Faith, Endurance and Forgiveness

Jennis Lawrence, is the youngest of nine children, who grew up in an era when speaking and learning the Maori language was not encouraged in New Zealand. “When [my mother] went to school she couldn’t speak English. So she was strapped every day for speaking Maori. So when their children came along we were never taught to speak Maori, our language. We were discouraged, and it was English language education,” she explained.

Right after high school, at a very young age, Jennis got married. “I was meant to go to university and I didn’t, I got married very young. That lasted for two years. Very young, got married for the wrong reasons.” At the age of twenty-four, Jennis met her second husband, a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. “We were together for twenty-seven years, we had always been an athletic couple.” After traveling to an international netball tournament in Hawaii, Jennis fell ill and upon returning home to New Zealand, she sought medical attention. “I went to the doctor and went to go see the gynecologist specialist, [I] found out that I couldn’t have children to cut a long story short.” Despite her and her husband’s efforts over the next few years, following that doctor’s visit to have children, “[A]t the end of the day, at age twenty-seven I had a hysterectomy which removed all child bearing scenarios.”

Fortunately, Jennis and her husband were blessed to be able to adopt two boys. “Our first son, his name is Ra, came through the New Zealand social services. Our second son Chaad who came twenty months after, we got through the Church social services. It was wonderful, two beautiful boys.” In spite of the miracle of having their two boys, after twenty seven years, her marriage ended. “[He] became emotionally involved with another person. Basically trying to help the couple, (they were a younger married couple having problems.) Went in to try and help and fell in to that classic situation of becoming too emotionally involved and ended up leaving me.” After her husband left, Jennis ventured on to take care of her two boys.

After some time, her husband returned. “Their father went away with the other person for a time and it didn’t work out. So to cut a long story short, he contacted me a broken person pretty much, with no means so I said to my boys,’We are going to pick your father up when he comes in a the airport.’ So he came here and stayed in our spare room until he could sort himself out. We tried to do the best we could to support everyone really. Everyone is on their own journeys and going through their own challenges and struggles. And then their father went back to Hastings where we are from to get his life back on track and I could only focus on my own boys.” Her sons eventually went on their missions and after her eldest son’s return home, he attended Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, in the States where he met and married his wife. Her youngest son returned and is now living in Hamilton, New Zealand with his wife and two children.

In 2010, Jennis hit another major roadblock in her life, but this time it was a financial setback. “Someone I have known all her life and loved all her life, came to us as a family with a wonderful business opportunity, the long and short of it is that we pretty much got sucked into it, lost a lot a lot of money, put a lot of money into it. I owned, well, I didn’t own it this was a mortgage. This was my home, I lost it. I had a rental property down the road, I lost it.” After losing everything she found herself living in a garage for four months. “No job, no food, no means. And in all that time, I’ll never forget because I also am a board member of the LDS business association I have an MBA and have been in business all my life pretty much. In corporate background as H.R. and management. So I am on this board there doing the launching leaders program and no one even realized that I was wearing the same clothes everyday and that I would go home and hand wash them, sleep on the floor on a mattress and get up and go and fulfill my assignments and callings and have a great time out there doing it. And then I’d come back to the garage and sleep on the floor. I’ve got a heater on that side and a T.V. on the other, and I’d hand wash everyday and live out of the boot of my car. And nobody knew. I think the things that keep you going are that you know within yourself who you are and you know that you are a good person and you know that you have done nothing wrong except that you trusted people.” After some time, and with the help of her daughter-in-law’s parents, Jennis was able to move back into her house again. “So this is everybody’s home, this home. This is the Lord’s home.  So yeah, they moved me back here and that’s why they come, everyone comes, Family home evenings, non-members, less-actives, fundraising, all sorts.”

Despite what she went through, Jennis looks at her challenges with gratitude for the lessons that they have taught her. “You have many blessings amongst the trials and I look back about what I went through, it’s hard, its laborious, it’s challenging but sitting here now looking back, I see them as you know, I see the blessings that I have received as a result of going through those trials.  I having lived out of the boot of my car, you can smell poverty, you can see it in families.  You know, even regardless of what things look like, you know how they are living. I mean me having a loaf of bread, I could make that last three weeks and I remember going to work and you know everyone does take out and goes and has a treat and that and I’d toast my bread because it would get hard after a while but I’d toast it and I’d cut it into four and have peanut butter on it and I’d put it in a little pack and I’d take it and I’d have one quarter of it at morning tea time, two at lunch time and another one in the afternoon and that was the food I had. And everyone would say, ‘Oh, come.’ And I’d say, ‘No, that’s ok, I’m watching things,’ and they all thought I was dieting but I was hungry as. But, you know. I’ve never been without in my life. I’ve been very fortunate and so just those few months of living like that was a great learning lesson for me.”

Because of the things she has gone through, Jennis has learned to reach out to others. She and her friends have created a group called “M.O.M’s” (Mothers Of Missionaries) where they fundraise to help youth and young single adults go on their missions. This group caters for different events and all proceeds go to the mission funds for any young individual with a desire to serve but cannot afford to do so. “So when the challenges come, just know that there is a reason for it. And just faith, faith in every footstep really.  And the best thing to do is just to get out and I say righteous works not just works, not just looking good going nowhere stuff, not just being busy for the sake of being busy. But get out and help others, go do service, go do something that’s the best way of getting over yourself.”

Jennis has also learned to reach out to her own family, including her ex-husband. “My ex-husband, he went to Hastings and sorted himself out so to speak, he met a lovely woman. She is beautiful inside and out. In fact she is a really lovely, lovely woman. I loved her from the first time I met her. So over the times my boys were here they would come from Hastings up to Auckland to spend time with the boys and especially when they had their baby, I flew my sons down so that Ra could bless the baby. And so they are really close with their little brothers.  And so to cut a long story short, she was converted, they are both in the temple now, that couple. And they have a seven year old and a five year old. So my boys have two little brothers and I love both those little boys and yeah, we are a blended family pretty much.”

“You can go either way when something happens. You can use it to justify why you are inactive or justify why you want to do something and I knew that I could do anything and nobody, you know my family and nobody would think any less of me. So to speak, but for some reason (and I know it’s the Lord’s hand) but for some reason I just clung, clung, clung, [to the gospel] you know, that’s all I need to do. And then when you become strengthened in yourself, your boys, your children, your family become strengthened,” she said.

Jennis’ story teaches all of us about humility and forgiveness, about service and example.  She is someone who truly lives what she believes and because of this she emulates the Savior in her own life. By standing firm in the things she believed in — a God who would never forsake her even during her challenges, she has become a better individual, one who we can look to during times in our own lives when we may be tempted to give up.

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6 thoughts on “Faith, Endurance and Forgiveness

  1. Wow, awesome story….thanks Jennis for sharing your personal life experiences..truly a great example of divine love, faith, endurance, and forgiveness. All the best with works of righteousness you are doing for others. Bring the next one on R.T.T.

  2. A truly inspirational life and a great example of Christ like love with a divine perspective. Thank you for sharing this.

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