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.
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.
Only 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.
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.
I 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.
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.
As 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.
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.