Sandy Falter is a mother of six in Olympia, Washington, USA and in 2019, she faced a series of challenges: her marriage ended after almost thirty years, a daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and two family members passed away. She has drawn strength through prayer, the scriptures, and developing her relationship with our Heavenly Parents and the Savior.
Tell me about your background. When and how did you begin to develop a testimony of the gospel?
I grew up a member of the Church, I was raised by faithful parents in a big family. I’m the middle of seven kids and we lived on a dairy farm. We worked and prayed and played together, and fought and all the things you do as a family. I don’t remember not having a testimony.
Throughout my life, I have often felt unworthy of God’s love. I faced bullying and some significant trauma as a child and as a youth. I was born and raised in Utah, but I always say that I grew up in Washington. We moved there when I was 15 and my life changed. It was a good move for me. I definitely had to learn to stand on my own two feet. I was suddenly a minority as a member of the Church, and that was a really good experience for me to question, “Why do I believe?” and “Do I believe?” The answer for me was yes, I do. I feel it and I know it.
What practices or behaviors have helped you feel more peace in your life and strengthened your relationship with God as you’ve gone through your divorce and other challenges?
Obviously, the scriptures. I read my scriptures before, although I don’t necessarily have a consistent habit of hours of scripture study. Some nights, it’s just a verse. But when my ex-husband left, I needed God’s word. I needed to hear Him in a big way so I just dove into the scriptures.
I ordered a study guide before my husband left that was about women from the Bible. It sat on my desk until after he left and I looked at the title: Broken: Six Encounters with the God Who Mends. I thought, “That’s what I need to study.” When I started studying, I wasn’t even familiar with all the stories, but as I studied the first story, Tamar, from the Bible—studying her brokenness and the process of her healing—it was amazing that it was just the right words, everything was what I needed to hear.
When I opened myself up to hearing His word, it wasn’t even necessarily what I was reading. Sometimes it just took me off on a thought and the Spirit spoke to me. I just so desperately needed to hear Him, and that is where I found so much strength.
In studying those stories from the Bible, did the fact that they were women have special resonance to you to see that God saw His daughters then and He sees you now? Did you feel that connection?
The fact that I was studying about women was very important to me, I needed that. I needed to hear their stories, their struggles and their resilience, and that they were seen in their trials.
After my ex-husband left, I was so devastated, and my heart felt shattered. I didn’t know how to even get up the next day, I didn’t know how to function. I didn’t know how I was going to do anything. Sometimes even breathing was hard. I remember feeling, What did I do wrong? I started taking all of this blame, and reliving anything I’d ever done wrong. I prayed for forgiveness of anything I could think of and asked to be able to feel God’s love for me because I felt so unloved at that time. I was so broken and I just needed to feel His love.
One afternoon as I poured out my heart in prayer, my answer came as a tangible feeling of a hug from my dad, who had passed the year before. What better way to know that our Father in Heaven and even our Heavenly Mother love us than to feel an embrace from a parent who has passed on? I could move forward from there, and I don’t need to go back to that place, because He’s told me that He loves me. So when I’m feeling bad, I just need to go back to that place and receive that witness. I don’t need to question this, I can move forward.
How do you go back? Do you journal moments like that or do you just remember them?
I’ve rarely journaled, but when I’ve had significant spiritual experiences, I’ve journaled them. When my mind was spinning after my ex-husband left, I learned to journal more. That was a coping skill that I’m really glad I learned. I journaled that experience feeling God’s love and it’s a beautiful thing to read again.
What were some other things you learned as you were studying the scriptures?
After my ex-husband left, I questioned everything. Was it right? Should I have not gotten married? Was the last thirty years a lie? We had struggles and we had kids who struggled with different things—there is no perfect family, but I felt like things were good. So when it suddenly ended, I wondered, did I make the wrong choice?
I had to really think about that. The lesson I learned is that my choices were right and there was a lot of good in there. I have my six children and honestly, I was happy. We had challenges in our marriage and in our family and struggles in all that, but I was happy. So I can confidently say, it was the right thing, it wasn’t a mistake. But the divorce happened. We live in a messy world, and God still sees me.
I know I have a purpose. I’m still a mother and a grandma. I want my kids to know that I still believe in eternal families, in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and in God’s promises. We’re mortal and we make mistakes, and it gets messy in this world, but God is a God of order. We can’t understand it because we see things through a mortal brain. But God loves and wants all His children to return, and He keeps His promises. When I start questioning where I fit in the Kingdom of God as a divorced woman, I hold tight to the things I know, not the unknown.
When I started reading the Book of Mormon intently, I noticed that God prepares us. He always prepares a way. I had started reading the Book of Mormon over again just before my husband left. I was looking for patterns, and one of the patterns is that God always delivers His people. He always prepares a way.
I thought, “Okay, when something bad happens, then He will prepare a way.” But as I read the scriptures I realized, no, the planning goes on way before that. It’s not a coincidence that Ishmael had just the right number of daughters, even one for Zoram. That’s not a coincidence, Heavenly Father knew and prepared a way in advance. That kind of preparation is found all throughout the Book of Mormon. God prepared a way for Ammon to convert the people of Limhi, and Abish, a woman of faith, was part of that preparation. God prepared the mothers of the stripling warriors to prepare their sons. I saw that pattern and recognized that He had prepared me.
Besides starting the Book of Mormon over again…you were already in it when things hit, in what other ways did He prepare you?
I think my callings prepared me and even our business. Because of my childhood trauma and being bullied, I had low self-esteem and self-worth. When I was called as Stake Young Women president, I had a Stake Presidency who truly knew how to counsel, and if I wasn’t speaking up in a meeting, they would say, “Sister Falter, we want to know what you think about this.” My voice mattered. I think this was one of the first times I realized, my voice matters. I have life experiences and I have strengths that I can add to the table. That grew something inside me that was dormant. I recognized I can do this. I can add value here. I felt empowered for the first time in my life. And that was huge.
I recently taught the oldest youth Sunday School class in my ward. Every calling I’ve had teaches me something, and in that class, I learned how to be vulnerable. As they were vulnerable, there was a greater connection. We don’t have to be perfect, we can let other people see our struggles.
What allowed you to be able to do that? Was it seeing their vulnerability and feeling like you had to respond in kind?
Absolutely. They taught me that lesson. I felt safe in their vulnerability because there was so much love in that group. I’m still growing up in Washington! It was just beautiful to watch them share their hurt, share their questions, share their struggles, and help each other work through it. I always thought I had to be the example and that meant I couldn’t be vulnerable. That experience with the youth taught me about vulnerability and that’s where you really have connection and grow.
That led me into being Relief Society President. That was a calling I didn’t expect and didn’t want. Honestly, I wanted to stay right where I was, teaching my Sunday School class. But I think that calling was one hundred percent for me because it stretched me. It was a year before this tragic event in my life, and there were lessons I needed to learn. Some of the preparing-the-way for me was that as Relief Society President, sometimes you know way more than you wish you did about struggles in the ward. That calling helped me recognize that everyone has a struggle. They may look like the perfect family on Sunday, but they have struggles, we all do. It gave me more compassion to treat everyone with more kindness and not to judge.
Having those experiences really prepared my heart and my mind. Most importantly, it gave me confidence in myself.
In what sense? In your ability to receive revelation or answers to prayers? Or just that you can do things?
That I can do things. That I have worth, I have abilities, I am loved, I am enough. I could share my struggles and be open, and instead of feeling like I was less than because I shared, I felt connection. It’s such a beautiful experience because it also taught me to be vulnerable with my children. I always thought, I’m the Mom and they don’t have to see that I have all these weaknesses and bad habits or whatever. Being vulnerable with my kids has been the greatest blessing in our relationship.
We are all going to have trials, and sometimes they come all at once, and that’s how it happened with us. My husband had all these health issues and then he left. Ten days later, my daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor. My kids and I started a gratitude journal listing all the blessings we saw and the ways we saw God’s hand. We prayed and we fasted and we had faith in the Lord’s timing and a miracle happened. Absolutely a miracle, the doctor doesn’t know how to explain it any other way—what the doctor thought was cancer wasn’t.
A couple of months later, my son and daughter-in-law had their first baby, and there were complications with the birth. The baby was life flighted and spent three weeks in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). This was right after our school shut down for COVID. I could have thought, “Man, our school just shut down, this is terrible.” But what I thought was, “Because school is shut down, I can pack up my daughter, and hit the road.” So I spent three weeks helping my son and his wife and my cute grandson.
I can see God’s hand in the timing of these events. If we look for it, we can see it, and I’m just so grateful for that. Gratitude is one of the things that has helped me through this and helped me to not become bitter.
The other thing is turning my heart to God. When you are hurt, when things are unfair, it’s okay to be angry. That’s a feeling I need to go through and experience, but I can’t let it sit, I can’t let it fester. I have to release it and fill it with something else. For me, compassion is the easiest thing for me to fill that space. One night, I was so angry—there had been an exchange of emails that were very hurtful and I was really angry and struggling. I didn’t have good thoughts, I was very bitter. I prayed, “I don’t want to feel this way, I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but this is how I’m feeling right now. Please help me.”
I went to bed, saying not very nice words about the situation, and woke up the next morning filled with love. That’s the power of turning it to the Lord and was a really powerful lesson for me. If the Lord did it once, I know the pattern, so when things get really hard again, in any circumstance in life, I know I can just let it go. I can tell Him how hurt I feel. I can say, “I am feeling this way and I’m really angry. I don’t want to be, but I am.” I can let go, and I can let Him turn and change my heart. That’s powerful.
Do you think that some of the experiences you’ve had with vulnerability, like with your Sunday School class and your kids–did those experiences help you to be more vulnerable with your Heavenly Father?
100%. Yes. Those experiences prepared me. I knew I had loving Heavenly Parents. I knew I had a Savior that atoned for my sins. But I still felt like I had to earn it. I was obedient because I wanted to be obedient, I always had a desire to do the right thing. But I also was obedient because I wanted to be enough. I wanted to do the right things to make it. As I have gone through some of these experiences, what I have learned is that instead of having routines and rituals and habits, the most important thing is a relationship. It’s a mind-shift from prayer being a rote thing to, “I really need you, I’m really hurting, and I don’t know what to do.”
Being vulnerable with Him helped me recognize that He really is a loving Father. I’ve never had a relationship with our Heavenly Mother. I’ve never really thought much about it. But there were times that I needed Her, and Her wisdom and Her love. I prayed to feel that, and I did. That was remarkable.
And it was whole mind-shift of just knowing something, but then having an experience and it becomes very real. I don’t know if there is a difference between knowing something and having it be real, but that’s kind of what happened to me, so then my motivations were different.
What made it difficult for you to create that kind of relationship before?
I think it was a combination of insecurity, and probably pride, too. I grew up with the mindset of “walk it off, dig in and get to work.” I think it was both insecurity and a little bit of pride that made me think I should do it on my own.
When my pride was stripped and I was knocked off a pedestal, knowing about God was not enough. I could no longer do it alone. I needed a relationship with my Heavenly Parents and Jesus. I can see what a great blessing it was to me to be humbled. The Atonement means so much more to me now, because I’ve lived it, and like the people of Alma in Mosiah 24, I’ve learned how the Savior lifts our burdens, how He carries them with ease. It’s true, it can happen. If we are yoked to Him, He will deliver us and lighten our burdens. I go to that passage of scripture often because it teaches me how the strengthening and enabling power of the Atonement really works and how I can use it in my life.
I love that. As you were talking about some of the things you have learned, I wondered how you feel the Lord has prepared you to be the head of your family now?
Yeah, that is really scary and hard. Again, the Lord’s timing. A week after my ex-husband left, the Prophet gave his talk, “Spiritual Treasures,” where he told women to learn about the Priesthood, and learn about our access to the Priesthood, to study D&C 25 and the other sections. I took that very seriously because I needed to figure this out. And he said in there: if someone tells you that you don’t have the priesthood in your home, they are wrong. You don’t have a priesthood holder, but you have the priesthood if you’ve made covenants in the temple and you honor those covenants. That gave me so much hope, it gave me confidence, and so I started to study. I went to the temple a lot and tried to listen, and I learned new things. I mean, I’ve been going to the temple for 28 years, and I was learning new things and seeing things so differently. It was beautiful to recognize how much the Lord prepares us and that we do have access to Priesthood power. We can lead our families.
I told my son that I really wanted to dedicate our house and said, “maybe I’ll have a family friend come do that.” He said, “Mom, you can do that.” That thought had never come to me, and you know what, I can. I can do that. I am the leader in our home, and I do have priesthood power through my covenants to guide me and to bless my family. That’s what it’s for: to bless.
The prophet said we have the right to draw liberally on the Savior’s power for our families. Wow. I took it seriously. I have the right, now I need to figure out what it means to draw upon the Savior’s power, how do I do it? I’ve made that a study, and I think that’s a lifelong study. I keep learning, I think I’m just barely starting to understand the magnitude of His power and what we have access to.
Thank you, I love that. Is there anything else that you wanted to say?
One thing that helped me is before my husband and I split up, I had started writing down some affirmations that I was going to say every day. I had two affirmations that I woke up and said every day after this happened. One was, “I choose hope.” The other was, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
I would get up and say those every day, and throughout the day—”I choose hope, I can’t go into this place of despair, I’m choosing to have hope. And I know I can do all of this through Christ, through His power.” I think that it’s very empowering to remind ourselves every day of our own capability to choose. I can choose how I respond, I can choose how I react, I can choose to follow. It’s all a choice. I can wake up and say, today I choose to do this, and I can do all these things because I have Christ.
That has helped me feel empowered. Empowered was my word to focus on in 2021. It means to be strong in God. I’m not this tough lady who can just do it all on my own. To be empowered is letting go of control and letting the Lord prevail. I am going to work hard at allowing the Lord to lead me and take me places and help me become so much more than I can imagine. I have come to define empowerment as choosing my path of discipleship, choosing to let Christ guide me to greater heights and glorious blessings. It’s not a weakness to include God.
When you were talking about priesthood power, that’s the ultimate sense of empowerment, isn’t it? He literally lets us borrow His power, we are empowered by His power.
That’s exactly it, and tapping into Christ’s power makes me empowered. When I tap into that and let Him into my life and into my heart, oh, I’m mighty. I’m mighty in His strength when I let Him in. His work will go forth, and it will go forth through me because I’m allowing it. That’s why my focus has been on being empowered, holding my head up, taking a deep breath, moving forward each day yoked with Christ. It’s hard, I get knocked down, and you know, I lay in bed too much and scroll on my phone or play mindless games, or whatever it is. But then, “No no no, I can do this, I can get back up again, and let’s do this.”
I have learned that the Lord is patient with us. I think He knows that sometimes we need to lay in bed, it’s okay to have that time to just hunker down and feel the feelings and let it all work through us. Then get up and He’ll help us take that next step. He meets us where we are, again and again, and helps us become more!
At A Glance
Name: Sandy Falter
Location: Washington State
Marital History: Divorced
Occupation: Real Estate Professional
Convert to the Church: No
Schools Attended: Some college
Languages Spoken At Home: English
Favorite Hymn: Be Still My Soul
Interview Produced By: Erin Smith