Sunday, September 25, 2011


Last Friday a sister from our ward called me and asked if I would be willing to help with part of the lesson in Relief Society on Sunday. I said that I would be happy to. (You know, because that's what we do as women, we say yes.) She didn't tell me what the lesson was or how or where I would fit into it. She just asked me to share my thoughts on one question, how have I dealt with Brian's illness? 

I thought about it through most of the night and when I couldn't sleep because Brian was gone camping, I got up and started to write down my thoughts. It turned into a very beautiful and cathartic process for me to remember a particular event that forever changed my outlook on life:

How have I dealt with Brian's illness?

One day at a time. Some days are better than others, and there have been some very dark days. Days when I was sunk in self pity and despair over the unfairness of how hard my life was turning out to be. About five years ago we began the process of getting a diagnosis for Brian. The main trigger was when we went to a chiropractor to see if he could help with the weakness Brian was experiencing in his right leg. The chiropractor took some measurements and discovered that his right leg was more than an inch smaller in circumference than his left leg. So we went to our regular doctor, who ran some tests... and sent us to a neurologist, who ran some tests and then asked what kind of insurance we had, and then ran some more tests... and sent us to a specialist, who ran more tests... and then came back and said, "You most likely have ALS (or Lou Gehrig's disease)... but the only way to know for sure is to come back in six months and we'll retest you and see how far it has progressed."

This started the hardest six months of my life. I had a toddler, an infant, and a husband who was most likely dying of an incurable illness. I tortured myself by reading everything I could find on ALS. It is a progressive degenerative disorder and most people don't live longer than 5 years after being diagnosed. During this time period my mother's cancer came back after being in remission for a little over a year. I felt like my world was falling apart and I was unable to find even the smallest ray of hope. About half way through the six month waiting period I called my mother on the phone just falling apart at the seams. I was going to be a widow before I was 30, with two small children to provide for and no education or skills to provide for them with. ALS often leaves the families and care-givers drained every possible way, including financially. All I could see was a long painful illness that destroyed every part of my family and life and I didn't know where to turn or what to do. My mother, wise and faithful woman that she was, listened to my fear and pain and then gently reminded me of 1 Nephi 3:7. That we are promised that we will not be asked to do anything that the lord hasn't prepared us for. This was my first real test of faith. I believe in the scriptures. I believe in Jesus and Heavenly Father. If I believe in all of this then I have to believe that I can bear these trials. Some days it felt like all that got me through was walking around in a daze and repeating this scripture over and over.

Finally the six months of agonizing waiting were over. We were going in on Monday to the specialist for the final diagnosis. Brian and I were both mentally girding our loins for them to say, "Yes. It's ALS." The Saturday night before I stayed up into the early morning by myself, reading online about ALS support groups, and alternately sobbing and railing at the heavens. Literally crying out to my Heavenly Father, "Why? Why me? Why my husband? Why are you taking him away from our children?  Haven't we had enough trials? Haven't we suffered enough?" Sunday morning came and I was in no mood for church, especially with two small children and only a few hours of sleep. But Brian was adamant about going and so I went, with a very unwilling heart.

We had a guest speaker in Relief Society that day. She was talking about the book, Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World. I don't remember her name or even most of what she said. I was sitting there quietly, giving every appearance of listening, but in actuality I was holding all my hurts close to my heart and turning them over and over in my mind. Then the speaker said, "How often do we get so focused on ourselves and our troubles, big or small, that we miss seeing the blessings that our Heavenly Father is showering on us?" All could think was, "Blessings? HA!" She went on to talk about where in the scriptures many people think Jesus rebukes Martha for being more focused on worldly concerns than spiritual ones. But what she said next will forever be imprinted on my heart. She said that she didn't think that Jesus was rebuking Martha. She thought that he was sympathizing with Martha and letting her know that he knew all of the cares and concerns that she was struggling with. Then the speaker asked, "Could the Lord look into your heart right now and say the same to you?"

In that moment I heard in my heart, "Chrissy, Chrissy, thou are careful and troubled about many things," and I felt an overwhelming wave of love and compassion wash over me and take away all of the hurt and anger and fear that had been festering in my spirit for the last six months. I knew that I wasn't being left alone to flounder through this trial and that there were angels, both heavenly and earthly, surrounding me and bearing me up.  I began to shake and cry from the enormity of what had just happened. Soon I was sobbing, ugly, gasping, heart-wrenching sobs. Loud enough that I disrupted the speaker and the meeting ground to a halt as the sisters rushed to comfort me. Most of them knew that we were going to see the doctor the next day and chalked up my reaction to that, and I let them. I couldn't stop crying long enough to explain the profound lesson I had just been given. Later on, once I could finally calm down, I felt at peace. I knew that no matter what diagnosis we were given the next day we would be able to bear it, together as husband and wife, as a family with our children and our extended families, and with faith.

Of course you know that the diagnosis was not ALS. At first we were so ecstatic about what it wasn't that we didn't spend a lot of time dwelling on what it was. Then came another year or so of testing to finally figure out what was wrong with him. But ever since that Sunday I have had a perfect faith that no matter what the outcome of the many tests or what challenges Brian's health presents for our lives together we will be able to deal with it.

I have had days where I felt sad, discouraged or frustrated with our situation, but never again have I had the anger and the fear that I struggled with during those six months. I have learned that fear is an absence of faith,  where faith is strongly rooted; fear cannot grow. I have learned to strive for a Mary heart, to focus on finding the blessings in the trials instead of on the trials themselves. I have learned that the hottest fires make the strongest steel, and that I am a stronger person than I would have ever thought possible because of the struggles that we have gone through. I would not trade my life for anyone else's.

I went into R.S. today to share what I had written, feeling a little nervous because I still didn't know if it was applicable to the lesson or would fit with what the sister was trying to teach. The lesson was from a talk given during the April session of Conference by Elder Paul V. Johnson, More Than Conquerors Through Him That Loved Us. It gave me goosebumps to read this talk and see how many parallels there were between it and what I had written. I believe in inspiration, but it is always amazing to see it unfold in your own life. I am so grateful for this experience and the chance to record and share such a precious part of my history for my children and myself.


Sandra & Brent said...

How lovely. Thank-you for sharing this very personal glimpse into a profound lesson learned in your life.

Lynae said...

Wow, Chrissy. You are a beautiful writer, a beautiful spirit, and a beautiful example of faith and endurance. Thank you.

April Weeks said...

Beautiful. Everything you said and felt is so powerful.

Lawson Family said...

Yes, thank you for sharring. I just LOVE to hear inspiration stories and to feel the connecting power from the heavens to our hearts.

Amanda said...

I love Young Women, but I miss Relief Society. I'm so glad I didn't miss out on this!

Mary said...

This really is a precious record for your family, and I'm sure it's touched many other people as well! Thank you for sharing it.