"I've always tried to take the manure in life, and use it to grow beautiful spiritual flowers," Vanda Millien says.
It's quite an understatement to add that she has succeeded.
Millien a Payson resident for 16 years, and now a motivational speaker and author of the book, "Heart Conditions" was born in Cheshire, England, to brutally abusive parents and what she calls "a horrific background."
"I was raped, from the time I was five until I was 17, by my father. Daily. And my mother used me as a human punching bag. So I wanted to get away from there as soon as I could."
Her sisters experienced similar abuse.
The opportunity to escape arrived when Millien was 17, at which time she came to the United States, by herself, to visit a London girlfriend who'd relocated to Los Angeles.
"Once I got off the plane, I knew I was home," Millien recalls. "I knew that this was my country. Right from the time I was a little girl, I always knew I'd live here. And once I did, because of my background, I really didn't feel like I was leaving anything behind."
Eventually, Millien found herself in love and engaged to a friend's brother, Jerry Buss, before he became the owner of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team. But after five years with Buss, "I didn't feel that marriage was the right move, so we ended up breaking up."
Millien chose to salve her emotional wounds in Hawaii, where she met the man who would become her first husband and the father of Millien's two daughters, Nicole and Vanessa.
"He said that if he would ever settle down and get married, it would be in Arizona," Millien says. "So I was soon on my way."
It was then August of 1975. Millien vividly remembers her first words upon getting off the plane at Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport: "AHHHH, IT'S HOT!"
"It was like 118 degrees, and I thought that people could not possibly live here! But once summer was over and we got into winter, I began to fall in love with Arizona."
Millien proceeded to launch her own Scottsdale real estate brokerage, as well as a business selling historical tax shelters meaning that she would put together groups of investors to buy and renovate old buildings for investment tax credits.
"But I was really going through some life changes," she says. "My husband and I divorced. Spiritually, I felt there was a much deeper calling in my life than just to be out there, making money. And then my life took a nosedive; I ended up losing my business, everything I'd built up, because of one bad business decision. We lost everything.
"I thought, 'Well, I can have a nervous breakdown, or I can get on with life."
To sort things out, Millien would drive up to Payson. And then she moved to Payson.
"I really felt guided to start Living Water, a spiritual group it began with 12 people and ended up with over 100 to help people who were going through divorces, bankruptcies, and other difficult events. Well, that ended up being my life's work, and everything changed from then on."
Today, Millien is a minister ordained by the non-denominational International Brotherhood of the Christ who has performed the wedding ceremonies of over 35 couples. She is sought-after speaker by schools, churches and businesses all over the northern half of Arizona. She hosted a Valley cable television program for two years.
And she is the author of the new book "Heart Conditions," self-published through the Internet company iUniverse.com and available online through Barnes & Noble (www.bn.com). All profits from the sale of the first 200 copies, Millien says, will be donated to the Payson Habitat for Humanity.
Described on its slick paperback cover as "stories taken from the experiences and heartbreaks of my life, suggesting how we can collectively transmute our life experiences into personal mastery," Millien says the book represents a collection of the "the teachings I have been so privileged to deliver over the last 15 years."
Having lived the life she did, Millien says, has given her tremendous power in her current profession.
"It's like experiencing an accident. Somebody can tell you about an accident, and tell you how terrible it was, and how people's bodies were everywhere, but if you were actually there, it's a whole different thing. I've been through enough situations in my life, I can relate to most situations that come along."
Today, too, there is some kind of wonderful magic in Millien's life. She and her current husband of 11 years, David Millien, met in Payson through the Living Waters group. They worked together for six or eight months before they got to know each other on a personal level. "And the way we got married was miraculous," she says.
"He and I both sensed that we were supposed to be married, but we weren't dating or anything. So he said, 'You know, I really believe that this is a spiritually-directed marriage, but I'm really going to need to go out hiking to see if I can get a scripture and you'll know what it is if we're supposed to be married."
Four days later, David came back and said, "I have a scripture in my pocket. If you've been given the same one, then obviously, we're supposed to be married."
Vanda told him, "I have no idea what you're talking about unless it has something to do with washing the disciples' feet."
When David took the scripture out of his pocket, she recalls, "That was exactly the scripture he had been given. That happened just before Thanksgiving. We were married on Christmas Day."