Is Faith Your Personal Story?
Everyone has a story. Not very many people record it, especially women, and in the absence of a record we miss their true valiant character. History is full of women who sit quietly in the background. Just walk through any cemetery to find “Mother” written on the headstone. Much history lies behind that title, yet the woman is often lost and forgotten. Perhaps she feels her life is mundane and lacking in excitement? It is my opinion that women are more interesting than they themselves believe. I wonder if we might see ourselves in a new light if we held our faith out like a shield overcoming the fear and helplessness that comes along and thwarts us? We all have experiences that force us to make a choice, and hopefully that choice is based on our faith, which should be recorded for those who come after.
Once, while reading in a book, I casually encountered a single sentence that mentioned a woman I had never heard of before. Wondering why she would have been mentioned at all, I went to the Internet to see what was written about her. I was stunned to discover she had kept a book of words that inspired her through her life. Her daughter had written up her life’s history and attached this little book that had been with her mother much of her life. After reading about Isabella, my life has been changed. No longer can I disregard the life of any human soul when that life has been led by faith. We all have experiences, big and small, and we all must write them down for others to be strengthened by.
Isabella Marshall Graham was born in Scotland in the year 1742. As a child she received a good education. Her husband was a physician with the Army who was assigned to Canada, where their children were born. He was soon transferred to the island of Antigua where their little family lived among the natives. After a short time, her husband contracted an illness that took his life. She was left, with three small children on an island in the West Indies, all alone.
She was able to secure passage back to Scotland; however, the ship she was on shipwrecked in a storm. While clinging to a floating piece of wood, she prayed through the excruciating dark night as she held onto her babies. Her fear and helplessness must have been paralyzing, yet she clung onto her faith and rescue finally came.
Not everyone’s life is this dramatic, but every life demands proof of faith. What does one do with that faith when life continues? Our personal faith is the only thing that will carry us back to our Heavenly Father’s presence, as well as act as an ensign to those who read the story of that faith in action.
Isabella returned to Scotland, but her dream was to go back to America. She knew it was the Promised Land. In her words: “America was the country where the church of Christ would eventually flourish”.
Arriving in New York, after taking care of her father in Scotland for many years, she used her skills as a teacher to support her children. Isabella not only used education as a means to help young girls find self-worth and freedom, she also organized a relief society to bring relief to poor young widows with small children. She had a keen understanding of what young widows needed to combat the world.
What I admire most about Isabella is that she was a spiritual giant. She stood less than five feet, yet this woman moved mountains. She scaled heights that never slowed her down. She had a vision of what could be and she set out to fulfill it. It had to be that her relationship with God was personal and her testimony flamed inside her.
On Isabella’s deathbed, in 1814, she said, “I have no more doubt of going to my Saviour, than if I were already in his arms: my guilt is all transferred; he has cancelled all I owed. Yet I could weep for sins against so good a God.”
My final praise of this woman, Isabella Marshall Graham, is her beloved notebook. The honored title she bestowed on this precious pamphlet was “Victuals Prepared For Crossing Over Jordan”. It was filled with scriptures, poems, thoughts, and passages that kept her strong; kept her valiant, until the very end. It is not known when she actually started keeping her journal, but clearly it was in tribute of the faith that kept her going when she had little else to depend upon. It went with her everywhere, safely tucked away in her pocket, so she could finger its pages. At some point she rarely had to even look at it. She had memorized most every word; it was enough to just feel its presence by her side. By the time she was too ill to get out of bed her daughters could hear her constant mumble, all words taken from her little homemade book of faith.
Stories of worth must travel through the generations. Youth in a troubled world need to see the strength of ancestors who have overcome adversity and gained that all-important spiritual faith. My grandmother is one such woman who overcame a life of solitude, disappointment, and overwhelming hardship. Another spiritual giant, she allowed her Heavenly Father to guide her into the unknown where her choices would make her a savior to her family’s future.
Jeanne Seguin Argault was born in France in the year 1886. Her parents were atheists and had no time or inclination for God. She first learned about religion as a teenager when a friend loaned her a book of scripture. As she read it from cover to cover she stated, “I had the notion of reminiscence.” Finally meeting the missionaries, at the age of fifty-eight, she and her family were baptized. From the time she was a child, she would have dreams and within a day or two the dream would be realized. As she grew older she recognized these messages were from a God who loved her, yet it took faith and patience to accept each meaning as it came. With a husband who believed Hitler was a great leader, who would save them all, it was God who told her she would be the one to save her family from the terror that would destroy their security. After much persistence, she finally gained passage, for herself, her reluctant husband, and two daughters, on a ship going to Argentina. They arrived one year before to the day Hitler invaded Poland. In a foreign land, not understanding the language, she made contact with the mission president, who gave her refuge first while waiting for the farm they purchased to be fitted, and later, when she was forced to run away from her depressed and abusive husband. She writes in her personal history, “Maybe if I had not been so unfortunate, I would not have had a comprehensive life and found God. These blessings kept me in the right way—who knows what I would have become if I had not listened to this little voice!”
Once she and her daughters left the farm, they encountered many obstacles, yet she took each one to the Lord who miraculously opened the way for them. Patience was their constant companion as they waited for doors to open, problems to be resolved, and miracles to fall into place. Her goal, set back in France, was to take her daughters to Provo, Utah, where they could get a good education at Brigham Young University, marry good husbands in the temple, and live among believers. She never lost sight of that righteous goal even though the way was so very difficult. At the age of seventy-six, she wrote her life history that stands as a testament of her faith. She wanted her posterity to know how God used her to lead her family to the Promised Land where they could live in peace.
I believe every woman, who lives faithfully, because of Jesus Christ whom she worships, will have a story to tell that testifies of her actions. We all have experiences that force us to make a choice. Will we fail? Will we hide our face in shame and regret? Or will we say, “Here Am I, send me”? Our posterity needs to hear our words, our story. And what of the woman who fears she has no story to tell? Know that your testimony is a story worth telling.
Isabella Marshall Graham’s life story can be read here. Jeanne Seguin Argault’s history is available to her family and hopefully will be available to a wider audience in the near future.
- What words of wisdom have strengthened you in times of need from brave women, ancestors or not?
- What stories will you tell?
- What witness will you bear?
- What testimony will you inspire?