PROVO — Living from paycheck to paycheck, raising teenagers or making critical career decisions may seem like everyday struggles, but for Michelle Schmidt, these experiences were like training wheels. Whether she could really balance on the bicycle of life would be tested in the years that followed.
“Reading back on those moments in my journal, I suddenly realized that God hadn’t just carried me through the devastation of losing my daughter,” Schmidt said in an interview, ”but at many points leading up to it.”
With the Oct. 1 release of her first book, “Carried: How One Mother’s Trust in God Helped Her through the Unthinkable,” (Deseret Book, 192 pages), the mother of five shared her heartbreaking story of searching and eventually finding the body of her daughter, Annie, who died in a tragic hiking accident in October 2016.
The 21-year-old was last seen by her roommate before embarking on a solo hike in the Tooth Rock Trailhead area of Oregon. When Schmidt arrived at the airport a few days later to join her for a camping trip they’d planned, Annie never showed up.
Thus began the exhaustive search efforts through Oregon’s mountainous Columbia River Gorge that included family, friends, fans of her husband Jon Schmidt's group The Piano Guys, the LDS Church community and many strangers — both trained search teams and volunteers — who wanted to help. The incident received extensive news coverage in Oregon and Utah, and The Piano Guys’ Facebook page contained well wishes from thousands of fans around the world.
Even during what Schmidt described as “the darkest points of that experience,” she recalled moments that “carried” her, like the undeniable impression she felt early on that her vivacious and adventurous daughter had already passed away.
“As I was driving up to search for her, I distinctly felt her presence with me, not out there in the gorge,” Schmidt said. “Maybe it’s strange to call that a miracle because we don’t associate miracles with tragedies, but when I think back on the peace those feelings brought me during the search — that she wasn’t suffering — I can’t describe it in any other way.”
The book also details many of what Schmidt described as her "most vulnerable and personal experiences" where she felt God’s hand in her life.
“Raising five kids during Jon’s early career was financially stressful, there were many times we thought about quitting music and going in another direction,” Schmidt said. “Over and over again, though, we felt God assuring us that this was the right path for our family, even though it was a difficult one.”
In 2010, Jon Schmidt, a locally known pianist, agreed to join Paul Anderson in a social media strategy for Anderson's St. George area piano store, The Piano Guys. Soon, cellist Steven Sharp Nelson and music producer Al van der Beek came aboard and the group posted a series of piano-cello arrangements filmed in scenic locations on YouTube. Over time, they gained a worldwide following, reaching well over a billion views, scoring four No. 1 classical music albums and prompting multiple global tours.
Whether the outcome of life’s trials have been joyful or sorrowful, Schmidt said she has learned to trust in God and let him lead her.
“Time and time again I have felt that God has sustained me when I couldn’t go on myself — especially during that unthinkable time,” she said of losing Annie. “I really hope that my journey of being tutored by him will inspire others to trust him instead of succumbing to anger or bitterness.”
That’s not to say Schmidt doesn’t struggle daily with the loss of her daughter. Just a few weeks before Annie's disappearance, her twin sons left home to embark on missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They have since completed their service and returned home to their family in Provo, where they attend Brigham Young University.
“Having our boys come home and our family back together living under the same roof, I hoped it would fill the emptiness of Annie being gone,” said Schmidt, “But as it turns out, my mamma heart is four-fifths full. There is nothing that makes up for having my fifth child gone.”
She does, however, believe Annie is not gone forever. Schmidt believes God intended for families to be eternal, and hopes her book will share that message with those not of her LDS faith.
“I believe faith is under attack,” she said, recalling how she put away her writing after a while, convinced that it had merely been a therapeutic exercise. In time, however, she realized that her experiences could be an avenue to testify of God.
It's a practice she shares with her husband. Whether during concerts, on The Piano Guys’ Facebook feed or during interviews, Jon Schmidt and the rest of the group are eager to share their personal convictions.
“We need to strengthen each other’s faith and share our faith-promoting experiences,” she said.
“I decided that I have one little life and I’m going to use it to testify that God is real and he loves us.”
If you go …
What: Michelle Schmidt book signing
When: Saturday, Oct. 6, 4-5:30 p.m.
Where: City Creek Deseret Book, 45 W. South Temple
Correction: A previous version incorrectly stated Steven Sharp Nelson owned the St. George piano store The Piano Guys. The owner was Paul Anderson.