When I first began to collapse in my late teens, I wondered if I had long to live. At that time I had only been a member of the church for a few months, but I had faith in priesthood blessings. In the blessing the missionaries gave me, the Lord assured me that my illness would not seriously affect my mission in life. Through the more than forty years of illness that followed, I have clung to this promise. It has given me both the strength and the courage to continue my life: to graduate from BYU, marry, raise four children, and serve in the Church and my community.
The many blessings I received have sustained me through my illness. Over and over I have been promised that the Lord would help me and guide me to understand the causes, accept, and adjust to my illness; and He has. Knowing that the Lord understands what is the matter with me and what I need to do to feel better has been a great comfort to me. It has given me peace when the doctors couldn’t discover the reason for my health problems. It also helped me through all the years when well meaning people admonished me to simply “get moving”, telling me I would then be fine.
Gradually, I was given experiences and promptings that eventually led us to discover that I have a rare condition, Addison’s disease, where my adrenal glands were being destroyed. With that knowledge, I thought the doctors would treat me and all would be well, but soon I realized that little is known about this condition and even less about how to treat it.
As months passed, I struggled with feeling discouraged and overwhelmed. Once again, the Lord’s promises upheld me and helped me know what to do. For instance, one time I felt that I should not wait the normal hour after eating to check my blood sugar, but instead check it at just a half hour after I ate. We were all shocked to discover that my supposed level blood sugar wasn’t level at all. In fact, after a normal meal it was immediately rising to diabetic heights, then plummeting back down, so that an hour after eating my blood sugar ended up at a level even lower than before I ate. With this information, we were able to work out a very careful diet which helps me feel much better.
Through experiences like this and many others, I eventually came to realize that I need to rely on the Lord not on man. In the blessings, I was also taught that the Lord wanted me to grow by being responsible for myself. I had to quit waiting to “get better”, or for someone else to solve my problems. He expected me to all I could, then He would help me.
Not only have priesthood blessings enabled me to manage my illness, they have contained counsel to guide me in learning the lessons the Lord knows I need. Since I was not raised in the Church, one of the first and greatest challenges I faced was seeing myself as a child of God. I had grown up believing that my worth was determined by what I could for others. The long years of confinement to bed led me to reevaluate many of my past beliefs. As I sought new understanding through studying the scriptures and as I received blessings, the Lord reassured me over and over that I was loved. Slowly, I came to know that my worth was not dependent on what I could do, but on who I am-- a daughter of God.
A particular source of strength and guidance in my life has been my patriarchal blessing. What at first I thought was just nice counsel, later provided the specific help I needed to cope with my illness. In my blessing I am told that if I express gratitude to the Lord, my faith and testimony will grow. This sounded easy until I had to face year after year of debilitating illness. I struggled with discouragement and often felt frustrated with my limitations. I hated having to be restricted to my home and not even able to read or move much of the time. As I began to change from focusing on all the things I couldn’t do to noticing and being grateful for all that I could do, I began to feel better, and my testimony grew. Slowly, I came to understand that happiness came not from doing things, but from being close to my Savior. In fact, now I cherish some of the hardest moments because those are the times when I felt the Savior’s presence.
Seeing how the Lord is blessing and guiding my life also helps me accept others’ assistance. At first I resented the fact that I needed help, but as I began to see my illness as an opportunity for growth, I am now able to appreciate the service of friends and family and feel their love. Instead of just being upset about what I can’t do, I now see the positive side of our situation, such as my husband and I becoming more unified as we work together to solve problems and care for our family.
Over the years one thing my husband has done is willingly taken on more family responsibilities, such as doing the grocery shopping. Through this service not only has he become a more loving person, but, as I appreciate the things he does, my love for him has deepened. One experience is particularly impressed on my memory. When we first met, I was just finishing my degree at BYU, receiving a certificate in elementary education just four days before we married. We both agreed that I should devote my full energies to raising our children. This is a decision I have never regretted, but there was always the hope that I would be able to have a career in teaching after our children were grown. As my health continued to deteriorate this dream faded. Through this time my husband did everything he could do to enable me to teach in some way. For years he helped with more of the housework, so I could have the energy to volunteer at our elementary school. Sometimes, I was so exhausted that he even had to fix our food and care for me in the evening. Finally, there came a year when I couldn’t leave our home. That was the year that my husband gave me a great gift. For the entire year he went down to the elementary school each week and picked up children's writing, brought their papers home for me to correct, then returned them to the classroom. I’ll always remember this loving service, and his efforts to help me feel useful and needed.
Besides strengthening our marriage, the counsel I received in blessings also helped me to be a better mother. I often felt guilty about all I couldn’t to for our children, but, through blessings, I came to see that our children were also being given opportunities to grow. Instead of focusing on all I couldn’t do, I was able to feel proud of them as they learned to do household tasks and care for the yard. I came to see that being a good mother wasn’t about doing everything for my children, but helping them to grow. My illness wasn’t preventing me from being a good mother; but was helping me to be a better mother by allowing my children to have the responsibilities they needed to develop their self-confidence.
Through the counsel in blessings, I came to understand that I was being given a great opportunity to devote all my energies to my family, and was being given a precious gift of time to develop my talents. I was led to understand what was truly important for me to do and how best to use my very limited energies. As I learned to simplify, organize, and delegate, I came to realize that there is much I can do. I have come to see my illness as an opportunity for me to develop empathy, and reach out to others by writing to missionaries, tutoring in my home, sending encouraging notes to others, writing for our stake newspaper, and even editing our city newsletter.
Both my patriarchal and other blessings, have given me the support and guidance to grow from my illness. Not only have they helped me to have better health, but, more importantly, they have changed my perspective from feeling unloved and frustrated to having faith in Heavenly Father’s love for me. I can now see my illness as an expression of love from my Heavenly Father and know that He is a allowing me to have the experiences that will bring me joy now and help our family return someday to live with Him.