Stephanie Nielson Shares Journey “from Victim to Thriver” at Devotional

Contributed By Marianne Holman Prescott, Church News staff writer

  • 21 October 2016

Stephanie Nielson speaks during a BYU–Idaho devotional on October 11.  Photo by Lana Strathearn.

Article Highlights

  • Stephanie Nielson spoke to thousands of BYU–Idaho students.
  • She relayed her experiences as a burn victim, including the pain and self-doubt.
  • The primary song “A Child’s Prayer” reminded her of her divine worth.

“Underneath all these bandages and medicines, … I had a nose and ears, eyes, and I could see, smell, hear, and, best of all, I had beautiful children and a husband who stood strong and immovable by my side defending me and encouraging me on.” —Stephanie Nielson

“Faith in God and in His Son, Jesus Christ, is absolutely essential for us to maintain a balanced outlook through times of trial and difficulty.”

That was the message of well-known blogger and burn survivor Stephanie Nielson to thousands of Brigham Young University–Idaho students during a devotional on October 11.

“I know what it feels like to look different, and sometimes it’s excruciatingly painful,” she said. “I know what it feels like to feel ugly and worthless. I know all too much about the endless nights of loneliness and frustration, the depressing and devastating feelings that cause despair, pain, and worthlessness. In contrast, I know what it feels like to be protected and loved.”

Sharing pieces of her recovery—both the miracles that occurred and some of the difficulty and pain—after a plane crash in 2008 left 80 percent of her body burned, Sister Nielson reminded listeners of the transformative power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the ability each person has to choose to be happy no matter their circumstances.

Recalling the time after she had been in a medically induced coma for months in the hospital, Sister Nielson shared the overwhelming despair she endured as she learned how to love herself and again fulfill her role as wife and mother.

“I’d lie in bed despondent and fearful thinking about my life before the accident,” she said. “Never in a million years did I imagine my life here. This was certainly not part of the plan. … Each morning I would wake up with a deep ache in my heart. I wanted to wipe away the accident and everything that went with it.”

One day her favorite Primary song—“A Child’s Prayer”—popped into her head and she began to sing. “Heavenly Father, are you really there? And do you hear and answer every child’s prayer? Some say that heaven is far away, but I feel it close around me as I pray.”

She continued with the second verse, “Pray, He is there. Speak, He is listening. You are His child. His love now surrounds you.”

Discouraged and in pain, Sister Nielson turned to her Heavenly Father in prayer, pleading with Him for understanding and assistance.

“I distinctly felt embraced by God’s love, and the sweet assurance washed over me that everything would be all right and I realized something,” she said. “This broken, sad woman was still me, and underneath all these bandages and medicines, I still had all my fingers and toes; I had a nose and ears, eyes, and I could see, smell, hear, and, best of all, I had beautiful children and a husband who stood strong and immovable by my side defending me and encouraging me on.”

Another important part of her healing came after she returned home from the hospital. Challenges came daily—especially in the simple tasks of the day.

“I had a choice; I could go from victim to survivor,” she said. “But I didn’t just want to be a survivor; I wanted to be a thriver. And I knew it was my choice, and I also firmly knew that the only way I could achieve happiness again was through my Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Although she missed the life she had before the crash, she knew that it was through faith in God and the Savior that she would be able to get through trial and difficulty.

“I made it through the weeks and months after the crash, and through every day since, because I have faith in something larger than myself—faith that God has a plan for me,” she said. “That belief is a source of inner strength that leads me to peace, comfort, and the courage to cope, even when I don’t really feel like coping.”

Over time, physical healing has taken place, but it is that decision to look to the Savior that brought happiness back into her life.

“Happiness was my choice, and with the Savior and lots of faith firmly planted in His Atonement, my life could and would be happy and fulfilling again,” she said. “We must rely on the Savior and His healing power. …

“I know my skin isn’t considered beautiful,” she said. “I know my face is different, and it took me a long time to accept and understand that. But now I look at how far I have come, and now when I look in the mirror I see a woman of faith, a woman of courage. I see a mother, a daughter, and a wife. In my scars, I see strength, I see hope, I see miracles, I see God.

“And I am learning to be proud of my scars.”