"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
August 21, 2013
Staying in Our Home
by Marian Stoddard

When we hit a crisis last winter, we knew that the maybes about leaving our home and downsizing had turned into certainties. We had once said that we would live there till we died, and thirty-plus years was a good effort in that direction, but needs change and circumstances arise that toss old assumptions out the window.

We were going to have to move. Would we be able to find a place in our ward? Were we supposed to? We were agreed that we would only get through this with our Heavenly Father’s help, and that we needed to be where He wanted us. We also wanted to stay in the ward.

We met with our bishop, who told us to do what we needed to do. He gave each of us a priesthood blessing before we left his office, a help I highly recommend in a stressful situation. We felt assured that there was an answer, but not knowing what it would be was a test of our peace.

We moved here into the original Tacoma First Ward. This was the old, solid core of the membership in Tacoma, and when we came here in 1978 there were still many who had helped build our building, strong, long-time families. There was a sense of history, not faded yet. We were surrounded by stories of spiritual pioneers, strongly rooted men and women. Some of them had passed on; some were still with us.

We were part of a wave of young families, and when we had a chance for a home in the ward a couple of years later, we were happy. Now, three decades later, there is only one other couple remaining here from that group.

We have a lot of turnover, as demographics have changed over the years. As the economy has become more difficult, and more families have broken apart, there has been increasing instability and transience.

We have watched people come into the ward as new couples, have babies, and find homes elsewhere. Sometimes that doesn’t happen immediately, but with more children they eventually leave. Or changes in employment take them somewhere else. Sometimes we have seen people leave quickly because they felt overwhelmed with the needs of the ward.

Those needs can seem overwhelming. We have almost 700 members on the records, and more than 450 single-person households. That’s not a single mom with a child, that’s a household of one solitary person. The average sacrament meeting attendance is about 155 persons.

We have two family shelters, at least two women’s shelters, several low-income senior apartments, subsidized family housing, and the county jail in our boundaries. We also extend into the older north end of the city with stable neighborhoods and settled families.

We’ve had our ups and downs, as boundaries and designations have changed. When a Samoan ward was formed in our stake twenty years ago, the downtown branch we were then in was dissolved and combined with what remained of the next ward.

That was fine, putting our neighbor on the next block back in the same ward with us. That neighbor was the bishop, and he got a letter from Salt Lake about something, which said, “your ward, functioning below the level of a branch….” That left him kind of shell-shocked; he kept repeating that and saying, “We’re not doing that badly…are we?”

But at that point, we had only fourteen active Melchizedek priesthood holders. If you live in a good, solid ward, look around you next Sunday and start counting. Bishop, two counselors, executive secretary, ward clerk, Young Men president, elders quorum president, high priests group leader: that’s eight right there, six left, and you don’t have a financial clerk, a membership clerk, two counselors each for your various presidents, much less Sunday school, scoutmaster, teachers, and so on.

Couples were called from the stake to come attend and serve in our ward for periods of time, as a stake mission. The members of the stake presidency took their personal home teaching assignments to visit the less active members in our ward.

My husband served as elders quorum president for a year, and he had a varying roster of ninety to a hundred and five elders and prospective elders on his rolls, and ten or eleven men that he could actually count on to do home teaching. They’re always spread too thin.

I can understand why some members were happy to find their next place somewhere easier. A realignment of boundaries thirteen years ago has made enough difference to keep us functioning, but there are still major challenges.

What about us? There’s not a ward anywhere in our stake where we would not know people. It could be an adventure, being sent to a new place. Our last child was graduating from college, and the nest was going to be empty; that could be a good time to start a life that was totally new.

Then again, I would look around me on Sunday and think of not seeing these Saints we loved, not sharing the work with them anymore, only running into them at random on occasion, and it would break my heart. This was our family, and this building was our home. We’d weathered a lot of troubles here, and seen miracles happen in our own lives and others’.

What were we supposed to do? Would it be the same as what we wanted to do?

We were agreed that we had to stay in the stake, and it was my job to find us a place to live. He packed. I started searching, calculating, and kept praying. We both did a lot of praying.

Despite his avowed lack of computer skills, my husband had been called as ward clerk, and didn’t feel ready in any way to leave. There was so much to do. He prayed with the utmost humility that we would go wherever our Father desired, but pleaded that He could continue to use us and keep us in our ward.

That prayer was answered in the following days with a sweet, clear affirmation that the Lord would bring together what we needed, and that He would keep us in our ward.

That made the search simpler. Now, I kept “meetinghouse locator” on lds.org busy as I looked up each listed property. We’d spot a sign, or a posting online, and say, nope, not in the boundaries. We toured one apartment, impossibly small, and despaired of finding what we needed. But we had faith that something would turn up, and it did.

I found a listing for a two-bedroom house, which was pulled the day I called because the agency had a tenant already lined up. That application fell through, and ours was accepted.

A couple wanted to buy our house before it was even listed, because they were looking for a place near our elementary school; their son had an out-of-boundary enrollment, but they had to drive him every day. Our house was three blocks away, with twice the space they had, and on a double lot. They were more than capable of making some repairs.

They swooned, we thanked the Almighty, and drew up a contract.

So here we are in a small, quirky old house, with the help of God and many good friends who pitched in to get us moved. We know we are in the right place for now.

We are grateful that the Lord moved us to a new address, but let us stay in our home.

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About Marian Stoddard

Marian J. Stoddard was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in its Maryland suburbs. Her father grew up in Carson City, Nevada, and her mother in Salt Lake City, so she was always partly a Westerner at heart, and she ended up raising her family in Washington State. Her family took road trips all over the United States and Canada, so there were lots of adventures.

The adventures of music, literature, and art were also valued and pursued. Playing tourist always included the local museums as well as historical sites and places of natural beauty. Discussions at home, around the dinner table or working in the kitchen, could cover politics, philosophy, or poetry, with the perspective of the gospel underlying all. Words and ideas, and testimony and service, were the family currency.

Marian graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, and attended the University of Utah as the recipient of the Ralph Hardy Memorial Scholarship, where she was graduated with honors, receiving a B.A. in English. She also met the love of her life, a law student, three weeks after her arrival; she jokes that she had to marry him because her mother always wanted a tenor in the family. (She sings second soprano.) They were married two years later and have six children and six grandchildren (so far). She treasures her family, her friends, and her opportunities to serve.

Visit Marian at her blog, greaterthansparrows.  You can contact her at bloggermarian@gmail.com. 

Marian and her husband live in Tacoma, Washington. Together they teach those who are preparing to go to the temple for the first time, and she also teaches a Stake Relief Society Institute class.

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