Episode 98 is my interview with Anya Guerra, a wife and mom to four kids ages 22-3. Listen to hear how she came to view motherhood as discipleship as well as how she welcomed a new baby with a house full of teenagers. You’ll also hear how Anya lovingly built a relationship with a child who made choices contrary to what Anya and her husband had taught.
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Darla: [00:02:00] Welcome to the Spiritually Minded Mom podcast. This is Darla and I am so excited that you’re here today as always. Thank you so much for, for tuning in. I have a great guest for you today. Her name is Anya Guerra, and she has been married for 24 years to her husband. And she’s the mother of four children ages 22 to three.
You heard that, right? Her first kids are 22, 20 and 17, and then she has a gap of 14 years and she has a three-year-old. So, I really want to talk to her a little bit more about that. That sounds like a really interesting journey. And now her family is continuing to grow with her older children getting married, and she is just really excited about this new stage of life.
She has a bachelor’s degree in humanities from the University of Calgary. And she loves all things, literature, and she loves to learn, and she loves nature and spending as much time as she can around outside and having adventures and in nature is where she feels close to heaven. She says that it fills her up and renews her soul.
She gets that same feeling when she is immersing herself in gospel study or temple attendance. So, Anya, thank you so much for being here tonight.
Anya: [00:03:10] Thank you for having me.
Darla: [00:03:11] So happy to learn more about you and talk about your motherhood story. Okay. So, I want to lead off with something that you told me when we were prepping for the interview, and that was that motherhood done right is simply discipleship. And you shared with me a quote that I want to share. And then I want you to tell me what this quote means to you. So, this is by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, and he said, “Love is the beginning, the middle and the end of the pathway of discipleship.” And you told me that you felt like we could substitute the word motherhood in there for discipleship.
So, tell me what that means to you.
Anya: [00:03:48] Well, I was recently studying that talk about love and it kind of just really stuck out to me that, that. My path as a mother is discipleship, and that you could put motherhood in there because really whether it’s the good times and when it’s easy to love them, you know, when they’re cuddly or just their sweet little faces or when it’s hard. And you’re looking at pictures of them when they’re little, because now they’re teenagers and they’re, don’t want to listen anymore. That love comes in just as important or maybe more important. And I like that the idea of it being a path. You always need that one characteristic is, is the most important one that you have for finding joy in your life and in your role as mother.
Darla: [00:04:46] I really love that thinking of motherhood as discipleship because I know what I’ve learned about motherhood is just that it’s about who we become. It’s really not so much about raising perfect kids or, you know, having them do all the right things.
It’s, it’s really about who we become and it’s about our relationship with God and with our Savior, so that, I think that is just the perfect way to view motherhood. I love that. So, I want to back up and talk about, you had these three teenagers. And then you had a baby. So, tell me about that time in your life and what was that transition like?
Anya: [00:05:22] Well, I wasn’t sure. I took the pregnancy test and I was like, no, this can’t be real. The fourth pregnancy test. I was like, I just sat down. I was actually at my naturopath, and I sat down in the chair and I looked out the window and right in my view was the temple spires. And it was at that moment that I realized that, yes, I was going to have this blessing of having another baby.
And it wasn’t a mistake and that this is part of God’s plan for me. And I, I just thought it was an amazing tender mercy or maybe a blessing. I don’t know what you would call it. Just like looking out the window and seeing the temple and just knowing that that was like Heavenly Father’s way of comforting me and strengthening me for, for something new.
Darla: [00:06:25] So you have this experience right when you find out that you’re pregnant. So, you see the temple, you feel peace, you know that this is God’s plan for you. How did it play out from there? Did you ever have times where you’re like, what, what is going on? How did your family react?
Anya: [00:06:40] Yes, it was very difficult because we wanted more kids, but I’ve come to the terms that we’re not going to have more kids. My husband had already had two heart attacks. And so, I was like, you know what, I can just be happy with my life. The kids didn’t come, and I was moving on.
And that’s kind of when it was like, Oh, you’re going to have another kid. Okay. So, it was like, my plan was a whole ripped up. If I had my, my life was a map and this, it happened more than once in my life. I have my perfect map. Heavenly Father’s like just rip it up into neat little corners and then rearranges the order of it and says, no, this is actually what you need.
And so that takes an adjustment. So, I’m, I was planning my husband and I were planning, Oh, are you going to go on a mission? As soon as our youngest goes, you know, leaves home. And we have all these other plans, good plans, but apparently not the best plans. So that was difficult. my other, my two kids that were still at home, my two teenagers that were still at home with me at the time were super excited.
They thought, well, it was actually, I was, so I was sick, and I hadn’t told them yet and I was feeling bad. And then my daughter said, I’m going to Google your symptoms. And I was kind of like, ah, so she Googled her symptoms and she said, well, it’s telling me you either have diabetes or you’re pregnant. And I’m like, Hey, you know, I know like I am and. And it’s like, yeah, we’re going to have another baby. And so, she was super excited about it. They cried like, like a spiritual experience, kind of a cry. And then I video called my daughter who was at BYU Hawaii to let her know. And she just bawled, like sad tears. She cried and cried. And I said, what’s the matter?
She’s like, you’re replacing me. She felt like I was, we were replacing her, and she cried. But, eventually, you know, you come to terms with it and she came home from that semester and I had the baby and 10 days later, she went on her mission. So that was a hard separation for her. Like she instantly fell in love with the, I mean, when you hold the baby, you fall in love.
Right. And so yeah, this little one was instantly adored and belonged in our family.
Darla: [00:09:14] I love that. I know one thing you told me before was that you’re a type A personality, so, type A personality so you like all your ducks in a row, you like things to be just so, so how did you deal with, you said, you know, you mentioned that it was like God ripping up your little path and moving everything around. How did you deal with that?
Anya: [00:09:35] Well, at the time I was also dealing with one of my own children not wanting to be in the gospel. And not wanting to go to church and not following all the things that I had spent so much time and effort to teach her and, so life was kind of not what I wanted it to be at that moment anyway. So Heavenly Father was already beginning to teach me bit by bit that he knew better than I did. And that my plan, wasn’t His plan. And so, I had already been learning that. I mean, I have the baby, like being married for like 20 years. So, in the last 20 years, I’d been learning bit by bit that sometimes my way isn’t the best way.
So, I had been blessed in that way, like a tender mercy I would call it to be learning that I needed to, to trust Heavenly Father and depend on Him and just kind of submit my will. In order to find that joy on the path that he was giving me.
Darla: [00:10:49] I love that. So, you mentioned that you found joy. What were some of the other blessings of just submitting your will of this new child coming into your home? What were some of the tender, mercies or blessings that you saw from that?
Anya: [00:11:01] The biggest thing that it brought into our home was love. There is this precious spirit from heaven. And you can’t deny that feeling when you hold a newborn baby. And, so I was, you know, a little bit at odds with my, with my daughter who wanted to make her own way as should be. It was difficult for me to come to terms with that.
But it united us. I had something else to focus on beside s what I thought was an imperfection. So, I had something else to focus on. And not only that, but it united my daughter and I in something that we could be on common grounds with. And with that godly love, because we’re united as a family for eternity. And you feel that bond, with a baby, for sure. So that was the biggest blessing. I had something else to focus on. I had something to unify us as a family, something good to unify us and it’s has honestly, it has just been so fun. So, I have been loving, I won’t say every minute. Cause all mothers know you don’t love every minute.
Darla: [00:12:21] That’s so great. I love what you say about love and I’m just picturing, you know, you talked earlier about the path kind of not going the way you wanted it to, and God was tearing it up and putting it in a different order. But it sounds like from what you’re telling me that it was perfect timing, like God’s timing was perfect to teach you the things that you needed to know and to deal with the things that were happening in your life.
Anya: [00:12:44] Yeah. And that’s something that I’ve been learning. Maybe I’m a slow learner but thank goodness. I really had no choice. I could either be miserable or I could trust God and enjoy it. And I have been enjoying it
Darla: [00:12:58] I think that’s so good. So I would love to talk more about your experience with your older daughter and with her pulling away from the church and what that was like for you and how were you feeling when all of that was just beginning and you started to realize that she wasn’t choosing what you had taught her, her whole life?
Anya: [00:13:20] Yeah. Well, I think it’s. It’s kind of hard to talk about. We don’t like talking about it because you don’t look like a perfect parent when you talk about it. But so realizing that there was nothing that I could do even to make it perfect, to make it right was hard. And at the beginning, it was really painful and it felt like I lost a child and that I was mourning the loss of a child and being able to stay close to Heavenly Father through prayer and scripture and temple attendance allowed Him to show me the lies that I lost a child and, at the times were hard, really. So, I would go to the temple. I would read the scriptures and when my husband and I, we would talk about it and it was a bit harder for him, I think, because I don’t know daughters and daddy a good bond, but it was devastating as parents.
And when we read the scriptures, we, we were discussing one day and we said, you know, I never thought that when the scripture says pray for those who hate you and despitefully use you that it could mean your own child. Because at the time there was a lot of dishonesty, lies. Just hurt really. And just one way on both going both ways between the parent and child, and that didn’t go away until I, I guess, allowed it to go away. So, I had to trust Heavenly Father that He loves my daughter and He has a plan for her. And just like I trust Him with my plan, I have to trust Him with her plan.
And so, my prayers changed and really focused on what I could do, what I was doing, what I would say, how I would show love, how I would connect positively, how I could share still gospel experiences. Instead of focusing on getting her to seminary, getting her to church, getting her to, you know, all the things that we think are going to save our kids, but if they don’t choose it, it’s not saving them.
Darla: [00:15:49] And if you don’t come out of that with a relationship with them, you can’t do anything for them. So, it sounds like you went through a lot and, you know, learned a lot. And I think it goes right back to what we talked about at the beginning that, you know, you were learning how to be a disciple of Jesus Christ through this child and, and through that relationship.
So, you know, it sounds like you worked through a lot, but that now, I know you’ve told me before we started the interview that you have a relationship with this child and they’re part of your family. So, you’ve mentioned a little bit about going to the temple and praying. What were some of the other things that were changing inside of you that helped you to realize I just want to have a relationship and not worry about controlling them or taking away their agency.
Anya: [00:16:36] It’s kind of hard to pinpoint. I think that prayer was a big thing of it. Like just changing myself and my outlook on it and think that realizing that things were going to be okay. And. I could see that she was still trying to be respectful to me. She knew what was important to me, and she would still try to abide by those things that she knew were really important to me, and I tried to do that as well, to be respectful because the way that you speak to your child is the way they’re going to speak to you. I mean, if you have a two-year-old, you know, you hear yourself, right? And so, I couldn’t really expect her to be calm and respectful if I couldn’t do those things.
And especially at a time where she might’ve been making choices that I thought were maybe scary for her health and safety, I needed her to be able to talk to me about that and to know that she could come and depend on me for help if she ever wanted to. And so that became my most important goal was just having a relationship so that if she needed me, she would tell me.
Darla: [00:17:53] So, what would you say to a mom who’s listening to your story and they want to get to where you’re at with having that relationship and building the bond with their child and just showing that love. What would you say to that mom who kind of doesn’t know, isn’t feeling hope that that’s going to happen? What would you give them as advice or guidance having been someone that’s been there?
Anya: [00:18:17] I think one of the best pieces of advice I got because of course, you’re going to talk to your friends that may have this experience. Connecting, connecting is really important.
So, I guess that’s what I would say first is connect with someone and be real. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to feel like you’re a failure if you talk to somebody that will definitely help you. And the best piece of advice that somebody told me or wisdom, I guess, was it feels like they’re doing it to you, but they’re not. They’re not doing it to you.
And so that helped me to kind of let go of the pain and realize, okay, they’re not doing it to me. This is their journey. This is what they’re choosing. That is the plan, to choose. And it’s super hard to let that go, but once I let that go, I could turn basically, in order to do that, you have to apply the atonement of Jesus Christ in your life.
You’re telling Heavenly Father that you believe Him when He says that He loves you and He will help you. And at that time, when you turn to God and ask for help and relief with intent to follow through, then you receive it. And so, all that contention went away. So, we still had our house rules, our family rules and expectations. But the contention went away when I accepted that I cannot control my child and I shouldn’t want to control. The atonement allows me to heal to receive that healing through the love of Jesus Christ.
Darla: [00:20:07] Everything that you’ve said in this whole interview, I just see one word being woven through all of it. And that is love. You said that you had contention, well, then you started to focus on the opposite of that, which is love.
And, everything just seems to be coming back to that Christlike love, unconditional love. So, how do you think a mother develops that love like the Savior has? What do you think that looks like?
Anya: [00:20:36] It looks like a lot of work. It’s all intentional. I think when I think of love, I think of like some of the prophets like President Monson, President Nelson, you just feel their happiness and their love.
And then I think, okay, they’re, you know, in their eighties, their nineties, all, maybe I’ll be like that when I’m 80 or 90. So you have to give yourself like grace, room to grow. And Heavenly Father knows if you want to, to, grow and change and He’ll help you. And then that has been my biggest, I don’t know, magical formula, really listening to the prophets and following through. They really know what they’re talking about.
So, when they say immerse yourself in the scriptures and you’ll have miracles in your relationships, in your family, it comes true that their promise is always are fulfilled because they speak the words of the Lord and the Lord always keeps his promises. So, it takes introspective work.
You have to look at your life and say, what do I need to get better at? And that’s not always pretty or comfortable. And then when you try to make changes, I mean, it doesn’t come instantly and it’s not always pretty or comfortable when you’re trying to go through those changes as well. But I found that when I pray in the morning and tell Heavenly Father my goals and what I need His help with, and I read my scriptures that during the day I feel that help with little reminders. Like my mom’s voice are you, is that a respectful tone of voice or you’re sounding a little grumpy right now, you know, like it takes time and effort, but every time sometimes I stop in the middle of my day and I can’t always go and kneel down. Sometimes I have to go kneel down, but I’ll ask Heavenly Father, you know, I don’t feel very nice right now. Can you please help me to feel nice to feel happy? And because I have an intent to change my mood or my attitude, it always happens. And because I made that choice, right? To turn to the Lord and ask for that help. And he always delivers.
Darla: [00:23:01] I think that’s really beautiful to be able to know in your life that you can rely on Him and that He is there. Two things that I’m kind of hearing as you’re, as you’re talking, one is you’re describing humility perfectly. And that is another one of those attributes that Christ had like love. We’ve already talked about love, humility, and that’s what helps us to grow. And that’s what helps us to learn to trust Him. I also love, I think humility comes into play too. I’m kind of backing up. You talked about finding someone that you can talk to, and certainly we can talk to our Heavenly Father, but he also sometimes helps us through other people.
And so not being afraid to share, you know, because I think, I think it’s easy for a mom to say, Oh, my kid left the church. So, I’m a failure. Or look at all the things I did wrong. So, it’s kind of a double-sided coin. You can’t be all puffed up and say, look at all the great things my kid did. They went on a mission and they did this and they did this. And on this other side of the coin, we can’t beat ourselves up because they left. So, so I really, I really see in your story, learning humility and just another one of those Christlike attributes and coming back to discipleship with your motherhood and just being able to open up to other people, like we don’t have to, well, what would you say about this?
Anya: [00:24:27] I’m a super private person, so that’s hard for me. Like I made the decision to be vulnerable with like the sisters that came to visit me, like my minister sharing assignment. I don’t know what they’re called, ministering sisters. Like, I made that choice consciously to be vulnerable because I needed connection. Heavenly Father helped me see that I needed connection and that required me to be vulnerable and to trust other people. And that it’s difficult for me kind of feels like you’re weak if you need other people, that’s a little bit how I was raised, but I find that there’s strength in sharing with each other. And so, I’ve tried to be more vulnerable. And it also brings a richness to your life. It’s enriching and connect. You know, when we connect with each other, we share our testimonies and that’s really how we grow and how we learn from each other.
Darla: [00:25:28] I think you’re so right about that. When you were talking, I was thinking about if you’re not connecting with someone and you’re going through sorrow and you’re going through difficulty and it’s kind of dark if you’re just pulling in and that’s where Satan wants you to stay, but once you get it out in the open and you have someone that you can talk to, then it feels like that’s what can help you bring light in.
Anya: [00:25:52] That resonates with me. We need each other. Definitely.
Darla: [00:25:55] We totally do. Yeah, totally. And I think a lot of what our prophet is asking us to do to share how we hear Him and to learn more about the priesthood power and all of that. I think it’s a way for us to connect and as women. We need each other, totally.
So, what would you say just to kind of wrap up? What would you say is your, main message about motherhood? Kind of what you’ve learned. You’ve been a mother for what? 22 years, right? Your oldest is 22.
Anya: [00:26:25] Like I’m a pro, right? You would think it’s fourth time around, you know, with that much experience would be, would be a breeze.
I think one of my main messages of motherhood would be is motherhood is difficult and no matter how many parenting books you read, you’re always going to have to turn to the answer book of life, which is what my seminary teacher gave the name to the Book of Mormon. And so once you discover the answer book of life or the Book of Mormon, you will discover that you’re not alone in this journey and that God is with you and he’ll help you and give you the exact answers you need for your perplexing problems, whether it be about potty training or your heart wrenching problems, what am I going to do with my teenage son who won’t get out of bed and go to seminary?
Darla: [00:27:27] So you kind of already answered this, but I’m going to ask you anyway, how have you seen him felt your Heavenly Parents as your partners in motherhood?
Anya: [00:27:36] I think it really does come down to that personal revelation, whether it’s in your own private moments trying to change and develop these Christlike qualities or the answers to questions that I received. So. when I read the scriptures or listen and study general conference talks, I receive answers to specific questions. That’s how I know I’m not alone.
Or when I get those promptings to, speak a little bit softer or let it go. That’s how I know I’m not alone. And when I feel that comforting and strengthening the love of my Savior when I go through difficult trials, that’s how I know I’m not alone.
Darla: [00:28:23] Well put. I’ve loved hearing your story and your encouragement to other moms is amazing. I know that it’s going to help someone else. So, Anya, thank you so much for being willing to share your story and your time and your testimony.
Anya: [00:28:37] Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed having a discussion with you today.