Sunday, February 23, 2014

Of Kawasaki and rainbows

One year ago, Miss S came down with Kawasaki disease.  A week ago, the Professor and I spoke in church.  I spoke about dealing with Miss S's illness and the emotional fallout that followed.  For those who are interested, my talk is after the break.

Taken the day before we went
to the hospital
Just about a year ago, Miss S, my youngest, got very sick.  A month before her first birthday, she  came down with a bad rash and high fevers.  She stopped eating and drinking and became less and less active.  During the worst of it, she mostly lay in my lap whimpering, only swallowing milk or medicine squirted into her mouth with a medicine dropper.  On her third visit to the doctor in less than a week, the doctor suspected Kawasaki disease (inflammation of the blood vessels) and sent us to the hospital to confirm and treat her.  I stayed with her while the Professor and the Relief Society covered for me at home.  She was treated and sent home the next evening to finish recovering at home.

During the week that she was the sickest, we had another child's birthday to celebrate, a visitor from out of town who came to work with the Professor, a bomb scare that led to a lockdown at my children's school (which I heard about while at the hospital), a new work computer die, a Stake Relief Society play, and all the normal comings and goings of a large, young family.  One week later, the Professor left for almost two weeks to attend two research conferences in Ireland and Germany.  While he was gone, Miss S had her second echocardiogram to check for heart damage, my younger brother returned to Idaho from his mission to Chile for two years, and my youngest brother reported on his two year mission to California in church (again, in Idaho).  I was so exhausted from caring for Miss S and the other children, that driving alone with six kids for four and a half hours on Friday only to turn around and come back on Sunday seemed impossible to do safely.  And so I missed welcoming and supporting my brothers.

President Monson, in his talk to the Relief Society last September, said, "We were not placed on this earth to walk alone, what an amazing source of power, of strength, and of comfort is available to each of us.  He who knows us better than we know ourselves, He who sees the larger picture and who knows the end from the beginning, has assured us that He will be there for us to provide help if we but ask.  We have the promise, 'Pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good.'"

That month of illness and recovery I felt the Lord walking me through each day.  There were little mercies and big answers that kept me moving forward.  We had a lot of help and prayers and meals from family and friends. I knew the Lord was with us and in control of the situation.  I didn't know what the outcome would be, and that worried me, but I knew it would be one that ultimately was ok. 

As a matter of fact, I didn't realize just how hard everything had been until the Professor had been gone for a week.  The day the Professor's mom was going back to Arizona, I took Miss S in for her echocardiogram.  We walked through the pediatric unit of the hospital.  Through an open door at the end of the hall, I saw the doctors and nurses in their yellow disposable scrubs gathered around the crib of an infectious child.  And it hit me emotionally just what we had gone through.  The test came back healthy, and we went home with a clean bill of health.  Exhausted physically and emotionally, I sent the Professor's mom off to the airport and let my family know I wasn't coming to my brother's homecoming.  And I cried.  My letter to the Professor the next day was very discouraged.  As I prayed and turned to the scriptures, I found promises to hold onto.   In Doctrine and Covenants 11:13 I found, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy."  The Lord was promising me joy in the middle of my difficulties. 

A favorite photo from this time
Over the next few months as I struggled to process the whole experience, I experienced intermittent depression.  President Monson accurately describes how I felt on the hard days (or weeks, sometimes).  "There will be times when you walk a path strewn with thorns and marked by struggle.  There may be times when you feel detached - even isolated - from the Giver of every good gift.  You worry that you walk alone.  Fear replaces faith."

That is not my favorite place to be.  It is so hard to trust my memories of spiritual experiences when I feel that detachment.  Over those months, I clung to the answers to my prayers I found in the scriptures.  President Monson continues:  "When you find yourself in such circumstances, I plead with you to remember prayer...As we remember prayer and take time to turn to the scriptures, our lives will be infinitely more blessed and our burdens will be made lighter."

One day when I was frustrated at how isolated I felt from the Lord, I remembered a scripture my children had memorized the year before.  In Doctrine and Covenants 88:63, we read, "Draw near unto me, and I will draw near unto you.  Seek me diligently, and ye shall find me.  Ask and ye shall receive.  Knock and it shall be opened unto you."  It was an answer to me on how to have faith even when I didn't feel the positive, happy, faithful feelings much of my testimony was based on.  During the summer, I chose to believe.  I chose to cling to the scriptures and to the Lord.  I clung to the promise that as long as I turned to the Lord, through prayer, through scripture study, and through temple attendance, he would be there, even on the days I couldn't feel him.  And he was.

Another scripture that I clung to is in 2 Nephi 8:3 (quoting Isaiah).  "For the Lord shall comfort Zion, he will comfort all her waste places; and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord.  Joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving and the voice of melody."  This was another promise of joy that I needed.

This picture didn't quite capture 
the majesty of the moment.
At one point, I doubted that this joy would come in this life.  And eternity seemed a long way away.  But I kept moving forward.  And one beautiful, joyful day of our family vacation later that month, we came out of a rainstorm into a valley.  And there, against the far hills and mountains, was the most gorgeous double rainbow I have ever seen.  And the Lord said to me, "I keep my promises in this life, too."  Later, I struggled again, but that moment reminds me to hold on through the storms.  

I found many of the Lord's answers during this time to be extremely simple.  One of the main messages he had for me was that he loved me.  I struggled to understand how he could love me when he has billions of children just as special as me on this earth alone.  He has powerfully told me over and over, through scriptures, through the Spirit in the temple, through the beauty of his creations, and in blessings that he loves me--individually and profoundly.  

He told me again through President Monson in September.  "My dear sisters, your Heavenly Father loves you - each of you.  That love never changes.  It is not influenced by your appearance, by your possessions, or by the amount of money you have in your bank account.  It is not changed by your talents and abilities.  It is simply there.  It is there for you when you are sad or happy, discouraged or hopeful.  God's love is there for you whether or not you feel you deserve love.  It is simply always there."  I'm starting to believe him.

The image from Isaiah of the Lord turning the difficult, barren, wasted places of Zion into Eden, into the garden of the Lord is beautiful to me.  We all have waste places in our lives.  For me this is a promise that someday the Lord will give me joy both because of and during the difficult times of my life.

Elder Holland in Conference last October shared the same idea as he talked about mental illness (although I think it applies to much more) when he said, "In striving for some peace and understanding in these difficult matters, it is crucial to remember that we are living--and chose to live--in a fallen world where for divine purposes our pursuit of godliness will be tested and tried again and again.  Of greatest assurance in God's plan is that a Savior was promised, a Redeemer, who through our faith in Him would lift us triumphantly over those tests and trials, even though the cost to do so would be unfathomable for both the Father who sent Him and the Son who came.  It is only an appreciation of this divine love that will make our own lesser suffering first bearable, then understandable, and finally redemptive."

Miss S, all better
When we are struggling, that last sentence is precisely what we need.  First, we work to survive, to bear our cross.  When things have become bearable, we want to understand.  And last, we hope that, somehow, this struggle will be worth it.  And that is what the atonement gives us.  As we pray and turn to the scriptures, we are reminded of God's plan.  Our faith in him is strengthened.  And we connect with the only one who can "lift us triumphantly over (our) tests and trials" and redeem us, not only in spite of our trials, but through them.  For, truly, as we learn in John, life eternal is knowing our Father and his Son.  We often come to know them more through our difficulties and through their love for us.

I am learning, as President Monson testified, that "we will understand that we do not ever walk alone.  I promise you that you will one day stand aside and look at your difficult times, and you will realize that He was always there beside you."

I wasn't always sure if that was true this last year.  But, looking back, my Father was always there.  He is with you also.