I have learned that gratitude is one of the greatest manifestations of faith.
As a 20 year old sophomore in college, I was on top of the world. I was having a great time at school – enjoying my studies and the fun things that college life offers. I was healthy and extremely active and spent much of my free time running, hiking, skiing – taking advantage of everything that attending school in Utah offered. I was busy training to run in the Boston Marathon in the spring – a race I had qualified for earlier that year. Life was good!
Soon after Christmas I started noticing a worrisome feeling – or lack of it – in my fingers and toes. It was a tingling numbness - similar to the feeling of a lost sensation that occurs after sitting on your foot too long – only it didn’t go away. The numbness spread progressively until the right half of my torso was void of sensation. I was shocked to discover that I could drop something in my hand and not realize that it was gone! After numerous doctor visits and an MRI scan, I ended up in the neurology office with a startling diagnosis – Multiple Sclerosis. I was terrified. I knew of people with MS – they were in wheelchairs or walked with canes at best. They had difficulty moving and caring for themselves. How would this work into the plan I had anticipated for my life? Of all the possible diagnoses, this one was the most dreaded for my active, independent soul. I left the office with a heavy heart, feeling certain that my future dreams were shattered.
The months that followed were extremely difficult. Fear and despair filled me as I studied more about my condition. Common symptoms and the possibility long-term disability loomed over my head like a dark cloud. Treatment options and their negative side effects frightened me. Would I really have to use a catheter, as my “Multiple Sclerosis: Treatment Book” suggested? Was I destined to fall into the high percentage that would end up with a life-changing disability? Not to mention more the more basic questions about my immediate future – would I be able to the run the marathon I had been training for? Would I ever marry or have children? How quickly my happy life had spiraled downward to depression and hopelessness.
Luckily for me, I had many weapons at my disposal to help me ward off these feelings. I had great parents who had always instilled in me an understanding that God – my Heavenly Father – cared for me and wanted what was best for me. Many nights I spent in prayer, pleading at first for my health to be restored and later simply for understanding and acceptance. I had gained an understanding through religion classes that I had taken at school that the scriptures could be a source of comfort and relief. On the wall by my bed I taped a simple 3x5 card with one of my favorite scriptures: Proverbs 3:5-6:
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.”
I read this scripture every night as I lay in bed. I felt comfort as I considered that even though I didn’t understand why this was happening to me, HE did. I may not have known what the future held but HE did and there was a reason for it.
As is typical with MS, my symptoms began to subside and I was able to resume many of my normal activities. I ran my marathon in April, which was a huge accomplishment for me considering all I had been through the months prior. Meeting this goal sparked a new feeling in me: gratitude. I realized more completely the meaning of a scripture in Mosiah 2:21:
“I say unto you that if ye should serve him who has created you from the beginning, and is preserving you from day to day, by lending you breath, that you may live and move and do according to your own will… if ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants.”
I knew I had been given a gift – to be able to do as I pleased was a miracle in some ways. This bit of gratitude swelled in my heart with each symptom-free day that passed. I felt a strong desire to repay my Heavenly Father for this blessing – to utilize this “borrowed” strength for good. So I decided to serve a proselyting mission for my church - to date one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. I spent the next 18 months in Southern France, teaching others about the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, at the beginning of this experience, the MS again reared its ugly head. This time it struck my optic nerve, causing distorted, blurry vision that gave me headaches and a new bout of anxiety. Would this be my new normal – a few months of health followed by a new, disruptive symptom? I was given a special blessing by leaders of my church and was told specifically that I could be healed if I had enough faith. As I heard these words I knew that the power to be healed was there - and oh, how I wished for that! But how could I develop the faith necessary to take advantage of the promise in that special blessing? It was a thought that filled my mind often, even as my vision eventually returned to normal and I fulfilled my mission in Europe. I wanted to show that I had faith that I believed in the Lord’s power to heal but I worried that any moments of fear or doubt would disappoint Him and somehow disable the promise that had been given me. I dealt with these troubling thoughts by pushing the disease – and the miracle of my current health – out of my mind as much as possible.
Shortly after I returned from Europe and resumed by studies, I met an amazing man that was neither frightened nor deterred by my medical condition. We were married and several years later started our family. During all of this, my health remained steady and we were eventually blessed with four beautiful children. I began drug therapy and lived a very “normal” life, with only a few physical set-backs. However, after the birth of my youngest daughter Grace, a routine MRI showed very discouraging results. It appeared that the MS had progressed significantly “behind the scenes” during the time that I was pregnant and off drug therapy. My scan was scattered with new lesions, indicating that my immune system was continuing to attack its own nerves. My doctor was alarmed at the aggressive nature of this relapse, and informed me that it wouldn’t be long before I started to feel the results of this damage. She recommended an aggressive steroid treatment to minimize the swelling. I was shocked, as I had not experienced any of the symptoms typical of this type of attack. I learned that many times the brain learns to function despite the scar tissue barriers caused by a disease such as MS. While I should have been elated by this news, I was in fact frightened and perplexed by the sudden change of events. Why had this returned, and with such vengeance? Had I not shown adequate faith to solicit the miraculous healing I thought I was experiencing? Once again I was faced with the negative debilitating thoughts that struck me in the early phases of the disease. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe that I could be healed; I just thought that I wasn’t good enough or didn’t have enough faith to allow that to happen.
The next few months were very trying for me spiritually. I resumed drug therapy and prayed fervently for healing from my condition. My family rallied around me as they had joint fasts on my behalf. I felt like a walking time bomb – every day I was afraid of awakening to a new disability that I imagined was on the brink of eruption. Yet despite my anxiety, my good health continued. After several months I returned for a follow-up MRI. This would be the barometer to determine how to proceed. I was so nervous of what I would do if the scan remained the same or was worse, not only because of what that would mean for me in the long run physically, but also because I wasn’t sure if my faith could handle it. I had been given a promise, I knew that the Lord didn’t break his end of the deal, so if it didn’t happen, wasn’t I the one to blame? I was overjoyed when my neurologist called me that night and told me the scan was clean. Not only were there no new lesions, but the lesions I already had seemed to shrink, a very unusual scenario in her opinion. Tears flowed down my face as she told me to continue my current treatment and see her again in 6 months. I again felt deep feelings of gratitude and was ashamed to have not expressed it to the Lord more regularly during my years of calm. The Lord had heard my prayers and blessed me despite my weakness.
Since that time experience my MS has gone into a relatively quiet period, and not a day goes by that I don’t thank my Heavenly Father for this. At times I am filled with wonder as I realize what a blessing it is that I can be active and care for my children. Having gratitude has calmed my fears and allowed me to experience deeper joy in these simple pleasures. I see now that it is a way of showing faith in what my Heavenly Father has in store for me. I know that my situation is not unique, and many others have struggled much more than me with this condition or a myriad of other health issues. I know that I may not always be blessed with the same level of health that I have now. But I feel okay about it. I am appreciating the present moment much more fully, which calms my fears about the future. I have realized that faith is not having a perfect understanding or even a perfect acceptance of the situation, but finding peace and joy in what is. I can honestly say that I am grateful for this trial, because without it I would not be as happy. Little by little, I am learning what it means to have faith.
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