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The following is a review of the new book, “Carried”, from authors Michelle Schmidt and Angie Taylor.
Most of us remember that October day when we heard the heartbreaking news that Annie Schmidt, daughter of Jon and Michelle Schmidt, had gone missing while hiking in Oregon. Images of rescue teams appeared on every news outlet. We watched anxiously, hoping every day she would be found, but as that first week wore on, our sorrow for the Schmidt family grew. This was a family we had come to know and love through Jon’s music. We mourned with them. We prayed for them.
I first heard Jon play piano when I was in college. He performed for a small group of friends just a few houses down from my childhood home. I didn’t know Jon but I was so moved by the stories and feeling I found within his music. Now my children and I pack lunches on school mornings while listening to The Piano Guys. We watch their videos on youtube. Jon’s music has become a part of our family life. Is it any wonder this story held the attention and concern of so very many?
It has been two years since the Schmidts lost Annie. About a month ago, my friend Angie, who is Michelle’s younger sister, asked if I would review a book they had written about this wrenching experience. I told her it would be my privilege.
Trusting God Completely
I knew the book would be tender, but it was beyond tender; it was vulnerable and intimate, an invitation into sacred space. It shifted my heart wider and bigger, made me want to love pure and deep like their beautiful Annie, and turn my face more fully to Jesus.
Michelle wrote, “It is my hope that my journey of being tutored by God to trust Him more — not only through the loss of Annie but through some of my most vulnerable and personal past experiences — will be the means of bringing strength and hope to anyone suffering at this time.”
None of us are strangers to suffering. It comes to all of us. Which is precisely why this story has the power to impact and inspire every reader. Michelle wisely illustrates that including God in our personal angst and sorrow requires humility.
The following excerpt is from a prayer Jon gave before the first search party set out to find Annie. In his voice you can hear an amazing synthesis of both yearning and yielding.
“Heavenly Father, we know that Thou knowest exactly where Annie is right now. And we know that Thou couldst lead us to her immediately. We earnestly ask that Thou wilt answer the desire of our hearts and lead us right to her today. But if it isn’t Thy will to do so at this time, we ask Thee to help us to not lose our faith in Thee and in Thy ability to answer prayers. Please help us to remember all of the times that Thou hast heard and answered our prayers. And please help us to never lose our faith in Thee, especially as we are struggling so much at this time with the sorrow and anxiety that we are feeling over the loss of Annie. Please strengthen our faith” (50).
Carried is a profound treatise on this kind of complete and submissive faith. It is this trust that helped Michelle and Jon through the unthinkable — the tragic loss of their oldest daughter, the acceptance of her death, and the eventual finding of her body.
Michelle also documents other pivotal life-moments that taught her about the character of God and how He works. She writes about her diagnosis of spinal malformation at six months old and the miraculous surgery that allowed her to walk and run. She writes about her courtship and marriage to Jon, how they scrambled to stay afloat financially as Jon pursued his music — a career they had not planned on but felt directed to continue. She also admits her own feelings of inadequacy while mothering five young children, including twin boys.
These experiences convinced Michelle that a loving Heavenly Father would direct and instruct her when she asked. Hardship more than tried her faith; it tied her to a perfectly empathetic Savior she knew would never abandon her. All of this prepared the Schmidt family for the nightmare they would endure during October 2016.
Faith to Stay
After several days, the official search for Annie was closed. Annie had not been found. Michelle was desperate to communicate with her twins boys who were new missionaries in Ireland and Scotland. She pulled out her phone and composed a letter to her sons. Within hours she had received the most encouraging responses. Both sons reported feeling loved, comforted, even carried by God.
Chris wrote, “I have felt like the Lord has just picked me up off the ground and squeezed me, not letting me come back down. I have felt so much comfort” (119). Johnny wrote how his prayers were guided by the Spirit to transition over several days from “Please bless [Annie] to be found and to be safe,” to “Bless me to be comforted with whatever outcome… and help me to only desire Thy will to be brought forth in this situation” (116). Another moment of submission and trust.
I was especially touched by an interaction Chris had with President Russel M. Nelson, just days after learning Annie was missing. At this point President Nelson was still the acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve. Chris wrote to his Mom, “I have been walking with angels these past few days, and I mean it… On Saturday our whole mission had the opportunity to hear President Nelson speak… When he was about to close, he paused, then said, ‘I sense that some of you are worried about your families.’ He looked right at me. Then he asked us to turn to Doctrine and Covenants 31. ‘Blessed are you because of your faith in my work. Behold, you have had many afflictions because of your family; nevertheless I will bless you and your family… Thrust in your sickle with all your soul… Wherefore, your family shall live.’ Then President Nelson paused again and said something along the lines of, whether it is in the flesh and bone they live, or in the presence of God, they will live.”
Chris goes on, “He made an apostolic promise to those who were worried about their families and said that staying in the mission was the very best thing we could do for our families… Halfway through the scripture reading, I bowed my head and cried and cried. When I looked up he was looking at me like his words were just for me.”
Despite their grief, both boys stayed and served faithful missions.
One of the most incredible and miraculous parts of the book were the smaller stories that circled around Annie’s rescue. So many devoted individuals spent days, which turned into weeks, diligently searching for Annie. Despite personal sacrifices of time, money, and resources, these people did not rest until Annie’s body was found.
John Harding headed up the continued search with positivity that could not be dampened. At the end of every day he would say, “When we find her tomorrow…” Eventually, it was John Harding’s idea to hold a fast on November 6th to bring everyone together in faith and prayer that Annie would be found.
Annie Castiel, who had exceptional experience with dog search and rescue teams, went to great effort to pull together a new dog squad. One night, in desperation, she called out to Annie, telling Annie they were trying so hard to find her. Then she prayed and suddenly, with closed eyes she could see where Annie was lying. Between two rock walls, looking up at the night sky. She said Annie asked her not to quit. So she didn’t.
Lydia McGranahan, an avid hiker who knew the Columbia Gorge area well, continued to return to the gorge, searching for Annie on her own. On the night of October 24th, Lydia had a dream that she was hiking the Munra Trail. Then in her dream, she was suddenly falling. As she fell, she felt like she was Annie. She woke up abruptly before she landed and felt convinced that Annie was on Munra. On November 11th, 2016, Lydia, along with a new dog handler, Liz Hall and her dog Reu, finally found Annie’s body. It has been more than a month since Annie had gone missing. The search was over.
Michelle wrote later, “I can still see them limping off the hill at the end of the day, and I can tell you that I will love these people for the rest of my life… I pray the Lord will bless everyone who helped us, because I don’t have the ability to adequately thank everyone” (47, 49).
Getting to Know Annie
While this book is the telling of tragedy and grief, it is not without joy. I found myself smiling over and over again, as I read about Annie. The best way to describe what it was like getting to know Annie is joyful. The more I read, the more I loved her. The more I wished she were my friend, or my daughter’s friend.
The last section of the book is filled with tributes to Annie, written by friends, classmates, and people who were touched by her life. Every young person should read these tributes. Annie was absolutely inspiring! She chose early in life to love everyone, exactly as they were, and she encouraged people to be themselves. Michelle said Annie’s one wish was for everyone to feel the Savior’s love. That mattered more to her than anything. She intentionally moved herself out of tight social groups so she could notice kids that needed to be included. She had a way of bringing all kinds of people into her circle of friendship.
Kanela Adamson wrote, “One day we were examining a poem about popularity and the teacher kept reading the word ‘popular’ during the discussion. After the third or fourth time that word was thrown around, Annie raised her hand and, as if she couldn’t hold it in any longer, burst out, ‘Can we please stop using the word popular? I hate that word! What does that word actually mean anyway? We should just throw it away and everyone just be nice to each other’… That stuck with me for years after… Each time I meet new people, I think about what Annie said in English class and I try to treat them the way that Annie would.”
Lindsey Parrish shared the following, “Annie randomly came to midnight sushi with a group of friends one summer night in 2011. As we exited the restaurant there was a homeless woman playing the guitar. We all hurried past, but Annie stopped, knelt down in front of this woman, and folded a dollar bill into a ring. She told the woman how beautiful her music was, and put the dollar bill on her finger, while we all stood a safe distance away, watching… Annie was always so kind to everyone.”
Annie often sent out positive messages on social media. Like, “Why hold back the love?” A question that ought to give all of us pause.
It was surprising to me that what should have felt like a heavy and difficult story, was lightened immensely by Annie’s exuberant spirit. She is everywhere in the book. Her stunning life of discipleship fills the book with bright hope, and reminds us that there is so much good left to do in the world.
Carried is an honest and healing narrative of Michelle’s broken heart. Obviously, this loss has changed her forever. But it has not destroyed her. Her testimony of God’s awareness is vibrant and strong, and it is brokenness that allowed divine light to enter and illuminate even the darkest corners of her story.
At the conclusion of the book Michelle writes, “I think the most important thing I’ve learned through losing Annie is how I have been carried by the love of our Savior Jesus Christ, and because of this I’ve learned of our ever-present need to be filled with greater love for one another” (158).
Every page of this book feels purpose-driven, like there was a force moving the process along, swirling in and around both Michelle and Angie. It does not let us linger in the darkness of a wooded forest but lifts our gaze into a sky full of stars. I believe this story is a continuation of Annie’s dream to bring everyone into Christ’s unconditional love.
Carried released on October 1, 2018. You can purchase it Amazon, Deseret Book, or Barnes and Noble.