How I Met Your Mother, or, A Terrible Basis for Romance, or, God’s Guiding Hand

I have recently been reading some writings from my Mormon pioneer ancestors, especially those related to my great-great-great grandmother, Sarah DeArmon Pea Rich. One of the interesting stories from her journal pertains to the budding romance between herself and her future husband, Charles Coulson Rich. In her own words:

“One of the Elders who had been several times at our house took a great deal of pains counseling me and my sister to be careful and not marry anyone that did not believe as we did, and told us the consequences that it might be the means of our not having the privilege of gathering with the Saints; and once when he called, he said to me that he had recommended me to a very fine young man that he thought would make me such a good companion, and told me his name.

“So that passed on for some months, and another Elder came and stopped and preached, and while talking to us girls about our gathering with the Church, he turned to me and said, ‘Sister Sarah, I have got a good young Elder in the Church picked out for you a husband.’  Well, said I, tell us what his name is, for that is the second one that has been selected for me a husband; and when he told me his name, behold it was the name that the other Elder had told me of several months before. This caused lots of comments in our family, and they would often tell me to look out for this fine young Elder to come along.

“So after a while the two Elders returned to our house that first preached there and the one that baptized me said to me, ‘Sister Sarah, while I was at Kirtland I recommended you to a very worthy young man who is an Elder in the Church, and when I told him of you said he, that some girl has been recommended to me twice before, and now I must hunt her up, so when I inquired his name, it was the same as the two others had recommended to me. We all wondered, thinking how strange this all should be! So about a month from that time I heard there was a letter in the postoffice for my father, and he not being at home I rode to the postoffice, about a mile away and got the letter, and on opening the letter I found one enclosed directed to me, and on opening mine found it was this same young man that had been recommended to me so many times before writting. I truly was struck with wonder and surprise. As a matter of course, it set me to thinking of the matter, and could not help but think the hand of the Lord had something to do in this matter; as I had always prayed to the Lord that I might be led by His Spirit in selecting a companion for life, and to guide me in that matter…

“…It was almost six months after I received this letter before my father sold his property in Illinois and moved to Missouri and after father got to Far West, it was about two weeks before I met with the young man referred to; his name was Charles C. Rich. It was in a public meeting that our eyes first rested on each other, and without anyone pointing us out to each other, we knew each other at sight; and in four months from the time we first met, we were married on the 11th day of February, in Far West, Caldwell County, Missouri. So my many friends can see the hand of the Lord had something to do in our acquaintance and marriage.”[1]

After reading this account, I started wondering how many of our relationships or marriages have their foundations in experiences like this, because we see them as evidence of the hand of God in our lives.  Without such a belief, these experiences, while seemingly magical and romantic enough to qualify as the plot to a romantic comedy film, ultimately have virtually nothing to do with the actual nuts and bolts of a solid relationship.[2] To any clear-thinking individual, basing such life-altering decisions as marriage on what may be entirely coincidental events is dangerous indeed.

When I was single, I often would go to the temple in Logan and participate in sealings, despite not having a spouse to work with. (Generally speaking, this is a poor way of spending your evenings if you’re trying to find a spouse, since the median age of the people in the sealing rooms was probably about 106.) I found the temple work itself very profound and spiritually strengthening. One weekend, in a desire to retain a waning connection to my mission in Finland, I took a stack of Finnish names which I had received from a friend to the temple and handed them to the sealer on duty that evening. This older gentleman took one look at the mass of letters and umlauts in his hand, and asked me to help him with each pronunciation. Happily, I obliged, and we completed all of the sealings with the help of some octogenarians who were feeling saucy that night and didn’t mind staying late to finish the stack.

As I was leaving the room, the sealer asked me to wait for a moment, which I did.  He came over and took my hand and said, “You have a very good command of Finnish, don’t you?” I replied, saying that I could hold my own. “You need to hang on to that language, because your future is in it.” I just kind of stared at him for a moment, then let his hand drop, and walked out of the room. Two days later, I found myself in a chance meeting with the woman who is now my wife. She happens to be Finnish.

During our courtship, I cannot honestly say that the sealer’s words had a great impact on my mentality toward our relationship; but I also cannot honestly say that they had zero impact. Although I knew that his statement could mean any number of things (including “absolutely jack squat”) I often found myself wondering why he said what he said, and if he had truly seen or felt something that was not yet known to me. I didn’t rely on that sealer for guidance, but on some level, I believed him, just as I believe that my GGG Grandparents Sarah and Charles were guided to each other. The experience did not compel me to marry my wife, but it did comfort me in an odd way as I nervously approached an international, multicultural, and multilingual marriage. Similarly, it greased the wheels slightly when my wife and I made the decision to speak only Finnish to each other and to our children.[3]

So what will I do in 20 years when my daughter tells me of the new beau in her life, and how they are meant to be together because they were assigned to the same Family Home Evening group in their college ward, or that they both like to eat dirt (assuming her current tastes don’t change ) or that they both have tempers hotter than the blazing sun (assuming her current character doesn’t change)?

________________________

[1] Journal of Sarah DeArmon Pea Rich, pp. 15-16
[2] Unless you think that a belief in RomComs as accurate depictions of life and romance is a nut or bolt.
[3] After 8 years of this, I both hate and love that decision on a daily basis.

________________________

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Comments

  1. Thomas Parkin says:

    “or that they both like to eat dirt ”

    *snicker*

    That would clearly be more than coincidence.

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    As a romantic, I liked both stories.

  3. ClaudiaHen says:

    I think a sense of destiny or belonging together can help keep a couple together.

    If I didn’t believe deep down to my bones that God had a hand in bringing my husband and I together and that we had a purpose together that only could be fulfilled together, I’m not so sure we could have survived the trials that we have–and we’ve had some big ones.

    I had always been of the mind that there were many people with which I could be happy, so I was surprised to change my thinking so drastically. Despite the cheesiness, I’ll go right on thinking that my husband and I are destined to be together.

  4. What the sealer meant was that you would someday be able to send me cool pictures and video of my son in Finland. That is the whole of your destiny. The rest are just details.

    I liked both stories too. I had similar coincidental experiences with meeting my wife, except completely different. But, I wonder if such coincidences as are constructed from the innumerable improbabilities we face very day. For example, if two cars could talk that were parked next to each other at the grocery store, they would talk about how they made right or left turns that brought them there, or how they left at the same time, and about how they both ended up in the same city from different factories, and how weird it is that they both ended up there that day when there were so many parking spaces to choose from. I liked that you pointed out that the words did not influence your decision to marry. We have to be careful with lining things up in retrospect.

  5. ClaudiaHen,
    But I”ve seen people stay in harmful marriages for the same reason. It swings both ways. I find the idea more harmful than helpful.

  6. ClaudiaHen says:

    mmiles, sigh, you are right. There’s always a down side.

  7. When we first moved to California my husband gave my daughter a blessing before she started at her new school. In it he told her she’d make friends that she would keep throughout her life, lifelong friends. After the blessing was done and we were alone he told me he had the impression that meant she would marry one of them.

    She’s 19 now. I’ve never mentioned it to her, and I’m sure my husband’s long forgotten about it, but I occasionally think about it. Who has she known that long? haha.

    My own story–I can remember as a teenager wondering who I would marry and what he was doing at that exact moment. Little did I know he was the guy sitting behind me in the school band that was dangling drumsticks from his nostrils.

  8. My husband and I had lots of “crossing paths” moments reaching back into our teens though we lived in different states. There are some strange coincidences that ultimately brought us to the same place at the same time, yet I don’t see it as “destiny”. My husband thinks we were meant to be together, but I see it as a choice and had we not made that choice then other choices would have been available to both of us elsewhere.

    Feeling destined doesn’t give me cause to stay. I think assuming the Lord willed something gives us the idea that He is obligated to make it work, or there’s some magic involved in the outcome. I think we make choices and the Lord offers his assistance in helping us create the best outcome we can.

  9. Mark Brown says:

    I know married people who knew one another in the pre-existence.

  10. I believe both stories; but I typically find about 95% of the providential co-ed love stories sketchy at best.

  11. These are both very nice stories, Scott.

  12. I have often told Left Field that when in the afterlife he finally meets that sweet young woman his patriarchal blessing promised him he’d marry, she’s going to be really mad.

    I like these kinds of stories. It makes sense to me that religious people would attribute these kinds of things to God.

    I remember that when Left and I had our first not-a-date, the officiator said something that was pretty much verbatim something my bishop had said just recently about holding on to the desires of my heart (in the context of finding a partner). The similarity was quite startling, and made a big impression on me.

  13. Another problem I find with this idea is when people feel they married the “wrong” person. I’ve seen it ruin marriages. They really think there is some destined person out there they were supposed to marry and they blew it. That’s lame.

  14. I often found myself wondering why he said what he said, and if he had truly seen or felt something that was not yet known to me.

    I’ve had a couple of experiences like this, and I do believe that in both cases, the other person sensed something about me and my future. (Neither related to marriage.)

  15. Scott B: This sounds like an arranged marriage to me. This was a very common thing for our Mormon pioneer ancestors to do.
    My Grandparents had such a marriage, as did many of my ancestors. It may have been more common than polygamy, and was often used in polygamy.

  16. Bob,
    It wasn’t an arranged marriage.

  17. mmiles,
    I’m not entirely sure what idea you’re having a problem with. Is it the idea that God might help us find a certain path, or that people are often willing to (at least partly, in the case of my GGG grandmother) base their decisions on mistaken interpretations of circumstantial evidence of such help?

  18. God told my mission president to give me the greenie, Elder P, so that I would hook up with (and marry) Elder P’s sister. And so that Elder P would marry my dear friend (and former girlfriend). See, God knows what’s up!

    Scott, those are nice stories. But on the day-to-day, does that have any effect on your relationship with your wife? Do you consciously think about that when resolving a disagreement?

  19. Rusty,
    I don’t understand your comment at all. I said quite explicitly that it didn’t affect any decisions about my relationship one way or the other–that it did not give me “any guidance” about whether or not to continue dating or marry her.

    What it did was give me the idea that, perhaps, in the context of my ultimate decision to marry a Finnish person, perhaps putting forth a little more effort to speak Finnish would be worthwhile.

    The post was meant as a critique of basing decisions on circumstantial minutiae, while acknowledging the possibility that those minutiae can be helpful lubricants in making those decisions on correct bases.

  20. My Grandmother and Grandfather met and were married two weeks later. By all accounts had a great marriage. I’m a believer in both love at first sight, as well as God-led meetings.
    I’ve seen Godly intervention in much more mundane things, it’d be hard not to believe that he might intervene in something as important as marriage.
    To mmiles point, I think sometimes people look for signs of intervention to support the inadvisable idea to marry someone who is mis-matched or ill-prepared. But if someone is looking for such a sign, they’re probably already intent on marriage and will move ahead regardless. I doubt that its all that often that someone sees a dove descend upon a possible mate and says to himself “well, I can’t stand her, but apparently its His will, I guess I’ll tie the knot. . . ”
    But then again, I’ve heard of crazier reasonings for decisions, so it’s possible.

  21. I can relate to the first story – at least the love at first sight and knowing each other without having met previously part.

    Before I met my wife, I was convinced I wouldn’t meet my future wife until after my mission – and probably a while after. After all, that’s how I interpreted a line in my PB. I also believed dating twice in a row was “going steady” and borderline sin. (Yeah, I was one of the obnoxious ones.) After I met her, substantially prior to my mission, I didn’t date anyone else – and I knew within a week that we would be married eventually. It was as close to love at first sight as it is possible to get – and I believe absolutely that God brought us together.

    Having said that, I don’t believe our marriage or our mortal happiness was predestined. I believe God helped arrange our meeting, but I also believe it was and still is up to us to decide to marry and then make it work. We still drive each other nuts occasionally, but the deep believe that we were brought together for a reason we don’t fully understand sustains us and makes the general nuttiness totally worth it and acceptable.

    Also, it helped that she felt the same way – even though it took her longer to admit it openly. Her journals make it crystal clear that she felt the same way, but she wasn’t ready to admit it as quickly as I was.

    Finally, I have had flashes of insight into the future marriages of at least two of my kids – but I have no idea if they are accurate / inspired or not. We’ll see.

  22. I can do ya’ll one better.

    For those of you who know him, I’m a personal friend of Aaron Shaf (an anti-mo who posts here sometimes, or at least used to). I met him years ago when I stumbled on his website to convert Mormons to Christianity. One day last summer he send me a FB note saying “You gotta add this girl, you two think alike and would get along.” So I added the girl, and didn’t think nothing of it. Finally met her in person a few months later, and a few months after that we started dating. By day 4 I knew I was gonna marry this girl, and at our 3 month anniversary (of dating) we were married in the SL Temple.
    As for her, well she met him while he was street preaching right outside the north gate of Temple Square in downtown SLC.

    So my wife and I were introduced by an antimormon blogger. That and other features of our courtship convince us that it was indeed God who brought us together (plus it’s a really cool intro story).

  23. Scott,
    I think God guides us, and we meet people for reasons. I have a story similar to yours. When I went home from my mission I left with one other sister. In talking with the president before we left, he looked at us both and said, “Keep your Russian up, becuase of your husbands you’ll need it someday.” Now that’s an odd thing to say. But we looked at each other and sensed that he sensed somethng. We both married people who speak Russian–but more than that, I know I purposely sought a spouse who did. I stop short of saying there is a one and only person for people in this life. I don’t believe that. That has too many implications I am not comfortable with.

  24. I think there is a strength in believing that a particular coupling was by divine design. Marriage is challenging at best and just hard work some days. To believe that it was God’s plan for you to marry a certain person can provide a will to make it work. This is true even if there was no godly intervention and you just projected it and truly believed it.

    The reverse can also be true. I have heard many divorced people say that the day before or the day of their wedding they felt a prompting to not go through with it but they did anyway. I often think that many times they just had wedding jitters as many people have and it is only in retrospect after the divorce (or while deciding to divorce) that they give it more weight to help reconcile divorce with their religious beliefs.

  25. I know that I was an answer to my wife’s prayer before we met (she was praying for a trustworthy friend at the time). At the same time, I know I wasn’t able to answer about 50 other prayers supplicating companionship. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

  26. While I don’t think God pre-arranges marriages, I do believe that there are forks in our path that if we take the wrong one, our lives are pretty much sidelined from what the Lord had in mind. I can’t draw any other moral from the story of Samson. That’s not to say the rest of life isn’t worth living, or that there’s any point in being bitter about it, but you can certainly miss out on what you could have had. I also think the spirit of prophecy can come from near-random directions.

    That said, choosing against one’s better judgment on the grounds that one has received a sign is generally nuts.

    Scott, if your daughter and her husband both eat dirt and have incendiary tempers: Marriage — a new and even more terrifying performance art!

  27. Finally, I have had flashes of insight into the future marriages of at least two of my kids – but I have no idea if they are accurate / inspired or not. We’ll see.

    I had a particular impression about my oldest son pretty much the first time I held him. Throughout his life, he has said or done things that confirm this impression. It is not something I would choose for him. I think it might be the Lord preparing me for his choices – to know it is the Lord’s will or what is supposed to happen in my son’s life.

    While I don’t think God pre-arranges marriages, I do believe that there are forks in our path that if we take the wrong one, our lives are pretty much sidelined from what the Lord had in mind.

    But I also think that the Lord works with us where we are at. So, if we take one wrong fork, we might not do one work the Lord had in mind for us, but assuming we continue to seek His will, we will be an instrument in His hands in some way.

  28. Fletcher (25) FTW.

  29. That said, choosing against one’s better judgment on the grounds that one has received a sign is generally nuts.

    I have a close (non-member) friend with whom I have talked extensively about faith and spirituality and Christianity. He has explained his point of view that the spirit doesn’t talk just to the heart, but if the Lord is revealing somthing he will speak to both the heart and the mind.
    I have adopted this point of view into my own life. If I feel something, but it goes against my better judgement (read: intuition), I don’t believe it to be true inspiration (thats not to say its deceitful inspiration from another source, but I just stop short of attributing the feelings to the spirit). Vice versa, if I have a “great idea” but my heart doesn’t jump, it might still be a great idea, but I don’t attribute it to the spirit.

  30. The post was meant as a critique of basing decisions on circumstantial minutiae, while acknowledging the possibility that those minutiae can be helpful lubricants in making those decisions on correct bases.
    Perhaps a story from the other direction might help. At a church function I saw my husband across the room and had the distinct impression I should go introduce myself to him. I didn’t.
    A week later I introduced myself to his friend who was in several of my classes. What followed was a long miserable relationship with the friend, that ended unpleasantly for both of us, but at some level served the purpose of introducing me to my husband (who I recognized immediately as the guy I saw before).
    Had I decided to marry my husband based on the prompting to introduce myself to him that would have been stupid. However, acting on that prompting may have saved me some grief by letting me dodge the relationship with his friend.

  31. Scott, I like the idea of those types of experiences being lubricants. They aren’t anything that should be used to base serious life decisions on. They are just icing on the cake. Actually, maybe I prefer cake frosting to lubricants.

  32. JonJon, frosting is sticky. It just gums up the works. Leave the analogies to Scott, or you’re going to confuse people.

  33. #29: The Heart does not think, hear, or have emotions___it just pumps blood. God is not talking to it.

  34. God has been my matchmaker. If celestial marriage is the sum and goal of our spiritual life, I have been truly blessed. The surprising turn of events over decades cannot be adequately compressed to this medium.

    I have one understanding, that the husband is truly a support. If a man is to be the answer to a woman’s prayer for a good man, he must subscribe to the dictum of the 121st section. His priesthood must be used as a blessing to the people around him, particularly his wife.

  35. Scott B. – I like the purpose of the post (“a critique of basing decisions on circumstantial minutiae, while acknowledging the possibility that those minutiae can be helpful lubricants in making those decisions on correct bases.”). I think as I get older, I feel myself trying to make fewer decisions based on circumstantial minutiae–for better or for worse. Sometimes I have to kick myself because the zest of life for me involves an element of excitement, risk, lack of certainty, and getting to know the unknown. This zest gets lost on me when I feel my decisions become too calculated, requiring too much certainty, and not involving risk. I’m sometimes left asking myself if perfection, and perfect decisions, are boring or if they add to development of character.

    Today is my and my wife’s 11th anniversary. We were married on Friday the 13th. We met on a Friday the 13th. We were engaged on a Friday the 13th. We are not superstitious, and we are proving that one year at a time.

    I met her in the same room that my parents met in. It was a UCLA institute dance. I had no ambition of meeting her or other girls that night. My friend and I happened to drive out there just to see what was going on. On the surface, my wife and I had very little in common. But when I saw her–call it circumstantial minutiae (“she looked HOT!”) or otherwise–I felt motivated to know her. So much that I broke the cardinal rule and called her the next day to go see her back out at UCLA! Our getting together seemed strictly based on sight–after taking into consideration the other cosmic chain of events leading up to the sight (e.g., I am LDS, she is LDS, she was at UCLA LDS institute, my friend and I heard a rumor that ultimately placed us at UCLA institute at the same time she was there, etc.).

    Her experience and existence have brought me to a place of growth–during this life–that I am not completely confident that another LDS woman could. It is yin and yang for us. I don’t know whether our getting together was lubricated by any circumstantial minutiae, but our experience has been divine (not in the cheesy sense) in the way we individually are taking shape.

  36. 33 – “The Heart” is a very common and accepted euphemism for the soul or spirit of a man/woman. But . . . thanks for correcting me(???)

  37. Interesting, from start to post 22

  38. Starfoxy — liked your post.

  39. In my younger years I always had a fondness for the story of Rebecca in the Bible and always had a faith that God would guide me. I’ve also heard many positive stories like those given here which gave me hope.

    In counterpoint we have a recent General Authority talk counselling us that expecting God to reveal or give us our spouse is abdicating our responsibility to do it ourselves.

  40. Dan Forward says:

    When I was seventeen, I decided to join the Navy Reserves. After much discussion with my recruiter, I chose to become a Cryptologic Technician – Interperative (CTI) which would mean year-long training in Colorado. I came on a Friday to sign the papers, when it was discovered that I had an unpaid parking ticket. I would need to pay the ticket and return on Monday before we could seal the deal. On Monday, all programs over six months were discontinued for reservists, including the CTI program. I had to choose another, which took me instead to Great Lakes, IL. It was there that I met my wife-to-be. While I felt God’s hand in my choice of an eternal companion, I find it somewhat troubling that if I had been more law abiding and either avoided parking illegally or paid it promptly, I would have never been in Illinois to meet her.

  41. I know a Helton who mentioned being related to Sarah’s daughter Elizabeth (he told me this because the latter married a son of Orson Pratt).

    To any clear-thinking individual, basing such life-altering decisions as marriage on what may be entirely coincidental events is dangerous indeed.

    True. Yet occasionally one is given to know that events of this type are not coincidental. Of course judgment can be clouded by chemistry and wishing, but there really is a spiritual 2×4, and when it whacks you in the head, there’s no question about where the Lord hopes you’ll go from that point.

    I don’t maintain that all marriages are arranged by the Lord in this manner, but I read all GA cautions about misplaced expectations to find a soul-mate as cautions about losing marriage opportunities rather than doctrinal statements about all marriages. I’ve known too many couples who were clearly brought specifically together by Providence to believe otherwise.

    One woman I knew lost her mother in young adulthood. On her deathbed the mother stated her intent to find this woman’s future husband. And that’s exactly what she did. The RM attending the temple in his home state was advised by an older woman (as he supposed, a temple worker) to travel across the US to Arizona. In a session in the Mesa temple the couple noticed each other (recognizing each other from recent dreams), then talked for a few hours at her house (“Who is that in the photo? That’s the woman that told me to come here!” That’s my mother. She died X months ago.”). By the end of the day they decided to get married, and they’re doing well some 12 years later.

    My own story isn’t so extreme, but the 2×4 was definitely involved.

    So what will I do in 20 years when my daughter tells me of the new beau in her life…?

    My parents couldn’t say anything about us getting engaged 16 days after our first date; they had done the exact same thing. It’s pretty much how we Pratts roll.

  42. 33: actually, it’s not that simple: http://www.therealessentials.com/followyourheart.html
    That articles explains a lot, even though it’s not quite a scientific article; but I read the news when the research came out–search, you’ll find more if you want.
    Here’s another: http://www.heartmath.org/research/science-of-the-heart.html

  43. grego Says: “actually, it’s not that simple: That articles explains a lot, even though it’s not quite a scientific article; but I read the news when the research came out–search, you’ll find more if you want.”

    Yes, the 2nd reference was more thorough. It’s all highly esoteric, and to the extent that it’s based on sound science, it’s fine. But I don’t need to understand the precise physiological details of the interaction of my bodies organs to understand that our bodies are fine instruments (“masterpiece” per Pres Uchtdorf) which our Heavenly Father has given us to operate with our minds and spirits.

    Dr. Fisher’s “Anatomy of Love” gives a more anthropological guide to the interaction of the physical and social aspect of the formation of a mating companionship which is more accessible to laymen. She describes an internal “love map” that consists of a series of traits that we have derived from experiences with positive examples in our lives that we would like to have in a mate. Or, as in a recent address, we are hard-wired for love, so don’t make it harder than it is!

  44. Bruce Rogers says:

    Many of the above stories reinforce the idea that when we are doing what we should be doing, the Lord will bless us in our efforts. When I returned from my mission, I felt impressed to attend the Institute Ward sacrament meeting. A lady sang a solo and afterward I introduced myself to her. We were married six months later and she was a great blessing to me and our children, until the Lord called her home when she acquired cancer.

  45. Bruce Rogers Says:

    “Many of the above stories reinforce the idea that when we are doing what we should be doing, the Lord will bless us in our efforts.”

    Sorry to hear of your loss.

    Your idea is really key. Take care of the Lord’s business and He will take care of us.

  46. Interestingly, of the groups of people I’m involved in, very few believe in “circumstances”. Most everyone believes in purpose… (Though I admit many are not of the ordinary, including me.)
    -=
    John,
    I think there was a misunderstanding, my comment was in reply to:
    #33 Bob, who wrote: “#29: The Heart does not think, hear, or have emotions___it just pumps blood. God is not talking to it.”
    -=
    I was called to a mission. Frankly, I have no idea why *that* mission. I believe there were reasons, however, why I was called to the mission I was called to by revelation. I believe I could have been called and served at least as well in many other missions, but I wasn’t called to any of them.
    I have a hard time believing a mission is a greater calling than husband/ father/ son-in-law/ brother-in-law/ grandfather etc. So, why not divine help??
    -=
    Funny, this topic came up for my wife’s VT group (it’s a small area and everyone’s busy, so the women all meet together once a month at a tea shop for dinner and the message-sharing) tonight. Many of the women shared yes, they believe there was more in their story than meets the earthly eye.
    -=
    I believe the Holy Ghost helps us to know what events/ comments/ etc. to discard, what to keep, and at what levels to do so.

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