Three years ago I was one of those work-without-stopping mothers you can find anywhere. Who would have thought that in two months a serious illness would change my life forever?
At the time we had two returned-missionary sons going to college, and we were preparing to send out a third. Our only daughter was doing well in high school. My husband of 24 years had a steady job, and I spent my days working on a school bus for children with disabilities, where I was in charge of about 15 active teenagers. I enjoyed my Church callings and still found time for other service. It was a hectic, fast-paced life, but I’d never known any other kind.
During the holidays I came down with a form of bronchitis that seemed to rebel against numerous medications. Then, in February, I became breathless one day as I walked up the steps in the bus. I reprimanded myself for being out of shape but finished the day’s work, then called my doctor’s office for another appointment, frustrated that I still felt ill after so much time had elapsed.
I saw my doctor in the afternoon. An hour later I was in the intensive care unit of the hospital, receiving treatment for congestive heart failure. It was a shock! Never in the past four generations of my rugged Danish ancestry had anyone in my family had any heart problems. I didn’t learn until much later that the doctors had given me a 10 percent chance of survival. I could think only of how nice it felt to rest and not be needed by anyone for a while.
After enduring an amazing number of tests, I stabilized. The problem was diagnosed as a virus that was killing cells in the heart muscle itself. As with colds, doctors had nothing with which to destroy the virus. I later heard of five other cases of this illness in our small valley, and only one other person survived. But I received a blessing in which I was told that my heart would be healed, so I wasn’t concerned, although my doctor and family were unconvinced. They knew only what they had seen.
After a few days I was released, and I was ordered to stay in bed and take lots of pills to help my heart work with little effort. I wasn’t able to attend my missionary’s farewell, which saddened me, but at least I didn’t have to give a talk! The Relief Society sisters came to our rescue and fed our out-of-town guests. I hugged my poor worried son as he left for the Provo Missionary Training Center. It hurt that I wasn’t able to accompany him there or later go to the airport to see him off, but my hope for a recovery was strong.
Each day that I rested in bed, my heart was trying to fight back. Yet somehow my illness, combined with the medication I was taking, was affecting not only my heart but my brain as well. I couldn’t read with a good level of comprehension, my hands were too shaky for needlework, and television was agitating. For six weeks I lay in bed, barely able to care for my own personal needs. I felt like a blob. I stared at the ceiling and looked out the window hundreds of times each day. Even though it was February, I kept the window open to hear the birds. I tried to talk to my family, but my thoughts were disjointed—so I quit trying. All I could do was think, and over and over the words of my blessing ran through my head. It was OK; I was going to be healed. I could wait awhile.
During this time I missed the bond of friendship and the spirit I had felt every Sunday at church. Most of all I missed the peace and calm of the temple. It was strange in a way—I thought of all the times I could have gone and didn’t because I was “too busy.” I had my husband read the scriptures to me or listened to the scriptures on tape, but it just wasn’t the same as when I read them myself. Sometimes I would open my Book of Mormon and rest my hand on a favorite passage, and that made me feel better.
After those first six weeks I was feeling much improved and knew my blessing was being realized. I could even get up for short periods of time. What a great gift 10 minutes out of bed seemed to me!
A biopsy of my heart showed only a dead virus. Finally I could get back to my life! But three weeks later I was in the ICU with heart failure again. The misleading biopsy, I was told, had probably been taken from an area near the outside of my heart, where the virus had first started, but the virus was alive deeper in my heart wall.
When I returned home, I started to notice that the children seemed to be bickering a lot. They argued about who was doing the most, and my husband was burdened by having to work all day and then try to take care of the family at night.
The tension in my family increased day by day, and I began to ask myself, Where is the promised healing? Why does my emotional heart as well as my physical one have to suffer?
After nine months the virus was still there and still going strong. I cried until my eyes were puffy during the day when no one was home to see—no one but God. After much soul searching, I finally realized that I was putting my trust in people instead of God, who had always been there supporting me. Slowly, painfully, I began to experience a change.
I prayed for comfort and found the message in Matthew 11:28–30 [Matt. 11:28–30] to seem more deeply significant and personal: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Two oxen yoked together are able to carry a much heavier load than one. Likewise, when a person is yoked with Jesus Christ, any burden can be lightened.
In my efforts to become yoked with the Lord, I tried envisioning a long path stretching ahead of me and imagined myself carrying boxes that represented things such as self-pity, anger, and resentment. I asked God to help me remove those burdens and then imagined myself putting the boxes on the side of the path and walking on. As simple as that sounds, I was amazed at how much better it made me feel and how easy it was. I wondered why I had allowed myself to carry my burdens all alone for so long.
As I made the effort to humble myself and to rely more fully on the Lord, other spiritual blessings started to come. My family’s quarreling lessened. My husband began to better cope with his extra responsibilities.
As Christmas approached again, my not-very-clean house was troubling me, and just in passing I mentioned in my prayers that it would be nice if someone would come and help me clean. A week later, a young woman in our ward showed up on our doorstep offering to help us. Maybe the most remarkable part was that this sweet sister came to assist us only two weeks after her mother died of cancer. She told us that after hearing my husband’s testimony on Sunday, she knew she was supposed to be there.
It was awkward at first, because our families were not close. But after a couple of visits I realized what a gift from God this was. She cleaned my house, and I helped her work through her grief and made her laugh. Some say I’m good at doing that. So, with a prompting of the Holy Ghost, God helped us both. It was a precious gift that will be close to my heart throughout all eternity.
In learning to come to terms with these difficulties, my family and I have been through a kind of metamorphosis. We started to adjust to a not-so-new way of life, and we seemed to settle things in our hearts. Like the mythical phoenix emerging reborn from its own ashes, our family has arisen from our former ways to a life that is richer than we had ever imagined.
I am still recovering from my illness, but I have faith that all will work out for the best in the Lord’s own time. I recently received a blessing in which I was told that the virus was finally dead in my heart, and a later visit to the doctor confirmed this. But because the virus has shifted to other organs, my doctor tells me that I will feel sick and have to be bedridden much of the time for about two to three years. By then the virus most likely will have worked itself out of my system.
As I have dealt with this and other challenges, I have come to realize that it is foolish for me to think I can end up in the same place as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and that I can live with the Lord again—by exercising little faith or by putting forth mediocre effort. Everyone who faces trials has to decide whether to turn to God or to turn away from him.
If someone were to ask me whether, given the choice, I would go through this again, I know how I would answer. It has been a long and difficult road, and for a time I lost my way. But so much good has come from my experience that I would face it again. I don’t know what the Lord has planned for me in the time ahead, so I just try to put my trust in him, recognizing that his great love and mercy will work for the good of me and my family. And I do so with gratitude for a spiritual heart that has been forever altered by what I’ve learned.