So a few weeks ago, I was asked to speak at the adult session of our Stake conference. The topic was "how the gospel has helped you through your trials." I'm not usually too scared about speaking assignments, but for some reason this one had me worried. I didn't think I could do it without crying. And a few days after I said "yes," we learned about my sister's cancer. Anyway, I decided to read it almost word for word and not mention Alisa and I prayed really hard that I wouldn't cry. And even though I couldn't practice it without crying hard, I pretty much made it through the talk without tears. A little miracle, I assure you. It's a little long--the assignment was for 10 minutes. But here it is if you are interested:
The topic I was given tonight is how the gospel has helped me though my trials. For those of you who haven't heard our story, I will start with that and then share just a few of the ways the gospel has helped me through it.
My oldest son, Steven, who is ten now, started limping about a year ago. In February, it was getting worse and I took him to the pediatrician. I was shocked when the doctor found a bone tumor in an xray and then devastated when further testing confirmed that it was bone cancer. About a week later, he started chemotherapy. Steven completed 18 rounds of chemo, each round requiring 3-4 days in the hospital. For nine months, we watched him suffer the side effects--such as mouth sores, nausea and a weakened immune system. In May, partway though the chemo, the tumor needed to be removed and so he underwent a complicated amputation. In August, he was fit for a prosthetic leg and started the difficult process of learning how to walk. It was such a happy day in October when he left the hospital for the last time. It took a few weeks, but as his blood cells started coming back to normal levels, his energy level did too and it has been so fun to see him back and more excited for life than ever. Learning to walk has been a real struggle for him. In December, he had a simple fall in the living room that broke his femur. The chemo and under use of his leg had really weakened his bone. He ended up in surgery again--this time with more pain than ever. The bone has since healed and on Tuesday, it will be 8 weeks since the surgery so he will be able to bear weight on his leg again. Also, on Tuesday, he has another scan--something that will happen periodically for the next ten years to make sure that no cancer has spread in his body.
This experience has been hands down my hardest trial so far. When he was first diagnosed, I felt so much fear and anxiety that I even had a hard time breathing. After some time and after many prayers, blessings, I was able to eat and sleep again. As that anxiety left, I could see that I was at risk for depression and knew that I needed to do something about it. I considered professional intervention, but my time was so limited. I decided to make a list of things to do each day that would help me through. If I did the things on this list and my depression didn't improve, I promised myself that I would go see a counselor. Or, if I was so depressed that I couldn't do those things, I would go see a counselor.
My list includes things like exercising every day, studying my scriptures, attending church as much as possible, and attending the temple regularly. When I do these things, I find myself able to face my challenges with a bit more courage. Sometimes I read my scriptures and the words go right over my head, because I am too worried to focus. Other times though, I read a passage that fills me with hope.
One day, I was reading in the Book of Mormon, in Mosiah, and the story of Alma and his people really touched me. In the story, Alma was converted by Abinadai and later preached to others who were baptized in the waters of Mormon. They needed to run away from the wicked King Noah, so they ended up living near the Lamanites and essentially becoming slaves. In Mosiah 24:12, it says that they "did pour out their hearts to [God]; and he did know the thoughts of their hearts." They then heard the voice of the Lord who made them a promise. He said,
14 ...I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.
15 And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.
I had read this scripture many times, but when I read it then, it had a new significance to me. I thought about all that I was dealing with and how I was actually able to do it. My burden was still there--we were in the middle of it--but He truly had made it light.
One way that my trials were made light was through the service of others. Eacah person who followed Christ's example and performed service for us was helping to lift our burden. Whether it was meals, babysitting, housecleaning, supportive words or fundraisers, the service of others really made this year bearable. Many times these actions were clearly inspired and I knew that God knew us and was meeting our needs through other people.
Throughout the year, I have had many instances where the spirit testified to me of the truthfulness of the plan of salvation. One of the friends I made at the hospital lost her teenage son to cancer. As she talked about the peace and comfort that she had about his passing, the spirit testified to me that truly God has a plan and that they would be reunited someday. The truth that families are forever offers a peace that can calm my often overwhelming fears.
In May, when Steven had his surgery, we faced some very real emotional stress. Choosing the right operation seemed daunting. We studied very carefully all the research we could find, and we also prayed that the Lord would guide us. Once the decision was made, we felt good about it. However, as the day of the surgery came nearer, we were worried. He would be in surgery for almost 12 hours. People all around us prayed and that day we literally felt the strength of those prayers. He made it through and recovered quickly. Rob and I made it through the day without too much anxiety and we experienced real peace that we had done the right thing.
Cancer is often a very public struggle. I have kept a blog about how Steven is doing and many people know about what we are going through. I realize that not all trials are this way. People don't usually send care packages when you fight with your spouse and most people don't blog about their addictions. But even in those trials that are personal and private, I testify that God knows us and if we go to Him, he will strengthen us. He is all powerful and He loves each one of us.
I would like to close with an experience I had that really hit home to me how much God loves us. During the priesthood session of the last General Conference, my sister and I went shopping. We found a great deal on some beautiful jewelery boxes and I just knew I couldn't pass it up for my daughter, Addie, who was about to turn 5. As we were about to leave the store, I remembered that I still needed a birthday gift for my niece's party on the following Monday, so I turned around and bought her a smaller and more simple version of the box. On Sunday night, after a weekend of listening (or in my case with four little kids at home, trying to listen) to the beautiful words of our prophet and apostles, I was putting my girls to bed. They were excited about the birthday party the next day and I told them I had bought a present for Lizzy already and that it was a jewelry box with a ballerina that spins around and plays music when you open it. Once I mentioned the ballerina, Addie started to bawl. Through her tears, she explained that she had always wanted a jewelry exactly like that. She asked to see it and when I showed it to her, she cried even harder. She wasn't throwing a tantrum or trying to manipulate me, she was sincerely disappointed that Lizzy would be receiving her dream.
I tried to reassure her that it would all work out. I suggested that maybe she would get one for her birthday. I said, "Who knows? Maybe it will be even better than Lizzy's?" "But Mom," she said, "there isn't a better one than Lizzy's. Hers is perfect." As we lay there in the dark, Addie still crying, it was all I could do not to laugh. I knew that she would love her birthday present. Then I thought about Heavenly Father and His plan for our lives. I thought about my limited knowledge of the future and of the eternities. It hit me very hard that I have no idea what Heavenly Father has in store for me and my family and also felt very strongly that whatever it was, and whatever the outcome of Steven's cancer, that it would be wonderful.
I testify that Heavenly Father loves each one of his children. I know that He has the power to lift us up in times of trials. He will not always take away the heartache or the situation. But I want to stand as a witness that indeed God does know the thoughts of our hearts and will visit us in our afflictions. He will also give us the strength that we can bear them. I know that families are eternal and more than ever, I want to live in a way that will bring me and my family back into the presence of our Heavenly Father.