Marjorie Conrad: A Testimony To God's Trustworthiness

When Marjorie Conrad was asked, “What one thing, in all your years, did you learn about God?”
She said without hesitation, “To Trust Him. To really believe He has me in His Hands.”
Even her favorite verses replays that theme of trust.
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13
It’s not her strength; it’s God’s. Even when she feels inadequate.But, it's hard to let go of worry.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6

When she shared her life’s story, that theme of trust is woven through all the happenings of her life to bring her not only into her Savior’s hands but into His heart.
Her story began June 20, 1928, where Marj was born at the beginning of the Depression, when times were hard and there was a lot to worry about. She was the seventh of eight children, counting two babies lost as newborns and a brother who died at six.
Her mother put her under the shade tree in the yard with a screen over her crib so she could feel some breeze, as air conditioning was not something they had.

Though the Depression brought hard times, everyone had them. They ate what they grew.

After school, Marj’s chore was to fill the wood box needed for cooking and warmth. She kept the fire fed. Maybe that’s where she got her repeating dream and fear of her house burning. Another cause to worry. Another thing to give back to God.
Her older siblings “made her feel important” by encouraging her to wash the dishes. She initially felt honored to be old enough to do the chore. When she and her younger brother had no younger siblings to pass the chore’s merit to, she didn’t feel so special. There were a lot of dishes.
No one else liked to cook, so she took on that chore early in her life.
Cleaning was a major part of chore time. They had one area rug that required vacuuming but the rest of the house needed dusting. Since she was low in the order of siblings, she had to dust all the chair rungs and legs. She also had the toilet with their outside plumbing.
Her mom required a thorough house cleaning twice a year, including dismantling the beds and washing the springs.

Her dad and older sisters worked at the packing houses. Since they had no cold storage, when the fruit was ready, they worked through the night to pack and ship it.

After school, they were required to change their clothes. Living in a small house with eight people, and only three small closets, they made their clothes fit. They had one Sunday outfit, one for play and one for school.

When asked, “What rules were hard to obey?” She answered honestly, “All of them, but we did it.”

Marj looked up to her older sister of twelve years. She could ask her anything.

When Marj became a mom, she taught her children how to work. It took her awhile to realize her daughter couldn’t take the field work. She’d rather mop the floor five times than work in the heat.

She spoke highly of her mother, who was patient, and kept going after burying three children. She remembered many meals where her brothers tried to make her mother laugh.
Her dad, 100% English, was a “bear cat” demanding school work done well. Her younger brother frustrated him with his daydreaming.
Not only school work was demanded, but obedience. She didn’t remember too many specific rules, but she knew she must obey them.

Each year, they went for a day at Mooney’s Grove, a park in Visalia, where there were swings and paddle boats. Sometimes they went to Reedley Beach to barbecue by the river.

Part of trust was learning her strength wasn’t enough; she needed a Savior. She recognized her need around ten, when she was saved and baptized. The church didn’t have a baptismal, so they went to the Baptist church, prior to that, Reedley River was used.
Growing up in church, Marj saw many changes. Initially the pastors weren’t paid. They shared the preaching with several men who had full-time jobs. This was called "Free Ministry" and done until 1940.
Church was priority. No one worked on Sunday. She had to be “really sick” to miss.
Her dad was the youth leader. Her mom was a "homebody," content to stay at home with the children.

Marj’s father had no training in music. Both his parents died when he was six, but he showed Marj the keys on the piano when she was six and could read the notes. He told her, “Come on 'Jorie June, let’s sing and play.” [June was her middle name. When she was in trouble, he called her “Marjorie."]
Even when her father became blind, she would still hear him sing. Her other siblings weren’t so musical.
At church, there were several pianists, but Marjorie remembers hoping none would be there Sunday evening, so she could play.

A pastor’s wife told Marj, “I see music in you.” She gave her lessons, bartered with butter and produce. She wanted Marj to pursue voice lessons, particularly opera, but Marj wouldn’t do that.

Her favorite song, although she has many, is How Great Thou Art. Verse three---He died for me holds great significance to her.

Eighth grade brought more worry. Prior to high school, she went to a school with only six in her grade, now she started high school “scared to death.” She didn’t adjust well until she found good Christian friends.

At fourteen, she was recuperating at home from having two teeth pulled when Vernon visited her and asked her to come to a winter outing.  She had seen him, but didn’t know him and hadn’t really noticed him before. He was popular, in sports and activities.
His debate squad came to her church, while she sang a solo.
She didn’t notice, but he was doing some noticing.
In February, 1943, her friend was going with Vernon’s friend and convinced them to double date. Marj had to convince her folks (she was fourteen). Her folks knew her girlfriend’s folks; that helped calm their worry.
Marj wasn’t excited about him at first, but he did grow on her.

Vernon graduated, stayed home from school to work his father’s farm and was exempted from serving to finish the harvest, then was drafted in 1944.
Her father pled with her to attend junior college. At that time, most men had gone to war, she didn’t. She regretted it later.

After a two-year courtship, on April 15, 1945, one week before Vernon went to war, they married.
Vernon’s mother was in the hospital and couldn’t attend.
Marj’s father wouldn’t sign for her, she was only sixteen. Her mother did. But her father did give her away during the brief wedding ceremony that Sunday.

One week later, Vernon went overseas. Marj went back to high school.
Her father gave her conditions, “If you’re old enough to get married, then you’re old enough to stay married. You can’t come home (if there's problems). And you'll pay room and board and your own way.”

When times got hard and didn’t go her way, she couldn’t just “pack her bags and leave.” Her father's words left no choice for her, but to work out her marriage. Sometimes it wasn’t easy. Doing it in her own strength made it hard. But when she remembered "God strengthens me,” she was able to keep going.

After Vernon returned from serving in the Army, Marj didn’t find homemaking hard, only adjusting to being married.  When she didn’t like some of his traits, or he wasn’t what she thought, she had to accept what she didn’t like.

It didn’t help that she lived on the same land as his parents. Marj was only 17, but felt she should have a say in how her house was conducted. Others didn’t think so. She felt she had no control over anything.
She remembered her father’s words. She had no choice, she had to make do.
She took her frustrations out by eating. To look at Marj’s thin frame now, it’s hard to imagine her weighing over 200 pounds. But she worried, and tried to stand without God’s strength. When she realized she couldn’t continue on her own, she lost the weight and learned to pray, A LOT.

Marj wrote while Vernon served in the Army. Because of national security, his letters arrived with his writing crossed out. He couldn’t tell her where he was or what they were doing. The letters were a life-line for her to him, but a cause for great worry, or a time to “be anxious for nothing but trust.”

After he returned, he dedicated himself to providing for her. Farming was time consuming. He bailed hay at night, when the dew was on the alfalfa. Days were spent fixing machines. After three days and nights, the hay would be bailed, but with farming there was always something else.
They weren’t together much.

She felt she raised their two children alone. When Vernon wasn’t farming, he had church meetings, community functions, public conferences that kept him away from family.
Most of her irritations with him was when they were both excessively tired from working, especially when the children were little. She understands the “for better or for worse” commitment.

When they were in their 60’s, Vernon went hunting in Colorado. When his two weeks turned into three, she told him on his return, “If you didn’t come home soon, you didn’t need to come home at all. It was nice to be by myself.”

When asked how she dealt with Vernon’s retirement, Marj said it was another adjustment. Now he was home for the first time in their married life. And she “didn’t need his help now.”

Marj wouldn’t call these hard times; she called it, “life,” but they were times that either made her trust or worry.
Twenty years of their married life were spent caring for ailing parents. They lived by Vernon’s folks. It fell to Marj to care for them when needed.
Grandpa Conrad had a negative temperament. Even as Marj asked God for children, he told her, “Why do you want children? They’re just trouble.”
Marj looked at the three boys he had, each one seven years apart, and wondered why he thought that.
Nor did his comment take away her desire to give Vernon a child of their own. Worry over her inadequacy and God’s reason for denying her a child kept her asking God.

When children didn’t come, they adopted.
Vernon and Marj returned from working the fields when Grandpa Conrad told about a phone call from the adoption agency. Marj remembers, shaking him, demanding, “What did they say?”
They were given Carole.
Three years later they adopted Bill.

Marj describes preparing for the four visits from the adoption agency, “I made my house spotless, cleaning the refrigerator, filling it with healthy things.” All her worry was for naught. “They didn’t come to look at my house. They came to see if we cared for the baby.” There was no doubt about that.
Anytime they left the county, they had to ask for the adoption agency’s permission. Marj’s folks lived across the Fresno and Tulare County border. They didn’t always ask. Perhaps another cause for worry.
Those were one of the hardest times for Marj as a mom. She was afraid she’d lose her children. They’d take them away. She learned again that “His strength is made perfect in her weakness.”

Caring for elderly wasn’t easy. Grandpa Conrad’s disposition was negative. And he ate lunch with Marj every day. Even though he belittled Marj’s need to adopt a child, he doted on Carole.

When it came to caring for Marj’s own mother, she remembers watching the trailer behind their own house where her mother lived for nine years. In the morning, when her mother awoke, she lifted the kitchen blinds to signal “all was well.” At night, when she was going to bed, she’d lower the blinds. Other signals helped Marj know things were well and kept her from some worry.

Rather than praise her own care for her mother, she credits Vernon. “My husband was good to my mom. He let me take time away from my family to help her.” Others siblings couldn’t or didn’t help.

After her mother’s stroke, Marj took her to hospital. I could still feel the worry in Marj’s voice as she related how they put a pacemaker in a 95-year-old woman. When Marj picked her up from the hospital, her mother crumbled to the floor and coded. Marj found God’s strength when she told the hospital personnel, “I’m not taking her home.”

She had to find 24-hour care for her mom. All Marj’s siblings were fine with putting her mom in a rest home. Marj never cried so hard. She felt the meanest, most horrible daughter, but knew she couldn’t care for her anymore. It didn’t help when her mom wasn’t happy. Those were more times where she learned to depend on God’s strength and tell Him her worries.

Marj worked. As a teenager, she worked at a bank with her best friend. She remembers the manager’s “bank car.” He picked up his employees for their shift at work. Later, she worked at Penny’s in the office.
While the children were school age, she worked in the cafeteria at Reedley College. That schedule helped: she had summers off, and was home when the children came home from school.
She stressed the importance of being home when the children came home from school to hear their frustrations from school. Their worries were hers.

Her worst day was her husband’s death. She had fallen and broken her hip. While she was in surgery, Vernon was having health issues of his own. She remembers leaving rehab in a wheelchair in the pouring rain, and knowing she would return home without him. She still turns to tell him something, only to realize he’s no longer here. Being anxious for nothing is hard.

Looking back, she wished she were more involved in Vernon’s activities.
Many of her frustrations with their marriage came from his absence, and her feeling like she was doing it alone. She wished he had spent more time with their son. She was grateful the two of them could go on the “Flight to Freedom: Honor Flight.” Bill acted as guardian, helping his dad with his wheelchair.

In choosing her favorite verse, she knew she had found her own weakness. It was so easy to do it in her own strength. But she has found over the years by relying on God’s strength, she can do it, and it takes the worry away. It’s been a life-long lesson of trust. She has found His arms strong enough for everything life has given.

Her perspective on life has changed. Things so important at the beginning of her marriage: a perfect house, great meals, she now would change. Instead, she wishes she would have trusted more, worried less.

But I think her wish has been granted, as I see God’s finger, carefully wrapping around the events in her life, drawing her closer to Him. I see a woman who has learned to pray. Not just for her own needs, but for the heart aches of others. She sees others struggling in their own strength, like she once did, and she knows how much better they’d be when they depend on God’s strength.

When she was in the hospital for her hip surgery, she was concerned about whether the coffee was made for the church brunch. She can’t say her worries are over, but she does know Who to go to with her worries.

When asked about her dreams, Marj could only think of bad ones. She often feared when she was little that their house would burn or she would get kidnapped. (Although, without money, she wasn’t sure what they would want her for.)

When Marj described her Bible reading, she enjoys the book of John: he shows her how to “keep going.” She likes reading about Israel’s history and how it parallels her own life.

When she was younger, she didn’t read the Bible with the intensity she does now. “Perhaps,” she said, “because I didn’t think I needed it, or lived in my own strength, too busy with young ones.” Now, she can’t wait to read it. It keeps her going.

Trust is a good word to describe her. She still can be found worrying about things, even this interview and what it would say about her. Until she remembers to bring all her worries to the One Who holds them in His Hand.
She’s been reading more about what heaven’s like. “Heaven’s a place for me.” She’ll see Vernon again…and meet her Savior.
There will be nothing more to worry about. Her trust will be complete.
She can’t wait.

Marj’s life has shown the truth of the verse: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13
She learns anew the verse, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6
But most of all, Marj has learned that her God is worthy of her trust.

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I write about what you---
women, wives and moms---
about your family, faith and future.
I write about what's hard, what helps and what heals.
I show you how it's done. And not done.
I hold your hand as you find what matters to the Savior.
And let go of those things that mattered to you, but not to Him.
I write about what Him.
               Sonya Contreras

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Tell of My Kingdom's Glory
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Author of Biblical fiction, married to my best friend, and challenged by eight sons’ growing pains as I write about what matters.

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