03397_000_010Life is often soft and loving. But sometimes it scratches, too.
“And they lived happily ever after” is the closing line of many favorite fairy tales. Sister Nedra Redd, of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, wisely reminds us that those are just make-believe stories. “There are many happily-ever-after times in our lives,” she explained, but if we expect all of life to be free from difficulties, we may be very disappointed.
“You see,” she said, “you’ve got to expect that there will be some lumps and bumps along the way. Sometimes life bites and scratches; there are just no two ways about it.”
To illustrate her point, she spoke of the kittens that she loved so much as a child growing up in Canada. “I named two of them Nicodemus and Rufus,” she said with a chuckle. “Cats bite and scratch, you know. But they are also soft and loving. I think if we look to life and make our plans expecting some good times but also some bites and scratches—real hurting experiences—and learn to think of the bad times as something that will pass, then life can be sweet and we won’t be disappointed or become bitter.”
Sister Redd, who has had firsthand experience with some severe tests in life, confessed, “I can remember thinking when things were really hard that that just wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. But it is the way it is supposed to be. There are times when we are to be tried and tested, you know. And along the way at proper intervals, our Father in Heaven provides the break times, the relief times, the special times. I call them the ‘jewel’ times.
“Just as he has set up the week with seven days and then has made one of those days very special, so we have harder days and days when we know that we just couldn’t be happier.”
One of Sister Redd’s “jewel” times was at the birth of her first child, a son. But within three months the trials and tests of this life closed in. Both mother and child were afflicted with polio. Anxieties were high and prayers were intense. Brother Philip Redd, her husband and now area director of seminaries and institutes in Southeast Asia, was preparing within the month to begin his career as a full-time seminary teacher. “We felt we had really tried to do what was right and that we were doing what the Lord wanted us to be doing. We had faith that the Lord would bless us even in our afflictions.”
Our Father in Heaven has told us that his people must be tried and tested, even as Abraham who was commanded to offer up his only son (see Gen. 22:1–4; D&C 101:4). And so it was that this faithful couple was tested. Their prayers were answered, but only partially. Sister Redd was healed and left without any ill effects from the dread disease, but her precious child, her only son, was stricken with crippling paralysis in his leg, his arms, and his back. The brightness of a happy time had quickly faded. The scratches and bites of life became a painful reality. Brother and Sister Redd were forced to give up their child to the professional care of the children’s hospital over a hundred miles away where he could receive special attention. Even after a year he was still very weak and progress remained slow.
Three long, anxious years, and the concern for her child only increased. The divine nature of a true and righteous mother, with all of the pure emotions inherent in the sacred role of motherhood, swelled within her aching heart. “I wanted desperately for him to be well,” she whispered. “It was so hard not to be able to tuck my little boy in at night. His life was vital to us.”
One night at the very peak of her anxiety, this young mother rose from her bed, went into the other room, and talked to her Father in Heaven. She had remembered an incident in her own childhood. A great and noble woman had prayed in behalf of her afflicted husband and requested that, if the Lord were willing, she be allowed to carry her husband’s infirmities so that his service to the Lord would not be restricted. This sister, almost immediately, became stone deaf and remained so throughout her life, while her husband, miraculously healed, became a spiritual giant, a man of God, and a powerful leader in building the kingdom of God in that area. With the memory of this incident in her heart, this faithful mother supplicated the Father in her son’s behalf, asking if she might take her son’s infirmities upon herself. Of this incident she concluded, “I returned to my bed and went to sleep.”
Even though her baby remained in the hospital, there were still some happy, “jewel” times. Another little boy was born and then a little girl. In time the afflicted child became stronger and stronger, and he learned to walk with braces. Eventually he was able to leave the hospital for a time, allowing this little family to be together at home for Christmas.
While there were ample reasons for quiet rejoicing, the scratching, biting times were painfully evident. Gradually over the following months Sister Redd became aware that she was losing the feeling in her hands and her feet. While diapering her baby, she would often stick the safety pin into her thumb unknowingly. When she noticed the blood, her growing concern increased. She sensed a frightening paralysis creeping over her entire body. It was very difficult for her to handle her new baby and the responsibilities of her young family. As the months and years passed, there were both struggles and blessings. Braces were laid aside and her little son managed to make his way to school. The blessings were acknowledged with humble gratitude, deeply expressed. But suffering severe headaches and with no feeling in her hands or feet, the young mother of three cried out for help. The support of family and friends seemed not enough. “People were good, so very, very good,” she gratefully recalled. “But being restricted physically, not being able to take care of those you love, is difficult.”
At this time a team of specialists determined that it was probably multiple sclerosis that had afflicted her body, leaving her so painfully handicapped. The thoughts of her future gave cause for great anxiety. “That was years ago,” she said. Sister Redd, now a beautiful, healthy, and active woman, vibrant in countenance and testimony, radiates a spirit that has been purified through struggle.
She spoke of the day she and her devoted husband, seeking first the will of the Lord in all things, asked counsel from a friend who had been the supervisor of seminaries and was now a General Authority. “He told us that he didn’t think the Lord meant for me to give my life. He gave me a blessing, explaining that the Lord had accepted my offering in behalf of my child. He promised me that I would live. But it is not we who regulate the magnitude of our tests or determine the time of relief,” she explained. “We do not receive a witness until after the trial of our faith (see Ether 12:6), and our Father in Heaven will make that determination.”
The very hour one might expect relief may be the moment in which the Lord will take count of our endurance and our faithfulness. Following the blessing, Sister Redd’s condition worsened, and on the 25th of October she was confined to bed. She had to be fed, and “I couldn’t even brush my teeth,” she explained. “My good husband and I talked about the purpose of life and death, and we prayed that we could accept whatever the Lord had for us. At that time we felt that everything would be all right.” Drawing strength from each other, these young parents were tested and were found “willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon [them], even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3:19).
On the 20th of December Nedra Redd was flown to the hospital in Edmonton. There she received further tests. After two long, anxious days, the doctors confirmed the probability that it was not multiple sclerosis that had afflicted her entire body, but rather a very deep and serious brain tumor at the base of her skull. It appeared to be inoperable. In her weakened condition, the possibility of surgery was considered a high and frightening risk. But the doctors explained that she would have only two weeks to live if they didn’t remove the growth. It was seriously impairing her breathing and would soon cut off her rapidly diminishing flow of air. The situation seemed desperate. One doctor offered counsel, suggesting that if they wanted to risk surgery, they would surely want to wait until after Christmas. But Sister Redd reached into her reservoir of strength, filled in large measure by the blessing she had received from their friend the General Authority. Courageously this young couple made their decision. “Surgery was scheduled for Christmas Eve,” she said. “We felt our Father in Heaven was beginning to answer our prayers. On Sunday night my cousin, who was the stake president, came to give me a blessing. He told me later that when he gave me that blessing, he literally felt the strength flow from him.” The power of the priesthood was again activated in her behalf.
Anxious family and friends waited through the nightlong vigil following the surgery. Dawn broke forth; it was Christmas morning. The tumor had been removed. All was quiet as the moments ticked on in that hospital room. Her future hung in the balance. “I had a very special thinking time as I regained consciousness,” Sister Redd explained. It was in the twilight time between life and death that the gifts of life came back to this faithful woman on that Christmas morning. They returned one by one with enough space between each to allow time for cherishing and savoring. Such gifts, such jewels, such priceless jewels!
“I’m all right! I didn’t die in surgery! I’m alive!” was her first realization. “But everything was black, and I couldn’t hear anything. I tried to speak, and I couldn’t speak. I thought, ‘I’m blind. I can’t hear. I can’t speak. But I am alive.’ I can remember such a surge of gratitude that I was alive, and then I sank into unconsciousness again. When I realized later that I was conscious again and that there was a sort of grayness around me, I thought, ‘I am not totally blind. I can see some light.’ I can remember praying and telling my Father, ‘Thank you. I’m alive and I’m not totally blind.’ I couldn’t have lived in darkness. So I gave thanks again. Then I realized I could see Phil’s face. My husband was talking to me, but I couldn’t hear him. But,” she said with intensity, “I could see him. I was grateful that I could see his face.
“Soon I realized I could hear him speaking to me, so I prayed again and gave thanks that I could see and hear. I thought, ‘I can’t speak, but it’s enough. I can see and I can hear.’”
Sister Redd, reflecting on her deep gratitude for those precious gifts on that Christmas morning, shared the ecstasy of her final treasure. “The doctor was there. I had been trying to speak. I heard him ask my husband, ‘Can she speak?’ He shook his head just slightly. ‘I was afraid of that,’ the doctor said. ‘We had to destroy quite a bit of her vocal chords to get the tumor.’ I was afraid she would not be able to speak.”
With a happy tone in her clear, full voice, Sister Redd recalled her thoughts at that moment: “‘Oh, so that’s it,’ I thought. ‘I can’t talk. But I can hear and I can see.’ I had such a deep feeling of joy and gratitude. Then the doctor put his finger on the hole in my throat where the tracheotomy was and said, ‘Now try.’ I could make sounds! I knew I was not mute. It was such a good feeling. We knew the Lord had blessed us.
“It was Christmas morning. Phil had spent the night with me when I needed him so much. With my whole soul filled with gratitude and thanksgiving, I asked him to go home and be with the children. It was a wonderful Christmas.”
From the deep reservoir of faith and courage, carved out by times of trial and suffering, Brother and Sister Redd rejoice. “It is such a comforting feeling to know that there is nothing the Lord can’t do or won’t do for you if it is for your good.” They have made this discovery: “The Lord is in the everyday things, not just the eternal, glorious things. It’s like the comparison between the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ and quiet background music. He is in both, and knowing that provides a continuous awareness of happily-ever-after times in all of life.”