boats in ocean

Artwork by Amy T. Pugsley
The story of the Jaredites found in the Book of Ether in the Book of Mormon is one that has carried me through many hard times. I commissioned this painting as a gift for Scott to be a constant reminder that our storms blow us towards our promised land. It’s hung in our home ever since.

I’ve never felt that my trials should define me. Rather, I should be me despite my trials. This idea of thinking has changed over the past little while. When I was 15 I was in a hiking accident and ended up in a lot of back pain. Over the course of the next few years it was determined that I have degenerative disc disease and, possibly because of the accident, I had torn one of my already weak discs. It’s been more than 20 years since I first started having problems and I now have four degenerating discs and almost constant pain of varying degrees.

I have always struggled with the identity of being the girl with the back problem. I don’t like going to Costco and telling the checker not to fill the box too full, or standing to the side while someone else sets up and takes down chairs for a ward party, or getting regular injections in my back to control the pain. I just assume forget that I have this particular limit and go on with my life like “everybody else”. However, the fact remains that I do have some limitations and, as much as I would like to ignore this particular one, I can’t. It’s part of who I am.   

A few weeks ago I woke up in the middle of the night from the pain. As I lay in bed I thought of how young I am to have so much pain, and how much my children were missing out because their mother couldn’t take them on her lap and sled down the hillside with them. I dwelled on the fact that my original prognosis of two degenerative discs in my lower back was now four and included my neck, and I wondered what was next and how long I would last before surgery would be required. Needless to say, I was pretty down and the tears started to fall.

At that moment, the only thing I could do was pray. I lay flat on my back and started talking to my Heavenly Father. I poured my heart out and then I listened. It was then, in the stillness of the middle of the night, that I had a distinct thought come into my mind that said, “I know you and I know what you need.” The tears started to come again, but this time it wasn’t out of self-pity, it was out of a confirmation that I am a child of God and he is aware of and loves me. He knows what trials I need to pass through to reach my full potential and when I feel like the Jaredites, buried in the storms of the sea, I can take comfort in knowing that my storms are pushing me toward my promised land.

When the Jaredites were preparing the barges to cross the ocean the brother of Jared was faced with the challenge of having light on the barges. He took this challenge to the Lord and was told:

And behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth, and the floods which shall come. Therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea? (Ether 2:25)

None of us will escape mortality without being swallowed up in the depths at some point. So, what will we that He should prepare for us? Just like the brother of Jared, we have all the tools we need to cross our great deep. We have the responsibility to come to Him and ask for His light to guide our lives.

In the beginning of this post, I said that I don’t like being defined as the girl with the back problems. I still struggle, at times, with my reality. But, I have let it give definition to my life. It now defines me as a person who is a little more empathetic to those who struggle with chronic pain. It defines me as a person who finds a little more joy in watching the movement of a beautiful dancer. It defines me as a person who looks forward to life with an eternal perspective knowing that in the resurrection I will be made whole. And, it defines me as a person who has come to know my Savior just a little bit more because he has succored me.

I invite you to evaluate your challenges and then ask what the Lord has already prepared for you. Then, in the stillness of your night, listen and feel His love.