Soon after the birth of their first son, James and Ellen set up housekeeping in the Howlands home in Topsham. But it was a trying and difficult time for the young family. James worked hard, but there was never enough money. Soon, Ellen reached an all-time low.
After six months in the Howlands home, James and Ellen discovered a true understanding of what their difficult time was all about. She had thought that now that they had a child it would be impossible for her to travel and a change must come about in their program. In a vision, God showed her, that he had been trying them for good, and to prepare them to labor for others; that He had been stirring up their nest, lest they should settle down in ease and that their work was to labor for souls.
A heart-rending experience enforced the message of the vision. Henry was taken very ill and soon lapsed into unconsciousness. Agonizing in prayer, they pledged God that if the child's life were spared they would go forth trusting in Him wherever He might send them. The fever turned, and Henry began to recover.
James and Ellen White could now see that regardless of home comforts, pleasures, and responsibilities, their life was to be a life of dedicated service involving travel, suffering, and earnest labor for others.