One person can literally make all the difference in the world. You never know who is watching and whose life you are changing..
Last evening I was visiting with my daughter about her difficulties in being a Young Women’s leader in a ward where only two of the thirty-three young women on the records were coming to Young Women’s. The problem in many cases was that the parents were not supportive, either because they thought other things more important, or because they had only a very fragile testimony themselves.
She thought she had depressed me. On the contrary. I asked her to remember that my parents had actively opposed any kind of church attendance, temple marriage, and had specifically advised me before I went to Stanford that if I needed to drink or smoke in order to be accepted that I should do so.
It is possible to be the one that will change the family’s perspective on the gospel. My daughter, in her calling, has the opportunity to be that one.
What I am about to relate may be emotionally difficult to read, so before I do, I want to say that I was born with a stubborn spirit and a flawed brain. That stubborn spirit is like an unbending piece of steel that goes all through me, and saved me from taking my life at any time during twenty-five years of bi-polar disorder. The other two major blessings that showed me that the Lord was especially mindful of my needs were 1.) a one-in-a-million husband who stayed with me and never even considered abandoning me during those twenty-five years (see his account of how he handled this Deliverance from Depression: Finding Hope and Healing Through the Atonement of Christ and I Need Thee Every Hour and 2.) a miracle of modern medicine that manages my illness so that I have been able to live an ordinary life for the last five years. I am the first one as far back as I go in my genealogy that was not institutionalized for life because of mental illness. So, you see, the Lord has blessed me greatly.
To get on with my story, I was born into a family who knew virtually nothing about the gospel. My father had told my mother when he married her that he did not want his children to have anything to do with the Mormon church. I don’t know how strong her testimony was at that point, but after being raised by an inactive mother, she had taken the missionary lessons with a cousin when she was fourteen. They were baptized. Then my mother went to Stanford, and though she never broke the Word of Wisdom or the law of chastity, she didn’t go to church.
Having been raised as an unwanted, neglected child, she had little knowledge of how to be a mother. Nevertheless, she had three children and on Sundays, she attempted to give us some kind of religious education. First, she took us to my father’s church (though he never attended). It didn’t feel right to her, so she took us to another Protestant church. We went there for long enough for me to remember it. I will never know what prompted her dissatisfaction, but she finally stopped taking us there, and in defiance of my father, took us to Sunday School at the local LDS church. Though I was only eight, I could feel the difference immediately. I loved it. I came home every Sunday and gave the sacrament to my dolls.
Three years later, we had a devoted home teacher who was a jet propulsion scientist. My father respected his intellect, and so he was allowed to visit. He was a one in my life, because he eventually convinced my father to let him baptize my little brother and me. We continued to go to Sunday School, but my mother just dropped us off. For a short time, she was the secretary, but she stopped going because she wasn’t living the Word of Wisdom and told the President that she was unworthy. We were forbidden to go to church again for Sacrament Meeting.
When I became a member of Young Women, I began to be more proactive. I knew that underneath my father loved me and so I insisted that he allow me to go to Sacrament Meeting. For years I went alone, but my father came once when I gave a 2 ½ minute talk.
My teenage years proved to be extraordinarily difficult for several reasons:
1.) My mother became severely abusive. After discussing things with my sister, we have come to the conclusion that she was seriously mentally ill, but we have no idea what the illness was. Home became a scary place with my parents continually screaming at each other, and my father’s long absences on business trips in South America. It contrasted so much with what I was being taught about families at church, that I was ashamed. I never told anyone what my home was like. Ironically, at this time, my mother started going to week-day Relief Society because she loved to cook and they put her on the luncheon committee. Gradually, she started coming to church. My mental disconnect between church and home became very difficult to sustain. She had “invaded” my safe place and her friends were my teachers in Sunday School and MIA. They knew nothing of what went on in our home. For some reason, I began to think I was a “bad” girl. Wanting to be good, I listened to everything I was taught. The Lord gave me another one—my Young Women MIA Maid leader. To this day, I remember her lesson on temple marriage. I made a promise to myself to be married in the temple.
This commitment cost me dearly in the short run, because I invariably became involved with non-members that my parents urged me to marry. This became a huge issue for my mother. Her abuse carried her into such extremes that, even though she has been dead for many years, I can’t discuss them. I felt like a tortured prisoner who could not escape.
2.) Going to church and being involved in MIA became increasingly painful, because there were two girls who were bullies. They picked me as their victim. Their taunts and snubs were never more clearly demonstrated than when they sweetly told me they wanted to do a “makeover” on me. Flattered, I submitted. When I looked in the mirror afterwards, I found they had made me grotesque. They laughed so hard that tears were running down their faces. With my self-esteem already in tatters from abuse, these two girls literally made my life hell. Right in the middle of my “sanctuary.” The one my Heavenly Father sent at this time was my bishop’s wife. She may have had some idea of my home life, but for some reason, she singled me out for special attention. Her home was my idea of heaven.
After I went away to college, my mother continued to worsen, and ironically, again, my father started going to church. For a short, critical time, he was there for me. I was in an abusive relationship with someone who wanted to marry me.
My father wrote a beautiful letter on Thanksgiving about how much he loved me. The Spirit told me to go home. When I left for Christmas break, I didn’t come back. Instead, I read the Book of Mormon clear through, twice, took two institute classes, repented, fasted, prayed and finally got my Patriarchal Blessing. My life changed 180 degrees due to the prophesies in that blessing. Without my realizing it, it changed my father as well. When I re-entered college that spring, he called me one day and asked me to come home for the weekend as he had decided to be baptized! I was delirious with happiness. Finally, I thought, my father and I were on the same page. When I asked what finally changed his mind, he said it was the difference in my life before and after I got my patriarchal blessing. As long as I was away from home, all was well. However, once I graduated my mother was consumed with fury at my “wasted years” at Stanford dating “those Mormon boys,” and missing the opportunity to marry someone “important.”
This article is getting too long, so suffice it to say I had many, many dating challenges. The men who treated me best were non-members. Then one evening I met the non-member who at last turned out to be the “golden contact.” I bore my testimony at our first meeting—thinking I had forestalled any efforts on his part for a relationship. However, I was the first Mormon he had ever met. I didn’t know that this relationship was going to be the answer to my prayers—the reward for saying “no” to so many men I thought I loved. We lived far apart, but he kept up a lively correspondence, then started calling, then started flying to see me. He finally convinced me that he would take the missionary lessons if I came to Chicago to write my master’s thesis. I was the one in his life. He knew the Gospel was true ten minutes into the first discussion. We were married a year and a half after we met, and sealed in the temple a year after that.
Difficulties followed with my family, and we moved far away from them, raising our children in a small rural community according to “the dictates of our consciences.” David was made Bishop at a young age, and then put into the stake presidency. The breach with my family seemed complete. We lived lives so differently. I tried with everything I had to be the mother I had never had. My mental illness manifested itself after the birth of my second child. Then my husband became the one. Only a reading of his account will give you an idea of how hard those years were for him. I don’t know how I would have been able to sustain life without him.
But, together we managed somehow to raise our three children in the light. We know it is because of ancestors beyond the veil who have sustained us as angels, and also Jesus Christ himself through the enabling power of the atonement. Our children have a much deeper understanding of the gospel than we ever did at their ages, and have made good choices. Now they are a strength to us. Because of all the ones the Lord sent to protect me and help to carry my burdens, I’ve made it to the distant shore where I will spend the rest of my life writing of the power of One, the One being Jesus Christ. Because, ultimately, I had to be tested by letting go of every one except my Savior. It wasn’t until I did that that I was able to overcome my mental illness.
And I have hope for my mother. The night before her sudden death, she spent hours on the telephone rejoicing in the Book of Mormon that she was reading for the first time. She was serene and happy. That is the last conversation I had with her. Ultimately, in spite of all her kicking against the pricks, I was the one in her life that led her to the One and only Jesus Christ, even though, at the time, she fought against all my decisions. She had accepted all of them as “meant to be” by the end of her life, and that brings me great comfort.
So, those of you who feel alone, disaffected, challenged, or ill, I’ve been there. I record my witness that I, along with Paul, “can do all things through Jesus Christ which strengtheneth me.” We all need to live the Gospel as best we can, putting the Savior as our “One,” even before our fallible families. The Savior will never abandon us. He will give us every blessing we need to make it to safety. He will heal every wound and bind up every broken heart.
Of this I testify in His Name.
G.G. Vandagriff has been writing for Meridian since its inception. She is the author of twelve books, the most recent being an account of the healing power of love: