Peter’s mother-in-law was sick before Jesus healed her. The disciples struggled to catch anything at all before their boat was filled with fish. The lepers were isolated from loved ones for years before their joyous reunions.
It’s not that our Father-in-Heaven wanted these people to be sick, or struggle, or feel alone. He doesn’t cause bad things to happen in our lives and then abandon us. He doesn’t want us to be miserable.
He does, however, want us to act in faith, regardless of circumstance. We aren’t intended to be spiritual babies for always, and so he wants us to grow. To grow, we have to learn more (by experience), practice new skills (and keep practicing when we don’t get it right), and simply do something – anything – that counts as an act of faith.
When you get cancer, there are a lot of ways to act in faith.
Not blaming God, for one thing.
Seeking to understand the challenges of mortality and natural consequences of living in a fallen world counts.
Asking to be taught by experience, to learn along the way, to have clear-seeing eyes and far-seeing visions is even more proactive.
Praying when it hurts to breathe, reading scriptures when you can’t stay awake, and being grateful for so many who serve and help do the things you cannot do for yourself anymore are ways to act in faith when it would be easier to give up, give in, or quit all together.
But quitting means forgetting.
And the whole point of everything is to wake up a little more, to recall a little more, to remember who we are.
The last two days have been hard ones. My pain medication is making me too sick and itchy to take anymore, so now I am back to only taking Tylenol. It means my fevers are back, and the pain is back, and that I can do less than when my pain was masked by medicine.
This, probably, is a good thing, as I am sure I was trying to do too much.
But there was something symbolic about finishing the kids’ rooms that felt very urgent to me. I needed their rooms to be finished. I needed them to know they live here. I needed them to be okay if I die.
Except today is not my day to die.
It is a day for hot tears, and weakness, and intense frustration at being able to do so little. It is a day for choosing wisely what gets the little energy I have, and a day for being careful about how I spend the little time I am awake.
I must choose nourishing things, and I must choose eternal things.
Time is an illusion, and far too short.
Illness or other crises only magnify our task at hand, which is to do as we are prompted, as soon as we are prompted. Crises remove (or become) the distractions, obstacles, or things standing between us and who we can become.
I had the best study this morning, because I did it when I was prompted, and did it first, rather than using my burst of energy on silly tasks around the house that really don’t matter. I had precious time with my children because I used that hour of alertness to do school with them and watch them play, rather than taking the easier route of watching a movie or playing games on my iPad.
Now, when my day has taken a downward turn, I have strength and memories to hold on to and remember and love because I didn’t waste my time while I still had it.
It’s a hard thing, because living consciously awake is the harder thing.
It is always easier to sleep walk through life, to remain in that premortal state, than to actively and consciously live and become by using mortal experiences as rocks in a wall that we are climbing.
Nathan says I have an iron will.
I think it means I am stubborn.
I know it means that I have many sick days ahead, so anytime there is opportunity to spend time with him or the children, even if it is a little uncomfortable, then that is the better choice.
Because it is practicing how to act, and that counts as an act of faith.
So when they say you have cancer, you say you want a priesthood blessing.
That’s acting in faith.
It doesn’t mean you get a free pass from surgery, or a free pass from pain, or a free pass from missing out on family time and friend time and work time.
It means you simply return to your Father-in-Heaven, and say that you have permission to approach because of the atonement of His Son, and that the Spirit can give you words to speak to each other. It means you report what they have said about cancer, and ask for the plan of what happens next and for help doing whatever is assigned you.
Then someone with permission to act for God and by His power, lays their hands in your head and pronounces a blessing straight from God Himself.
That’s when I was told the adversary was laying “seeds” to try and stop me.
I didn’t know, yet, then, that my cancer was formed into a rope of rocks.
The cancer was declared to be out of Order (of the priesthood), and I pictured it as cells copying bad information instead of accurate information.
The cancer was commanded to organize itself to be removed in surgery, and it was reminded it has no power against righteousness or the prayers of the righteous.
Later, when surgery happens, the mass has spread like a rope of rocks, like seeds leaving a trail of what it wanted to attack: my ovaries, and uterus, and these parts of me that promise eternal families. It chains it all against my pelvic bones, or the inside of my hips. These are the parts of me by which I move, and work, and choose to care for my family. It wraps it all around my spine, which holds my nerves that hold me together, keeps me strong, and holds me upright.
This was not an attack on my body. This was an attack on my agency, my choosing motherhood, my choosing wifedom. This was an attack on eternal families, and my eternal family will not be stopped.
The blessing went on to describe my learning more about the atonement, and experiencing it as a physical gift and not just a spiritual gift. I learn this as I have a surgery that cannot be avoided, and is required if there is any chance at life. I learn this when the pain is so intense hot tears fall down fevered cheeks. I learn this when others dress me after a shower, tuck my feet under blankets, and pick hair off my clothes and blankets. I learn this when I am told someone will be sure to bring me sacrament, because it is something I cannot do for myself but desperately need.
I learn this when we get the call of a miracle, when the doctor reads us the pathology report.
The atonement is complete, I think.
It is whole, and entire, and even for me.
It has brought me miracles of healing, in changing my life, in uniting my family, and in sealing me to Nathan.
Physically, the atonement has healed me, a great deal already. My heart has been softened, that I might receive. My ears have been opened, that I might obey. And now my womb has been cleansed, that I might be sealed for time and all eternity to these precious souls I love – and the ones who will come after them.
“We got it all,” the doctor says.
We breathe again, for the first time in a week.
But that’s not the miracle. That piece I already knew, from the pain of surgery and the pain in my hips and tailbone where I was chiseled on, like a master carver creating a masterpiece, and oh, please, I beg, carve away anything in me that is not of God.
Here’s the miracle that he tells us: the three baseball size tumors were benign, but the larger mass with its rope of rocks was obviously malignant…. except it was already dead.
That’s what he tells us.
He tells us the cancer was already dead before they got to it.
The prayers of people, the blessing says, and the prayers of discourses of angels, it says, will be far mightier than the cancer.
The prayers of your children, it says, is part of why they came to you now.
Hot tears came that day, during the blessing, and hot tears came when the doctor told us this miracle of news.
But also, the blessing gave instructions for how to act in faith next: learn to rely on others more, don’t rush back to work too soon, further procedures will be required, a complete recovery depends on your rest and the interventions (fasting, prayer, and service) of others.
“Chemo,” the doctors say, is still necessary because they want to be sure it isn’t anywhere else, and that none of the scar tissue from surgery will have any cancer in it. If no other cancer is found, I will not have to do radiation. PET scans can show this, they say, by how the radioactive medicine (mixed with sugar, so it can be absorbed by the body), gets absorbed by cells or not – if it doesn’t “light up”, then there is no cancer, or like me before surgery, it is already dead. Now that they know why the results were coming out mixed, we have no concerns about needing an MRI, and a PET scan will be sufficient.
Sufficient for my needs.
“The cancer was dead,” he said again, “before we ever got to it. It is rare, and we cannot really explain it to you. You are church people; think what you will.”
“We may also rest assured that that God who has delivered us so frequently in the past will still continue to deliver us… He will throw around us His arm of power, and when the worst comes to the worst He will interpose in our behalf in a miraculous manner to free us and place us upon a sure foundation. In fact, it is all miraculous. The existence of this people is a miracle. The growth of this people is a miracle. The attitude of this people is a miracle…
“We have every reason to rejoice so long as we are doing right. It is this that we have to console us…The warfare will go on as it has done in the past, only with this difference: that in our age and to us God has made promises, that this kingdom, that is, the Holy Priesthood that He has restored to the earth and the authority that He once had among men; the promise is to us that it shall not be taken from the earth again; but that this kingdom shall roll forth, continue to grow and increase, until it will encircle within its pale all the virtuous and honest of the nations of the earth. This is the destiny of this work; not to exclude anyone, but to include everyone; and as it gains strength, influence and power, it will continue to aggregate to itself all that is good in mankind.
“I am happy in this reflection: that notwithstanding the threatening aspect of affairs… there is a spirit of peace, calmness and serenity, prevailing throughout our settlements and throughout our families, so far as I have been able to discern, that has shown we are undisturbed, that we are conscious of the fact that God is with us. Continue to cherish this spirit, let it rest upon you, impart it to your children, extend it as far as you can; and may the blessing of our Father and God rest down abundantly upon you and upon all the honest everywhere throughout the wide earth, is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.”
~ George Q. Cannon, 1884 (JoD, 25:238)