“Dear Father,” I begged, “if I could only have my hands, I know I could make it. Please, Father, please,” I thought. “This is the time; here we go; my hands are going to move this time.”

I watched my hands, seeing them move in my mind, concentrating until it hurt, but nothing, not a single movement. Again and again I petitioned my Heavenly Father on that dark somber September night as I lay awake and alone, pleading within the confines of the rehab unit following a crippling diving accident.

Oh, the intensity of my frustration, my anguish, my fear. It didn’t seem too much to ask. Most kids at 15 are worried about what they will wear the following day, but I was fighting something more serious—uncertain whether I would even be alive the next day, uncertain whether I would ever be able to move my limbs again. “I’m only a kid!” my soul would scream. “Keep my legs, Father; I just want the use of my hands.”

Such endless nights, alternating back and forth between pleading with God and trying to move, were not rarities in the early stages of my paralysis. Even now I think often about those nights. As I go through life confined to a wheelchair, I miss my legs, but I am constantly reminded of the absence of the use of my hands. Each time I see someone helping another with groceries, planting a flower, shaking a hand, or teaching a child to throw a ball, I long to be able to use my hands in the service of others.

Feeling especially limited one day, I went to speak at a Primary on overcoming disabilities. The Primary had invited four people with disabilities to teach the children about the different handicaps that people face. Upon entering the cultural hall, I was upset that it had taken me so long to get ready that morning and that I had missed breakfast because no one was around to cook it for me. I was thinking of things that I could do if I only had more access to my physical body.

Three of the guests that the Primary had invited were in wheelchairs, and as I looked closer I noticed that one of the men was a quadriplegic with an injury like mine. I did not understand why the Primary had asked two of us to come with the same limitations. Confused, I continued to watch him, and as I did I noticed that he moved his arms when he spoke. Looking closer, I was amazed. He was using sign language—the man was deaf. He had the same disability that I had, but more than that, he was deaf. He had someone help him get dressed, cook his food, and get into his van. And on top of that, he did it all by communicating in sign language. As if that weren’t enough, the sign language he used employed his arms, for his disability, like mine, had taken from him the ability to use his hands.

His spirit refused to give up. He had limitations, but his spirit was constantly taking him outside of his barriers. In my life since my accident, I had heard people say that it would be impossible to live with such an incredible physical disability and be deaf. People probably told him the same things, but his spirit yearned to live and be functional, and so he was.

My life changed that day as his spirit inspired me to change. I left with a renewed belief in myself and in the things that I could do. He gave me the strength so that when people said I could not do something, I just asked for the chance to try. He had an indomitable spirit, and when my spirit touched his, it was inspired to be indomitable as well. All this came from a man who, unknowingly, taught me that it does not matter what our physical situation is; but what does matter is the thankful spirit with which we receive the blessings the Lord gives us. The greater man is not the one with a hundred blessings which he takes for granted, but the man with one blessing who praises his God for his bounty.

My freshman year at Brigham Young University was lonely, and as the time passed, it did not get any better. My roommate was very popular, especially with the girls, and that just made things worse. One night, I had had enough. I needed to find out if anyone cared. So I left and went to a place where I knew I could find out. I went to a little spot just above the Provo Temple. It was sunset and the lights of the temple and the city were just beginning to come on. I found myself deep in prayer. I fervently asked my Father in Heaven to let me know that he cared, that he loved me, and that I was his son. The answer I received is one that I will never forget. His Spirit touched mine and let me know that he loved me. He encircled me about in his arms of love, and touched me with his spiritual hands.

This also caused me to think about the Savior and the hands with which he truly served. What mattered in his ministry was not that he walked with men or that he was a carpenter. What mattered was the service that he rendered with his spirit. His spirit continues to inspire even unbelievers who, regardless of their religious orientation, are at least motivated to live better by the life that Christ lived and the way that he loved.

So it is with me. I have realized that true service is never done just with our physical hands, but with spiritual hands as well. I know that it is the spiritual service from the individual that can never be replaced. This work will change lives. We must employ our spiritual hands in the service of our fellowmen. And then we will find ourselves in the service of our God.

I still pray for healing and often watch for my hands to move, but regardless of how many of my faculties are restored, it is my prayer that at that last day, my spiritual hands will be those that tell the story of my life—by the calluses they wear from service to others.

Photography by Maren Mecham