Chapter 11: Marriage and Subsequent Labors
Perils and Poverty
A few months after my marriage, I attended, with my husband, a Conference at Topsham, Maine, at which Elder Bates was present. He did not then fully believe that my visions were of God. That meeting was a season of much interest. The Spirit of God rested upon me; I was wrapped in a vision of God's glory, and for the first time had a view of other planets. After I came out of vision, I related what I had seen. Elder B. then asked if I had studied astronomy. I told him I had no recollection of ever looking into an astronomy. Said he: "This is of the Lord." I never before saw him so free and happy. His countenance shone with the light of heaven, and he exhorted the church with power.
From the Conference I returned with my husband to Gorham, where my parents were then living. Here I was taken very sick, and suffered extremely. My parents, husband, and sisters united in prayer for me, but I suffered on for three weeks. I often fainted like one dead, but in answer to prayer revived again. My agony was so great that I pleaded with those around me not to pray for me; for I thought their prayers were protracting my sufferings. Our neighbors gave me up to die. For a time it pleased the Lord to try our faith. At length, as my friends again united in prayer for me, a brother who was present seemed much burdened, and with the power of God resting upon him, rose from his knees, came across the room, and laid his hands upon my head, saying: "Sister Ellen, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole," and fell back, prostrated by the power of God. I believed that the work was of God, and the pain left me. My soul was filled with gratitude and peace. The language of my heart was: "There is no help for us but in God. We can be in peace only as we rest in Him and wait for His salvation."
The next day there was a severe storm, and none of the neighbors came to our house. I was able to be up in the sitting room; and as some saw the windows of my room raised, they supposed that I was dead. They knew not that the Great Physician had graciously entered the dwelling, rebuked the disease, and set me free. The next day we rode thirty-eight miles to Topsham. Inquiries were made of my father, at what time the funeral would be. Father asked: "What funeral?" "The funeral of your daughter," was the reply. Father answered: "She has been healed by the prayer of faith, and is on her way to Topsham."
A few weeks after this, on our way to Boston we took the steamer at Portland. A violent storm came up, and we were in great peril. The boat rolled fearfully, and the waves dashed into the cabin windows. There was great fear in the ladies' cabin. Many were confessing their sins, and crying to God for mercy. Some were calling upon the Virgin Mary to keep them, while others were making solemn vows to God that if they reached land they would devote their lives to His service. It was a scene of terror and confusion. As the boat rocked, a lady turned to me and said: "Are you not terrified? I suppose it is a fact that we may never reach land." I told her that I had made Christ my refuge, and if my work was done, I might as well lie in the bottom of the ocean as in any other place; but if my work was not done, all the waters of the ocean could not drown me. My trust was in God; He would bring us safe to land if it was for His glory.
At this time I prized the Christian's hope. The scene before me brought vividly to my mind the day of the Lord's fierce anger, when the storm of His wrath will come upon the poor sinner. Then there will be bitter cries and tears, confession of sin, and pleading for mercy, when it will be too late. "Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out My hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at nought all My counsel, and would none of My reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh."
Through the mercy of God we were all landed safe. But some of the passengers who manifested much fear in the storm made no reference to it, only to make light of their fears. One who had solemnly promised that if she were preserved to see land she would be a Christian, mockingly cried out as she left the boat: "Glory to God, I am glad to step on land again!" I asked her to go back a few hours, and remember her vows to God. She turned from me with a sneer.
I was forcibly reminded of deathbed repentance. Some serve themselves and Satan all their lives, and then as sickness subdues them, and a fearful uncertainty is before them, they manifest some sorrow for sin, and perhaps say they are willing to die, and their friends make themselves believe that they have been truly converted and fitted for heaven. But if these should recover, they would be as rebellious as ever. I am reminded of Proverbs 1:27, 28: "When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon Me, but I will not answer; they shall seek Me early, but they shall not find Me."
At Gorham, Maine, August 26, 1847, our eldest son, Henry Nichols White, was born. In October, Brother and Sister Howland of Topsham kindly offered us a part of their dwelling, which we gladly accepted, and commenced housekeeping with borrowed furniture. We were poor, and saw close times. We had resolved not to be dependent, but to support ourselves, and have something with which to help others. But we were not prospered. My husband worked very hard hauling stone on the railroad, but could not get what was due him for his labor. Brother and Sister H. freely divided with us whenever they could; but they were in close circumstances. They fully believed the first and second messages, and had generously imparted of their substance to forward the work, until they were dependent on their daily labor.
My husband left the railroad, and with his ax went into the woods to chop cordwood. With a continual pain in his side, he worked from early morning till dark to earn about fifty cents a day. He was prevented from sleeping nights by severe pain. We endeavored to keep up good courage, and trust in the Lord. I did not murmur. In the morning I felt grateful to God that He had preserved us through another night, and at night I was thankful that He had kept us through another day. One day when our provisions were gone, my husband went to his employer to get money or provisions. It was a stormy day, and he walked three miles and back in the rain. He brought home on his back a bag of provisions tied in different compartments, having in this manner passed through the village of Brunswick, where he had often lectured. As he entered the house, very weary, my heart sank within me. My first feelings were that God had forsaken us. I said to my husband: "Have we come to this? Has the Lord left us?" I could not restrain my tears, and wept aloud for hours, until I fainted. Prayer was offered in my behalf. When I breathed again, I felt the cheering influence of the Spirit of God, and regretted that I had sunk under discouragement. We desire to follow Christ and to be like Him; but we sometimes faint beneath trials, and remain at a distance from Him. Sufferings and trials bring us near to Jesus. The furnace consumes the dross and brightens the gold.
At this time I was shown that the Lord had been trying us for our good, and to prepare us to labor for others; that He had been stirring up our nest, lest we should settle down at ease. Our work was to labor for souls; if we had been prospered, home would be so pleasant that we would be unwilling to leave it; trials had been permitted to come upon us to prepare us for the still greater conflicts that we would meet in our travels. We soon received letters from brethren in different states inviting us to visit them; but we had no means to take us out of the state. Our reply was that the way was not open before us. I thought that it would be impossible for me to travel with my child. We did not wish to be dependent, and were careful to live within our means. We were resolved to suffer rather than get in debt. I allowed myself and child one pint of milk each day. One morning before my husband went to his work, he left me nine cents to buy milk for three mornings. It was a study with me whether to buy the milk for myself and babe or get an apron for him. I gave up the milk, and purchased the cloth for an apron to cover the bare arms of my child.
Little Henry was soon taken very sick, and grew worse so fast that we were much alarmed. He lay in a stupid state; his breathing was quick and heavy. We gave remedies with no success. We then called in a person of experience in sickness, who said that his recovery was doubtful. We had prayed for him, but there was no change. We had made the child an excuse for not traveling and laboring for the good of others, and we feared the Lord was about to remove him. Once more we went before the Lord, praying that He would have compassion upon us, and spare the life of the child, and solemnly pledging ourselves to go forth, trusting in God, wherever He might send us.
Our petitions were fervent and agonizing. By faith we claimed the promises of God, and we believed that He listened to our cries. Light from heaven was breaking through the clouds and shining upon us. Our prayers were graciously answered. From that hour the child began to recover.
(Testimonies for the Church, pp. 79-84)