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Being single in a family-oriented church

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PROVO — Michelle Marchant has never married. Keri Turley is divorced. Kathy McGregor is a widow.

As such, all three are considered "single." A label none of them sought after.

"In my journey, I had not intended to be single," Marchant said at a BYU Women's Conference presentation on April 30. Neither did Turley nor McGregor.

About half of the worldwide members of the Relief Society are single, Marchant said.

"How does a single sister stand strong in a family-oriented church?" she asked.

Each shared their experiences, including the hope and peace they have found in situations they haven't expected to be in.


Turley met her husband at Brigham Young University, and they were married in the temple. After graduation, they moved near the University of Utah, where he was pursuing a medical degree.

It was the day before they were going to move out of cinderblock housing when her husband said he couldn't be married anymore. Turley was 27 and had two children.

"I was devastated," she said. After a couple of months, she moved home to Arizona with her parents and back into the ward where she grew up.

"Sometimes, going to church is the hardest place to be," she said. Some days, she felt like she had a big red "D" on her forehead and was a disappointment to all of her former leaders.

"But we keep going," as the gospel is the only thing that is stable amid the chaos, she added.

Then, there were the practical issue of providing for and taking care of her children. She later went back to school and eventually, after prayerfully considering her patriarchal blessing and her options, decided to teach chemistry, which she still does.

It hasn't been easy, as she has had to overcome fears and put her trust in Heavenly Father.

Many times, her mother would tell her: "Keep pushing your handcart."

"How can we expect to be like the pioneers if we have not likewise made sacrifices?" Turley asked.


McGregor was pregnant with their fourth child when her husband was diagnosed with cancer. The prognosis was not good. He had a 5 percent chance to live five years.

His first surgery was 10 days before her due date, and she prayed that he could be with her when the baby was born.

He was — something she counts as a tender mercy.

The next four years, until her husband died in 2005, they were learning and understanding more about faith.

"This didn't make sense in a family plan," McGregor said of the situation. Her plan was to be a helpmeet and a companion.

"How was I going to do a two-person job?" she wondered. "I was trying to get through each day."

Since then, there have been many lessons she has learned that would have been difficult otherwise, along with a different perspective on life.

"I wouldn't have chosen this challenge, but it has given me knowledge of the Atonement," McGregor said. "I'm finding joy in this life a little differently than I used to."

That, and she is learning more about the enabling power of grace and how it helps to do things that otherwise would be beyond her.

"I believe that angels are actively participating in my life," McGregor said.


For Marchant, she is happy for the occasions celebrating new babies, baptisms, weddings and others that mark a growing family.

But those are moments of unexpected and unintended pain.

"It underscores the reality that I'm without a husband and children," said Marchant, who is professor of special education at BYU. And there is the challenge of being alone.

But she has found hope in the knowledge that she, too, is a divine daughter of God and that the worth of a woman isn't dependent on the number of children she has. That and learning to trust God and in his timing.

She "borrows" children, including her 16 nieces and nephews, for "aunt dates" and does her best to serve others, like when she was called to be a ward Relief Society president and 78 babies were born during the three years she served.

Sometimes, she wonders if she had done things differently or made different decisions how her life might be different.

Then, she quits wondering and tries to "cheerfully do all things that lie in (her) power" (Doctrine and Covenants 123:17).

"Blessings may not be swift, but they are sure," she added. "Right now, his plan for me is to be single."

e-mail: rappleye@desnews.com

More coverage online

To read more stories from the Women's Conference, go to MormonTimes.com. Among them are:

Getting the most out of attending the temple

Emulating Christ brings unity to marriage

Emotional fidelity means protecting one's spouse

Conquering criticism by becoming a little more holy