He is so still. Snuggled up to him in bed, I gently put my hand on his back and wait. I wait to feel him inhale and exhale to make sure he is still alive. He is. My heart is broken for my husband who had been unwell for so long. He was 33, in the prime of life and working as an R&D scientist, when an experiment at work went wrong, leaving him in constant, unsolvable, untreatable, unbelievable pain.
Friends watched our two kids so I could take him to see specialists all over creation, hoping to find some kind of relief for him. Now three years later, not one of those twenty-two doctors, quasi-doctors, or pseudo-doctors has been able to help.
The amazing thing is he hasn’t complained. Not a peep. Ever. He can’t drink water, eat food, sit up straight, stand up straight, bend over, or walk without some level of discomfort. Every morning, I know when he’s waking up because he lets out a sharp gust of breath, telling me the pain woke up too, also ready for a new day. It is his constant companion.
When it first happened, I was doing the best I could to take care of our two kids (neither was in school yet), handle all the responsibilities of the home (including what I would definitely consider the “man chores”), and keep him alive. My own emotional pain increased as I watched him go from a fit, endurance cyclist to an emaciated shadow of himself. I was often overcome with worry, grief, and what-ifs. One of the stealthier what-ifs quietly hovered around the thought of becoming a widow. Months went by like this. He still wasn’t any better, and I was becoming threadbare.
I found myself falling in and out of anger. I was angry that this had happened. I was impatient for God to answer our prayers and just heal him already. Please?? Then I became despondent as more time passed and I realized that this might not just be a short-term detour. This might be the tour.
And then a phone rang. Would it be possible for me to meet with Bishop on Wednesday? Of course. Not being dullest knife in the drawer, I knew a new calling was waiting. What I had not expected was to be called as the Gospel Doctrine teacher. I can understand why most people aren’t thrilled about receiving a relatively intense calling during an already difficult time. It can seem overwhelming when there is already too much to stress out about. But, despite what was going on in my life, I immediately accepted. I would not allow doubt to sit down and order an appetizer.
It was the best thing that could have happened.
First, here’s what the calling does not do: It doesn’t allow my husband to eat homemade chicken pot pie—his favorite food in all of creation. It doesn’t decrease his pain in any form or fashion. It doesn’t keep my children from constantly squabbling. It doesn’t take me on dates because my husband couldn’t leave the house, even as birthdays and anniversaries came and went. It doesn’t do the dishes.
Here’s what it does: It takes my jagged pill of adversity and encases it in peace. I choose to take the work God wants me to do and do my real, actual, bona fide best. I throw myself headfirst into the scriptures to prepare each lesson. I shut off Netflix, put my fiction books in a stack to the side, ponder rather than rock out when I exercise, read from the manual, read the scriptures, read other sources, and don’t stop until I am satisfied with the result. I channel my best mental and spiritual energy into understanding the doctrine well enough to teach it clearly and to try to teach it in a way that makes those particular points of doctrine important, necessary, and beautiful.
And The Rest
My spirit is fed and energized as I work to prepare my lessons. I find I have fresh strength straight off the vine to put one foot in front of the other, to do the dishes for the 27th time this week, to be the tree my two little squirrels need to climb up, to be resilient enough to suspend my own emotional needs that my husband has become incapable of meeting, to handle coming home and finding him fighting off unconsciousness on the floor. Three years into this plot twist and his health issue has remained unchanged. I, however, have not.
Does this mean I have overcome my part in this story of adversity? I don’t know. Maybe that is the wrong question to ask. The verb often paired with trial, adversity, etc. is “overcome.” With “over,” there is an intrinsic and implicit understanding that the way is up. And after quite some time living with this gut punch, I have noticed that the view from where I am now standing is considerably different from the view from where I started. This adversity has changed my altitude. Up.
As an avid couch-sitting mountain climber (there’s not a Mt. Everest documentary on Netflix or YouTube that I haven’t seen), I know that high-peak climbers have to spend time within certain elevations to acclimatize their bodies before continuing up to areas that require greater strength, stamina, and skill. At first, I felt like my husband’s health challenge was surely a Mt. Everest-y trial for our family. But as my altitude began to change, my perspective also increased, and I saw that this was only one feature on a larger mountain still. This adversity is a skills course intentionally placed in the path and designed to help me and my family acquire, increase, and improve skills we need to survive the conditions ahead.
Like with real climbers, resting and acclimatizing are essential to making spiritual gains. Paradoxically, as I work to magnify my calling, my spirit rests. In the Old Testament, entering into “God’s rest” was synonymous with being in the presence of God. And being in the presence of God happens physically (more or less) by showing up on His doorstep at the temple to do temple work. It also happens when what I’m working on invites the Holy Ghost to come in without knocking. When I need His presence—His rest—the most so I can keep going, He mercifully gives me the spiritual work to find it. I find it in synthesizing scriptures, I find it in preparing for my calling, I find it in service to others, I find it in playing the hymns on the piano, I find it in sharing clippings of my testimony on Facebook for all the digital world to read, I find it in strengthening someone else through kind words, I find it in temple work, family history work, and my family’s history-making work. This work—His work—brings me rest because through it I am sanctified, quickened, and healed.
Today is the day to encase your jagged pill with joy. Not just any kind of joy, but the joy of Christ. The joy of Christ is found in the emulation of him. Take your burden and wrap it with service, love, acts and words of kindness, staying true to the light in you by keeping the commandments you know the best you can, offering forgiveness, surrendering grudges, putting an arm around the lonely, praying for your friends, praying for people you can’t stand, verbalizing your gratitude for someone to that someone, strengthen the faith of another by filling an unmet need. The burden is still there, but you can no longer taste it. You taste the juicy sweetness of the fruits of the Spirit. You collect a crate of joy fruit for yourself and everyone in your life. This fruit will sustain you on your journey as you ascend the mountain of the Lord.
I know that I will find His rest someday at the very top of the mountain and stay there in His presence forever. Come with me.