I grew up in a good Catholic family where we were dropped off each Sunday and on special holidays
Easter, Christmas etc we would all attend as a family. I liked reading the bible and almost did not qualify to be confirmed since what I was reading did not seem to agree with what the priest was saying. I was a teenager in the 60’s and did experience a little more life then my parents wanted me to. I grew up loving horses and when I had a chance to own and train one of my own I did, working two jobs to do it. I took a bad fall and broke my back but it took over a year before I would let anyone know how badly I was hurt. I needed and had a spinal fusion in 1971 given a 50% chance to walk after I came out of the body cast. I had to sell my wonderful horse Zarina since no one would care for her while I was laid up.
In the hospital I had my first brush with death when I became allergic to the morphine. Over and over I asked for my doctor throughout the night and when he came he told the nurses one more dose I would likely not have made it. Slow recovery and I held my wish to ride again close to my heart. When I met Steve a divorced father of two, I never mentioned horses or my lost dreams. Steve and I both worked for the same construction company and had to attend company-wide meetings. I was in charge of a land crew for three construction job sites and Steve was a supervisor. Twenty-Thirty men attended these meetings and myself. When I was asked what I was doing to handle my jobs the construction supervisors were all instructed to do what Shirley is doing.
There I was in the process of getting engaged, and Steve was hoping to get engaged – to different people. The first moment I saw Steve walk into the office doorway where I worked, my whole body and spirit reacted even though I did not know what that was at the time. We traveled to meetings together and the day I came in with an engagement ring Steve said “You can’t get married you’ve never gone out with me!” I knew if I wanted to go out with Steve I could not stay engaged. Breaking my engagement was a great decision since my former fiancee became very violent and knocked me out on the steering wheel of my car. My parents liked him but I refused to ever see him again or accept an apology.
After a short time of dating I went home to tell my parents I was moving in with Steve. I was told I was a disgrace and could never have contact with my three younger sisters. I was such a bad example. It did not matter that they had always told me to be truthful with them, each time I was, I faced consequences.
We started living together in March of 1972, I was so miserable missing my family. The end of April Steve proposed saying “he didn’t know if he loved me but would marry me.” I was elated ( I knew he loved me – he just didn’t know it yet ) and we both drove down to meet with my parents to give them our happy news. Then my parents said I didn’t deserve to wear white, they would not be a part of any wedding, and by the way are you pregnant? OK I understood marrying Steve meant getting excommunicated from the Catholic church but we both thought we would just go to his. That was a no go either, so we traveled to Vermont and were married by a Justice of the Peace on May 20th 1972.
Two weeks after we were married my doctor gave me the news I so longed to hear, I could ride again. Without even telling Steve I went out and bought the hottest barrel horse I could find. Steve was surprised but game and I taught this city boy how to ride. Unfortunately I had not learned a very important lesson, listen to your husband. Steve was laid up after having wisdom teeth removed and I wanted to ride, he told me not to, I went anyway. Two motorcycles spooked my horse while I was on the trail. I took a very bad fall landing on my face, imbedding my glasses around my eyes, skin torn and gone from left side of face and neck, pulled ribs from my sternum, cut my leg and broke my fusion although I did not know that until a few years later.
I was laid up for weeks and Steve gave away my horse, and I slowly recovered. We decided to agree on the next horse together and we also decided to buy a farm in Canada and move there.
While waiting for permission to immigrate I had my next brush with death. I had an infected hair follicle in my nose which landed me in the hospital with my head swelled all out of shape. None of the antibiotics were working the doctor told Steve to have the family gather at my bedside it was not looking good. I was pretty much out of it but the doctor proposed trying an experimental antibiotic drug, and I prayed about it and said yes. I know The Lord had a hand in keeping me around. A week after leaving the hospital the doctor could not recognize me I looked so different without all the swelling.
Steve and I went off to Woodstock, New Brunswick Canada in 1973 buying a very old family homestead which needed lots of fixing up. We lived 10 miles out of Woodstock on a very lightly traveled gravel road. We had horses and dogs becoming a part of the small community.
While there we decided to start a family, and our son Chris arrived on May 9th 1975. While pregnant we knew something was again very badly wrong with my back. I could barely walk and had all kinds of complications. Toximia, eclampsia and Chris arrived 3 1/2 weeks early. Without thinking when admitted to the hospital I had put down catholic. I had had Chris on a friday night and here it was Sunday, Mother’s day I was a mother for Mother’s day. I had not slept at all I was so excited. The local catholic priest walked in and asked me why I did not attend church. I explained having married Steve who was divorced. The priest said ” This is the product of your illicit union” in front of both Steve and I! We were in shock and told him to leave!
With Chris home from the hospital I tried to put the pain out of my mind and went riding and did clinics taking Chris with me. But very soon we realized I could not stand, walk, lift, do anything without terrible pain. Steve and I were worried, I had put off going to the doctor so long that when he told us I needed surgery again my odds were only 10% I would come out walking.
In April of 1976 I again had another spinal fusion, this time no body cast but unknown to us I was expecting and lost a child. A different pain medication was used other then morphine but it only took a day for me to know I was having an allergic reaction. I was in a striker bed and called for the nurse telling her I was going to pass out, get help, she started to comfort me but I was gone. I have no memory of those hours while they worked to bring me back. My roommate later told me I had the whole hospital floor in an uproar but again I recovered. But this time I was told I could never have more children and I could never ride a horse again. Before I was allowed to go home Steve had sold all the horses and would only let me know me where one was. What a depressing time but I slowly recovered and Steve, Chris and I were a family. Now we started to actively search for a church to belong to, one that would welcome all of us and that we could believe in.
On a saturday morning early in January 1977 Steve was up the hill in the back part of our property cutting wood. There was a knock on the door and two young men said ” We are Elders from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” I said “Great, we are looking for a church to belong to.” At the time we had no idea that they had been praying and fasting to find someone. Elder Meikle was leaving to go home and had not had any success in finding anyone who even looked promising for joining the church. Last chance last day, and the Elders found us. Elder Meikle and Elder Vandertoolen stayed and talked with me and after an hour or so Steve joined us.
Elder Meikle and I understood things about each other very quickly since before his mission he had had back surgery. I did offer the Elders lunch but they turned us down and left saying they would see us again but never made an appointment. Tuesday evening Elder Vandertoolen and Elder Murray come to our door just as we were going out. Steve turned them away. A second evening visit and again we were going out and Steve again turned them away. The third time the Elders walked around the house to the kitchen door and Steve said I had to handle it (thinking I would turn them away) I opened the door and welcomed them in. 🙂 What a wonderful night. We talked about so many things, we were given The Book of Mormon to read and we shared many things about our lives and experiences. That first night with all of us sitting in the living room together we also shared that we had ghosts or spirits in the house. Late at night we could hear children laughing from upstairs rolling a ball back and forth across the room. we did not use the upstairs it still needed fixing up.
As we talked about these ghosts or spirits we all had shivery feelings running up and down our arms etc. The Elders offered to bless the house and we agreed. I know the Elders had never done something like that before but they had the faith to know they could. Elder Vandertoolen gave a heartfelt prayer using his priesthood which he held, to release the spirits from the house and we all felt them depart. The shivery feeling I would always have each time I talked about these spirits was gone. I knew then that I needed to know more about this church, I felt it to be true already but I was not sure how Steve felt.
Now things moved rather quickly 2 sometimes 3 times a week the Elders came to give us a lesson and reading assignment. We always asked what was coming up next and would read up about it. While having these lessons it was like recalling a memory of something I already knew. I felt this radiating wonderful feeling all through me witnessing this was true. I never doubted that Joseph Smith could ask in faith and receive an answer. But I could not tell if Steve was hearing and feeling the same way. I held back my enthusiasm hoping that we would both decide together to be baptized. When we were invited to go to church Steve shaved off his full beard and I bought a dress. The meeting was held in a rented Wisemen’s Hall and was a tiny dependent sunday school . Sister Miller (88) her war damaged son Marshall, the two Elders and our small family. Later we did meet another active couple but what we did not know is they were moving to the Yukon Territory. We had supper with them two nights before our scheduled baptism where they sent us home with all kinds of books and manuals. We thought it was great to have so much to study and read.
I was so excited about our family getting ready to be baptized I wrote a letter to Spencer W. Kimball. I told him all about us, the Elders and how wonderful it felt knowing we were joining the true church. I still have the draft of the letter and his reply, I so did not understand who he was at the time, our prophet. But I was compelled to write and never questioned whether I should or not.
The day was set for 2/12/1977 all we would need to do is travel about an hour south to Fredricton where there was a branch with a building and font under the floor. The Elders also told us we would need to be interviewed by someone with more authority before we could proceed the same day to be baptized. The night before I was awake praying that I would be found worthy enough to be baptized and have a chance to have the slate rubbed clean. In that last interview we had to relay everything holding nothing back so we could be made clean from our sins.
The time arrived and we both were baptized and confirmed. I never felt so excited or clean the first thought in my head is I want to die now! But no it was not my time and we had many challenges a head of us. Steve was called to be the presiding Elder of our small dependent sunday school, and I was called to primary, relief society, chorister and gospel doctrine teacher. We loved it! We were learning so much going to distant meetings with all the leaders in the area. Since we really did not know what we were doing we had to depend on prayer and the promptings of the Holy Spirit. This was the beginning of our conversion but we continue to learn and understand more as we study, ponder, pray and face the challenges given us each day. I love our Heavenly Father, our Savior Jesus Christ and welcome the promptings of the Holy Spirit, I know this church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true. I am so thankful we were looking and were found by Elders searching for us. I leave this with you in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord Amen.
My upbringing was very different from Shirley. My parents were married and divorced 3 times, I was married and divorced before we had even met. I had never witnessed a marriage that lasted with love and family traditions. I was dropped off to the local Episcopalian church and only kept going because I loved to sing in the choir. After Shirley’s family disowned her I listened to Shirley who was heartbroken to lose contact with her very large extended family. I thought getting married would mend everything but it didn’t not as much as Shirley hoped. We wanted to have a farm for our horses & dogs. We could not afford one in CT but after visiting friends in Canada we made on offer on an old farmstead down the road. We had to strip everything from the house leaving the hand hewn beams held together with wooden pegs. We turned an old place without running water or electricity into a home but it was a work in progress the whole 8 years we lived there.
When we were in the hospital so happy having our son Chris, the priest who stopped in really frosted me! How could he insult us like that! This catholic priest had no knowledge of what we had gone through and we wanted nothing to do with him!
Then we began to look for a church we both could believe, attend and raise our son. We had friends that were Anglican, we went to their church and it did not feel right. We went to a Pentacoastal church and they were chanting as we came to the entrance. Decided not to even go in. So, we prayed in our own way that we would be directed by God to the correct church for us.
Not long after, I was thinning out our woods and I saw two young men pull off the road thru the woods. I thought it was strange that they stopped the car and appeared to be bowing their heads. Shortly after that they drove around to our home pulled in the driveway and went to the door. My wife Shirley let them in so I felt it was okay. Lunchtime I went to the house and got introduced to the “Elders” who said they were from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We did not know anything about it and listened intently to what they had to say.
We got off to a slow start, but as the lessons progressed everything they taught us made perfect sense to us. I particularly liked that there was no paid ministry. Word of wisdom, three distinct personages, and eternal marriage resonated with me.
We were baptized on February 12, 1977 and have not looked back since. The Church and teachings of Jesus Christ have been our rock thru many, many challenges and I do not think that we would have come through them had it not been for our steadfast faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.