s trials.

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Transcription

Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with leaders, members and others on the Church News team. We end each Church News podcast by giving our guests the last word and the opportunity to answer the very important question: “What do you know now?” We hope each of you will also be able to answer the same question and say, “I have just been listening to the Church News podcast, and this is what I know now.”

Jennie Taylor was away at a reunion with former college roommates in November 2018 when her mother called to tell her two Army officers had come to her home and needed to talk to her face to face. She met the officers later that day, at the same National Guard headquarters where her husband, Maj. Brent Taylor, had enlisted when they were newly engaged. That’s where the officers told Jennie that Brent had been killed in Afghanistan.

Today is July 6, what would have been Brent’s 42nd birthday. Jennie joins the Church News podcast to talk about her journey for the last several years, to talk about revelation and patriotism, and community support and dealing with the unexpected and still moving forward in a spirit of faith in spite of life’s trials.

Jennie, thank you so much for being with us today.

Read more: What patriotism means to Jennie Taylor, widow of Maj. Brent Taylor

Jennie Taylor: Oh, thanks for having me. This really is such an honor to join you.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Why don’t we start and have you tell us just a little bit about yourself, about your family, about your husband, where you met.

1:46  

Jennie Taylor: OK, so my name is Jennie Taylor. I am a proud Utah native from the little city of North Ogden. My husband and I met on a blind date less than a month after my mission to Santiago, Chile. He had previously served a mission in Maceió, Brazil, and we were both students at BYU but never on campus at the same time. I was student teaching; he was working full time and going to his undergrad classes. We got set up on a blind date, and it was kind of all downhill from there — in a good way, in a good way. 

We met in January of 2003. He enlisted in the National Guard in June of 2003, and we were married that September. So, that whole year was planning our future and he wanted to serve in the military. It was shortly after 9/11 and the terrorist attacks. The war in Iraq had just begun. So there’s kind of a lot going on, but I joke all the time and say long before Brent Taylor and I ever knew or loved each other, we both knew we loved this country. And as cheesy as that sounds, that patriotism is really what drew us together in a really magnetic way, that sense of appreciation for what this country has to offer, and with it, a duty to give something back. 

So, his military service was always ours as a family. We got married, he went away to basic training and things for about a year. He came back, we bought a house, we had a baby, we had another baby, he deployed, he came back, we bought a different house, we had a baby, we had another baby, he deployed; there’s a good pattern here. And after those first few deployments, and those first few kids, he got involved in politics, and he served in my little hometown on the City Council and then ran for mayor.

We were seven months pregnant with our seventh baby when we found out about this last deployment. And to be honest, it caught both of us kind of off guard. He deployed all of those times, but now he’s getting a little older, a little more senior in his service. He’s a National Guardsman, not an active-duty guy, and we really felt like our patriotic service had shifted more to public service in politics, and very well known and respected as the mayor in our town. Of course, not everyone likes him. It’s politics. 

But he worked really hard at whatever he did. He taught our children that. I can’t believe how much I learned from him, kind of by osmosis. I mean, when you live with someone for 15 years, even separated through deployments for some of those years, I find myself now realizing, he taught me that, he showed me that, I learned that from him. We talked about that once and it’s really kind of reflected in who I am today. 

But we have these seven beautiful kids. As you mentioned, he was killed toward the end of that deployment November of 2018. We’ve been married 15 years, he’d been a soldier 15 years. Our last little baby celebrated her first birthday two days after his funeral, and our oldest daughter had just turned 13 and become a teenager. So a lot of moving pieces, a lot going on. 

We, the kids and I, still live in North Ogden, I think I’ll be there forever. The kids are now 3 to almost 16. So whether you believe it or not, time does keep going even after something this heartbreaking happens. And sometimes when it feels like my husband died just yesterday, I look at that cute little baby who’s really 3 and a half, almost 4, and I realize, “Wow, the clock just keeps ticking.”

I have beautiful children. They’re wonderful. They’re funny. They’re witty, sometimes they’re sassy. They’re very energetic, and we’ve really just been loved through this, and blessed by family members, perfect strangers, community members that have very literally kept us on our feet.

Maj. Brent Taylor and Jennie Taylor along with their seven children before he was deployed in January 2018.
Maj. Brent Taylor and Jennie Taylor along with their seven children before he was deployed in January 2018. Credit: Courtesy Jennie Taylor

Sarah Jane Weaver: So tell me how you and your kids are doing these days.

5:17  

Jennie Taylor: You know, the kids and I, I think, are doing remarkably well, considering the list we could make of what we’ve either been through, especially them, what they’ve been through. 

My kids are strong, they are resilient, and they’re normal kids. My older kids don’t really want to talk about a lot of this, they don’t really love the limelight, the spotlight, they’re very aware of why our family received so much help, why our family is being given so much assistance, and that’s hard for them. My younger kids are a little more clueless, you know, they’re a little more protected and shielded from that, and they have a lot more of the outgoing energy that is very typical for kids that age.

I think we’re a lot like any other family. I mean, you find me a family that’s not struggling with something. There’s days when we’re spot on, and we’re getting along, and we’re laughing around the dinner table. And there’s days when I have to lock myself in my room, because I just can’t take it anymore, and I’m sure my kids sometimes feel the same way. So I would say we’re doing 100% normal for a family after a pandemic, after a death, after being thrust into a spotlight. But I’m proud of those kids. I’m proud of who they are, I trust that God’s going to help them grow into their own space as time goes by. I don’t ever want them to feel like they have to join the military or have to, you know, live in this limelight or have to take a certain path other than the path God guides them to take.

Sarah Jane Weaver: President Russell M. Nelson began the year 2020 that proved to be so pivotal in all of our lives because of the global COVID-19 pandemic with an invitation to all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and he talked about personal revelation and how we hear Him, and then he asked us to hear Him better, and to make efforts to hear Him more often. It seems that so much in your life, long before that invitation was extended, was based on this ability, or this desire to learn the will of the Lord for you and your husband and your family. Talk to me about what personal revelation looks like to you and how you hear Him.

7:25  

Jennie Taylor: That is such a beautiful question, and we could take hours if we had the time. I look back, particularly on those 15 years of marriage with Brent of goals and dreaming, and we had so many plans for the future, and all these things we thought we’d do between now and age 95. And in the immediate aftermath of his death, you know, you find yourself wondering, “Where did that come from? I didn’t see that coming.” And I was able to say really, really honestly, “I have heartache, but no regret.” And the reason I can say that isn’t because I don’t regret that he’s not here. That’s not at all what I’m saying. I can look back over those 15 years and some of those turning points in our married life, in our family life, those pivotal moments where we sought that revelation on big decisions or seemingly small decisions. But the sum total of those decisions took him to Afghanistan in 2018 and took me to where I am today, and I know without a doubt those decisions were guided. 

The Lord gave us one step at a time, sometimes two or three steps at a time. Sometimes you’re completely in the dark and taking a step on faith. But that personal revelation for us as a couple has come to really be kind of the backbone of my faith in his absence. And I say his absence — I don’t even consider him gone. He’s such a part of us and a part of me, and my everyday life still — but his mortal absence. 

I joke Brent Taylor was like Lehi. Not that he was a prophet, but he was visionary, and by visionary, sometimes, I mean crazy. And I love 1 Nephi 5 when Sariah, of course, is scared to death about her sons. They’ve gone to Laban to get the plates. She doesn’t know if they’re ever coming back. She’s left her home, her heritage, her comforts of everything. Why did she leave? She left because he had a vision. She did not have that vision. He had that vision and she had the faith in his ability to have that vision. But in the moment of crisis, when everything seemed to be flipping upside down, she turns to him and she says, “Oh, you’re such a visionary!” And she means, “You’re crazy.” And Lehi very lovingly in the next verses says, “I know I am visionary. Because if I hadn’t had a vision, we wouldn’t be here. And if I hadn’t had a vision, I wouldn’t know the goodness of God,” etc. Then the verses that immediately follow — Sariah says, “Now I know of a surety”; that’s when she got her witness of his witness.

And so one thing again, if we had far more time, I’ve learned the beauty of revelation that comes to families. It comes to individuals, and it comes through the proper priesthood channels. And in many instances, in many of those turning points in our lives, they were decisions we as a couple prayed over, we fasted, we conversed, we weighed pros and cons. Brent’s a military guy, he would make a PowerPoint that presented all the options and all the numbers in the breakdown. And oftentimes, the Lord would guide us as a couple, us as a family, through the priesthood keys my husband held. Many times I would have immediate confirmation and be 100% on the same page, and I can think of a couple times where I was completely not intuitively on the same page, and yet the Spirit of the Lord told me: “Trust Brent. This answer is for you through Brent, this answer, you collectively, your beautiful family.”

So for many years, that revelation — what a beautiful gift Heavenly Father gives us as, as sisters, as wives, as mothers, as ward members, as friends, to have these priesthood-holding men in our lives, who have the keys to receive these answers and to guide us and maybe suggest where we might go. But I’m careful to say that I don’t think that means we then just have all hands off, I don’t have to worry about it, Brent’s gonna tell me what to do, and I don’t have anything invested myself. I’ve really come to learn what the power of the priesthood looks like in our marriage, and when he’s here physically, and when he’s not, I’ve come to learn, I also have access to those exact same priesthood lines, even though I myself am not a bearer of the priesthood. I’m sealed through those covenants.

But that personal revelation is different for everyone, and for anyone listening, I think one of the most beautiful efforts we can make in this life is to figure out how God speaks to each of us. So for me, Jennie Taylor, he speaks in words. And anybody who knows me, Jennie Taylor, probably won’t be surprised. My brain works in words. I’m a talker, I’m a writer, I am a very verbal person. And for someone else, it might be more of a feeling, or it might be more of a concept. Some people really think and process through art. I have zero artistic ability. But for me, I can’t tell you how many times particularly in the immediate aftermath of Brent’s death when the veil was so thin and my heart was so tender. Words would come to my mind in a phrase, and they would come line upon line, a piece at a time. I think the Lord knew I couldn’t handle it all at once. If you told me the end from the beginning, which so many times we think we want to know we want the end from the beginning — no, we don’t. That’s overwhelming. But so many times a thought would come in my mind. It would be literal words. Maybe words out of the blue, maybe words from a song lyric, maybe words from a scripture or conference talk or historical lesson I learned sometime in my youth. 

The Lord talks to me through words, and then He’ll add some more words later. And I’ve learned that the words He gives me today can be enough, and tomorrow when I panic and think I need more, He’ll remind me that yesterday, He gave me enough and I can focus on what’s enough. And I still struggle with that, because I still do want the whole picture in the end and what comes next, next, next.

For example, one phrase that’s really been ringing through my mind lately, as I now find myself in a very different day-to-day life than three years ago, and there’s a lot of options and opportunities, and they’re good, wonderful things, and I’ll wonder, should I do this? Should I do that? Should we do this? And it’s a rabbit hole. And 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 those 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.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Thank you so much for that. That is an invitation that President Nelson asked each of us to do, to learn how to hear Him. How do you hear Him and learn how to hear Him better? I love that. 

You also talked about Lehi. You know, Lehi takes his family and he goes to the promised land, and he and his family and then his posterity, settle this land, and all is not well. There are wars, there are conflicts that last through many hundreds of years, and I want to talk to you about that, because each of us live in a nation in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s many, many nations in an international church, but we all have been asked to follow the laws of the land for our nations, and your husband gave his life in the ultimate act for his country.

And so let’s just talk about patriotism. This is July, and so many people in the United States of America turn to thoughts about the United States on the Fourth of July and think about Independence Day. So how is it that instantly you said that you and your husband shared a love for the United States, and then you back that up with a lot of years of service and action?

Jennie Taylor talks to guests about her husband, Maj. Brent Taylor, pictured at back, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2018, during a dedication ceremony for the newly renamed Major Brent Taylor Vet Center Outstation in North Ogden on Monday, June 10, 2019.
Jennie Taylor talks to guests about her husband, Maj. Brent Taylor, pictured at back, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2018, during a dedication ceremony for the newly renamed Major Brent Taylor Vet Center Outstation in North Ogden on Monday, June 10, 2019. Credit: Steve Griffin, Deseret News

15:30  

Jennie Taylor: That is it exactly. I love that you call it patriotism. For me, my patriotism is to my country, but 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, 

I think of America as a land of redemption. Because you know, we try new things, and we mess up and then we try something else. And I think of Brent. Yes, he gave his life for our country. Yes, he died defending our national freedom, but 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 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.

I love America. I believe America is very divinely inspired and founded, and I’m quick to say: “I know the greatness of America doesn’t belong to America. We are God’s children, we are His people. The principles of liberty and justice for all are God’s laws. George Washington didn’t make them up. They were very inspired.” And so for Brent and our family — I love that you called it service in action. Brent Taylor didn’t sit still very well, and most people who know me would say, I’m probably similar there, and I say we have these energetic kids. There’s something about really believing in something, whatever that something is, that compels you to action. It’s not enough to sit back and say: “I’m so grateful I have these freedoms. It’s so great, I can try and innovate and chase my dreams. Regardless of my past or my heritage, I can really have this American dream. I think I’ll hang on to it for myself.” And so for Brent, I know that’s what really motivated him.

Several of his journal writings speak of previous generations, and how he knew that at some point, he would meet men like George Washington, he would meet a Captain Moroni. In fact, I’m sure he’s good friends with all of them, John Adams, right now. I can’t wait till he introduces me to them. He felt a need to be able to hold his head high, not to compare himself with them or not to compete with them, but to realize good men and women have been giving their lives for the cause of freedom throughout the existence of humankind. 

Now, some of us give our lives in the form of, we’re shedding blood and passing away for that freedom. I hope when I die, people will say I gave my life for my country. Maybe I didn’t die by a bullet at war, but I’ve devoted my life to my God and my country, to the cause of freedom in these beautiful principles. Maybe one day at a time, one service project at a time, one smile at a time. For Brent, it was one campaign at a time, which I will admit, was not what I thought I would marry into. I was going to be the bishop’s wife; I had it all planned out, I would be such a good bishop’s wife.

And when you speak of service, I’ll admit that was something that several times in our marriage, we really would kind of circle the wagons and talk about, because I would say, “Hey, honey, as members of the Church, as covenant children of God, we have made the promise that we will put the kingdom of God first.” And his political and military service in many ways made him maybe less available for this or that calling at church, or this or that position in the priesthood leadership chains. And I would worry that maybe we’re neglecting our duties. How quick and loving he was to help me see, we’re building up the kingdom of God on the earth, and everything he did as a soldier or a statesman was honoring his priesthood keys, his priesthood power that he had been given in his life.

One thing Brent Taylor really taught me that I think I see with more clarity now than even the 15 years I got to share with him at his side, is a 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. But Brent really was so driven by what he felt God needed him to do. Again, not in a comparative or competitive way, but that he couldn’t deny the fact God had work for him to do, and it was very, very important. By nature of that assumption and that conviction, I have a very important work to do. Each of my children has an individual work to do. 

Each member of this human race has specific strengths and abilities and contributions to make. So whether you make them in a pair of military boots, or you run for office, or maybe you just  love a child, or teach a class, or pull the weeds out of the garden — there’s so many ways. Brent really focused on that concept of individual, very personal life mission, life patriotism, life service. It might look very different from the person next to you, and isn’t that beautiful? We cheer each other on, and we encourage each other and respect the fact that our paths will look very different, but our purpose is the same. We’re here to build up the kingdom of God on the earth, whatever that looks like. It doesn’t mean you have to be the bishop.

Jennie Taylor, wife of fallen Utah National Guard Maj. Brent Taylor, and their children are acknowledged by the crowd during Stadium of Fire at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Thursday, July 4, 2019. Brent Taylor, who was also the mayor of North Ogden, was killed in Afghanistan in 2018.
Jennie Taylor, wife of fallen Utah National Guard Maj. Brent Taylor, and their children are acknowledged by the crowd during Stadium of Fire at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Thursday, July 4, 2019. Brent Taylor, who was also the mayor of North Ogden, was killed in Afghanistan in 2018. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Sarah Jane Weaver: Jennie, as you and I were talking before we started recording today, you mentioned that Brent often quoted a latter-day prophet, even when you were dating. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

20:58  

Jennie Taylor: So if anybody’s listening ever knew young Brent Taylor, you knew he just was never really young. I remember meeting him almost thinking he had some type of Southern accent because he was just so old-fashioned and gentlemanly, and he worked at a bank full time, so he was always in a suit and tie. And even later in our marriage, he never wore a T-shirt unless he was in the yard. A polo was really dressed down for that guy — usually a button-up, maybe short sleeves. But at this time, we’re dating. He’d be in this shirt and tie all the time and very proper and very well-spoken, very well-read, and I can’t tell you how many times in casual conversation President Ezra Taft Benson came up. “Oh, President Benson said this, or one time President Benson did that.” And I would think: “Have you memorized that man’s biography? You’ve memorized every word he’s ever said, every conference talk he’s ever given, every book that’s ever been written about him.”

And there is a great book by President Benson that’s called “The Three Great Loyalties.” And those three great loyalties, according to Ezra Taft Benson and Brent Taylor, are God, family, and country. And that’s a concept that was just ingrained in who Brent was, and he saw that in the man Ezra Taft Benson, who, of course, served his God, he served his family, he served his country in a Cabinet position.

What I’ve come to learn, again, more clearly, in the wake of Brent’s death and even in life, is that for men like Brent Taylor, and Ezra Taft Benson, and so many other men and women in our history, serving God, family and country is one thing. It wasn’t like he would choose God or family, or that choosing our country meant he didn’t have time for God, or that loving a family meant he couldn’t possibly be that devoted to his country. All three of those are so beautifully interconnected. When Brent served in the military, he was serving me and our children. He was serving our unborn grandchildren for generations to come, he was serving our ancestors, and ultimately, he was serving God. 

And when he did serve in the Church, whether in the elders quorum or at the peach orchard or home teaching, wherever he might have been — he didn’t live to see ministering — his service to his God was strengthening our family and bettering our country and community. So that was one of those “lines upon lines,” where the Lord really spoke to me in words, shortly after Brent’s death, and I realized that for Brent Taylor, service to anyone — of God, family or country — was really service to all three. 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.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And that’s something that you’ve seen in so many other people who have rallied around and helped you during the past — How long has it been?

23:52  

Jennie Taylor: It’s been two and a half years since he died. But it’s been three and a half years since he deployed, and that’s kind of really where the kids and I, that’s where the time began of us needing community support. And obviously, that’s missing him and him not being here.

Sarah Jane Weaver: So let’s talk about that community support. How has that buoyed you up during this time?

24:11  

Jennie Taylor: Oh, that’s another one we need hours to talk about. I am simply the face of the faith and prayers of hundreds of people I don’t know. I’m only on my feet and out of bed because so many people for whatever reason think I can. Then, well, I guess I better. 

We have been loved through this trial. We have had people bring meals, clean the house, watch the kids, pull the weeds, mow the lawn, pray for us. You know, I’ve developed such a beautiful network of people I hardly knew three and a half years ago. Even just a couple of days ago, I was having a really emotional morning, and I’ve learned that with this simple text message, I can ask for faith and prayers from those who love me. I’ll send it to a quick friend or two. And I know that by the end of the day, I’ll feel better. Not that I’ve gotten over the trial or that I didn’t really matter, but I can feel the sustaining power of their prayers. 

It’s taught me a lot about what Church leaders say at general conference when they say thank you for your sustaining prayers, we feel that love. And it kind of always felt like words. And now I realize, “No, there’s a physical tangible power to someone praying for me, someone saying, I’m sorry, this happened.“

And I think one of the most beautiful things I’ve learned through the community service has 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. 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. And so maybe it is a meal, maybe it is a call from a friend. I’ve got one good girlfriend, she was my roommate at BYU, who sometimes will just say: “That’s really crappy that that happened. I’m so sorry.” She doesn’t try to explain. She doesn’t try to say, “Yeah, but … .” She doesn’t try to go on and on and try to fix it for me. She’ll just sit with me in the sadness, knowing that that will pass and the strength will come back.

And so the community service we’ve received — small, large, tangible, spiritual, every casserole that’s been brought to my messy kitchen — I can’t overstate how much that literally has just kept us afloat. It’s been so amazing, and we’re so grateful. I feel — the famous words our country uses a lot is “on behalf of a grateful nation,” and I felt that. Whether it’s been spoken or just implied, on behalf of a grateful nation, here’s a meal or whatever. 

I feel like the debt our family now owes our grateful nation just grows every day. I will spend the rest of my life trying to pay it forward for the goodness that’s been shown to me and my kids.

So I’m really excited to say we’ve got the Major Brent Taylor Foundation up and running, and it’s running strong. We’ve been able to work with a lot of military families in our communities, a lot of service opportunities.

We kind of use three words in the Major Brent Taylor Foundation, and they are: train, honor and engage. We want to train service-oriented leaders in all walks of life. We want to honor military and service members who for generations have honored us and fought for our freedom. And then we want to engage people in meaningful acts of service.

And to me, that’s who Brent Taylor was. He was constantly training and teaching, he was constantly honoring and giving honor to those around him, and he loved bringing people together, engaging them. Whether it was through a cultural event or a service project, or, “Hey, let’s go help the neighbor next door.” And so that’s what we’ve been trying to do with everything, focusing again on leadership. 

To me, the legacy of Brent Taylor is leadership. And so we’re working with some local high schools to get some leadership curriculum. I like to use Brent’s high school graduation speech. He gives five points for happiness and health and life. I use those all the time when I do some public speaking. They apply to all stages and ages of life and just how to really find your passion, find your purpose in life, and that’s what we hope to do with this foundation: help educate, inspire, uplift and then, of course, honor those who have served and who still are serving.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, you’ve got us on the seat of our chairs, what are the five things?

28:13  

Jennie Taylor: I wish you could see me — I know this is a podcast, but Brent and I love when at general conference, one of the speakers will put their fingers up in the sky. There are five, so you have to picture me with my palm out, five tips for happiness and help.

The first one is don’t do anything stupid. 

The second is work hard. 

The third is be a good friend to everyone you meet. 

The fourth is believe in something.

And the fifth is stick with it to the end.

So clearly, very gospel principles-oriented. But here was a kid at age 17 years old, serving as a student body president in Chandler, Arizona, and that was the counsel he had for his graduating classmates. I’ve used that in corporate speeches. I’ve used that in youth talks. I’ve used it at girls camp. It applies everywhere, try not to do anything stupid and stick with it to the end with everything else in the middle and we’ll be OK.

Jennie Taylor hugs Bob Ramos, a veteran of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, during dedication ceremony for the newly renamed Major Brent Taylor Vet Center Outstation in North Ogden on Monday, June 10, 2019. Brent Taylor was killed while serving in the Utah National Guard in Afghanistan in 2018.
Jennie Taylor hugs Bob Ramos, a veteran of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, during dedication ceremony for the newly renamed Major Brent Taylor Vet Center Outstation in North Ogden on Monday, June 10, 2019. Brent Taylor was killed while serving in the Utah National Guard in Afghanistan in 2018. Credit: Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, you know, in April general conference, Elder Dale G. Renlund gave a talk in which he used the phrase “infuriating unfairness.” And I really do want to talk to you about this, because there are times in our life when we think we were doing everything we thought we should do. We had prayed we’d receive personal revelation. We were serving our country. We were serving our city. We were doing our best to raise a good family, and then this happened. And so let’s talk for a minute about what happens when our lives take unexpected turns, when things are not fair.

29:43

Jennie Taylor: I loved that talk. I love that expression “infuriating unfairness.” Why do bad things happen to good people? 

That’s one of the oldest questions of the human race. 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. 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. And for me, to not be able to say, or feel that I need to say, “God, why did you take him?”

You know, a lot of people in our faith, because we do know there’s a beautiful afterlife, we know there’s so much more to come. People will say: “Oh, heaven must have needed a hero. God just must really need more help on the other side.” Now, I hope what I say next doesn’t get me in trouble. I believe God has put Brent to great work on the other side. I know for a fact that those who pass on are still busy and engaged in building the kingdom because the kingdom is not mortal. 

However, I don’t for a second believe that God needed Brent Taylor enough to just take him out away from me and my children, or that He was short-handed with all the Nephis and George Washingtons and Ezra Taft Bensons and Thomas S. Monsons that He already has. 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. 

Now in terms of this infuriating unfairness — another thing God has told me quite clearly is that the plan of salvation is ridiculously unfair. But when we get through it, we will find it is unfair in our favor, and that is one of my greatest takeaways. We pray for the miracle. We look for the miracle to cure cancer, we look for the miracle to stop the bullet, we look for the miracle to swerve at just the last moment and avoid the car accident, and all of us have stories where the miracle comes. We all know the time that we fasted and prayed for a child in our ward who was dying, and then they were miraculously cured, and we all know the time we slammed on the brakes and didn’t die, but almost could have. We have those stories.

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 it into something beautiful beyond compare. I don’t always like that. I’ll admit, in the immediate hours after my husband died, my wonderful stake president — he’s such a wonderful man — gave me a blessing. He counsels with me still all the time, checks in on us, and he kept reminding me: “Your best days are ahead. Your best days are ahead, Sister Taylor” That’s the last answer I want. I want my best days with that man. I don’t want my best days without him. I don’t want my best days with him not seeing that 1-year-old become a 20-year-old or a mother or whatever future things haven’t happened.

And I think that’s where the Lord’s gentle love and guidance has helped me realize how wrong I am. My best days are ahead, and it won’t ever be without Brent Taylor. Not at all. There’s not a day I live without him, or I hope my children feel the same way. This infuriating unfairness is countered with the incredible compensatory blessings of heaven. I can’t understand them because I am mortal, but I have felt enough of a glimpse of them to know they are real. 

The Atonement of Jesus Christ is bigger than that unfairness. The love of God is bigger than that unfairness, his trove of blessings is bigger than every shortchanged experience we’ve had in this life.

And so that doesn’t mean it’s never sad. That doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes sit in feeling very shortchanged or brokenhearted or even just devastated, but we can have faith in the fact that that infuriating unfairness will be turned to our favor. The blessings God sends will not be able to be measured. We’ll be able to see that He did not cause everything horrible in this life, but He’s promised everything in this life can work for our good: the good, the bad, our own stupidity and mistakes, the heartache someone else causes in our life, the bitterness, the betrayal, Heavenly Father has promised all of that can work together for our good if we’ll simply let Him help us see how.

Jennie Taylor, wife of Maj. Brent Taylor, is presented with a folded American flag by Maj. Gen. Jefferson S. Burton during Maj. Taylor’s interment at the Ben Lomond Cemetery in North Ogden on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018.
Jennie Taylor, wife of Maj. Brent Taylor, is presented with a folded American flag by Maj. Gen. Jefferson S. Burton during Maj. Taylor’s interment at the Ben Lomond Cemetery in North Ogden on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. Credit: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, it seems like what you’re saying can be summarized in one word, and that’s “onward.” You know, we all have to move onward. President Thomas S. Monson said, “The future is as bright as our faith.” President Nelson is certainly a forward-thinking leader. How do we have faith to move forward in spite of the hard things that happened to us?

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Jennie Taylor: I think if we don’t have faith to move forward with the hard things that happened, we will not move forward, we will not be able to.

I love that you said “moving onward” rather than just “moving on.” Again, back to my erroneous thinking that I don’t want a future ahead of me without Brent. That just felt so robbed and so empty. And it’s like a book, we’re quick as human beings to use the analogy of the book of life, and we have new chapters, we’re going to turn a page and start a new chapter. But getting to chapter 13 doesn’t erase the first 12. Every piece of our past — good and bad, hard and easy, beautiful and terrifying — is a part of this current chapter we’re in. 

So we can move forward because we’re taking everything we’ve learned with us. The Atonement lets us leave behind the things that need to be left behind, but carry forward with the memories, carry forward with the faith. For me, if I did not have my faith, there would be no reason to move forward. I can’t imagine moving on if it were simply moving on and leaving everything in the past.

But the faith that our future is as bright as our faith, faith that God understands timing differently than we do. Mortality feels really long to me some days. Brent went out in a blaze of glory: prime of his health, 39 years old. I’m going to get old, I’m going to get sick, my body is going to slowly deteriorate, I’ll probably live to 105. That’s exhausting. 

But I know, again, that purpose is me passing through that veil with him on the other side and as we’re united to say, “Wasn’t that a beautiful experience He gave us together?” We are in this together.

And because of that strong conviction I have that Brent moves forward with me, it’s really broadened my understanding that so do the rest of my loved ones on the other side. I lost my father as a child. I don’t know that I ever really understood how close he could be to me, even after dying, until this has happened. I feel his influence in my life. I often think of my grandmothers that have both passed on, about the ancestors I never met who probably have some of the personality strengths and weaknesses that I have. They probably understand me in a way I might think those around me don’t. And I just feel this connection to eternity, which also includes my grandchildren and beyond who aren’t yet here. 

We’re all moving forward, because we’re part of something so much bigger. This moment matters, this moment is important. But this moment is a moment. And as we turn the page, everything we’ve read in the previous pages comes with us to the glorious ending.

Sarah Jane Weaver: I love this idea that as we look forward, we need to look back and appreciate everything that brought us to this point. Tell us what you want people to know about your husband, about who he was, about his decisions and about the personal legacy he leaves to you and your kids. 

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Jennie Taylor: Wow, what a question. Oh, I think the greatest legacy he leaves is that sense of duty to God, and I feel that one of the greatest duties he had to God was to be a leader among men, to be a leader in our home, a leader in our community, a leader in the military. And so when I think of his legacy, of course, it includes military service, includes political service, but that’s not the legacy. 

The legacy is of a man of God who wanted to rally others to follow God, to come unto Christ, to find a sense of purpose in their lives. That’s what I hope my children know about their father. I also hope they know he was a real person, and he had flaws. He was not just this giant war hero, but that he always tried to do God’s will. And when maybe he missed out or something went wrong, or didn’t turn out the way even he might have thought it would or hoped it would, he knew where to turn to find the strength to take that next step.

And from a very young age, those who knew Brent long before I did have said the same thing. He always seemed to know where he was going in life. Even though he didn’t know the details, he knew God had a plan for him. And then if he stayed on that course, even if the course took a bunch of sharp turns unexpectedly, he knew that course would take him where he needed to go. 

At heart, he was a big kid. He’d be the one that would be so serious and quoting presidents and prophets in a suit at a conference, and then two seconds later, jumping on the tramp with all of our children, trying not to bonk heads, or chasing them around with — he loved Peeps, circus peanuts, the ridiculous marshmallow candies. 

So he had a very fun loving side. But he was always serious and who he was and what mattered most. The man didn’t waver. He would study, he would learn, he would pursue things if he had questions, he’d come to his own convictions, and those were his convictions. And if those convictions cost him his mortal life, I am absolutely positive, he stands with me in saying, “We have heartache, but not regret.”

Sarah Jane Weaver: So we have a tradition at the Church News podcast, and it’s one where we ask all of our guests a very important question and we actually give you the last word. And so, today, as we think about moving onward and looking back and remembering all the lessons that can come from loving God and country, I’m hoping you can answer the question, “What do you know now?”

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Jennie Taylor: I couldn’t answer that question if you gave me hours and volumes of paper to write a book with. 

I think the biggest thing I know now more than I ever knew before is that God is real. His plan is real. This mortal experience, we’re all a part of Israel, and part of something eternal and beautiful. I’ve grown up a faithful member of this Church my entire life. I served a mission, I went to a Church-owned university, I hate missing church, even when I give birth to a baby. I can’t tell you how my testimony has skyrocketed since the day my husband died. It’s as if the veil sometimes completely disappears, and I now know that God is here. 

I love Elder Uchtdorf’s recent conference talk, “God Among Us.” Whereas He’s on my right hand and my left, He’s in my neighborhood, in my child and that stranger down the street.

That spirit world, that eternal plan that we learned about in Primary and drew the circles and stars on the board, is every single day and every step we take.

And as I think of what I know now that I probably didn’t know before my husband was killed, was just how true it all is. Every scripture, every Primary song, every testimony we’ve ever heard— it’s true. And it’s true on such a deeper level that it almost feels as if I’m brand newly learning the gospel for the first time in my life, even though I had almost 40 years of being a stalwart member of this Church. 

I know God is my Father. I know He’s aware of me. I know He’s aware of every weakness I have, every worry, every fear. And I know that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is bigger than all of those. I know, probably, if I were to sum it up in one sentence, I know that 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, and I know things will work out as I move forward one step at a time, one baby step at a time. I can’t tell you how many times I have pictured that moment in my mind when I will step through that veil, and I will walk through and I know my husband will be there, and my father will be there, and my Savior will be there, and I know I will be able to look them in the eye and say, “I did my best, and you made up for all of it.” And then I will fall at their feet. I know it’s all true.

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Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News Editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you’ve learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast, and if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer, KellieAnn Halvorsen, and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on TheChurchNews.com.