“I’ve waited 20 years to walk you down the aisle,” my father said, “and now I can’t even go to my own daughter’s wedding.” His words brought tears to my eyes as I realized the pain my upcoming temple marriage was causing my family. In many ways, they were still trying to recover from my decision the year before to break family tradition by joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Now I was planning to drive six hours to Atlanta, Georgia, to get married in a temple ceremony my family could not attend.
To further complicate matters, my fiancé was a 21-year-old who had recently returned from a mission to New Zealand and was working as a carpenter to earn money for college. He too was a convert to the Church. My loving, concerned family could not imagine how we were going to survive in these difficult times. Unlike most of the children of my parents’ friends, we would be marrying without college educations, established careers, and enough savings to make a down payment on a house. Furthermore, we intended to start our family sooner rather than later. We felt like pioneers putting truth before tradition as we made tough decisions in the belief that the Lord’s blessings would outweigh our sacrifices.
In all honesty, we were not sure ourselves just how we were going to make it. But we were determined to exercise our faith by following prophetic counsel not to delay marriage and children for educational or career pursuits. We had complete confidence that what the prophets said was true and that we could live accordingly and would be better off for having done so. Our bishop assured us that if we continued to live faithfully and keep the commandments, the Lord would bless and consecrate our every effort. By sharing examples from his own and other members’ lives, the bishop buoyed up our spirits and nurtured our desires to do things the Lord’s way.
However, it seemed that everywhere we turned we heard discouraging comments: “Why get married so young?” “Having a baby right away would be a terrible mistake.” “These days it takes two incomes to support a family.” “If you got pregnant, Jimmy would have to quit school to support you, and then you would never get ahead.” Fortunately, both of us had strong testimonies that the “Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Ne. 3:7). We set off on our journey as did Nephi of old, being “led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which [we] should do” (1 Ne. 4:6).
Jimmy and I were sealed in the Atlanta Georgia Temple on 24 June 1988. I wept most of the way to Atlanta, my mind continually replaying the image of my mother crying in the driveway as we departed that morning. Mom had always been my best friend, and my heart ached to have her by my side. It was scary starting this new chapter of my life without the comfort of loved ones nearby. However, I knew that the family Jimmy and I were about to begin and the families we had left behind would all be blessed by our decision to marry in the temple. We wanted to be sealed together not just for this life but for eternity. We wanted the Lord’s full partnership in our marriage, and we wanted our children to enjoy the blessings of being born under the covenant.
I soon became pregnant but managed to finish my college degree before our daughter, Dana Rachael, was born. While I became a full-time mother, my faithful husband worked as a waiter, served as a counselor in the stake mission presidency, and forged ahead in pursuit of his college degree.
Our daughter brought a whole new meaning and purpose to our lives. As a couple, we experienced a joy and unity previously unknown to us. We gained a fuller understanding of the wisdom of not waiting to have children. Loving our daughter helped us feel a measure of the love our Father in Heaven has for each of us.
As time went on, stepping into unexplored territory enabled us to see that the Lord works miracles in our lives. For example, when we had our second daughter, Kelly Marie, our medical insurance paid only a small portion of the bill. But as time went on, the Lord’s hand was evident as our financial obligations were met in surprising ways. Another time, Jimmy began to feel he could no longer work as a waiter because of an increasing pressure to push alcoholic beverages. Unexpectedly, a member of a nearby ward offered to train him as a private investigator in his firm. This job not only kept food on our table but also provided flexible hours so Jimmy could attend classes full time and finish college sooner.
By the time Jimmy graduated, I was expecting our third child. We had done what the world had said could not be done: We had married, started our family, and finished our educations, and I had managed to stay home to raise our children. We assumed it would be smooth sailing from that point. Little did we realize that rough waters still loomed ahead.
We longed for financial security, but my husband had a difficult time getting a job in his chosen profession. The firms that interviewed him all wanted an employee who already had related experience. Jimmy became discouraged because his time, effort, and sacrifice were not paying off as he had hoped.
As for me, I spent 16 weeks feeling extremely ill during my third pregnancy, which ended suddenly in the loss of the baby. This caused us great heartache. We felt confused and frustrated. We wondered why negative things were happening to us when we had tried to keep the Lord’s commandments. It was a very trying time for us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
As time went on, we began to make progress again. After working for a year in an unrelated field, Jimmy found a low-paying internship that would allow him to gain the experience he needed. I became pregnant again and delivered our first son, James Michael. However, the pregnancy was particularly demanding and left me feeling weak and drained for several months.
By the time the baby was five months old, Jimmy was serving as elders quorum president and working two jobs trying to make ends meet. I struggled at home with three small children in a tiny two-bedroom apartment. I felt lonely much of the time. Money was too tight for me to hire a baby-sitter so I could occasionally have a break from domestic demands for a few hours or enjoy a much-needed night out with my husband. I often felt the walls closing in as I tried to feed and care for the children in our limited circumstances. Because of these pressures, sometimes even my service as ward nursery leader reinforced my feelings of confinement and isolation. As time went on and our financial frustrations mounted, I found myself struggling to hold tight to my testimony and find purpose in our trials.
My family could not understand why we had chosen to do this to ourselves. They thought we were foolish to ever believe it was possible to marry relatively young, have children right away, and still find comfort and security. At times we looked around at family and friends who had followed different paths, and we wondered why they appeared to be so stable while we constantly struggled. Hadn’t we tried to do everything the Lord had asked of us? I often thought of Lehi’s statement to his youngest son, Joseph: “Thou wast born in the wilderness of mine afflictions” (2 Ne. 3:1). I felt that we too had been led into the wilderness for a time of testing and spiritual growth.
Despite our problems, we continued to attend the temple, pray, and search the scriptures. As a result, answers came and the heavens were opened to us. Once, when food was scarce, some neighbors rang our doorbell to tell us they were going out of town for the month. They wondered if we would be willing to take the food in their refrigerator so it wouldn’t spoil. Another time a neighbor came by with boxes of outgrown clothes and shoes that fit my children exactly. We recognized the Lord’s hand in all things as our heartfelt prayers were answered over and over again.
One important lesson we learned was that the Lord doesn’t always answer prayers in the way we want or expect. For instance, when I was unable to take care of my children because of pregnancy complications, I prayed that the Lord would heal me. Instead, he sent Relief Society sisters to care for me and my family until I was on my feet again. Another time, we paid our tithing and bills but did not have enough money left over for groceries. That night we prayed that Jimmy would receive a bonus at work. Instead, we received an anonymous card on our doorstep with a grocery-store gift certificate enclosed. Rather than a bigger place to live where our children could roam and we could be free of the loud stereo our apartment neighbor played day and night, the Lord provided us with great friends who always opened their doors to us when we needed to get away. These blessings not only met our temporal needs but taught us to trust the Lord in all things.
My husband and I have now been married for more than eight years. We are experiencing much joy as a family. With the birth of David Ammon in September 1995, we have two beautiful daughters and two adorable sons. Jimmy’s efforts and long hours are beginning to pay off, and last year we were able to buy a three-bedroom house with a fenced backyard in a nice neighborhood. Through it all, I have been able to stay home with our children. Like the pioneers who helped each other by planting crops for those who would follow and by participating in a perpetual emigrating fund, we are now in a position to help others as we have been helped by so many people over the years.
My father recently sent me a card that said, “Spend a little time looking over what a good job you are doing, and congratulate yourself a little.” My family now respects what we have accomplished and has even sought our opinion in spiritual matters. Our children have brought my family countless hours of joy and friendship over the years.
It is the difficult wilderness experiences that cause us to “look to God and live” (Alma 37:47). As the Israelites were fed manna in the wilderness, so have we relied at times on the Lord’s daily manna.
What we have learned through our struggles has been of great worth. We have often felt the reassuring presence of the Spirit. We have gained a firm and unshakable testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have had prayers answered and gained a deeper understanding of the gospel plan.
It is not always easy to pursue the course the Lord has set. Yet, despite the difficulty of the way, if we heed the Lord’s directions he will lead us ultimately back home to our Heavenly Father.