Sunday, February 16, 2014

Faith In The Promised Blessings

A saying I've heard for many years states, "God has a way of giving us a heart". In Ezekiel 36:26 it reads, "A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh." This account explains the way that God gave me a heart of flesh and changed the way I lived. He did it by blessing me with faith.

A little back story is required to help this all make sense. Several years ago, I received a priesthood blessing that promised me that I would be able to receive those promises made to me that were so near and dear to my heart, including temple marriage and an eternal family.

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, we believe that the power of the priesthood, or the authority and power to act in God's name, was restored to the earth through the Prophet Joseph Smith Jr, and the ability to have this power is given to every righteous man in the church. His duty is to use this power to bless the lives of his family and those he serves.

This blessing was a great comfort to me, especially as it was given shortly before I moved across the country to Washington DC. Moving here was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I didn't really know anyone, and as an introvert, it's sometimes difficult for me to meet new people and make new friends. It took some time, but I found myself slowly becoming acquainted with people at church and especially at my new job. The girls I worked with helped me more than they will ever know by being my friends as I struggled to figure out why I had come to this place.

I came here because I felt prompted to do so. I was trying so hard to exercise faith in my Heavenly Father's plan for me. Faith is, as Alma describes, "not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true." (Alma 32:21) I could not see the reason that I was here, but I had faith that there was a reason even if I didn't know it. And I had faith that those promised blessings would be mine if I continued to have faith.

But then Heavenly Father began to test that faith. He gave me the opportunity to be in relationships that shook the very foundations of my confidence and self worth. Towards the end of my first year here, my sense of self was so distorted that I truly believed I was worth nothing. I was filled with doubt and fear. I began to question my faith. Not my faith in the gospel I believed in, but my worthiness to be a part of it. I felt like Peter as he tried to walk on water. At first he kept aloft, but then the winds and waves began to overtake him and he started to sink. (Matthew 14:24-31) But just as with Peter, the Lord did stretch forth his hand and lifted me out and I began to feel like perhaps my major trials were behind me for a time.

However, God in His infinite wisdom knew that my faith needed more strengthening, and so he gave me another trial. The first set of trials had given me compassion for those who are suffering the debilitating effects of self-doubt, abuse, and despair. Now, He wanted me to understand even more clearly the dark effects of depression. And to do this, he allowed my body to develop endometriosis.

For those who don't know what this disease is, a rough summary of it would be that it is an error in the female reproductive system where extra blood and tissue does not stay where it is supposed to and instead, escapes into the abdomen. It can cause varying degrees of pain and can lead to complications in the future, including infertility.

For me, in all my trials I always consoled myself by thinking that at least I had my health. If I was emotionally spent, spiritually drained, and intellectually depleted, at least physically I was healthy. But during that first year in DC I began to develop an increase in back pain. I'd always had pain, and I have a high tolerance for it, and so I thought perhaps I'd just injured a muscle and it would soon pass. It was a mark of how completely I was absorbed in my other trials that I allowed the pain to continue to increase until it came to a head in November. Just as I felt my other trials were lifting, I realized that my physical pain was so intense that I could barely function. I felt like a hot knife had been shoved into my back and was being constantly twisted back and forth. I nearly collapsed at work daily from the pain, but hid this fact from those around me because I hated feeling weak.

I finally went to an OB/GYN who diagnosed my endometriosis and discovered a large endometrioma (or blood filled cyst caused by the disease) as well. My case was so advanced that within 5 days of this discovery I was in surgery. When I first heard them say endometriosis, my heart sank. All my hopes and dreams for life centered around having my own family. I felt for a time that this last hope in my life was being taken away. My faith wavered for a moment as I considered what I had already endured and had to conquer in order to come this far in my life. I wondered how a loving Father would give me this trial- one that could possibly remove forever the possibilities of having my own children one day.

I had another blessing before the surgery and was again assured that all would go well. I chose to have faith in this blessing and the power that came with it, and went into surgery confident that I would be okay, despite the grim prognosis. After I awoke from anesthesia, I was told by that not only was the large endometrioma removed, but another cyst and my appendix as well. The surgery had taken twice as long as originally planned because my endometriosis was so extensive; they called it stage 4, which is as bad as it gets. The doctors were amazed I had not been on chronic pain pills for months with the amount of damage my insides had seen. Even so, I was blessed that the surgery went well and the possibility of children still existed. I felt relieved. Little did I know what was coming next.

Recovering physically from surgery was unpleasant, but it was the treatment afterwards that truly tested my faith. The doctors decided to put me into medically induced menopause in order to help clear up any remaining endometriosis they were not able to remove with surgery. Menopause at 30 was not exactly in the life plans, but I had no choice. The medication they gave me, Lupron, was known to cause other side effects including depression, and it did not disappoint.

For 6 months, I lived in blackness. I could not smile. I could not feel happy. I could not see a way out of the complete and utter despair that I felt. I could fake it well enough to get by. Most people would not have been able to see the amount of suffering I was enduring. I always said nurses were the best actresses. But behind the half smiles and steady daily survival, I was a shell. I had never experienced depression like this before. I wanted to be happy, but I couldn't be. It almost wasn't even a choice. I experienced the darkness of hell and learned a little more about what it means to feel completely alone.

Eventually the effects of the medicine wore off and my treatment progressed to other medications that helped me fight my disease. But I will never forget how it felt to be in that dark. God gave me the heart to see and feel how deeply depression can affect a life. I made it through because a part of me was able to cling to my faith; faith in knowing that, as Elder Worthlin said in speaking of the death and resurrection of the Savior:

"Each of us will have our own Fridays—those days when the universe itself seems shattered and the shards of our world lie littered about us in pieces. We all will experience those broken times when it seems we can never be put together again. We will all have our Fridays. But I testify to you in the name of the One who conquered death—Sunday will come. In the darkness of our sorrow, Sunday will come. No matter our desperation, no matter our grief, Sunday will come."

Life has steadily improved since then. There have still been dark times to overcome, disappointments to face, and uncertainties to endure. My Heavenly Father knew me well enough to know that in order for me to become the person he wants me to be, I needed to be given these trials to test my faith and to help me grow. But in these trials He has continued to bless me, through the power of the priesthood blessings I have received, to know that He does have a watchful eye over me. He knows me, He remembers His promises, and He will fulfill them.

I was given another blessing this past week. I felt like I was finally moving forward in a positive direction, but then things seemed to become a little more cloudy. Again, God promised me that He was aware of me. He told me very clearly that He had brought me here to increase my faith in Him, and He was allowing this further trial in order to increase my faith just that much more. But He also promised He would give me all those blessings that I so fervently desire.

My story isn't that unique. Everyone experiences trials. In one way or another, God wants to give us all new hearts. It's not always easy, and is even painful at times. But my testimony is that He loves me, He knows me, and He will fulfill the promises He has made. Even when it seems as though life is falling apart, Heavenly Father is cognizant of our needs, our sorrows, our cares, and our hearts. I believe that He gave me faith in order to withstand the trials and sorrows necessary to give me a new heart. And with that new heart, I am finally becoming the person He knows I can be.