Chris Daniels: Self-Reliant with the Lord’s Help

“Chris Daniels: Self-Reliant with the Lord’s Help,” Ensign, July 1986, 60–61

Chris Daniels: Self-Reliant with the Lord’s Help

On Mother’s Day 1977, the telephone rang early in the Daniels’ home. Chris Daniels, six months pregnant with her fifth child, hurried to answer it, guessing her husband, a trucker, had called to wish her a happy day.

It was her husband, but not with a message of love. Instead, he informed her that he would never come home again.

Chris was shattered. How could he do this? Who would provide for her and the children? But as the shock wore off, she found a growing determination to meet the problem head-on. With the Lord’s help, she and her children would remain self-sufficient.

Even as a girl Chris had proven her determination. At fourteen she asked her father to teach her to drive. To silence her pestering, he led her to the garage where an engine lay in pieces on the cement floor.

“You put that engine together and make it run. Then I’ll teach you to drive,” he had told her.

“He didn’t realize that I could be as stubborn as he,” she chuckles now. “I went to the library and got a book on engines. Then I put that motor together and made it run. The day after I finished, he taught me to drive.”

This determination resurfaced after that unfortunate morning eight years ago. “I realized that I had a responsibility to take care of the family. We needed to figure out how to get along on very little until I had the baby and could get a job.”

Fortunately, she had a year’s supply of food and a large garden. She turned off the heat, keeping the family warm under sleeping bags at night. They left lights and appliances off unless absolutely necessary.

To further economize, Chris devised unusual meals. One day as she crossed a low bridge on the way to a neighbor’s house, she noticed crawfish scuttling about on the floor of the storm canal. The next day, after some quick culinary research, she placed buckets in her children’s hands and sent them off to scour the ditches for their dinner.

The Daniels’ did as much as they could, and the Spirit provided what they could not. Necessities materialized when they needed them—shoes the right size, bags of clothing, even a bed when the baby needed one. Chris remembers best the “magic turkey.”

“When my husband left in May, I had a turkey in the freezer that I wanted to save for Thanksgiving.” she recalls. But by summertime “things grew pretty lean” and she cooked the turkey.

“That same night, some people I hadn’t seen for over a year came by with a turkey they had received as a gift. They didn’t have room in their freezer and wondered if we could use it.”

Chris put the great bird in her freezer, determined to save that one for the holiday. Two weeks before the big day, however, the cupboards again stood empty and, swallowing her disappointment, she cooked it.

“The next day the bishop came by,” she recalls. “And what did he have for us? A turkey! That one made it to Thanksgiving. That’s why I call it a ‘magic turkey.’ Every time we cooked one, another would appear.”

Four months after giving birth to a baby girl, Chris decided it was time to get a job. “I’d never really been on my own before, and I’d had no training or schooling for an occupation, either,” she admits. But she was determined that her family would survive on whatever she could provide.

She pursued several ideas for making a living, but, given her skills and situation, none of them seemed right. Then she learned that the custodian at the local ward building had quit. As Chris prayed fervently and counseled with her bishop and stake president, that seemed to be the best choice.

At first she worked twenty hours a week—all day Mondays and from 3:00 to 6:00 P.M. the rest of the week. Her three older children—ages twelve, ten, and seven—came home from school in the afternoon to care for the two youngest and fix dinner.

“Sometimes I came home from work to a kitchen full of smoke and a dinner as black and as hard as coal,” she says, grinning now at the memory. “But we ate it anyway. We had nothing else.”

When her working hours increased to forty, Chris took her baby with her to the chapel. “Sometimes I’d put the baby on the buffing machine while I polished the hallways, an all-day job. She’d ride back and forth and fall asleep while I buffed.”

If the baby slept through Chris’s breaks or lunchtime, she read repair manuals and library books on how to fix equipment at the chapel. “I kept poking my nose around. If something didn’t work, most of the time I’d go ahead and repair it myself,” she says.

Her industriousness paid off. Now Chris is foreman over the three chapels in the Newbury Park California Stake, repairing equipment and instructing other custodians on how to set up maintenance schedules and clean the buildings properly.

“I wish I had six more employees just like her,” states Rollin Sattler, stake representative for the Physical Facilities Committee. “Her dedication and knowledge continue to impress me. Even when she’s tired and frustrated, Sister Daniels doesn’t give up.”

Although Chris’s promotion brought the family relative financial independence, they still work hard to be self-sufficient. Fruit trees line the back fence, grapevines shade the patio, and the vegetable garden lies in neat rows, each section watered and tended by a separate family member. Their latest triumph is a swimming pool they constructed themselves out of a plastic liner and scrap lumber.

“The Lord doesn’t ask more of a person than she can do,” Sister Daniels emphasizes, her chin lifting. “I had a responsibility, and I knew the Lord expected me to fulfill it, one day at a time. I did just that.”

Photography by Jerry Garns