My father walked out on my mother when I was three; my sisters were five and seven. The man who became my stepfather shared a relationship of drunken fights and many tears with my mother. When I was 13, my stepfather left us due to my mother’s heavy drug use; days later, my mother left us too. My oldest sister moved in with a friend, and my other sister and I were taken in by my stepfather. After living in a tiny one-bedroom apartment and enduring his countless bouts of drunken rages for over a year, I called the Child Protection Services.
I went to live with my aunt and uncle, but despite their good intentions I ran away after my freshman year in high school. That entire summer I never really had a home, living here and there for several months. By the end of the summer I was pregnant. I was 15 years old. The following May, after months of bed rest with a difficult pregnancy, I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy girl.
From the hospital, my daughter and I were sent to live in a group foster home where I was able to finish high school. Over the course of the next year, I became interested in religion and joined a large Christian church. On the day of my baptism, I longed to feel a wonderful spiritual change in my life, but it did not come. After being sprinkled with water, I felt no different; my life seemed unchanged.
After high school I was fortunate enough to get a job as a receptionist for a construction company. There I met my future husband, Edmund. I saw something special in him the moment we met. We started dating, and it was not long before we were engaged. One year and 10 months after we met, we were married, on 23 October 1993. My life had come so far since my early childhood, but I still felt incomplete; something was still missing.
Before long, Edmund and I were expecting our first child together. As my pregnancy progressed, religion became a serious topic. Something about the impending birth of a baby turns people’s minds to religion. I had not been attending my church since our marriage, and Edmund, who was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had not been active for nine years. While Edmund was not insisting or even suggesting that our family start attending his church, he was convinced that our children should not attend my church.
That summer we moved to Dover, Delaware. This is where my husband’s family, who are all members of the Church, lives. Religion still being in the front of my mind, I asked his family a lot of questions about the Church. I even attended a few Relief Society Homemaking meetings. However, the birth of our son, Edmund Jr., came and went without a decision being made about our family’s religion.
In January 1995 I made my own decision and informed Edmund that I was going to start attending my church with the children. Of course he was not happy about this. One night shortly after I made this announcement, I went to the Lord in prayer and asked him to help me know which church I should attend. For the next month, things kept us from attending my church, and I knew in my heart that this was my answer.
My husband’s parents had been careful not to pressure us about going to church with them but ventured to invite us to sacrament meeting. I remember my first meeting in the Dover, Delaware, chapel. A woman gave a talk about love. Her talk touched me so deeply I could barely see her face through my tears. When we got home I talked with Edmund about the experience I’d had. He suggested I call the missionaries to come and teach me more about the Church. He told me if I did this and prayed about what they taught me, I would know in my heart the Church was true.
Later that night, after everyone was in bed, I tried to phone the missionaries, but their line was busy each time I called. A few minutes after 10 P.M. I was about to go to bed but decided to try one more time. Finally, the call went through. I introduced myself and explained to the sister missionaries my situation and set up an appointment for later that week.
After the second discussion, I knew the things they were teaching me were true. What Edmund had told me about prayer really worked. After the third discussion, the sisters asked me if I wanted to be baptized, and I answered with a confident yes. The discussions continued, and my baptismal date was set for Sunday, 12 March 1995.
The week before my baptism I became ill with the flu; I was so sick I could barely get out of bed. On Friday the missionaries called me to see how I was feeling and to see if I wanted to postpone the baptism. I told them no way; I would be there even if I had to come in a wheelchair. Satan would not keep me from becoming a member of the Church of Jesus Christ.
Sunday came quickly, and once again I eagerly anticipated feeling a spiritual change in my life. This time my baptism truly was a spiritual experience from beginning to end, and not just for me but for everyone attending. I remember as I entered the font my body felt electric. When I came up out of the water, the feelings that swept over me were indescribable. I knew I had been washed clean. I felt as pure as a newborn baby coming into the world. It is said that after baptism we start a new life. Indeed, the Apostle Paul said:
“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?
“Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3–4).
The gospel of Jesus Christ gave me a new life. Almost immediately after my baptism wonderful things began to happen to our family. These experiences have steadily strengthened my testimony of the gospel. The first week after my baptism I realized with concern just how much money we were going to be contributing to the Church for tithing. At this time Edmund was working as a long-haul truck driver and was paid by commission, so we never knew how much his paycheck would be. And this particular week his pay was quite meager. My youthful faith was tested as I trusted in the Lord’s promise in Malachi 3:10 [Mal. 3:10]: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”
Knowing it was what we should do, I paid our full tithing first, then paid the bills that were due. This left us with very little money to buy a week’s worth of groceries, plus formula and diapers for our baby. I thought to myself, How on earth are we going to pull this off? Edmund set out on the daunting task of doing the shopping. When he returned an hour later, he excitedly entered the house with his arms full. “You will never believe the amount of groceries I bought!” he said. He came home with twice the amount of groceries usually purchased and had spent half as much money. The Lord had poured out a blessing.
The blessings continued several weeks later when Edmund began looking for a job around our town so he wouldn’t have to be away from the family so much. To our surprise and delight he found a job almost immediately, and they wanted him to start the very next week. Plus his pay was nearly double what he had been making at his previous job.
Another experience came only three days after my baptism when I put our son, then five months old, down for his nap. Little Eddie always cried for 10 or 15 minutes before drifting off to sleep. On this particular day, about 10 minutes after his crying stopped, I felt a strong prompting to go and check on him. This feeling was unusual because I seldom checked on him while he napped since he was such a light sleeper. Still, I followed the prompting and entered his room.
Somehow Eddie had tightly wrapped his blanket around his face and neck so that his entire head was covered and he was unable to get free. I quickly unwrapped the blanket from around Eddie’s head, which was drenched in perspiration. His breathing was weak and labored but improved once his face was uncovered. It scares me to think what might have happened had I not been open to the prompting of the Spirit of the Lord.
A third experience that strengthened my testimony happened about three weeks after my baptism. I was 12 weeks pregnant and went to the doctor for my monthly prenatal check up. It’s about this time that the doctor usually finds the baby’s heartbeat for the first time. However, the doctor was unable to locate my baby’s heartbeat. Having been through two difficult pregnancies, I was overcome with fear. The doctor tried to calm me but sounded unsure as she told me not to worry. We set up an appointment for an ultrasound to be done three days later.
All that afternoon I was sick with worry; I was sure something was wrong with the baby. A sister in our ward, my husband’s aunt, suggested I ask for a blessing, so that evening the bishop and my father-in-law came to our home and gave me a beautiful blessing that helped calm and comfort me. I was confident the Lord was aware of my concerns, and I was able to sleep that night.
During the night I awoke with a vivid recollection of a dream I’d just had. In this dream a person I could not see told me in a kind, gentle voice not to worry about my baby, that everything was going to be OK. What surprised me was that I truly did feel that everything was going to be fine; my anxiety was completely gone.
The next day I told the missionaries about my dream, telling them that it felt so real, as if it had not been a dream at all. “Sister Thwaites,” they said, “that was the Spirit giving you comfort when you needed it most.” Indeed, it was. As I waited the next few days to see the doctor again, I was not worried at all.
At my ultrasound appointment, the doctor had no trouble finding the baby’s heartbeat and said the baby was fine. This pregnancy would still be a difficult one for me, however. I experienced serious complications and infections along the way, but my faith in the Lord helped me through these trials. Also, the kindness extended to me by the Relief Society sisters helped my family get through it all without too many bumps and scrapes. Going through these trials as a family helped us grow closer, and we learned to appreciate each other more. As it turned out, our sweet, determined son Thomas was born on 23 September 1995—happy, healthy, and strong.
The experience of being unable to participate as his father blessed Thomas in sacrament meeting seemed to awaken within Edmund a desire to come back into full activity in the Church. In April 1996 he joyfully received the Melchizedek Priesthood and was ordained an elder.
Looking back at my own experiences, I realize that our journeys in life are often difficult and the challenges we face may at times seem almost too much to overcome.
But I know that if we will center our lives in the Savior, we can be happy. On 22 June 1996 I experienced a portion of the Lord’s joy for us when our family was sealed for time and all eternity in the Washington (D.C.) Temple.