Embrace the Unexpected
Hi! You guys, that was so good. Singing…that’s not a talent of mine. I picture in the pre-earth life, like, you stand in line to get talents, and I feel like the singing talent was happening at the same time as, like, I don’t know, a taco stand line or something. That’s where I was.
We’re going to have extra fun today, mostly because I’m still heavily medicated from surgery. But it’s fine. I’m Al. Don’t worry if you have no idea who I am, because you will know more than you want to by the time I sit down. So, it’s fine. I’ll tell you a little bit of how I got to be standing here in front of you right now. I am from New York. I met the missionaries right before I turned 21. I listened to them because I felt really bad for them, because they were just really precious looking. I didn’t think—when I first saw them, I thought, “Who wears helmets still?” I didn’t know.
Anyways, the way that I saw it was religion was something people turned to when something was going wrong in their life, as some sort of mental comfort or whatever. I don’t know. And that wasn’t me. At age 20, I honestly thought I’d peaked in life. Right? Surely things cannot get as good as they are right now. I had a studio apartment. It was the size of a single, like, bathroom. But I loved my bathroom-sized apartment. And I worked full-time at a hospital—nothing impressive. I did parking enforcement. I gave people parking tickets at the hospital. No one liked me. It’s fine.
But I loved what I was doing, and I loved who I was. I did. I loved who I was, and I didn’t want anything to change. But I felt so bad, because they were dorky, and I humored them. I wanted to prove to them, I wanted to show them, like, hey, all these blessings you’re working toward? They’re all in your head. Sorry. And the only way I could do that was to live exactly how they taught me to live, tried to, and to live it long enough to allow contrast to happen, if it were to happen. And then show them, like, see? Told you. Nothing happened.
So, this is my quest. I am out to live the gospel, to prove the missionaries wrong. Every day, I would read the Book of Mormon. Every day. And what I would read about? I had no idea, because it made no sense to me at first. But I did it because I told them I would. And every day, I would pray. And I just know, I know that they were the worst prayers Heavenly Father has ever heard. Ever. I had never said a prayer before in my life. I had never prayed before, but I did it, and it was awkward. It was so incredibly awkward. I kind of felt like I was leaving a voice mail. I don’t know, this idea of talking to yourself. But I did it every day, because I told them that I would. And every day, I would do these really awkward and uncomfortable efforts, in quest to prove them wrong.
The funny thing about trying and the funny thing about asking is that we’re blessed. No matter how awkward or terrible we think our efforts are, we are blessed by our efforts of trying. One day I woke up at 4:00 in the morning. I couldn’t sleep, so I called my missionaries. I don’t know what I was going to say to them; I didn’t think they would answer because it was 4:00 in the morning. And they did. And my first reaction was to start screaming at them, and so I did. I’m yelling, and I don’t know what I’m yelling about, but it’s really loud, and somewhere amongst all my screaming I yelled at them, and I said, “I want to get baptized!”
Uhhh. I didn’t think that was what I was going to say. I didn’t even know that that’s what I wanted to do until I said—well, until I yelled it. And when I yelled it, oh, I felt it! I felt it, and I got so embarrassed, I just hung up the phone on them. Can you just imagine this for a second? Four in the morning, “Hey! Baptism!” Click. What on earth?
This decision came out of nowhere. It came out of nowhere that not only did it surprise me, it surprised my missionaries. They called me right back, and they were more confused than they were excited. They called me back, and they were like, “What? Why? What happened?”
So I decided to get baptized, and that was wild! That was wild to me, because even though I knew that this was true, even though I could feel that this was right, I was embarrassed. I was ashamed. So embarrassed and ashamed to be part of anything to do with this Church, so embarrassed that I didn’t invite a single person to my baptism.
Well, I invited one person. His name was Scott. And at the time, I didn’t know who Scott was, so it was awkward. He was dating one of my sisters at the time, but I’d never met him before, I’d never spoken to him before, and I called him up and I said, “Hey. I’m kind of getting baptized.”
He said, “Can I come?”
And I said, “I think that’s why I called you.”
The day of my baptism, having not invited anyone except whoever Scott is, the room was packed—so many people there that they couldn’t all fit. They were flooded out into the hallways, and that meant the world to me. Just by them being there, was a testimony to me that what I was doing was right, and so I got baptized. And that was neat. I liked it. It was fine. Sometimes you hear stories of people coming out of the font and they’re yelling or crying or whatever, and that wasn’t me. I was happy because I’d done what I’d done, but mostly wet, and like, really cold.
But when I got confirmed, oh, this is my favorite part. I love this part. Because, you know, when I got that gift, I physically felt myself get that gift. The contrast is huge. The difference is real. And at that exact second, I was not embarrassed anymore. I was not ashamed in any degree, and I wanted to yell to all of New York, “Happiness is real! It’s real and it exists, and you can have it. They have these boys with doofy helmets who will talk to you.”
I realized that I had the answer to the questions of the universe. Woah. Some people go their entire lives seeking after what we know, and sometimes not ever finding it. And so, when you have something that you love, when you have something that just makes you feel good, you want to share it, right? So, I turned to my friends—and I feel like I had a lot of friends—I did, I had a lot of friends, friends that I loved and trusted and would tell everything to. And not one of them, not one of them stayed. They all left. They wanted nothing to do with me and what I was a part of. And it hurt. It hurt to see how easy it was for them to leave and how quickly they did.
So then I turned to my family, and I love my family. My family is super, my parents—my parents have been separated for as long as I can remember—and my dad—I love my dad! We are as close as you could ever imagine. And at the time, I lived just a few blocks away from where he lived, and every day, without fail, I would walk to my dad’s house and I’d make him lunch. Every day. I was the only one of my siblings that would tell him everything. I’d tell him about boys, and he hated it. And I loved that he hated it, because I thought it was funny. And every year for our birthday he takes us out to birthday brunch.
It is my 21st birthday, and my dad—my best friend and biggest support—he looks me right in the eye and he says, “Al, I don’t want you as a daughter anymore. You have to pick [between me and] this church that you just found out about a few weeks ago.” And how small, how small my knowledge was at the time. Out of everything there is to know about the gospel, the only thing that I knew at that time was that the Book of Mormon was true. I hadn’t even read it all the way through. I don’t think I made it past a few chapters until I knew it made everything true. And that’s not naïve of me; that’s what the Spirit does.
He said, you know, “This church or me.” Your dad. And I remember thinking, “What an easy decision for a difficult situation.” Right? I already chose who I wanted to follow, didn’t I? That is what happens when we get baptized. I already recognized that this happiness that I didn’t even know existed, that it does! And it only comes from the gospel. I knew that. I could feel that! I knew that because I spent twenty-one years of my life thinking and seeing if it came from somewhere else, and it doesn’t. It does not.
So I decided right then and there, and I said, “Dad, I’m sorry. I love you.” He really kept his word. I’d walk to his house still; he’d lock the door. He’d close the blinds. I would call; he would never pick up my calls. He would never return my voice mails.
And I went to work at parking enforcement, and I looked like the fake cop. I had these badges that meant nothing, and this dress-up—I wore a tie, and I had these men’s suit pants, which were the most unflattering pair of pants a girl could ever put on. They were huge. So you know what I would do? I would hide the Book of Mormon in the front of my pants and you couldn’t tell it was there. That’s how big they were. Not often, but several times, all of my coworkers and all of my bosses—I had a few of them—they would all get together and they would lock me in an office. They would lock me in an office just to scream at me. And they would say, “You are not a good person. What you are doing, what you are part of, is wrong.” And they made me watch these terrible, terrible and untrue videos about the Church.
How hard it was! I didn’t know how to defend the Church. I didn’t even know how to defend myself. The only thing that I knew was that those few chapters made everything true, and how hard it was to see everyone that I loved so much either scream at me or just leave. Gone. I felt like I was being punished for doing what I thought was the right thing.
Every time things got hard, every second that I had free, I would pull the Book of Mormon out of my pants, and I would read it. Every chance I could. I would fake bathroom breaks just to read scriptures. And not once did my situation change because of it. Not really. But every single time, I was given the strength and the knowledge to be able to handle what I was going through. That book—that is where strength comes from. I don’t know what I would do without that book.
And so, what do you do when you have just turned 21 and you live in downtown Rochester, New York, where the night life is very active, right outside your door, and you don’t have any friends? Well, I’ll tell you what you do. I don’t know how many of you have been home on a Friday or a Saturday night by yourself. You have these fleeting thoughts of, “I feel lame.” Maybe not; maybe that was just me. That’s how I felt, because every Friday and Saturday night for months—these were long months—what I would do every Friday and Saturday night was I would make up church talks for fun. I get it. It’s wild. You guys aren’t even laughing; it’s like that is too wild to even laugh at.
What I would do during the day, because I worked the evening shift, every single day I would go out with the missionaries and help them teach investigators and less-actives. I remember thinking, “Yes! Heavenly Father, I want to go on a mission! What do you think?” And I knew my answer was going to be yes. I knew it. Because that is a righteous, good thing to want to do. So why be denied a good thing? And do you know what my answer was? Move to Utah. Uhh, not what I asked for. Thanks, though.
I didn’t want to move to Utah. I honestly completely forgot Utah was even a state until I met all these missionaries. I thought maybe—maybe if I asked differently, like, reworded my prayer, I would get a different answer. Not the case. And I thought maybe, maybe if I told Him how much it would mean—so much to me, it was so important—[He would allow?] it to happen. But that was not the case.
Now, my answer came as a reoccurring thought—a reoccurring that that I figured if I ignored long enough, it would go away. No. Weeks and weeks and it kept coming back, and finally what it came own to is, “Wow. I just found out that God is real. He is real. He, in reality, speaks to us, and who would I be if I said, “Hey, God, you are wrong.” I can’t say that. Who am I to say that to Him? And how guilty would I have felt if I had finally gotten an answer and I didn’t do anything about it? The guilt would have killed me.
So I was like, “Fine. I will go to Utah.” And it was hard. It was hard. I just wanted someone to support me. And everyone at church—you know, I didn’t see other members during the week. People drove up to two hours to get to church, and they understood the Spirit. Surely someone there would be like, “How great. Let me know if you need help with anything.” Or, “Wow, that’s interesting.” I even would have accepted that. But they all said the same thing, including my branch president. He said, “Al, don’t go to Utah. Don’t do it. If you move there, no one will like you. Al, if you move there, you won’t fit in. Don’t do it, Al. Don’t go.”
I remember thinking, “Don’t tell me that, because I’ve got to go still. He’s making me.” And how hard it was to feel like I was doing it absolutely and completely alone. Me trying to find a place in Utah is a whole other story that we just won’t have time for. So, I will cut to the chase of getting down to two days before I am supposed to move. Someone is moving into my apartment. I quit my job already, and nothing has worked out. If it doesn’t work out for whatever reason, I will be very broke and very homeless, so you can imagine how nervous I am, right?
And I am mad! I am. I am so mad at God, because every day I am trying and I feel like I have nothing to show for my efforts. And I am mad, and I started yelling at God, and I said, “I don’t know what else to do. I don’t know what else to do. I’m praying, I’m reading, I’m fasting, I don’t have anything to show for it. Why? Why is something so right so hard? Do you care, still, about me? Are you even there at all?” I was just pleading for an answer just to know why I have to move, and He didn’t answer me that.
And it was hard because, you know, when my dad found out it was the first time I had heard from him in a really long time, and he said, “Al, why are you leaving me? Why are you moving all the way across the country to a place you have never been, where you don’t know a single person? Why?”
And what was I supposed to say? My dad—he’s not a religious man—so I can’t be like, “Dad, God told me to, so it’s fine.” He wouldn’t have understood that, and how hard it was to see him so confused and hurt and offended and worried. I did not have the answer to give him any comfort, and to me, to not have that comfort for me. And I was so scared I forgot how to turn my car on. I am so scared, I can’t turn my key. And I didn’t even know if I was supposed to take a right or a left on my driveway, and I drove all the way to Utah Valley, Utah. I didn’t stop once. I couldn’t. I knew that if I stopped, doubt, temptation would start to seep in. I knew that if I even took a break, I would end up in a direction Heavenly Father does not want me to go in—literally, at the time, back home to New York. But spiritually, I think there is also a lesson there.
I didn’t stop to eat. I didn’t even get drive-through food. That’s how much I didn’t stop. And I put my entire life into a two-door Alero Oldsmobile, which isn’t much of a life, if you think of a two-door car made in the 1990s. I don’t think they even make two-door cars anymore. But I was so excited to get here, because of how hard it was, because this was where He wanted me. This was what He wanted me to do.
And you know, here I am, I just left behind the only way of living that I know of. New York is very different from Utah. And I left, and I had to cope with the idea that I could never see my dad ever again. And I drove across the country, and luckily something worked out for me to live as I’m driving here. Talk about grey hair. I think that is textbook definition of 11th-hour blessings. And you know, this is it, this is my new home. This is where God has brought me. And I was so excited, because I knew this was all God’s working and making, that this was where things would start to get better, and easier, and start to make sense.
This is the day I’m looking at my new home and the grass is up past my hips. It was really tall. It was really dead. There were all these broken toys and rusted treasures braided into the grass that had been there for—I don’t know how long. And I don’t know where they came from, but there were three, maybe four kids running around my backyard with zero clothes on. Couldn’t tell you either. I don’t know what it was. At this point I am so grateful I didn’t know what it was, because something smelled so bad, and I just said to Him, I said to God, “This is where you brought me? With the naked kids and the smell? Neat.”
Hear me out. I meant to bring my blankets. I did. But they somehow didn’t make it into my car. It would be a very long time before I would get a job out here, and an even longer time to get paid for that job. When I eventually got a job and eventually got paid for that job, driving by a Target, that was a really good day for me. But it wouldn’t happen for a while. So here I am, across the country, lying on the floor, wrapped in a towel. This is where my new faith had brought me.
I went my very first day in Utah, I went to Café Rio—we don’t have those back home. I was very excited. I’m standing right in the middle of everyone, holding a church book just like this. It was a biography on—I don’t know, one of the prophets—you know how you can tell when someone is just staring at you? It feels like lasers. That’s how it felt, like the lasers were every direction. I remember feeling really tense, and finally the guy gets my attention, the guy next to me, and he goes, “Pretty ironic, looking the way you do, holding that book.”
My heart broke. Immediately I thought of everyone back home saying, “Al, don’t go. No one will like you and you will not fit in.” I didn’t. How badly I wanted to turn to him and scream at him and just say, “Do you know what I just went through? Do you know how hard this is? Do you know what and who I had to give up to be here, and I didn’t even know why?” And guys my age—our age; I’m not old, you guys, I swear—they’re looking for temple-worthy girls, and that is a great goal. But I don’t exactly look temple-worthy. That not only did no one want to date me; they didn’t even speak to me. And not just guys our age; no one, in spite of my best efforts, no one, except for that man in Café Rio, spoke to me for a long time. And I think these feelings, just as human beings, really stink, but I think especially as women, to feel unnoticed, unwanted, damaged. Indescribable. And then, please for an answer, just to know why He wanted me to do all this and not get one, and to just go home and lay on the floor and wrap myself in a towel.
And I just relate too much to Laman and Lemuel. It’s in 1 Nephi 17—this is when they have been in the wilderness for a really long time, and I think we’re all familiar that they went into the wilderness because they were told that Jerusalem was supposed to be destroyed. At this point, Jerusalem hadn’t been destroyed yet, and Laman and Lemuel are talking, and he says, “Thou art like unto our father, led away by the foolish imaginations of his heart; yea, he hath led us out of the land of Jerusalem, and we have wandered in the wilderness for these many years; and our women have toiled, being big with child; and they have borne children in the wilderness and suffered all things, save it were death; and it would have been better [if] they had died before they came out of Jerusalem than to have suffered these afflictions.
“Behold, these many years we have suffered in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance; yea, we might have been happy” (verses 20-21).
They’re mad! They’re mad that they had to leave everything. They’re mad that they have to live a life different than everyone else. And for what? Destruction that didn’t even happen yet? And so, I know that we have these moments, that leave us lying on the floor screaming at Him, wondering why, for what, blessings that haven’t even happened yet. But no pathetic attempt from the adversary can take away from the reality of what I felt when I got that gift. I refused to let some pathetic attempt from the adversary take away from the times where I did temple work for all of my grandparents. And I refused to let some pathetic attempt from the adversary take away from what I am feeling right now. I refuse to let some hardship take away from the reality where I have felt my soul dancing within me, to forget or doubt those times—those goose-bump moments, those heart-throbbing moments—and I could not deny that every time I have felt those soul-dancing and goose-bump moments, I have been living the gospel.
Yeah, hard times will consistently be there. That won’t change. I’ve spent many, many times yelling at God. Hard times will always be there, but so will Christ. And with Him, we can overcome and conquer absolutely everything! With Him, we can overcome and conquer every feeling of loneliness, or doubt, or inadequacy, or temptation or confusion. With Him, we can overcome and conquer the world, right? And I love that! If we think Heavenly Father will do anything to stop us from overcoming and conquering, we are wrong. If we think Heavenly Father will do anything to stop us from being happy right now, today, even in our trials, we are wrong. Comfort is always there, because Christ is always there. And He can be felt in the darkest and most confusing of times if we just turn to Him, and if we just choose to trust, choose to have faith, to embrace the unexpected, knowing who is guiding this.
Not once have things gone the way I had in mind. Not once. And that can be hard, especially if you think it’s a righteous, good thing that you’re asking for, especially if it means so much to you. How many times—you know, it’s then, it’s then where we have those fleeting thoughts and we wonder where He is, and if He really cares about me, right? But how grateful, how grateful I am that they did not go the way I had in mind, because they have been profoundly better than what I ever could have imagined for myself—greater than I even knew existed.
All of the promises, all of the blessings that we are trying so hard to obtain—in scripture, they are all written in past tense, right? Prepared. They are already there. Heavenly Father, He has already set the time, the love, the work, the effort, into preparing the absolute best ever created, and you can have it, if you just keep going, and if you just try. And if you choose Him, I don’t care how many times a day, and I love that. This is real! And I wouldn’t have a single thing I have now, if it weren’t for those exact moments I was screaming at Him, wondering where He was. It was every single moment I was wondering where He was that brought me to everything I have now, and it breaks my heart to imagine my life any different.
Embrace the unexpected, knowing who is guiding you. Because if having the most powerful, all-knowing Beings who ever existed on your side isn’t empowering, I don’t know what is. Alma 56:46 says “Behold our God is with us, and he will not suffer that we should fall; then let us go forth.” I want to echo that. Go forth! Fear not! Forget not whose hands you are in. Forget not that we have the answers to the questions of the universe. And as we all know, Jerusalem was destroyed. No matter the timeframe, do not let doubt or questions, do not let passing time dictate His promises and revelation given to us. Jerusalem was destroyed and promises were fulfilled, and revelation was fulfilled, just like for us to, will be fulfilled. Because the reality is, He is real! He is as real as your heart beating right now.
In this exact second, God is mindful of you. And the second after that, and all the seconds after that. Refuse to let some pathetic attempt from the adversary dim that. Your prayers have been heard, but greater is what He has in store for you, in the name of Jesus Christ, my best friend, amen.
Al Carraway is a multi-award winning public speaker, who has spent the last seven years traveling the countryside inspiring the world with her story of conversion, redemption and finding faith.
As a popular blogger, author of the best-selling book, “More Than the Tattooed Mormon," and recently released, “Cheers to Eternity," her messages have reached millions.
She is a native New Yorker, who now lives in Utah with her sweetheart Ben, and her two kids. Al works full-time at the LDS Church as a marketing manager.
Her passion is to tell everyone that happiness exists and it comes from the gospel, and that our efforts can — and do — make a difference.