51020

A Latter-day Saint Love Story: How a Widow and Widower Built a Family of 13

It’s your classic tale as old as time.

 A 31-year-old widow and a 31-year-old widower meet online, fall in love. He moves his gaggle cross country, and they soon blend their 11 children into a family large enough to field two basketball teams with three baby cheerleaders.

Yep, just your everyday love story between two faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But the real plot twist isn’t living as a baker’s dozen or having so many at the dinner table that asking for the ketchup constitutes public speaking. The surprising revelation is their bedrock belief that God has actually been very good to them.

And that uphill climb? They want you to know it’s been no more challenging than whatever mountain you’re facing.

Without knowing it, their paths toward this party of 13 began on December 2, 2016. After less than a decade of marriage, Tony Means lost a brutal battle with cancer. He left behind his wife, Erica, and six children with a seventh on the way. The Utah family was devastated.

His cancer hadn’t been a surprise. Tony lived with Li-Fraumeni Syndrome. In short, his body was missing one of the two cancer-fighting genes most of us have and his family had been ravaged by cancer for years.

His mother died of breast cancer at age 29. His grandfather, uncle, and three cousins died of cancer at ages 42, 49, 21, 9 years, and 18 months, respectively. Additionally, an aunt had cancer as an infant and another uncle had cancer as a teen.

Tony was diagnosed with his brain tumor during their second year of marriage. Surgery was successful, but cancer returned three more times before he bid the inevitable goodbye.

Two time zones away, Spencer and his wife, Aimee, were running errands at the end of a long, fun family day in Front Royal, Virginia, with their four children. It was November 13, 2017.

Unlike Tony’s long walk home, Aimee’s was instant. The family van was T-boned by a semi-truck and she died instantly. There were no other serious injuries.

One month later, the grieving single parents met in an online support group. Later they met face-to-face at a conference in Utah.

“It wasn’t long after I got home that I felt a strong prompting from Heavenly Father that I needed to move my family to Utah.”

Never one to doubt heaven, Spencer packed up and headed West.

“The relationship moved slowly,” Spencer said. “Really like a friendship.”

Erica couldn’t help but notice how great he was with her children. “I saw how well we all meshed together. And the longer it went on, the more I knew I wanted him in my life.”

Just a few weeks after moving from friendship to courtship, Spencer’s oldest, Brayden, opened his dad’s eyes in a way only a 10-year-old can.

“Well, Dad, Erica’s husband passed away, and mom passed away, so why don’t you just marry her?” he asked.

Their first official date was November 24, 2018. They were married January 22, 2019, in Provo, Utah.

Their children, ranging from ages 1 to 10, couldn’t be happier. Of course, Landon, Brayden, Emma, Lily, Harper, Sophie, Tanner, Avery, Amelia, Bexley, and Caleb will be raised by Spencer and Erica. But the happy newlyweds want plenty of influence from their previous spouses.

“We encourage our kids to talk about their late-mom and dad and for them to be a part of their lives,”  Spencer said.

“We talk about them a lot,” Erica added. “It’s like they’re helping out — parenting from the other side.”

Both are careful to clarify that it hasn’t been perfect. “This (marriage) comes with challenges,” Erica said. “But having a partner is so important. I almost get teary at the end of every day that we get to do this together. We know Heavenly Father will provide what we need. It will be a fun journey.”

And it’s one they hope will bless others. “If I could share one thing with the world,” Spencer said, “it would be that life is full of trials and struggles that we all have to face. Our situation may seem unique, but it’s not. The reality is we are all tested and tried. If we push forward in faith and know that it’s a part of Heavenly Father’s plan, He will bless us. We’ve seen it. Blessings are in store for being faithful!”

“I second that!” Erica said. “God loves us . . . enough to allow us to struggle and grow. In return, if we’re faithful, if we keep trying, He keeps blessing us so much more than we even deserve. Keep pushing. God will be good to you.”

Sure enough, theirs is a tale as old as time.

All images by Spencer Shemwell.
51gj2mkubdl. sx365 bo1 204 203 200

Jason F. Wright

Jason F. Wright is a New York Times bestselling author, columnist, and speaker. His inspiring book, The Seventeen Second Miracle, reflects how small kindnesses can transform grief and produce life-changing miracles. Read more of Jason's uplifting writing in The Seventeen Second Miracle and Courage to Be Youwhich details Gail Miller's fascinating story of growing faith, overcoming grief, and finding the courage to share her own voice. Subscribe to his weekly columns, join him on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter.

Comments and feedback can be sent to feedback@ldsliving.com