KARA: "From what your daughter described, you’ve been through some rough times. Talk about some of the trials you’ve gone through, and tell us what helped you overcome those trials. How can we turn trials into blessings?"
LAUREL: "I believe most people have trials and difficulties in life and it is quite possible that those very trials are the blessings Heavenly Father gives us to help us build strength and faith. My trials have not been as bad as many others but have taught me to trust in the Lord and to work hard to overcome them. Frankly, I am grateful for the trials I have had.
My little brother and I were what I laughingly call "throw-away" children. Our lives changed when I was about 6 and my brother was 5 and our parents separated. From that time until I was about 10 years-old we lived in many different cities in Oregon, California, Idaho, Washington and Alaska with various people. There is no way I could begin to tell you how many schools we attended. I never read a book until I was in the sixth grade and I don't recall ever being read to by someone else. Sometimes we lived with our mother but most of the time we were boarded with various caretakers. For a while I was in a private girls school and my brother, Irving, was in a military academy.
When I was about 10 years old we were put on a bus in Washington State and sent to Myrtle Creek, Oregon to be with our father's parents. Unfortunately, they did not know we were coming and as a result when we got off the bus beside the road at 4:00 am in the dark there was nobody to meet us. As daylight came a horse drawn wagon came by delivering milk and the driver stopped to see what we were doing there by the side of the road. We told him we were waiting for our grandparents. When he found out we didn't have any idea what their name was he asked us our name and said he knew of some Johnson's living in the housing project a few miles away but not exactly where in the complex. He took us to the area and let us off and we started knocking on any doors where we saw lights. Finally we found the right unit and we stayed with our grandparents for a few months but we could hear them talking about what to do with us and it was apparent that it was a problem for them. While there we worked in the prune orchards and the bean fields to help pay our way. We finally went into the countryside and found jobs working for our room and board on farms. Irving, my brother went to work for a family north of Myrtle Creek and I found a job just south of Myrtle Creek.
When WWII ended our father came home from the Pacific and with his new wife moved to Oregon. Our step mother did not want us to live with them so finally my father's brother decided to take Irving to live with him and my dad was to take me over his wife's objections. That didn't last long so again I found work for my room and board.
I quit school and married at 16 to a boy of 17. The marriage was difficult. I had 5 miscarriages and three live births, there was abuse, my husband couldn't stay out of trouble with the law, he was unfaithful, went to jail once for statutory rape of a 16 year-old, couldn't hold a job. Needless to say these were not happy years in many ways. The only bright spot was my children whom I adored. I was a mess! I had absolutely no self-confidence, really felt in my heart and soul that I was a nothing.
When I was 24 the marriage ended one day when my husband became angry, almost killed me, left me unconscious on the floor, six months pregnant, with my two toddlers and two older neighbor boys watching this dreadful scene. When I regained consciousness, I gathered up what little my children and I had and left. I filed for divorce and my husband didn't even show up when it went to court. He did, however, constantly harass me and insisted I had to come back. So I left the city and moved from Eureka, California to be near my brother and his wife and to avoid additional danger from my husband. He figured out where I went and came down to San Diego and kidnapped Joe and Pam at gunpoint saying that he was going to kill me and the children. I was gone when he came because my car had caught on fire on the way down and my brother and I were on our way back up to Irvine where we had left the car to tow it down. My sister-in-law called the police and they arrested my husband and returned two frightened children to us. When he got out of jail he came back again with a gun but my brother was there that time and he made it very clear to my former husband that he was not to EVER come near us again or contact us in any way.
I transferred from the telephone company in Eureka and went to work as a long distance telephone operator in San Diego. Realizing there was no way to support my family on operator pay, I started taking classes at the local college. After a few months I transferred to the Accounting Department with the telephone company and worked there for 4 years. I was constantly taking classes so I could move to better paying jobs. I was also taking classes to know how to care for my children, how to become a person, how to be better. I finally realized I was gaining a lot of college credits which wouldn't lead to a degree because I didn't have a high school degree so I enrolled in high school and finally earned my degree there. I transferred to the Business Office with the telephone company and after a few years was promoted to management. I stayed in the Business Office until I was promoted to Area Staff at headquarters. After a few years at headquarters one of the Engineering Managers requested that I be transferred to his Engineering Department to be trained as an Engineer. I worked as a Facilities Engineer designing aerial and underground cables in business and residential areas for three years until I was promoted to the position of Planning Engineer. I spent my last nine years with the phone company in that position.
During all this time I was trying to raise my family, much of that time with very little money and virtually no worldly goods. It was hard and yet we were happy. We all loved to read and as a result shared many wonderful times. My children managed to create fun out of nothing.
One of my friends at work would often talk to me about her church during our breaks and she kept saying I just seemed like a Mormon and she wanted me to let the missionaries meet with me and the children. I was reluctant because I was always so tired and had so much to do trying to keep my family taken care of and trying to better myself with schooling and working so that I could earn more money but I finally agreed to let them come. I didn't do any of the things they asked me to do, like pray about the church or read the Book of Mormon or even the many pamphlets they would give me. I finally decided I would tell them not to come again but I felt really bad about the decision. I kept thinking that I wasn't really giving it a fair chance since I hadn't done anything to really understand what they were telling me. So I decided that before I told them not to come I would do some reading and I would pray about it, sincerely pray about the church and whether I should learn more or even join. We didn't have any furniture or any light in the living room of the apartment we lived in so I went into a dark corner and knelt and prayed, pouring my heart out to God, asking what I should do about the Church and whether it was true or not. Suddenly, I felt I was in the midst of a whirling, frightening battle, a physical battle, one that was going to destroy me totally! I pleaded with God to help me live through this battle and suddenly everything just became so calm and peaceful and I was filled with a wonderful feeling of joy and I knew right then that the Church was true and that God wanted me to be a part of it. That feeling has never left me and has brought me so much joy and happiness that I cannot even begin to express my gratitude to Heavenly Father! My son had just turned 8 years old a few weeks before and he and I were baptized a week or two later and my daughters were baptized as soon as they turned 8. We all love the gospel and it has truly been what has sustained us through all the trials that followed.
My youngest child was 16 when I married my husband and he has had all three of my children sealed to him. Merging two families is never easy and there have been many difficult times but it has all been worth it."
KARA: "What makes you really happy? What inspires you?"
LAUREL: "I guess I don't really have to tell you that it is my family that makes me happy. I have to laugh as I write that because it must seem pretty obvious if you have actually read the ten gazillion things I have already said! The gospel inspires me and the love I feel so intensely from each member of my family inspires me. I am not even remotely the same nonentity that I was at 24. I love life and have so many reasons to do so."
Please join us again tomorrow as we continue this interview with Laurel.