In late 2016, Annie Schmidt went hiking in the mountains of Oregon. When she didn’t reappear, a mix of professionals and amateurs, friends and relatives and strangers, searched for weeks to find her. Annie’s mother, Michelle Schmidt, teamed up with her sister, Angie Taylor, to write the story of Annie’s disappearance, the search, and the eventual conclusion of the efforts of so many in their book Carried: How One Mother’s Trust in God Helped Her through the Unthinkable. Schmidt alternates between the story of the search and the life experiences that prepared her to face this great ordeal. The book is ultimately a tale of joy amidst trial. My normal fare is more historical than devotional, but I have to admit that Schmidt and Taylor’s book carried me along: I learned from Schmidt’s story, and I couldn’t help but be moved by the end. Here are five lessons that I learned (or re-learned).
1. A literal faith in a gloriously happy afterlife affects actual behavior here on earth. On the first day of the mountain search for her daughter Annie, Michelle has a spiritual experience when she hears Annie’s voice, happily speaking to her. She then interprets that experience as meaning that Annie was in the spirit world and that she was happy. Michelle acted according to her beliefs: “When the first search began and the on-camera interviews ensured, which were so surreal and raw, I was unguarded, vulnerable, unscripted, unable to pretend that I believed Annie was still alive. I was criticized for some of the initial interviews I gave because of it…. I’m sure i appeared unfeeling as a mother to express a belief that my daughter was dead without showing signs of losing my mind. But the persona witness I had received that we were searching just for Annie’s body, and that she was safe and happy in the spirit world, gave me the greatest peace and comfort.” Faith has always seemed like madness to some. In the early restored Church, as recounted by Spencer Fluhman, believer Pascal Smith was found insane by a jury of his peers — at least partly on the basis of testimony from one Dr. Mussey — for donating property to Joseph Smith. “Belief in [mental visions] did not constitute insanity, but if one ‘were to be governed in his acts by them, or by those of another,’ then yes, he would regard those behaviors as indications of insanity.”
2. A belief in spiritual experiences enables spiritual experiences. Schmidt believed in spiritual manifestations like the one described above. She had experienced them before. One woman participating in the search had a vision of the view from Annie’s location. Another indefatigable searcher had a dream that pointed the way to where Annie lay, resulting in ultimately finding her body. These experiences remind me of the words of poet Mary Oliver:
You wouldn’t believe what once or twice I have seen. I’ll justtell you this:only if there are angels in your head will youever, possibly, see one.
President Thomas Monson, President Spencer Kimball, and surely others wrote that “faith precedes the miracle.” Here, believing in the possibility of spiritual manifestations allowed Schmidt and others to receive them.
3. Deep gratitude is inherent to meaningful prayer. During the search for Annie, Schmidt wonders that she isn’t feeling the spirit more closely. She reflects on a childhood experience when the Spirit spoke clearly to her mind and heart. But “why was He being so silent” now? She receives the answer. That childhood time, when she’d felt the Spirit so closely, “you were consumed with the desire that Heavenly Father would feel and know and understand how grateful you were. You wanted Him to truly know how much you appreciated Him. You expressed, to the best of your ability, your complete, utter, and all-consuming love. How could He help but reach back to you and tell you He loved you too?” Schmidt responds in kind: “I’ve come to believe that if I truly want to rend the veil and hear God’s voice more, I need to grow in appreciation for Him.”
4. Share joy. One salient characteristic of Annie is her desire to share joy. As a baby, “the second she locked eyes with you, she’d give you a huge smile. Really! And that was exactly what she did all her life: look right into the eyes of whoever was near and try to smile joy from her face right down deep into their heart.” In the final chapter of the book, a collection of tributes, a high school friend recounts a delightful scene in which Annie challenges her to a dance battle during a power outage. One wish I had upon finishing the book is that I’d gotten to Annie a bit better, but she seems like a true messenger of joy.
5. Turn your life over to God, to good effect. Schmidt’s husband, Jon Schmidt, is a member of the musical group The Piano Guys (which ironically consists of just one pianist). In one of the chapters describing their struggles during Jon’s early career, Schmidt describes her frustration with financial trouble. She recalls the quote from President Benson, that “men and women who turn their lives over to God will find out that he can make a lot more out of their lives than they can,” and she reflects on her own experience:
As I prayerfully sought for help with this matter, I realized I was being proud. I was taking credit for something that wasn’t even mine. Had the Lord not given us everything we had ever achieved? The talent. The ideas. The people who helped us. Even the very breath that sustained us from minute to minute. We owed everything to Him. If He wanted to take what we, in our shortsightedness, considered “our career” and use it however He wanted, then who was I to question Him? … Had I really consecrated my all to Him or not? My answer was that I want to… With that realization came the greatest feeling of peace. Therein lay the power to let go of any resentment and emotions of comparison and just put it all in God’s hands.
Wise words of aspiration. Schmidt’s story left me considering how these spiritual lessons can play out in my own life.
Other reviews of Carried:
Trudy Thompson for the Association of Mormon Letters: “This book is meant to be read, treasured, and taught from, as there are many life lessons to be learned through the experiences of the Schmidt family, and the incredible faith they have shown us all.”
Jess at JestKeptSecret.com: “I thoroughly enjoyed Carried. It is a surprisingly sweet and uplifting story, despite what it’s about, and it provided a much-appreciated spiritual boost.”