Thursday, August 21, 2014

The song of my heart

Sharing this little story is very hard for me to do, not wanting talk about myself and all, but who can refuse Rickie Bryner? She is so sweet! Hopefully this, if nothing else, will help you hang on to your faith in your darkest hour no matter how long it may take to see the light again. Heavenly Father Is listening.

I shall begin this story with a touch of my background. I love, love, love music, and I am so thankful for it. It has been a major part of my life and my healing for years. You know, the kind of music that is filled with such talent that you must thank Heavenly Father right then and there for blessing them with such greatness that they were able to move you to what seems like a different realm. It could also be just the right kind of music that touches your heart, as the primary children often do, or that music number or hymn in church. President Monson said; how fortunate we are if we are sensitive enough to be emotionally moved by good music.

For years I was quite a virtuoso on the violin, having played with the Phoenix Symphony, Symphony of the South West (Mesa Symphony), and I was accepted into Juilliard to finish my music education for violin, piano and voice.

Soon after, little by little, I could no longer manipulate the violin or piano as I had been able to do for years. At first, my fingers couldn’t play the notes I wanted them to play, and then my bowing arm became quite unsteady. At some points I could not decipher what my brain was trying to communicate to my fingers. It was so devastating to me that I couldn’t even go to a Symphony performance, or listen to classical music on the radio for years, because I was no longer able to play it or be part of it.

Finally, I could no longer get my voice to sing the little Arias that I once did in college, or even the hymns at church. I had been losing control of my intricate muscle functions right in front of my eyes. I ended up feeling as if something just snuck up behind me and took away my musical abilities.
Horses were always a part of my life as well as music, and I couldn’t even ride them any longer, and it physically hurt to care for them.

My children were born during this time so I was consumed with being a mother so I tried to put my problems aside. Ignoring my ailments wasn’t easy, but I did it for many years and for good reasons, three boys to be exact. I was needed for each one of them. They all three had critical brain issues, all at different times, and not one surgeon expected them to live. It took many years but they are all alive and very well now! Thank heavens for the Priesthood! Ah, but those are miraculous stories for another time.

In January of 2005 when I was 41, I realized one day while doing the laundry, that I couldn’t get the clothes out of the washer to put them in the dryer. My arms were simply “wet noodles”. My right leg had been like that for quite some time, but not wanting to bring attention to it I just ignored it thinking with prayer I could get through it, and I did many times. It is amazing what you can overcome with the power of prayer and the power of Priesthood blessings, and with a wonderful husband always bringing the Bishop over to give them.

The next day I could not get out of bed. That went on for many days. My doctor ordered some tests for me, and my diagnosis was that I had a particular strain of Epstein Barr that directly affected a certain part of my central nervous system. Well, that went on for a few years and I was getting worse even though my wonderful mother had me try everything on the planet that was all natural and meant to heal your body. Sure, the remedies helped a little but only for a short time. I had been in pain for so many years, with limited use of my limbs, muscles and joints aching like I had a severe flu every week, and electricity shooting through my body. I wanted to die most of the time. I would cry for my husband to go to the safe, get the gun, and put me out of my misery. I do not believe in even thinking of something like that let alone uttering those words, but it was bad. I know without a doubt, I would not have survived that pain without prayers and blessings.

One day a couple of years later, my allergies were so bad I was referred to an ENT doctor. Luckily, I had already been doing everything they wanted me to do, so they ordered a CT scan. Thankfully, that uncovered the main problem and I was sent to Barrows Neurological Center to see a Neuro Surgeon, underwent many mores tests, and finally received a more correct diagnosis of MS- Relapsing/Remitting Multiple Sclerosis. So, I went on to a Rheumatologist for medication to try to keep my immune system from attacking itself, and my central nervous system from electrifying me all the time.

 He had more extensive blood work and other tests for me to do, resulting in a further diagnosis of severe Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Osteoarthritis, and having absolutely no cartilage left in any of the joints in my body. No wonder I was in so much pain for so long! My goodness, my mother doesn’t even have arthritis and she is 70 years old! My father never even had it! No history in my family! I was only 45 and it was already severe! How did I even get out of bed in the morning you ask? Thinking of my children, and having THE POWER OF PRAYER in my life. You ever hear of the phrase, “when it rains, it pours”? Well, that is my life in every area….always has been. I am either Extremely blessed, or in Extreme devastation. I do not understand why, but seriously I have never lost my Faith, no matter what devastation I have had to face in my life or with my children. I am waiting with bells on for that “someday” when I have that even ground to stand on.

My doctor told me that I would probably be in a wheel chair soon, and other than being on disease modifying medications, all they can do is make me comfortable. Well that comfort never came, they couldn’t give me enough pain medication to take away my pain. Pain meds don’t work for me. After many tears, I refused to accept this. I prayed. I was always receiving Priesthood blessings and being prayed for. Suddenly, my Rheumatologist found the combination of medications that started working for me, but unfortunately, due to these diseases, my body has been aged about 20 years or so the doctor says. My bones are degenerating, and my tendons and ligaments are constantly spraining or tearing. I have had many surgeries and continue to need more. It has been 5 years since my doctor said those words to me about the wheel chair, and ironically I am doing so much better than I have in over 10 years, even with the surgeries.

This year since February my MS has been in remission for the longest period of time thus far! I still have lots of trouble with my hands, but it’s not as severe. I am up and out of bed moving around more than not for a change. I recently received another MRI, and my lesions are actually disappearing. That never happens. I don’t know exactly what to make of it at this point, but I’m pretty sure it’s a good thing, and again, the result of Prayers and Blessings.

Although I still can’t manipulate the piano keys very well and still have a hard time with my voice a lot, I started playing the violin again 3 years ago. Unfortunately, I am no longer a virtuoso, but I still try to play every season and will continue until I can no longer hold on to the violin. I must tell you that every time I play the violin and prepare for a concert, I really feel it will be my last because of all my pain and inability to do it as well as I once did. It is one of the most difficult things for me to do, but there is a miracle that happens to me when I play. I am able to make it through every rehearsal and every concert, and I am able to go on to the next one and the next. I am carried through it. I know there has to be an angel holding me up, blessing me with the ability to play what I need to play beautifully. I believe this because when I am there, I am surrounded by heavenly music in praise of our Savior, and through the Spirit it enables me and gives me strength. So many people pray for me, I know they d .I can literally feel it. Some weeks more than others. I know the Lord hears all of our heartfelt prayers. In that, I am truly blessed, and so are you. I can’t wait for the day that we will all be restored to our “perfect selves”! May the Lord’s blessings be with all, especially those with chronic pain.

-Kari Bisbee-Dyke


I’ve always felt like in my life things for me have been challenging and trying. Even as a child. I’ve always tried to see the blessings in the trials or challenges but it hasn’t always been easy.

After getting married, I found myself in a deep depression because I endured 9 years of infertility and surgeries to try and conceive. After several failed attempts of invitro and extensive hormone shots I was finally blessed with a child. I look back at that experience and I learned so much from the 9 years of heart ache. I thought this really taught me patience and faith that I really never had. I took that experience and truly learned from it.

Years later without any medical help I conceived my daughter, Maya. During the pregency I never knew that there was anything to be concerned about. After having Maya I learned that she had a rare form of skeletal dysplasia which would involve extensive surgeries throughout her life. At that time I was angry and couldn’t accept it. I believe I was in denial for a long time. I really had a hard time holding on to faith and allowing the Lord to help me through this.

Also during this time I began to feel that something just wasn’t right with my body. I kept ignoring it. I finally listened to the spirit and went to my doctor. I expressed to him I felt a slight soreness in my right breast. He assured me it was probably nothing to be concerned about but just to be safe I found myself going to have a mammogram at age 36.

Four days later I was told 3 words no one wants to hear, “You have cancer.” Not only did I have cancer but it was Breast Cancer Stage 3b, the kind of cancer that requires 6 months of chemo therapy, 35 rounds of radiation, a mastectomy and lymph node removal. I thought to myself I’m not even over accepting what was to come with Maya and now I have to think about saving my own life!

At this time I believe the Lord helped me go into survival mode. I knew it was going to be difficult, but I didn’t have time to think that it was going to be a long journey. All I could do was try to survive so I could care for my family and help Maya with her future surgeries so she could walk and have a quality of life she deserved. The adversity in this experience tired my faith. There were days I did not want to live and days where I just couldn’t face anyone. It was years of recovery because of all the setbacks due to infections and surgeries not being a success! I just wanted to give up. I wanted to just say okay I’m done.

One day I was on my way to have another surgery due to infection and I thought “why again? Why do I have to be away from my small children and family and go through more pain.?” A small voice came to me and said, “Elizabeth this was what you accepted before you came to this earth. You knew this trial and adversity would be handed to you. Just like the trials other people have. It’s what was handed to us before we come to earth."  I never questioned again why or how will I get through this. I knew then when you need to survive and continue to live you will do whatever it takes to do it.

Looking back at the previous trails and adversity in my life, I now know it prepared me for this long journey with breast cancer. It allowed me to handle it with a positive outlook without negativity. It has paved the way for my future trials that I will have. It has allowed me to understand more of the “whys”. In 2 Nephi 2:11 it says that adversity is part of Heavenly Father's plan for us. This was testified to me the day I questioned "why me?” I know that adversity comes with blessings and it’s easy to say and hard to accept, but you have to allow Him to test our faith and give us these experiences to make us stronger people. Adversity is for our good!

-Elizabeth Cluff, Breast Cancer Survivor.

They did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord

I would start by saying that I am no expert on the subject of overcoming adversity.  It is a goal that I think about often and would like to see realized, but I think it’s a process that will take a lifetime at least!  Some days it feels like I am moving toward that goal, and some days… not so much.  But I have learned a few things on my journey so far that I would be happy to share.

Just before my sophomore year of high school I started running cross-country, which I fell in love with.  Unfortunately the runners high didn’t last for long as I started noticing some changes in my health.  I felt light-headed often and finally began actually losing consciousness.  After a scary concussion during one episode we began what would turn out to be a very long journey to diagnosis. I saw many talented doctors who had insight into my condition, but no solid answers, let alone solutions.  It was a challenging time.  All the problems of a typical dramatic teenager (which of course seem insurmountable!)  with the added bonus of a mystery illness.  

Thankfully I had parents who tried their best to teach us the gospel and live by its principles.  Growing up I never doubted my testimony of the Savior, but I had also never fought to have a relationship with Him.  My Dad is an avid studier of scripture and believer in miracles.  He encouraged me to have the faith to be healed and to pray to have this trial taken from me.  

For a long time that is what I did.  But as time went on and I forged my own relationship with Jesus Christ, I felt a change in my heart and mind.  It became clear to me that I needed to pray for the strength to go forward despite my challenges, instead of asking for them to be taken from me.  It was a pivotal time for me in learning to recognize the whisperings of the Spirit and trust in the Lord with all my heart.  I remember loving the story of the people of Alma, “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.”  (Mosiah 24:15) I wasn’t always cheerful to be sure, but I knew the Lord loved me and I found that if I stayed close to him, my challenges were easier to bear.

As time went on I learned to manage my symptoms well.  Zach and I were married (rather quickly I might add) and I found that I had really lucked out in teaming up with him. He was helpful, supportive, positive, and dedicated to the gospel. We began our family and worked through any challenges that came our way, including occasional problems, big or small, with my health. After dental school we moved to Idaho and intended to put down some roots.  Soon after this move however, things took a much more serious turn.  I developed peripheral and motor nerve damage, which caused a variety of rather frightening symptoms.  The doctors were concerned but the answers weren’t immediately forthcoming.  

I wish I could say that I always drew close to the Savior but there were definitely times that I began to let fear overcome my faith.  I was most definitely afraid. I wondered how I could be the kind of mom and wife I wanted to be with these new challenges; if we would ever find a treatment that would let me live more normally; when we would learn the cause of this attack on my nervous system.  My husband and kids were incredibly supportive despite my not so unwavering faith, and even more profound was the love I felt from my Savior.  Although my attitude was not always the positive one I wished for, I knew he was aware of me and loved me perfectly.  Many times when I was struggling I could barely make it though the sacrament hymn without crying simply because I felt his love so clearly! 

After much fasting and prayer on my behalf we were led to the Mayo Clinic here in Arizona where I learned that I had an autoimmune disease called Sjogren’s Syndrome.  I don’t think I had ever even heard of it before.  It was the root of all the problems I have had since I began passing out at age 15.  The newly developed nerve damage was caused by a complication from the disease.  With the diagnosis came a great deal of peace, but a new level of acceptance was required as well.  This was not going to go away.  My family and I would likely battle it my entire life.  But I made the decision that if I couldn’t exactly change my circumstances, I would have to be mentally and spiritually strong and rely on the Savior to make the best of my situation.  This is where the atonement comes in.

When I was in college Elder Bednar gave a devotional as President of BYU-Idaho that has stuck with me through many years and trials.  It was about the enabling power of the atonement. He gave a similar talk recently at general conference.  I had always thought of the atonement as something to rectify the things I had done wrong; a way to be saved from spiritual death because of sin.  I knew I needed the atonement.  I was in no way perfect and had cause for repentance often enough.  What Elder Bednar explained was that the atonement is not just the power to right our spiritual wrongs.  It is also the power that enables us to overcome all of our trials and tribulations; not just the ones we inevitably bring on ourselves through our choices, but the struggles that come our way through no fault of our own.  This enabling power (or grace as Elder Bednar calls it) can lift us through any tribulation we could ever experience here on earth and make us better for it!  I felt the truth of his message then as I do now.  Christ did not just suffer in Gethsemane only for our sins.  He suffered each and every emotion of pain, grief, loss, discouragement and fear that we will ever feel.  He understands our trials and knows our hearts. 

I can think of so many incredible people who are examples of overcoming struggles by drawing closer to Christ and using the enabling power of the atonement to lift everyone around them!  Like you, I have seen family and friends rise above the most difficult circumstances; the battle to keep a marriage together, selfless service to aging parents, struggles with sickness and disease, even the grief over losing a precious child.  It is like a miracle to me that these amazing people can go forward with fortitude and faith!  Their examples can help us feel more capable… or less if we are not careful.  It’s easy to think, “Their challenges are greater and they are still handling it better than me.”  Then we feel inadequate and that’s what the adversary would have us believe.  Instead of comparing, we should help buoy each other up!  We often don’t see the times others have to lean heavily on their spouses to get through a rough night or plead with the Lord on their knees.  And it is not a failure when we do this at times too!  Each of us have our own cross to bear.  Sometimes it is all we can do to fold that last load of laundry, drop something off to the sisters we visit teach, read a five page book to the littles, or throw on some makeup so we at least resemble the women our husbands married when they get home from work.  We will all have moments of bravery and moments of doubt.  Moments of joy and moments of despair.  The Savior understands and makes up the difference when we fall short.  The adversary would have us allow hopelessness and fear to rob us of happiness and peace in this life, but if we draw strength from the Lord by seeking him through study and prayer, and living as he would have us live, we will feel our burdens lightened and help life one another as well!

When I think of my relationship with the Savior now, a scripture in Matthew immediately comes to mind Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  Take my yoke upon you and learn of me.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) The Lord does not say give me your burden and I’ll handle it.  You won’t have a thing to worry about. What he does offer is His grace, the enabling power of the atonement.  He offers His companionship and compassion as we learn, through and because of those difficult trials, what is most important.  He is our advocate, as we become who He knows we really are!  I am so truly grateful for the atonement of our Savior Jesus Christ that allows us to become one with Him.  To yoke ourselves to this most divine older Brother who will lighten our load as we face the difficult times to come.

-Rebecca Davis 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment

“Mom, have you heard about the ice bucket challenge?” It was my daughter, Christie, calling from the Gila Valley.  I told her I hadn’t, and she filled me in.  “Someone challenges someone else to dump a bucket of ice and water over their heads or make a donation to the ALS Society.  Some people are both dumping and donating; and it’s raising awareness of ALS, as well as money.”
I don’t need an ice bucket challenge to raise my awareness.  I have an intimate understanding of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), as do my daughters.  In 1998, my husband, Gary, began to experience some barely perceptible weakness in his legs.  His speech became somewhat slurred.  Then came the cavalcade of doctors.  Diagnosis takes time.  Everything else must be ruled out before any doctor will give a definitive diagnosis of ALS.  That diagnosis came on May 20, 1999.
My journal entry from that day sums up my feelings:
“I can’t explain my feelings right now.  I am full of questions that have no answers.  I think I’m a little numb with shock.  I don’t think any of us will be able to imagine the path ahead until we have walked it.  I’m not sure how we are going to get through this trial.  It’s especially hard to face it, knowing what the final outcome will be.  If we are typical, we have two to five years of mortality together.  But we will get through it.  We must.  Our only choice is how.  The only way I know is to gather all the faith and hope and strength from the Gospel that we can and take one step at a time.  We will pray for a miracle and try to accept the answers.  We know we will experience many miracles and blessings along the way.”
And so we did.  Gary was the strong one—not physically as he had been all his life—but mentally and spiritually.  We laughed, we cried, we prayed, we lived.  We received countless hours of service from ward priesthood holders and their families.  With the help of loving home teachers to strap him in and push his wheelchair the three blocks to our building, Gary attended 8:00 a.m. sacrament meeting every week, in spite of being completely paralyzed and literally speechless.  Staying home was not an option.  To even begin to describe the hours and kinds of service we received would take pages.  He served others; they, in turn, reciprocated a thousand times over.  The month before Gary died, two years after his diagnosis, he sat in his bishop’s and then his stake president’s office and received a current temple recommend. 
Everyone faces adversity in life—everyone!  Life is hard and can be devastating at times.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is easy and can bring great joy out of deepest sorrow.  The Savior has promised and granted us so many blessings.  His atoning sacrifice makes all things bearable.  Alma 36:3 states: “…whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day.” 
In D&C 121 we read, “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high…”
Gary endured well.  I have no doubt that he will be lifted up at the last day and exalted on high.  It is for us to remember that because of our temple covenants, if we work hard and remain faithful, we can be embraced by our Savior and join our husband and father in receiving the blessings of exaltation.  And that will be worth everything.

-DeAnn Mortensen

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A te convien tenere altro viaggio

The Relief Society meeting for the month of August is focused on the topic of overcoming adversity.

When I think about adversity or trials I ALWAYS think about an ancient literature class that I once took. For the most part I merely muddled through this class. I vaguely recall reading Homer and learning about Odysseus and Plato. I remember that the teacher liked to ask questions using the Socratic method which drove all us students crazy. There is so much from the class that I have long since forgotten.

But one thing I learned in that class has stuck with me vividly. One of the final things we read was the beginning section of Dante's Divine Comedy,  Inferno. When the poem begins Dante is lost in a dark and terrible forest. Ahead in the light he sees a hill basked in sunlight. He takes courage at the sight and starts toward the hill in order to climb out of the darkness and into the light. But on the hillside he is stopped by 3 terrifying creatures, a leopard, a lion, and a she-wolf. Dante stumbles back into the darkness and is met by Virgil. Virgil explains to Dante that it is not his road to climb straight into the light. Virgil says, "A te convien tenere altro viaggio," which means, "You must take a different road."  To find his way out of the darkness Dante will instead have to go deeper into the darkness, and thus begins Dante's journey into the Inferno, into hell.

This lesson has always stayed with me. Whenever I find myself asking "Why can't this be easier?" I find myself remembering Dante. Dante had to descend down through all 9 circles of hell before he could come out on the other side. There was no way around or over hell-he had to go THROUGH it.

It is same for each of us. We cannot avoid the darkness. There is no shortcut. And although this may sound depressing this knowledge has actually become my lifeline. When I find myself at the beginning, in the dark and terrible forest, I now recognize that there is a potentially darker journey ahead. Recognizing this means I can prepare myself. I can put on my sturdy walking shoes, pack some snacks, make sure I have extra batteries for my flashlight and then press forward, knowing that the sooner I begin the journey the sooner I will be on the other side.

I have a copy of a conference talk by Jeffery R. Holland from back in 1999 that is dog-eared and wrinkled and tear stained. The talk is entitled "An High Priest of Good Things to Come" and I'm fairly certain it's probably my favorite talk given by any General Authority ever, if it's okay to pick favorites of that sort of thing.

Elder Holland says:

Every one of us has times when we need to know things will get better. Moroni spoke of it in the Book of Mormon as “hope for a better world.” For emotional health and spiritual stamina, everyone needs to be able to look forward to some respite, to something pleasant and renewing and hopeful, whether that blessing be near at hand or still some distance ahead. It is enough just to know we can get there, that however measured or far away, there is the promise of “good things to come.”

My declaration is that this is precisely what the gospel of Jesus Christ offers us, especially in times of need. There is help. There is happiness. There really is light at the end of the tunnel. It is the Light of the World, the Bright and Morning Star, the “light that is endless, that can never be darkened.”  It is the very Son of God Himself. In loving praise far beyond Romeo’s reach, we say, “What light through yonder window breaks?” It is the return of hope, and Jesus is the Sun.  To any who may be struggling to see that light and find that hope, I say: Hold on. Keep trying. God loves you. Things will improve. Christ comes to you in His “more excellent ministry” with a future of “better promises.” He is your “high priest of good things to come.”
We can't avoid the trials of life-but because of Christ there is hope. The darkness will not be forever.

God's promises are sure and he says, " My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;  And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes." D&C 121:8

Join us on Thursday, August 21st 
And check back here to be uplifted and strengthened by the stories of members of our ward family who have overcome adversity.