We’re Not Afraid Anymore
September 2021

Digital Only: Portraits of Faith

We’re Not Afraid Anymore

We were devastated when our son was diagnosed with cancer, but his illness led to great blessings for our family.

family posing outside together

Photograph by Leslie Nilsson

I was raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but I left the Church as a teenager after my family moved from Alabama. Later, I moved to California, where I worked and studied. That’s where I met Patrick. Six weeks later, we were engaged.

Once we got married and started having children, we knew it was essential that they understand the importance of faith and religion. We wanted that to be part of our family.

We became what we called “vacation churchgoers,” visiting lots of churches. We’d try this one over here and that one over there, but nothing ever felt right.

In 2012 we traveled to Alabama so I could reconnect with family members. We fell in love with the area where I lived as a child. So, we moved there in 2014, bought some land and animals, and started growing and selling produce.

“Why Am I Not Baptized?”

One morning our seven-year-old son, Jesse, came into our bedroom with an illustrated children’s Bible.

“Mom, look at this picture of Jesus,” he said. “He’s getting baptized. Why am I not baptized?”

All the children read and loved that Bible, and they all began asking similar questions: “Why don’t we have a church? When are we getting baptized?”

About this same time we began making caramels from goat’s milk and selling them at local farmers markets. People loved them, and our caramel business took off. By that fall, we were selling our caramels in about 30 stores. By June 2015, we went to a major international market in Atlanta and added about a hundred stores. Soon, we were on television and in a couple of magazines.

We were making caramels full time leading into that fall. That’s when things took a turn in our lives.

“Prepare for a Lengthy Stay”

I had what I thought I always wanted in life—a farm-based business working with my family and teaching my children about life through a farm. People had this beautiful picture of our family working together, but we were struggling big time.

We were ignoring the kids in order to make the business work. Our marriage wasn’t getting any attention. We were trying to do too much. Our priorities weren’t straight. We didn’t have a spiritual base. We didn’t have Heavenly Father guiding our lives. We were just trying to do everything by ourselves.

That fall the children all came down with strep throat. We gave them antibiotics, and soon everybody was fine except for Jesse. His cough wouldn’t go away, and his neck became swollen. Pat took him to the pediatrician for what we thought would be a second antibiotic.

Two hours later Pat called from the hospital. The pediatrician had sent Jesse there for an X-ray to check for infection in his lungs. Instead, doctors found an 11-inch tumor in his chest.

“Go home, get your family packed up, head to Birmingham, and prepare for a lengthy stay,” the doctor said.

A few days after we arrived at the children’s hospital in Birmingham, we received Jesse’s diagnosis. He had pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a rare type of aggressive leukemia.

“Do You Even Remember Me?”

For the next three weeks, Pat and I lived at the hospital. While I zoned in on Jesse, Pat made the 90-minute drive back and forth from our home to the hospital. He tried to keep our business going and care for our goats. My mother-in-law came from California and stayed with our other children.

Jesse’s tumor had begun to cut off his airways, but it shrank after six weeks of chemotherapy. We thought that once the cancer went into remission, it would be an easy road ahead, but then Jesse got a blood clot in his brain. After doctors dealt with that, he got fungal pneumonia. He was in and out of the hospital seven times over the next several months.

In December 2015, while Jesse was back in the hospital, I began reading the Book of Mormon. I thought, “I left the Church, and I just want to rule it out like I’ve ruled out all the other churches.” But right away, it hit me like a ton of bricks—full peace. The book just spoke to me. I didn’t even have to pray to find out it was true. I knew in my heart it was true from the very beginning. I would read for hours sitting in that hospital room.

At one point, Jesse spiked a fever, which lasted for 10 days. It wouldn’t break, and doctors decided they needed to do a bone marrow biopsy to see if the leukemia had returned. I remember lying on the floor of the hospital. I had reached bottom. That’s when I decided to call Elaine Oborn, a member of our ward while I was growing up in Alabama.

I had been best friends with Sister Oborn’s daughter. Though I hadn’t spoken to the Oborn family for 20 years, I couldn’t get Elaine’s face out of my mind. I looked her up on Facebook, and there on the hospital floor, I called her.

“Do you even remember me?” I asked.

“The Angels Are Coming for Us”

After explaining what our family was experiencing, I told Sister Oborn: “I don’t know what I need, but I need something. I’m not active in the Church. We don’t even have a church, but I keep thinking of you. Please, can you help me?”

“We can start by getting you and Jesse a blessing,” she said. She said her husband, Lynn, would come to the hospital that evening.

After the phone call, I told Pat, “I know you’re not a member of the Church, but can we have some guys come and give Jesse a blessing?”

“Whatever it takes for him to feel better,” he said.

That evening, in came Brother Oborn with two full-time missionaries, all dressed in white medical protective clothing because Jesse was so sick.

“The angels are coming for us,” I remember thinking as I opened the door.

They gave Jesse a blessing. Then Brother Oborn lined up all the kids and gave each of them a blessing. Then he gave me a blessing. Then he gave Pat a blessing. That was one of the first experiences where we all felt the Spirit. It was powerful. The next day, Jesse’s fever broke. As soon as he was released from the hospital, we started attending church.

“We Found It”

In February 2016, the full-time missionaries began visiting us. At first Pat thought they were coming over to help on the farm. When we accepted an invitation for them to teach us, he thought the lessons were just for the children.

As the missionaries were preparing to teach us their first lesson, Pat went out to work on the tractor. After about 20 minutes, I could see that they—two sisters and two elders—were deflated. At that moment, I felt that I should get Pat and ask him to come listen for a couple of minutes.

Later the missionaries told me that they had been praying that that’s what I would do. They knew that Pat needed to hear what they were teaching.

After the missionaries had taught us for several weeks, Jesse, Bo, and Frank wanted to be baptized. Pat thought that was great, but he felt that he was “beyond salvation.” That was before he met Von and Glenda Memory and heard Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speak during general conference.

When we saw Brother Memory at church, I recognized him from when I was a child. He was now serving as the ward mission leader. Pat introduced himself, telling Brother Memory that he really wanted the Church for our children.

“That sounds good,” Brother Memory said with a twinkle in his eye. “We’ll do it for the children.”

A few weeks later, after a lesson from the missionaries on the plan of salvation, Brother Memory said, “Boys, we’re going to talk about your baptism.” Then he added, “And then we’re going to talk about your dad’s baptism.”

Pat said OK, but his doubts about his readiness and worthiness persisted until general conference that April.

“You may be afraid, angry, grieving, or tortured by doubt,” Elder Uchtdorf said in his talk. “But just as the Good Shepherd finds His lost sheep, if you will only lift up your heart to the Savior of the world, He will find you.”1

Pat said: “Before then, it hadn’t occurred to me that I really could be a part of this, that I was worthy of salvation. But after listening to Elder Uchtdorf, it hit me that it wasn’t too late for me. I actually have a shot to get to heaven. I had never felt anything like that. From then on I knew. This is the Savior’s Church. We found it. I got baptized and received the priesthood. A week later I baptized my boys. When our girls were old enough, I baptized them.”

A year later, we were sealed in the Birmingham Alabama Temple.

“We’re Not Afraid Anymore”

Living the gospel of Jesus Christ as members of His Church has strengthened our marriage. It has made me a better mom. It has given our kids a foundation they never would have had. We’re confident about their futures, now that they have the Church in their lives.

I’m so grateful for everything that has happened and for all the lessons I’ve learned. I think it was important for me to go through a lot of stuff, a lot of mental anguish. I needed to be humbled, feel desperate for God’s help and love and forgiveness, and forgive myself of wrongdoings earlier in my life.

Jesse completed chemotherapy and his last round of steroids in March 2019. We would be devastated if his cancer returned, but now we have an eternal perspective. Now we’re sealed as a family. I can’t imagine ever not having the Church as my go-to for everything. The gospel has changed us forever.

Whatever happens, it’s going to be OK. We’re not afraid anymore. Jesse’s illness led to the best thing that ever happened to us. It brought us to the Savior’s Church.