“In this process of working out our salvation,” writes Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “adversity will provide part of the perspiration. Again and again for you and me, experience upon experience, we will have cause to ponder upon and rejoice in the great Atonement. … Our knowing of Jesus’ perfect empathy for us individually will help us greatly to endure our pains of various kinds” (see this issue, page 11).
The challenges and sorrows of mortality may seem overwhelming at times, but they have a purpose: to bring us to the Savior and the blessings of His Atonement. As the following stories illustrate, trials and adversity—whether in the form of physical pain or an aching need to find the truth—cause us to reach out to Jesus Christ and seek His peace. “The Atonement … ,” Elder Maxwell teaches, “can bring us a ‘brightness of hope’ even amid our losses, crosses, sorrows, and disappointments” (see this issue, page 12).
It had been four years since I had come home for Easter, so I had looked forward to the break from school and the Easter activities with my family. We were in the kitchen fixing supper Friday night when I asked Mom about the family reunion she was organizing.
“Everyone wants to go back to the lake,” she told me as she chopped vegetables. “But during the six-hour car trip last year …” I looked up as the chopping ceased and her voice broke. Tears crept from the corners of her eyes, and her face crumpled. “I thought I was going to die. I really thought I was going to die.”
I didn’t know how to respond to my gentle, patient mother when she talked about the possibility of her death. I wanted to hug her until her shoulders stopped shaking. I wanted to tell her everything would be all right—the doctors would find out what this disease was and give her medicine and fix everything. But I couldn’t.
I had refused to think of death throughout the year of her sickness, even as I fasted and prayed and hoped. Still I watched her weaken and suffer. She wasn’t vocal in her suffering. She just worked harder because she was unable to sleep at night or even sit down. The pain clutched at her heart and made her shake whenever she tried to relax. But soon her suffering became visible in the dark circles around her eyes and the fatigue deep in her eyes themselves.
Discouragement soon accompanied the pain. After a full year of visiting doctors and undergoing tests, she was distressed when the specialists were unable to discover what was causing the intense pain around her heart. The test results all came back normal. Nothing was wrong, the doctors said.
But we knew the situation wasn’t normal. My mother did not normally pace the floor at night or stop in the middle of vacuuming to sob. And my mother, who had faced many types of pain in her life without ever complaining, did not normally talk about dying.
During the two days before Easter, I tried again to think of something I could do to help her. But her disease had left us all feeling powerless. Even my father, a doctor, could not fix the situation, in spite of his years of training, experience, and knowledge. I could not alleviate her burdens—she even wanted to do most housework herself, because resting made the pain worse. So she was always working, working to the point of exhaustion. And because there was so little we could do to relieve her suffering, she seemed to suffer alone.
We went to church on Easter morning. As I glanced at my mother sitting beside me, my thoughts wandered back to her high, cracked voice and the chilling sentence that had consumed me since Friday night—“I thought I was going to die.”
Suddenly my mother rose from the bench and made her way to the pulpit.
“On this Easter Sunday,” she began, “I want to bear my testimony of Jesus Christ’s Atonement. King Benjamin said that Christ ‘shall suffer temptations, and pain of body, hunger, thirst, and fatigue, even more than man can suffer’ (Mosiah 3:7; emphasis added). Many of you may not know that I have been sick lately. The nights have been long”—her voice softened as she continued—“but not lonely. During the worst of it, the Savior has been my friend, my support. I testify that Jesus Christ knows our suffering because He experienced it—and more. He will lift us from our sorrows just as He lifted us from an eternal death.”
As my mom bore her testimony, a new picture of suffering replaced my former preoccupation with my mother and myself. It was a picture of the Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane, full of such anguish that He bled from every pore as He suffered for all, including my mother’s physical agony and my own emotional pain.
I realized then that I did not need to tell my mother that it would be OK. We couldn’t fix everything, but she was comforted by her knowledge that the Savior already had.
Rescued from the Darkness
The accident happened while I was riding home after a soccer game in a town south of Santiago, Chile. My younger brother had played for one of the teams, and while my parents waited for him, I went ahead on my bicycle. My eight-year-old cousin asked if he could go with me. I set him on the bar of my bike and took off.
As I pedaled, I felt a twinge of guilt. The night before, after celebrating the triumph of my own team in another local game, I had become intoxicated. At 18 years of age, I wasn’t doing much with my life.
The wind buffeted our faces, and my cousin shifted uncomfortably. As he did so, one of his feet caught between the tire and the bike frame. The bike flipped forward, and I hit the rough asphalt face first. When I touched my face, I thought my nose was damaged beyond repair.
Fortunately, my cousin was fine. My parents arrived shortly, then a police officer, and finally an ambulance. I was taken into surgery, where they stitched up part of my nose and placed some tissue on my forehead. After a few hours of observation in the hospital, I was sent home. That night I experienced intense pain that kept me from sleep.
The following night the pain was even worse. Finally, exhausted from the intensity of the pain, I fell asleep. In a frightening dream, I seemed to see myself lying on the bed with my arms folded over my chest—the only position I found comfortable. Then I saw a dense vapor of darkness and felt a hand pulling me toward it. Terrified, I struggled to get free.
Suddenly I saw my younger brother at my other side, pulling me away from the darkness and into the light. But his help was not enough; I became desperate and cried out. As I did, I woke up. My father came in to calm me. The pain came back, and for the first time in my life, I saw my father cry.
I was moved into my parents’ room, next to Mama. Mama and my brother had been baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a few months before, and I had seen how much she loved the Book of Mormon. She read to me from it as I fell asleep again.
Almost immediately, I had the same dream. This time when my brother started to pull on my arm, I understood the significance of it. The darkness represented the world in its fallen state, and my brother represented the gospel and a life of hope—the life he wanted for me. I knew I had fallen into bad habits. I had not opened my heart to what the missionaries taught us, and I had never prayed to find out if what they taught was true. At that moment, I promised my Father in Heaven I would be baptized.
I woke up crying. Mama cried too and prayed for me.
The pain continued the following day, and Mama asked the missionaries to give me a priesthood blessing. After that, I began to get better. Throughout my recovery, my desire to be baptized grew stronger.
I began to receive the missionary discussions again, and this time I opened my heart. I did not yet have a great deal of gospel knowledge—but the dream, combined with my mother’s faith and the priesthood blessing, helped me know God loved me and had provided a way for me to obtain eternal life. I took an important step toward that goal on the day I was baptized.
I used to think I had plenty of time to worry about finding the true Church, if it existed. But the accident helped me understand that we must not postpone making good choices.