Gratitude

How does one say “thank you” for a life that has been turned around? How does one say it for all the “things” in life that have come about and all the more that have changed for the best. More, how does one show gratitude felt towards their fellow person for all their help? I have struggled through these questions and more for the past year.

One year ago, A man I trusted and loved enough to marry turned out to be another manipulator. I was devastated. However the same conditions that made it difficult to support myself on my own after my first divorce were still very present. In fact, those conditions were worsened by the lies my ex-husband told. Even though the fifth-wheel we lived in had been presented to me as a birthday gift, he had put it into his mother’s name. The only thing I was to be awarded in the divorce was the little broken-down 1983 Volvo he magnanimously gave to me to make sure I stayed away from Arizona where he had moved in with another female and started calling her “his wife” to all outsiders.

It took me quite a while to recognize the absence of some things as a gift. The absence of the now ex and the fifth wheel is not only a gift, but a relief given by God. He knew. He knew I was wrong to follow my relationship addiction and marry someone who was quite bad for my physical and mental health…but God waited for me to realize that. He gave me wonderful, supportive people around me and gave me respite in His house, the Snowflake Temple while I figured it out.

Snowflake, Arizona Temple
Snowflake, Arizona Temple

The Volvo was an incredible gift. It had been foretold in a Priesthood Blessing, then gifted to my exhusband by a friend who was supportive in Keith “getting me out of town for good.” In my hands, it became “The Car that Ran on Prayer,” a story I lived then wrote soon to be a full-length book.

The car just strengthened my testimony of God. Anytime it stopped working, it meant there were wonderful, faithful people who I was intended to meet. One of them was a Bishop who had to finally tell me she was dead. The Car that Ran on Prayer also died on prayer and was miraculously replaced by a minivan that also runs on prayer. I will be forever grateful to the wonderful members of Manchester, New Hampshire for all of their help in making that miraculous replacement happen.

IMG_20170922_145716Only five short days ago I signed my first apartment lease since 1992. It was my first real home in the seven years since my first divorce. Even though my second ex-husband and I were living in a fifth wheel off-grid, I was to find out from the agency that was assisting me with my deposit and first month’s prorated rent, that I had been officially homeless for seven years. I was tired of living so hard.

Unless you have been without shelter to call your own, I don’t believe anyone understands just how difficult and wearing it can be to “sleep rough” or to just not have a place to call your own. It doesn’t only mean sleeping in your vehicle, on a friend’s couch or in a cardboard box. It also means that you have no place to go in the daytime. My days were filled with libraries, dog parks and church parking lots, when I could get there.  While traveling, I was blessed to see the sights almost as if I was a tourist, taking in God’s wonders across the country. I was even blessed to have the opportunity to visit a few temples. When the car stopped starting, I was stuck where my vehicle was parked. 20170421_104140

I grew to be very thankful that my Volvo had broken down on Easter day in a church parking lot in Manchester, New Hampshire. It was at the only church building I had ever attended with a Mission Office inside of it. The building was open from 9-5 on weekdays, enabling me to schedule bathroom use.

Members who knew I was stuck helped with meals, care packages and even a battery-operated fan! I ended up even gaining a little weight from all the blessed donations of food, including a couple of hot meals brought to my car when they were still steaming. I do not have the illusion that it would have happened for many others, including those not of my gender. I KNOW I was blessed abundantly that God took very good care of me through His faithful servants.

Being stuck in a church parking lot proved inspirational for me. I kept getting the impression that I needed to “earn my keep” since I was in the parking lot of the building that housed the Manchester Mission, I should do my best to be a “member missionary.” Even as depression overtook me, I did my best to share inspiring talks that helped me keep my head above water.

PicsArt_06-08-11.11.42I started again to share my scripture studies and General Conference talks I listened to combined with photos I took around the Manchester building, with many LDS groups. I was rewarded with “Amens” and a large viewing audience. It helped relieve my feelings of “taking advantage” as that was never my intention. I did my best to be my on my best behavior while in God’s close care.

When I returned to Washington state, I struggled again. Homeless in my own hometown. All of my friends who had helped me out so much the previous year were helping others now. I waited patiently, running my dogs in the Stake Center’s field and prayerfully studying scriptures. I started attending Sacrament service with my granddaughters, longing to be a part of their Ward. I went on a camping trip when it got too hot for my dogs in the van. We hid from the heat in the shelter of the beautiful fir trees in God’s forests in western Washington. IMG_20170905_190523

Then it happened: I got a feeling. One more of those still, soft but firm feelings. I would have to wait until the notices were in by former tenants to the apartment offices in September, but I should return to the first complex I lived in when I moved away from home.

I waited patiently. Deciding to not only join friends for a Labor Day camping trip, but also go “around the loop” of the Olympic Peninsula, a beautiful trip I had not been on since I was a child. I used a Visa card given to me for my graduation from college for gas and I enjoyed a gorgeous camping trip as I awaited my time to try again at the apartment complex.

Just as the Holy Spirit implied, as I walked into the office of the complex I was informed that someone had ‘just” given notice. Then began the application process. Then, five days ago, I was handed keys as I signed the first apartment lease I have signed in decades. My very FIRST place without any other humans. My first home, alone.

IMG_20170922_150204As I looked around at the few camp chairs and sleeping bag on the floor, it was very apparent I needed to replace furniture long forgotten now in the custody of ex-husbands. But with funds so tight that my rent takes up 5/6 of my disability pension, how to do that was the question.

Then I put out a request to both the “Buy Nothing” Facebook group I belong to as well as the Relief Society Sisters of my new Ward. The response was OVERWHELMING. I was honest and upfront about the fact I was moving into my own place after an extended time being homeless. I was overwhelmed with donations.

As I sit this first Sabbath morning surrounded by donated furniture, dishes, pans, towels and the most luxurious sheet set I could have ever imagined, my eyes fill with tears. I KNOW that my Father in Heaven watches over me daily. I know that it is through Him that this is all possible. My gratitude towards my gracious Father in Heaven is overwhelming in tears right now. My gratitude towards my fellow humans is also more full than I could imagine. IMG_20170518_094000

For all the words God has provided me to say “Thank YOU” to everyone who has helped me, or another of their fellow humans, I have none that feel as full as “gratitude.” That is what I feel: An OVERWHELMING feeling of gratitude. That is what I would like to share. I can’t thank all of God’s helpers, no matter their religion or lack thereof, enough. I can only do my best to love my fellow human, and to always try to “pay it forward.”

I hope all of your lives are full of the white light of The Holy Spirit. I leave this testimony with you in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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From Manchester to Manchester: Meeting My Church Family Across the United States

January 8th was my last Sunday in Washington State before I embarked on a journey that would take me completely across the United States. That Sunday I

In Kitsap County, Washington State Manchester Ward

spent with the Manchester Ward in the Bremerton, Washington Stake. It was the  area where I was staying with a friend. Those friends were gracious enough to give me a place to stay for the holidays with easy access to visit the areas where my family and friends live.

 

On January 11th, I left Washington state, heading out to the coast to avoid a snowstorm that was engulfing Portland, Oregon. I followed hwy 101 down the Pacific Coast, through Washington, then Oregon, stopping briefly to see a dear friend in a town overlooking the southern Oregon coast before heading through northern California where snow in the Redwoods attempted to hamper our travels again.

Oregon Seaside

It took a couple of days, but Sunday found us in Arizona. There was a momentary choice when I realized that I could make it to my Branch, Concho, to attend services. The contention between my soon-to-be ex-husband who I was to be at divorce court with that coming Thursday and his live-in girlfriend who would both be attending our Branch’s Sacrament, made me think better of it. Instead, I spent January 15 listening to General Conference talks and Gospel music with a friend while we made snowmen at the Grand Canyon.

Jacob Building a Snowman at the Grand Canyon, Arizona

We did make it to St. John’s Arizona before the Addiction Recovery meeting ended that evening. It was a welcome support for the issues surrounding the co-dependency I had discovered within myself. One of the reasons for the delay in the divorce, or even possibly the marriage in the first place.

Wednesday was a good day to visit the wonderful Snowflake Temple at the suggestion of one of my dear Concho Branch friends. Peggy and her husband Brian had provided showers and transportation to the temple every Friday during some of the worst times of my marriage and at her suggestion

Snowflake, Arizona Temple

we went for a session the day before the hearing. It was the peace I needed.

 

After the divorce hearing on Thursday, the weather reports were ominous: A storm that was predicted to drop three feet of snow was on it’s way to the area. I did NOT want to be stuck in an one horse town with my now-ex-husband and the woman he moved on with. Too much drama for my brain to handle. So, I got a blessing from my Branch President at the Church building, and headed out through New Mexico towards Texas.

The time we spent in Texas (my friend Jacob who was traveling with me has family in Pipe Creek) was without a church visit. However, Jacob’s fa

Houston, Texas Temple

mily are all church members and we had quite the meeting in their home as many Gospel topics were discussed. It was like having a church meeting in their home. I imagined many meetings like it occurring in the early days of The Church.

 

From Texas, where I was also able to visit the beautiful Houston Temple, we headed for Florida, stopping only quickly in Alabama to visit a couple of friends. By January 29th, we were in Lake Mary, Florida. The church services were enjoyable for me on a rainy day while the dogs and Jacob rested next to the Spanish Moss laden trees.

Lake Mary Stake Center

That week, Jacob and I headed to Key West to check out the sites and gather some photographs for the magazine for which I was compiling a few stories. Although the magazine and I were to part ways before those were published, the opportunity to live sunrise to sunset while gathering some show-stopping photos was quite an enjoyable experience.

The Key West Branch building had a small picnic area in back of the building put together by a young Brother as a part of an Eagle Scout project. It was a fantastic little area to escape the hustle and bustle of a thriving tourist area of Key West in the middle of tourist season. The service on February 5th was absolutely what I needed. Peaceful and true, testimonies were shared from the pulpit that filled my heart with peace and hope.

Behind Key West Branch

The next Sunday, February 12th, found us at the Coconut Creek Ward in Florida. It was the last Sunday that Jacob was there to watch the dogs while I attended services. The Branch that met after the Ward was a Haitian-Creole Branch where for the first time I heard a language that sounded like people were singing to one another. It was beautiful.

The Fort Lauderdale Temple was gorgeous in the light of the sun

Ft. Lauderdale Temple

rise when I visited. Jacob had an opportunity to do a bit of service snapping photos of myself and other patrons and I met a few fellow member-missionaries before I finished with our photos.

 

After Jacob hopped a plane back to his home in Washington from Fort Lauderdale, I headed back north. My next stop was in Palm Bay. It was in this Floridian Ward where I met some of the most wonderful people on my journey. A sister named Nikki invited me for dinner and a her daughter gave up her bed for a night so that I might stretch out a bit. The night previous in the area had seen a vicious attack by mosquitoes that seemed to grow to enormous sizes, a night indoors was so welcomed. The prayers from Nikki’s entire family still are felt in my travels.

From Palm Bay, I headed to DeLand, Florida. I was still in my church clothes from attending DeLand’s Second Ward service on February 26, when I was putting up my tent about 50 miles away in the National Forest for a time out while recovering from a chest cold I had picked up in my travels.

Interlachen, Florida

I spent the week at the campground before heading up to Interlachen, Florida to share my Testimony in a meeting where I was a few minutes late in arriving.  The other testimonies I listened to in this tiny Ward filled my heart with light and happiness at the last Floridian Ward I would be visiting.

From Florida, I headed out to the South Carolina coast. I was enjoying the sunrises in Hilton Head, and I failed to “scout” the location of the local ward. On a cloudy Sunday morning where I had a feeling I should go early, I found that the Meetinghouse on Hilton Head had sustained a great deal of damage during the hurricane in the previous October. I contacted the Bishop and he informed me that services were held at the Beaufort Ward building. I headed up there and arrived

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Hilton Head, South Carolina

in time to take in an extra Relief Society meeting as well as meeting with the Hilton Head Ward.

 

From Beaufort, South Carolina, I headed inland to a tiny place called Monck’s Corner. In Monck’s Corner, South Carolina I met a sister in Relief Society who had a connection to the northwest and added a task to my list for when I return to my home state. I will be attempting to find her daughter’s grave site.

Monck’s Corner, South Carolina

I met another wonderful group of Sisters in the Relief Society of the Windsor Lake Ward in Columbia, South Carolina where my travels took me while I was searching for my 4th great grandmother who was born in South Carolina in 1808. The sisters in the Windsor Lake Ward were more than welcoming and I enjoyed watching Women’s session of General Conference with them. A dear sister named Leanna even offered us a place to stretch out for a few days with friends for the dogs included!

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Columbia, South Carolina Temple

It was in Columbia, South Carolina where I celebrated the 4th anniversary of my Baptism by visiting the Columbia Temple. I remained in the Columbia area for General Conference, before heading to North Carolina.

 

North Carolina, in a little town named Kernersville, I met a Bishop who called himself “Charlie” and a Ward full of Saints. I was overwhelmed with their welcoming and all around southern hospitality.  I got to church, as I usually do no matter where I am, a bit early. I was rewarded for my effort not only with some quiet time in the chapel and an opportunity to meet a few of the patrons, but the wonderful sister who baked the Sacrament bread had baked three extra loaves. I was offered one, and I was so thankful to accept it. I took the opportunity to share with them one of the only things that I can, my Testimony of Christ.

After a week of car repairs, beginning in Columbia, South Carolina and finishing in Kernersville, North Carolina, I was impressed to head north to my destination. By Easter I had arrived in New Hampshire, the site of my daughter’s (and my)

Manchester, New Hampshire

graduation in May. I made it. And Easter services at another Manchester Ward.

 

It was the first time that I had ever seen a Mission Office located in a meetinghouse! They seem to do things a bit differently in New England. But just like the other meetinghouses I have visited, it was full of welcoming Sisters and Brothers. More extended family.

From Manchester to Manchester, I have met friends who are family across the nation. I am so blessed to know each and every one of them. They are my Brothers and Sisters. I am blessed to be a Latter-Day Saint, a member of a family that is Eternal.

Loving My Friends

I remember the nervousness that overcame me not long after I felt the impression to seek out and listen to the Missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. They talk a lot about “being in the world, but not of the world,” but all of my friends were “of the world,” NONE of my family were members of The Church (except my granddaughters) and most of my friends had “alternative lifestyles.” When I decided I wanted and needed to be Baptized, I prayed almost constantly about the situation with my friends. How could I tell my friends I was now a member of the “Mormon” church, would they want to be my friend anymore? Did that matter?20130323_134149_thumb.jpg

During my repentance process in the weeks before my Baptism I was relatively quiet on Facebook, a social media outlet where I had spent an inordinate amount of time during the previous 5 years accumulating an audience for my writing. At times I had been known to make a spectacle out of myself, becoming rather dramatic about loves and losses and pain and pleasures. I had been known for “letting it all hang out.” How could I reconcile my previous behavior with the life I wanted, no, NEEDED to create and begin to live? I prayed even more.

The answers came gradually, but they came. I was impressed to read “The Articles of Faith.” They all rang so true in my heart that not only did my “bosom begin to burn” but I also wept with joy several times. Then I came to the 11th:

“We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”

The second part of that statement, “and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may [emphasis added]” caused me to completely lose my cool. I broke down and cried loudly; I bawled. Why? Because it was an answer to my prayers. There was NOTHING in the Mormon Doctrine that said I had to exclude those who

Articles of Faith Library Copy

worshiped differently from myself from my life, ABSOLUTELY the opposite!!!

Relief filled my soul. But what about all of the people who followed my social media? Now that I no longer practiced alternative beliefs, should I even be “out there” in the public? What about all my photos and what I had said? As I began to hint about my baptism on social media some people I thought were my friends were quick to delete me from their connections, I cried but continued to pray about it. I didn’t want to lose friends, but those people who had “unfriended” me weren’t acting like friends. My prayers to Heavenly Father continued, so did my tears.

I deleted hundreds of photos of myself that embarrassed me from my social media accounts, I also prayed to know if I should even continue with an online presence. After all, it would have been easier just to delete the accounts. But the impression from the Holy Ghost was persistent: “I needed to be LOUDER about my conversion than I was my sins.” I was at a loss as how to accomplish that. The year before my Baptism was quite humiliating as I looked back upon my own inequity to others in addition to myself. I continued to pray and study my scriptures.

Then came the answer: Start a blog about your conversion to The Church:  Share your  feelings and be honest with those who follow you. My unease continued even after I started the FIRST iteration of Slightely Mormon on Blogger. Then, in June 2013, came a directive in video conference form to ALL the Missionaries and the Missionary Members of The Church. This was the answer I had been awaiting.

In a few weeks, it will have been 4 years since I sought out Missionaries to receive the lessons leading to my Baptism. In the subsequent years I have “cleaned up my act” on Facebook and other social media outlets, but I am louder than ever! I want the world (including my friends) to know HOW being a Mormon has changed my life! In the last four years I have worked hard trying not to alienate my friends and family. It’s difficult to convey to them how much I love ALL of them and I respect what they  chose to believe in, all of that is part of them and I love them. img_20170204_093448_445.jpg

I had an opportunity to travel with a very dear friend of mine recently. Cub, as he likes to be called, is a professional photographer and acted as my assistant on a recent trip. In our travels across the country, we incurred our number of odd looks at us, but he helped me to see my world through different eyes. I saw judgement from my fellow church members when they watched him light a cigarette, I felt their stares and disapproval in both of our directions. That made me incredibly sad.

We visited the Ft. Lauderdale Temple towards the end of our time together. I asked Cub to take some photos of me when I was done with my session; he enthusiastically complied. When we were finished with our pictures another temple patron asked him to take her photo. Cub graciously agreed to do so.

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The first share on Instagram

While he was doing that act of service, I took a few snapshots myself for social media. I shared it first on Instagram as “Cubby doing service at the Temple,” then, after talking it over with Cub, I shared it again on my Facebook page and to a group called “1 Million Mormons on Facebook” with an additional introduction:

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The second photo, captioned for Facebook

 

For a while I almost felt like I was exploiting my friend and his service. Although he had given his consent for both photos to be shared on the internet inclusive of my comment about his lifestyle, he had not asked for the photo to be taken. While probably wished I had allowed him to continue his nap in the car, I felt it important. There was a lesson here for not only me. I am not ashamed of my friends. I love each and every one of them. Not in spite of their beliefs or actions, but as WHOLE people with different ideas about life and different understandings of the universe.

We read in John 13:34 that Jesus Christ himself told us:IMG_20140112_161015_092.jpg

 34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

I believe that His love is unconditional. That is something I try to work towards each and
every day.  I am so grateful to ALL of my diverse friends, like Cub, who help me to remember what my Heavenly Father commanded me to do.