I'm a very lucky girl.
I'm lucky for many reasons, but most especially for the parents I was born to and for the home in which I was raised. And as you will soon find out, God had to create quite a complex formula in order for me to have been born to whom, where, and when I was born.
I've said before that my main reason for staying in the Church, despite all my questions and problems with it (and y'all know I have plenty of those), is because I've experienced some things in my life that I consider to be more than just coincidence -- perhaps even miraculous -- that I've seen a divine hand in. One of these things is the story of how my parents got together.
I realize that to the skeptic, this will appear to be nothing more than a nice story with some funny coincidences that led to a couple of regular people getting together and having a family. Interesting, but pretty uneventful and nothing special. But knowing my parents as I do, and being a part of their family, I have a hard time denying God's role in our lives even on my most cynical days.
I got this e-mail from my father recently. Names and certain minor details have been changed for privacy reasons, but other than that it's complete. I've added some personal commentary in red.
So this is "where I come from." My parents' marriage has perhaps been the greatest blessing in my life, as it gave me safety and stability while growing up. But most importantly, their example was undoubtedly the greatest influence on my choice of partner and what kind of marriage relationship I knew I wanted in my life.
I want to share with you a special talk I am giving today at Church. It is on a topic that is very special to me, and though you couldn't be here with us, at least I can share it with you:
Back on 22 March, Brother Dawson asked me to speak in Sacrament on a most unusual topic: “My wife’s influence in my life.”
Because of the unusual topic he assigned me, and being one of the brethern... I had to make a moment of lightness out of this... so I answered him... That should only take 30 seconds!
Later that day, another thought crossed my mind... I’ll tell Maria the topic, and get her to write the talk for me!
Afterwards, I got serious as I knew I would, because there is nothing more beautiful in this world to me than what I am about to share with you. This may be the most personal talk I have ever given in Church. I also want you to know that Maria knows nothing about the topic I was assigned to speak to you on today.
To truly appreciate the influence my wife has been in my life, we need to go back in time. This is where my talk truly begins. As a young person, I was not a member of the Church and knew nothing about it. However, as I look back, God and Jesus Christ were important in my life from as far back as I can remember. I owe that to my Dad who taught me that God was real, and my Mom’s example of teaching Sunday School at our local Church for several years in the 1960’s.
There was a time in my life when I rarely went to Church. This would be in the early 1960’s. Then I remember our local Church minister paying us a visit to our home encouraging us to come. I remember asking him if going to Church was important to get to Heaven. He answered in the affirmative and from that day forward, I usually attended Church most Sundays. Afterwards, I always felt bad on those Sundays when I would miss Church. One day in the eternities, I hope to thank that minister for reactivating me and getting me to come back to Church.
Little did I know that thousands of kilometres from here, in 1970, the Lord was preparing a family, and a special girl in my future, to share the restored gospel with me. Maria and some of her family joined the Church in November of that year. By 1971, all but her father had joined.
Prior to meeting Maria, I spoke no Spanish, and she spoke no English. So how was the Lord going to bring Maria and I together? How was I ever going to meet her? After I share this story with you, I think you’ll agree it would have been much easier for me to find a needle in any old haystack. It really began in the summer of 1973. My mother’s friend talked her into taking a cooking class that fall. Because of this, my Mom met a Mexican girl named Sylvia who was an exchange student here in Canada. Mom eventually invited this girl to our place, and she and our family soon became good friends. (I find this small detail to be very interesting because my grandmother hates to cook. The last thing I can imagine her doing is taking a cooking class, let alone Mexican food, which I can't imagine she would eat.)
I was at college, semester 5, and had plans to travel at Christmas break on the Greyhound to Oakland, California to look up friends I had met in Spain in August. I planned to also go to other locations in Western Canada and the US, as many as I could pack into 3 weeks. Sylvia asked me if I had ever been to Mexico. I told her no, but that I would love to go. She mentioned to me that if I wanted to travel to Mexico City on this trip, that her family would provide me with a place to stay and show me around the sights. All this if I would simply take a few Christmas gifts to her family that she would send with me. It was too good of a deal to pass up, so I decided to go.
Christmas break came and I travelled to California and stayed with my friends in Oakland. They were not members, but I remember them showing me the lights of the Oakland Temple at night. Even then, the Lord was preparing me. I toured San Francisco, took in Disneyland and San Diego, then headed east through Arizona, saw the Grand Canyon and on to Albuquerque, NM where I spent the night on Dec 29, 1973.
Next day, I headed to El Paso where I intended to spend the night… if I could find a motel that fit my budget. It was 5pm and if I failed, I could catch the bus to Mexico City at 7 pm. It was a 26 hour ride. After checking El Paso’s nearby hotels, they were all out of my price range so I went back to the bus depot and bought a bus ticket on the Mexican bus headed to Mexico City. One note of interest here is that El Paso was the only town on all my trips I took in Europe and North America where hotels were too expensive. My life would today be dramatically different if I had stayed in El Paso overnight. Another note of interest is that on Mexican buses, it was necessary to choose your seat before you got on the bus. I chose passenger side front. This was to also be a critical decision as you will see in a few moments.
Crossing the border to Ciudad Juarez, a older Mexican lady noticed I could not speak Spanish. She asked Maria’s sister and her girlfriend, both whom I did not know, and travelling back from Utah, to help me through Mexican customs. Afterwards, Maria’s sister befriended me on the bus. The reason she was able to do this is because she sat across the aisle and one row back. Not long into the trip, the seats just in front of her were vacated. She spoke a little English. Some hours later, she asked me where I was going to stay when I arrived in Mexico City. I told her I would look for a hotel close to the bus depot when we arrived at 9:30 pm. Knowing it was a rough section of the city, dark, and New Year’s Eve, she invited me to her home to spend the night with her family. This would lead to my real introduction to the Church.
I first met Maria just before midnight on 31 Dec 1973 in her house. I really didn’t get to know her very well on this first visit, but the 4 nights I spent with her family had an amazing impact on me. The 4th evening, when I surprised them returning from Acapulco with a few thank-you gifts, I entered the home as a movie was running for a home fireside. It was in English, Spanish subtitled, and called “Brigham Young” with Tyrone Power. Again, the Lord provided me with an opportunity to learn a little about the Church and it’s history in my own language.
I went on to spend several days with Sylvia’s family and had a wonderful time before returning by bus to Michigan and to school back home here in Canada. When home, I bought myself a book to learn Spanish. In my spare time, I would study and I made it through about ¼ of the book. The following November, now being graduated from school and having saved enough money from a job I had, I went on a 76 day bus trip and during the last month, I returned to Maria’s home on 2 Jan 1975. Maria was not in school anymore and spent her days at home tending to her oldest sister’s newborn baby and looking after the house. As the next 10 days passed, we spent a lot of time together. I realized not only was Maria strikingly beautiful on the outside, but she was the nicest person I had ever met on the inside. She had a faith in God and practiced it, as did her family. I realized I had fallen in love with her. She had no idea, as I never asked her out officially. There wasn’t time. On January 11, I remember asking God in my prayers that night if I should ask Maria to marry me. I felt strongly impressed by the Spirit that I should, and late the next night, I asked her in the little Spanish I could now speak, that “I thought you are a good wife for me.” This was totally unexpected to her and she had no reply right then. 4 more days would pass, and on the afternoon of 16 January 1975, in a taxi…Maria said yes. One note of interest here is that never in my life have I felt a quicker and more powerful answer to my prayers than that night… asking Heavenly Father if Maria was right for me. (My dad is a classic Type A personality, takes things slowly, and is about the least spontaneous person I know. He often agonizes over decisions, thinking everything through. Another interesting note is that he never dated before, never had a girlfriend, was not really on the lookout for a wife, was only interested in travelling and seemed to enjoy being a bachelor until he met my mom and sparks apparently started flying out of nowhere. He also liked blondes, which my mom definitely is not. :) All this seems so far off the wall when I think about it now. Two young people who hardly knew each other... from different countries, cultures and languages, attempting to try to make a successful marriage with all these obstacles. It was very uncharacteristic of the man Maria knows now to make such a hasty decision to rush into marriage so quickly. I normally take a lot of time to make large decisions in my life. (To say the least. :)
It was a scary evening when I had to brake the news to Maria’s mother 12 nights later. My hand was forced as I had to get back home, so I left it to the day before departure. I thought I might be sleeping out on the street that night. However, she had no objections and was very kind to me. She said I had to also ask Maria’s oldest brother, being there was no father in the house. That could not be done till the next night, so I had to stay one extra day. Again, nothing but kindness and acceptance. At this point in my talk as I reflect, I come to realize that the chances of ever meeting Maria were so remote that I often marvel as to how it ever happened. I like to look at all that had to happen as one big puzzle. Take away just one piece of the puzzle, or incident that absolutely had to take place, and my chances of meeting her would be taken away. One could conclude it was all coincidence, but I know better. I saw the hand of the Lord in so many critical moments in our meeting, that I have no doubt he made it all come to pass.
In June 1975, I returned by air to Mexico to bring Maria back to Canada after her immigration papers were ready. We had a great trip to Canada by bus and crossed the Canadian border on July 7. Soon thereafter, Maria and I met Bishop Hill, who agreed to marry us on Aug 1. (Bishop Hill, years later, told my dad how skeptical he was at the time that their marriage would work out, but he was pleased to see that they had beaten the odds.)
Why is this story so important? How did Maria, at the age of 18 ½, make such monumental decisions in her life? I was 22, but looking back on it now, I was nowhere near the maturity level of her. She sacrificed everything to be my wife. Not only did I gain the best wife God could ever give me, the best mother for our future children, but she and her family touched me in a way no other family ever has. Materially, this family had very little. A humble home, a mother and 10 kids, no father who cared, not even financially. Only one sibling was married, and she and her husband and baby also lived in this small home with only 3 bedrooms. They had very little money coming in, but they all treated me with a kindness that I have never seen. (Dad has always told us how humbled he felt when they gave him his own room in this small, humble house full of people. They also took time out of their day to drive him to all sorts of places and show him all the sites. Mexican hospitality is hard to match in this world and my mother's family is no exception.)
All of Maria’s family at home were members of the Church, but they never pushed the Church on me. I was invited to attend Church with them when Sunday came and I was happy to go. In Canada, I took Maria to her Church for a few weeks until we were married, then I resumed attending my own Church for a few months. In November, 1975, because Bishop Hill married us, he felt prompted to ask us to his home to view the brand new Washington DC Temple movie. That really acted as a catalyst for me to take Maria to Church two Sundays later. Sacrament meeting was at 5 pm those days, and after the meeting I approached the missionaries and asked them if they would teach me about the Church.
The major obstacle I had to overcome to join the Church hinged on getting some answers to a handout I was given in November 1974 on a Greyhound bus travelling from Hollywood, California to Reno, Nevada. I met this formerly LDS girl on the bus. She had attended BYU and while there, her mother back home in California left the Church. This girl did the same when she returned home. Her mom had written a very professional anti LDS pamphlet that her daughter gave me on the bus. When I read it, I was certain I would never join that Church. That’s even the way I felt when I married Maria 9 months later, though I never told her. So I took this pamphlet to Bishop Hill in November 1975 to give him a chance to answer these tough questions. His answers seemed genuine and I left that day opened-minded that I needed to give the Church at least a chance. I also remembered what Bishop Hill said to me in the Bishop’s office back in July when we asked him if he would marry us. He said..”Charles, you owe it to yourself to look into the Church.” Talking to the missionaries usually at the Hills' home over the next few weeks, I initially refused to set a baptismal date. I later agreed to 10 am February 21, 1976 as the big day. However, at 2 am on very that day, I wasn’t sure if I would go through with it. There was only 1 obstacle left. Tithing. This is where my wonderful wife gave me some advice as to “give it a try.” I did, and although it still took me a few more months to gain a testimony of it, I showed up that day to be baptized. (Our family was always blessed, perhaps as a result of tithing, and I'm often in awe of how my parents managed to raise 5 kids in comfortable circumstances on one salary, plus pay off their mortgage in just 5 years and never be in debt again.)
What kind of an influence was Maria on me through my conversion? Just an example of how a good Church member should live. She gave me my complete free agency to choose. Never pushy, though I knew it would mean the world to her if I was to join. One thing most people don’t know is that when she agreed to marry me, she had a very good chance to marry a return missionary from Utah who cared for her perhaps as much as I did. Instead she chose me, a non-member. Usually this is not a good thing to do, but in this case, I joined the Church, and the return missionary soon went inactive after his mission ended. We soon set a goal to have our marriage sealed forever in the Temple. That day came on April 29, 1977 at St George, Utah. Maria’s sister, the one I met on the bus and her now American husband, escorted us through.
Looking back at that girl on the bus who gave me that anti-LDS handout, I realized afterwards that Satan knew I knew Maria’s family, and he did his best to keep me away from ever joining the Church. God had other plans for me. 34 yrs later, I can tell you much more about the influence my wife has been in my life. She has been ever so faithful in the Church, for me always someone I can look to when I need to see the right way.
Maria has raised 5 kids and been a shining example to all of them. She has given everything she has to her family. She also helps her extended family whenever they are in need. She is completely selfless, rarely ever putting herself first. (Yes, yes, yes, and yes.)
Whenever someone in the family needs counsel, I mean really good counsel with tough problems, Maria is as good as most professionals. I am a person who doesn’t handle stress very well. (Dad passed his worry-wart genes onto me.) She helps me through times like these, and the Lord puts me in contact with others who can also help me. She ruins watching Dr. Phil for me because she is usually right about the advice his guests need before Dr. Phil gets to give it to them. Maria is a shrink without the university degree. I’m often amazed at her wisdom. Most times when we have had a difference in opinion on something, I have soon seen that she was usually right. Not many men like to admit that, but that is why I have come to respect everything she says, especially involving the kids and my problems. I remember Maria’s first calling here in Canada… a teacher in Primary. She could only speak a little English and she often came home with headaches from trying to understand, but she took the calling and the Lord blessed her to learn the language quite well after 2 yrs here, despite the fact she never had a formal English lesson. Currently, Maria teaches seminary. It is only a 1 hr lesson each Wednesday night. I have noticed that every single week as she prepares the lesson, she averages about 8 hrs total preparation time. Back in December, Maria was called to be 1st Counsellor in the Stake Primary. She could not give the High Councilman an answer right away, as she knew she had to talk to me first. She would need my support to provide rides as the calling involves a lot of travel and she doesn’t like to drive on the highway. I was only more than happy to support her in this calling, and we have been both blessed from it. To conclude, it is an understatement to say that my wife has not been a major influence in my life for good. Only the Lord’s influence could be considered greater. I have learned to thank the Lord in my prayers for her frequently, because I know she could never be replaced if I ever lost her. Thank goodness, our marriage is sealed for all time and eternity in the Temple of the Lord. I have also come to appreciate the magnitude of the sacrifice she made for me in 1975, giving up all she knew including her culture, language and family to be my wife. I will be forever grateful for that.
All this had to be, so I could have the restored gospel in my life. I hope my talk was not too much of a travelogue. That was not my intention. I wanted you to see that the Lord was guiding all that happened and that is why it happened. I have come to learn that I owe the Lord a great deal for this. The Lord prepared the way and because I accepted it, the result has been a life of stability and happiness. Not just happiness for this life, ...but for all time and eternity. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, AMEN.