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The ever present hiss of oxygen and the occasional beeping of a monitor are sometimes the only sound I hear for hours, as I lay alone in my hosptial room. I stare at the white sterile walls that surround me. The walls are totally blank with few unnoteworthy exceptions. Sometimes I wish my life were as clean and as sterile as those walls, devoid of any adversitity. It’s an easy thing to wish for when I’ve spend more than half of the last year in the hosptial. If I could whitewash all the years spent facing the pain, lonliness, isolation, boredom, fear, anger, grief, and saddness that comes with a chronic illness that requires very frequent and prolonged hosptializations, wouldn’t I want to?
But then I remember what I am here on earth to do. I remember that my adversity and trials aren’t punishments; they’re gifts that allow me to improve myself, transform my weaknesses, and grow into the person I was always meant to become. I remember that adveristy is a blessed opportunity – even an invitation – from my loving Father in Heaven, to become more like my Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ. I remember that if I were able to whitewash my life and forget all my trials, I’d also forget all the knowledge and blessings that come from them.
It’s been easy for me to get bogged down in the weight of a trial, and completely miss what I am learning and how I am growing from it. Perhaps if I were more methodical, more intetional about learning from adversity, I’d be able to develop more from it. There are five things we all can do to gain more knowledge, growth, and blessings from the hardest things in life.
- Seek Guidance
- Conduct Research
- Count Your Blessings
- Serve Others
- Do It Together
It’s a lot easier to learn something when you figure out what you are learning. Recieve guidance as to what’s there to learn from life’s hardest moments. Sources of guidance can be close friends, family, religious leaders, professional counselors, scriptures and other books, and divine inspiration. I personally realize the lesson in every trial most easily when I read my scriptures frequently and pray unceasingly to my Father in Heaven to reveal to me what He wants me to learn. It reminds me that I am not in control, but that’s completely okay, because the one that is in control, my Heavenly Father, knows exactly what I need to learn, andhow I need to be blessed.
It can be hard to know what you’re learning if you aren’t tracking your course throught the trial. Record your journey in a journal. Look for patterns. Ask yourself and Heavenly Father questions. Pose hypothesis, and then experiment on the results. I recently suggested this to a friend struggling with social situations and feelings of not being included. Instead of thinking negatively about social situations, she tried thinking that people would perceive her in a positive way right before starting an converstation. So far the results have been an off the charts improvement.
When you remember to have an a attitude of graditude you get access to appreciating the good times and the bad. Being grateful even for your trials opens up your ability to grow and change for the better and help you learn so much more from adversity. When I take time to enummerate the ways being chronically ill has bettered my life, I am always astounded by all the good things that have come from it.
Getting out of your own head and focusing on helping others in need, gives you clarity and perspective that can shing light on what there is to learn from your trials. When I take the time to be a good listener for a friend going through something really tough, the weight of my own trials diminishes. As I lift their weight, Heavently Father lifts mine.
When you are in the depths of your trials, it’s easy to forget that you aren’t alone. Whether it other people going through similar things or knowledge of the divine on your side, walking foward hand in hand allows you to both receive and share knowledge and blessings. My default mentality is that I have to do everything hard alone (also that I’m alone in my trials). The good news is neither are at all true. And not only do i not have to do everything alone, but it’s completely impossible to do so. In fact, this life was *designed* to teach me (and all of us) not to do it alone. Instead I should rely on Christ, his teachings, and his disciples to get me through everything, from the smallest of small to the most miraculous triumphs that aren’t even imaginable to my feeble mortal minds. And we are the opposite of alone in our trials, we have a brother in Heaven that has a *perfect understanding* of what we are going through. I don’t even have a perfect understanding of what I’m going through, but through Christ I can start to come to an understanding.
In what ways do you gain knowledge and blessings from your trials? Please share in the comments!
Sometimes being human can be painfully lonely. It’s amazing to me how alone I can feel sometimes even knowing I have a loving family and a caring circle of friends who mean the world to me. At times I think this very essential sense of loneliness originates from the feeling of being dwarfed by the universe. Thoughts might come like, “If I’m just a speck in this great vastness, what do I mean to the bigger picture? How do I fit in? How do I even matter? What difference can I even really make when there’s so many others out here.”
I came across this quote on my best friend’s mission blog. Sister Eskander is currently on a mission for the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This quote was by Dieter F. Uchtdorf, an Apostle in the LDS Church. It read:
This is a paradox of man: compared to God, man is nothing; yet we are everything to God. While against the backdrop of infinite creation we may appear to be nothing, we have a spark of eternal fire burning within our breast. We have the incomprehensible promise of exaltation—worlds without end—within our grasp. And it is God’s great desire to help us reach it.
– DIETER F. UCHTDORF, You Matter To Him
This does more than answer my questions. It brings peace and comfort to my soul. Through the knowledge in this Gospel, I know who I really am. – a Spirit child of God. I know the the bigger picture and my role in it. I know how much I matter to my Heavenly Father. And I know the difference I can make.
I loved this quote so much I decided to design an illustration to go with it. I sent one to Sister Eskander, and now I’ll share it with you. To help us all remember who we really our. Our eternal heritage and exalted potential.
Paradox of Man Illustration1
You Matter To Him – Dieter F. Uchtdorf
The Lord uses a scale very different from the world’s to weigh the worth of a soul.
As I was sitting in during Sacrament, I prayed for the best way to deliver this talk. I received the strangest prompting – to give my talk in a completely different order than I have written it. I had spent at least 15 hours researching and preparing for the talk, so I was rather surprised and extremely nervous about going out of order. But I’m not in the habit of ignoring promptings from the Lord, so I did what I felt urged to do. The following is my memory of the order in which I gave this talk.
I’d like to begin with a story in President James E. Faust’s talk, The Atonement: Our Greatest Hope, that retells a story by President Gordon B. Hinckley.
Some years ago, President Gordon B. Hinckley told “something of a parable” about “a one room school house in the mountains of Virginia where the boys were so rough no teacher had been able to handle them.
“Then one day an inexperienced young teacher applied. He was told that every teacher had received an awful beating, but the teacher accepted the risk. The first day of school the teacher asked the boys to establish their own rules and the penalty for breaking the rules. The class came up with rules, which were written on the blackboard. Then the teacher asked, ‘What shall we do with one who breaks the rules?’
“‘Beat him across the back ten times without his coat on,’ came the response.
“A day or so later, … the lunch of a big student, named Tom, was stolen. ‘The thief was located—a little hungry fellow, about ten years old.’
“As Little Jim came up to take his licking, he pleaded to keep his coat on. ‘Take your coat off,’ the teacher said. ‘You helped make the rules!’
“The boy took off the coat. He had no shirt and revealed a bony little crippled body. As the teacher hesitated with the rod, Big Tom jumped to his feet and volunteered to take the boy’s licking.
“‘Very well, there is a certain law that one can become a substitute for another. Are you all agreed?’ the teacher asked.
“After five strokes across Tom’s back, the rod broke. The class was sobbing. ‘Little Jim had reached up and caught Tom with both arms around his neck. “Tom, I’m sorry that I stole your lunch, but I was awful hungry. Tom, I will love you till I die for taking my licking for me! Yes, I will love you forever!”’”
President Hinckley then quoted Isaiah:
“Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows. …
“… He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”
No man knows the full weight of what our Savior bore, but by the power of the Holy Ghost we can know something of the supernal gift He gave us.10 In the words of our sacrament hymn:
We may not know, we cannot tell,
What pains he had to bear,
But we believe it was for us
He hung and suffered there.
So as you may have guessed the subject of my talk today is the crucifixion of our Savior Jesus Christ, in which He died for our sins so that we might live again with our Father in Heaven.
The events leading up to the Crucifixion give us vivid examples of both absolute faith and the absence of it. The absence of faith can often be characterized as fear. As I describe the following events, I invite you to think about which events are representative of faith and which represent fear.
Christ perfectly endured the Atonement in all its agony, according to the will of the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. Christ was betrayed by Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve Apostles. Jesus was arrested, and the rest of his Apostles fled. Jesus was then subjected to multiple counsels and trials having false witnesses brought against Him.
Even the faithful disciple Peter ultimately denied Jesus and Jesus Himself prophesied he would earlier in Christ’s ministry. In John 13:38, it reads:
Jesus answered him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice. (John 13: 38)
Then at one of Jesus’s trials, the prophesy came to pass. In Matthew 26:69-75 it reads:
Now Peter sat without in the palace: and a damsel came unto him, saying, Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee.
But he denied before them all, saying, I know not what thou sayest.
And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said unto them that were there, This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth.
And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man.
And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee.
Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man. And immediately the cock crew.
And Peter remembered the word of Jesus, which said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. And he went out, and wept bitterly.n (Matthew 26:69–75)
Christ was mocked and ridiculed. In Matthew 27:28-30, it reads:
And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe.
And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews!
And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head. (Matthew 28–30)
Christ was made to carry His own cross most likely weighting 75 to 125 pounds until a passerby named Simon was compelled to do it for him by the Roman guards.
When they reached the site of the crucifixion, Christ was nailed to the cross. At the head of the cross was affixed a title, “Jesus of Nazareth The King of the Jews.” Elder Bruce R. McConkie describes the brutality of what the Savior must have physically experienced:
A death by crucifixion seems to include all that pain and death can have of the horrible and ghastly—dizziness, cramp, thirst, starvation, sleeplessness, traumatic fever, tetanus, publicity of shame, long continuance of torment, horror of anticipation, mortification of untended wounds, all intensified just up to the point at which they can be endured at all, but all stopping just short of the point which would give to the sufferer the relief of unconsciousness. The unnatural position made every movement painful; the lacerated veins and crushed tendons throbbed with incessant anguish; the wounds, inflamed by exposure, gradually gangrened; the arteries, especially of the head and stomach, became swollen and oppressed with surcharged blood; and, while each variety of misery went on gradually increasing, there was added to them the intolerable pang of a burning and raging thirst. Such was the death to which Christ was doomed. ( Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 1:816)
Even is this moment of extreme physical torment, the Savior was merciful, asking Heavenly Father to forgive those who crucified him. In Luke 23: 34, it reads:
Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots. (Luke 23:33-34)
Despite his tortured state, He thought of others before himself. In John 19:26-27, it says:
When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!
Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. (John 19:26–27)
Then darkness came over the land as Heavenly Father withdrew his presence from the Savior. In Matthew 27:46 it reads:
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46)
It’s hard to imagine the utter terror at being cut off from Heavenly Father for the first time in such a moment of tremendous suffering. But Christ needed to feel what it is like to be utterly alone, to descend all things. To completely fulfill upon what He came here to do.
Andrew C. Skinner said in his book, Golgotha,
The scriptures teach us that God has not forsaken us nor will he ever forsake us. He is waiting and able to help us in our extremity. No less powerful to help is his divine Son, who has perfect empathy for us and can carry us through those times when we cannot go on, precisely because of his own experience. In fact, one reason Jesus was abandoned by his Father in Gethsemane and on the cross of Golgotha [or Calvary] was so he could descend below all things to know every human circumstance and thus emerge victor over all things, with the knowledge and power to help us. By his confirming witness, I know that Jesus suffered on the cross the fierceness of the wrath of Almighty God, and because Jesus suffered that wrath on the cross, I do not have to. Even more important, I know that because Jesus was lifted up on the cross, I can be lifted up also—to eternal life. Furthermore, I know that because God forsook his Son on the cross, he will never have to forsake me.
James E. Talmage, in his book, Jesus the Christ, wrote about Christ last moments:
Fully realizing that He was no longer forsaken, but that His atoning sacrifice had been accepted by the Father, and that His mission in the flesh had been carried to glorious consummation, He exclaimed in a loud voice of holy triumph: “It is finished.” In reverence, resignation, and relief, He addressed the Father saying: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” He bowed His head, and voluntarily gave up His life.
[…]Jesus the Christ was dead. His life had not been taken from Him except as He had willed to permit. Sweet and welcome as would have been the relief of death in any of the earlier stages of His suffering from Gethsemane to the cross, He lived until all things were accomplished as had been appointed. In the latter days the voice of the Lord Jesus has been heard affirming the actuality of His suffering and death, and the eternal purpose thereby accomplished. Hear and heed His words: “For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him.”
The Crucifixion can teach us much about living our lives after the example of our Savior, Jesus Christ. These are the five main things we can learn from the crucifixion:
- Be forgiving.
- Be filled with mercy.
- Be in service of others.
- Following Christ.
- Endure all things.
The first thing we can learn is to forgive others. Even when Christ was on the Cross he said, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. This very Spirit of forgiveness teaches us that we need to forgive all. Even and especially those who hate and persecute us. In Doctrine & Covenants 64:10 it reads:
I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men. (D&C 64:10)
Second we learn to be filled with mercy. To have mercy we must have compassion for people in our lives including ourselves. Having compassion for and extending mercy towards others as well as ourselves is one of the greatest gifts we can give.
Matthew 5:7 reads:
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. (Matthew 5:7)
Third, we learn to serve others. Christ’s ministry was one of continually service. Healing the sick, feeding the poor and hungry, raising the dead, teaching the masses. Mosiah 2:17 reads:
And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God. (Mosiah 2:17)
Fourth, we learn to carry our cross and follow Christ. This mean forsaking anything in our lives that are not in the manner of Christ. Giving up unrighteous thoughts, music, clothing, and activities, and exchanging them for righteous ones. Then follow the Saviors example in all things.
Fifth, we learn to patiently endure all things. Christ never complained, never object, never asked “why me?” He bore his burdens with tolerance, long-suffering, and dignity, always submitting to the will of the Father.
This perfect example of how to endure all things can especially help us in times of trial. Over the last ten years I’ve spent a significant amount of time in the hospital, often the ICU, often for several months at a time due to an autoimmune disease called Myasthenia Gravis. Myasthenia Gravis, which means grave weakness in Latin, causes its patients to become so weak during an acute flare or it that they cannot move any of their limbs and sometimes cannot breathe on their own, requiring the assistance of a ventilator. I have experienced this many times. It’s hard when lying there in the ICU unable to move or breathe on my own to feel like things are going to be okay, but the thing that gives me the most strength is the sweet knowledge that our Savior descended below all things so that I don’t have to suffer that alone. He knows exactly what extreme physical pain is like, beyond what I can even imagine, so He certainly can feel what I feel in those times. And it gives me the ability to endure to know that He endured all things. If he endured all things, then certainly I can endure this one trial I have been given as difficult as it seems. And this gives me eternal hope.
We also accept that Heavenly Father is giving us trials for our own benefit. Doctrine and Covenants 122:7-8 said:
And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.
The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he? (D&C 7-8)
Since we are not greater than our Savior Jesus Christ we can take so much comfort in all He has done for us. All the pain He has suffered so that he could descend below all things was for our benefit because He has so much love for each and every one of us.
I want to share my testimony that Christ not only atoned and died for our sins but that He rose again three days later. He lives today. He knows and loves me personally. The Holy Ghost testifies of this to me on a daily basis. I am so grateful for my Savior and for his atoning sacrifice that through it I can return to live with my Heavenly Father for all eternity. I know that my Heavenly Father lives and loves me as well. I am grateful for all of you and the Spirit that is felt here today. And I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if, during our darkest hour, we could reach under our bed and open up a box of hope? A “box of hope” could be a figurative thing that we reach inside ourselves or out to God to find. But sometimes you need something more. Sometimes you need a literal box of hope. And that is just what I created for myself during my darkest hour.
When I was 16 years old, during my senior year of high school, I was immersed in a deep and serious clinic depression. My Obsessive Compulsive Disorder had just been diagnosed but was not yet under control. I had constant intrusive thoughts of hurting myself – of ending my life.
Looking back I really had amazing self control on the whole. But I could only handle so much. The second time I caved in to the constant bombardment of intrusive images of self-harm, and I ended up cutting myself using razor blades my parents had forgotten to hide out in the garage.
Afterward I was on the phone with my therapist at the time. She was telling me I was at a crossroads… that if I chose to continue down this path of cutting I would probably end up in a hospital. I wasn’t really listening to what she was saying. Instead, I was transfixed by what was sitting on the desk in front of me – the candle-lighting piece my mom had made for my younger sister’s Bat Mitzvah. She had glued this tiny shells all over the outside of it go with my sister’s tropical theme. And it struck me then with incredible intensity how very beautiful those tiny shells were – how simply amazing it was that something SO tiny could be SO beautiful. And if something that tiny in life could be that beautiful… well all of life was beautiful and precious as well.
I rushed to get off the phone with my therapist. I knew that I had to find a way to hang onto this feeling. I had stumbled upon my internal box of hope! But I knew that it wouldn’t be easy to tap into again. I had to find a way to make it physical while it was fresh in my mind. I had to find a way to remind myself of this epiphany every day because I knew there would be many dark days ahead where I would desperately need to draw on my box of hope.
So I had my mom (who is good at crafty things) help me cover an old shoe box with some bright pretty wrapping paper. I wanted my box of hope to be private and inconspicuous on the outside. I didn’t tell her what it was for, but perhaps sensing my urgency she kindly helped me anyway. Then I took the box upstairs to my room and set to work.
Going through pictures and old magazines I decorated the inside of the box with things I wanted to do with my life, places I wanted to travel, people who cared about me, things that filled me with hope. I hadn’t yet found out if I had gotten into USC Film School (a few months later I did), so I put a picture of a director’s chair with “USC Alumni” written on it. I glued in some of the very shells that had led me to make the box to remind me of how beautiful life could be.
I put a picture of myself as a child to remind myself of happy memories of my childhood innocence. I was obsessed with The X-Files and desperately wanted to know how it would all end, so I put a picture of that as well.
Most importantly I wrote in large purple letters:
I CHOOSE TO CONTINUE LIVING
I WILL GET THROUGH THIS
Then it was time to fill the box. Inside I placed a smiling drama mask to remind me of my love of theater and the creative arts since creativity had always sustained me during dark times and given me something to look forward to.
Next went the rug I wove myself while learning about Native Americans in elementary school. I had always hated looking at it when I was younger because I hadn’t done it perfectly like my best friend Jennifer. But over time I came to love it for it’s imperfections. In the box, it reminded me that imperfection could be beautiful too!
I put in a bracelet I made when I was 11. All the beads were pretty by themselves but together well… it reminds me that you can have too much of a good thing. But also to have fun and to have a sense of humor in all things.
Second to last I put in a rope I tediously made myself during Outdoor Education in 5th grade. I spent over an hour with my hands going numb in an icy cold river laboriously pounding all the moisture out of a reed before braiding it into a rope. It reminds me of the power of hard work. And the rope itself, which could hold my whole body weight, reminds me to always be strong.
Finally I included a letter that saved my life one day. I was home alone after school and feeling very suicidal. I was searching for a knife to cut myself with. Suddenly, I had a prompting to go check the mail before I got any further. I almost never received any mail, but on that very day the following letter was there for me.
I cried when I read the letter. It quite possibly saved my life that day. I stopped looking for a knife and starting trying to figure out who could have sent it. I didn’t think about hurting myself at all for the rest of that day. The letter reminds me that I am loved even when I don’t realize it or it doesn’t feel that way, and that God is there working miracles in my life.
I looked at my box of hope every day for about a year. It got me through a lot of very dark hours and days and months. Then there came a time when I could carry my box of hope around with me in my heart, and I didn’t need to look at it so often.
Now it mostly sits in my closet, but I always know it is there if I need it. But today I was talking with a friend who is going through a very dark time in her life, and I told her about it. I offered to send her photos of it, but, I thought, why not go a step farther and share it here? Perhaps there is someone else who needed a little box of hope today.
I first published this post on my Box of Hope in 2010 on my now mostly retired blog, NovelPatient which chronicled my life with multiple chronic illnesses. At the time, I was surprised by how positively the post was received. I have since realized that everyone needs a box of hope to draw on in times of trouble. For most people that box is figurative. But for me… my hope is now something I can pull out of the closest whenever I need it. I can wrap myself in my blanky and see, feel, smell and touch the contents of box, encircled in eternal hope.
Has anyone else made a box of hope or something similar? Please share and post about it in the comments!
Sometimes it takes something devastating to remind you to be grateful for the little things in life.
I’ve been missing in action lately. I spent exactly one month in the hospital with an infection, blood clot, and flare up of one of Myasthenia Gravis, one of the autoimmune diseases I have. I’ve been home a little over a week, and let me just say how good it is to be home! I don’t remember the last time I was so grateful to be in my own house, in my own room, in my own bed, with the company of my own dog.
It strikes me as kind of sad though that it often takes something catastrophic happening to us to remind us to be grateful for everything we have. We speed around with our blinders on forgetting to see everything in our lives that make them so wonderful and so worth living. But we don’t have to wait for something terrible to happen to remind us to appreciate our lives. Here are five simple things you can do to stay present to gratitude in your life:
- Put time aside.
One of the most important things you can do is put time aside to think about the things you are grateful for. Whether it is a minute before each meal or before you go to sleep or even a whole day of the week, take time to think about and reflect on the things that make life wonderful.
- Write it down.
When you take time to think about things you are grateful for, remember to write it down somewhere special like in a journal or even post it on your wall. That way when you forget you have a physical reminder of the good things in life. This is especially key to have during difficult times when life seems bleak.
- Share the love.
Good things in life are meant to be shared. Telling others the things you are grateful for will help you stay in tuned with gratitude and may even help others find gratitude in their own lives.
- Don’t discount the little things.
Sometimes when things aren’t going well it can seem difficult to find anything to be grateful for, so break it down to the very basics. Find gratitude for small things that make up your life. For waking up in the morning, for hugs from people you love, for breathing, or whatever it is in your life.
- Say thanks.
Whether you thank a the people in your life you are grateful for or thank a higher power, saying thank you keeps you in touch with gratitude in your life.
I am grateful for being able to walk. For being able to smile. For being able to breathe. I am grateful for friends. For family. For my dog. I am grateful for my Heavenly Father. For my Savior. For the restored gospel. I am grateful for my creativity. My intelligence. My skills, abilities, and gifts. I am grateful for good times. For challenging times that make me grow. I am grateful for this life. I am grateful.