Thursday, August 21, 2014

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 

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