“Irene Williams: Setting Herself Free,” Ensign, Apr. 1991, 70
When she was seven months pregnant with her third child, Irene Williams took a leisurely shopping trip to Tampa from her home in Lake Wales, Florida. She had needed a break, and the sixty-mile drive seemed to be a relaxing way to spend the day.
On the way home, Irene was involved in an automobile accident that paralyzed her from the shoulders down. Four days after the crash, the doctors delivered her baby by cesarean section, nearly two months prematurely. Miraculously, both mother and son survived.
Irene was not quite twenty-six years old on that warm May afternoon in 1955. Now, at sixty, she is still paralyzed, but her life has been one of achievement. Her spirit suffered no paralysis.
At the time of the accident, Irene had just joined the Church. She still had many questions about the gospel, but felt that the answers would come with time.
For her Latter-day Saint husband, however, the answers didn’t come soon enough. He fell away from the Church, and their marriage began to crumble. Embarrassed, Irene did not know how to explain her home situation to Church members who tried to keep in touch with her. Soon she lost contact with the Church and most of the outside world, and she and her husband divorced.
But Irene longed for the love and blessings she felt sure the Church provided. In an effort at spiritual preservation, she decided to search for the answers to her questions about the gospel. After being homebound for more than twenty years, she broke out of her cocoon and regained her vibrance for life.
“I realized I had wasted so much of my life; I sorely needed our Heavenly Father,” she recalls. “All those years I yearned to go back to church.” During the twenty years she had been less active, ward members had kept in touch with her and kept inviting her back to church. Finally, she decided to go.
“The more I became active, the more I learned and the greater determination it gave me that I was never going to give up,” she remembers. “It was just like being born again. I feel like a person—a person of worth in God’s eyes.”
Two years ago, Irene started school at Polk Community College in Lake Wales. She is unable to travel by herself or take notes in class, but federal financial help has made it possible for her to pursue the education she so desperately wants. An aide takes Irene to school, and a special book allows a fellow student to take carbon-copy notes for her.
Irene is working toward a bachelor’s degree in secondary education, with a minor in psychology. Her ultimate goal is to counsel handicapped children. Recently she was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, a national honor society, and was asked to serve on the organization’s board.
Besides going to school, Irene started her own business two years ago to help combat her financial burdens. She sells various crafts in her home on consignment. With the help of her friend Teri Hayes, Irene advertises the items and places them, taking a small part of their selling price for her work.
“After the accident I don’t think I felt bitter toward God, but I couldn’t understand why it had happened,” she remembers. Now she has achieved a quiet understanding of her situation and tries to make the most of every day. “In my heart, I know I’ve received all of my inner strength from the Lord. I have a strong testimony of the gospel’s truthfulness.
“Before the accident, Irene recalls, “I did things with my whole heart. After all these years, that’s how I’m doing them again.”