We are weeks past Christmas, but it has only been a few days since I packed up the tree ornaments and took the evergreen wreath from our door. The earth is predominantly brown this Saturday morning, with a trace of moisture in the gray sky, evidenced by a few raindrops on the cement. We are desperate for snow, rain, anything in between. Our water supply depends on it. Yet, nothing comes.
It seems a metaphor for how we’re all feeling as we press through this global pandemic – a steady backdrop to divisive politics and violence, the death of a dear friend to cancer, and the helpless standing by as I watch another cherished friend grieve the rending trauma of being first responder to her childhood friend who fell from a horse and was gone within 24 hours, leaving a two month old baby behind.
I could go on. This has been a relentless year of heartache.
We are withered, parched, and thirsty for. . . something. What exactly? Relief? Sunshine? Normalcy? Human touch? Renewal? A happy anticipation? At our house we’re a bit weary with the mundane, wanting a change of scenery, a return to parties and gatherings, a shedding not just of masks, but of the subversive stress that has attached itself to all of this.
Whether we can identify it or not, I believe most of us are in need of that wondrous word, healing.
A single phrase from the Christmas Carol, “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” has been circling round my head since the holidays.
Light and life to all He brings, Ris’n with healing in his wings#209, LDS Hymnal
Healing in His wings. . .
That is the word that has filled my prayers in recent months. Healing. Typically, healing doesn’t happen all at once. It comes in small increments, tiny steps. But I believe, it does come.
In November, our Ali began to complain of back pain, so after a conversation with our pediatrician, I took her for x-rays. We learned a year ago that she has scoliosis, but new films showed in just a year’s time, it had progressed quite rapidly, and we were not sure why. A couple weeks later, the pain progressed to spasming that basically debilitated Ali and shut down her life. She missed over a month of school, had to drop out of dance and everything else social.
Dropping out of her competition dance team, just as they were entering the season, nearly broke her. Every day I would massage her back, warm heat packs, try to keep her sane through the discomfort. She couldn’t lie down, sit, or sleep. She was utterly miserable. We saw an orthopedic specialist who couldn’t really do anything for her. Ibuprofen and Tylenol did nothing. But he did recommend physical therapy and an MRI to assess spinal cord health and the chiari (which she was born with – a malformation of the brain stem, which can compress the spinal cord over time).
Usually I know any pain my children are experiencing will eventually go away, and I can reassure them that the situation is temporary. But in this case, I wasn’t sure. Those were hard and exhausting weeks. I spent so much time trying to find specialists who could help her, taking her to appointments, helping her with school work so she wouldn’t get behind, and trying to talk her through all the pain she was experiencing, find some light in the intense hardness of it.
Thankfully, Ali has been working with a fabulous physical therapist who has been our Obi Wan Kenobi – our “only hope.” She has been able to greatly decrease Ali’s pain and help her forward. She makes us feel hopeful and positive. Ali and I are convinced, she has a special gift.
When you experience something so intensely painful in the physical realm, there is an emotional impact as well. We’re so tightly entwined – body and spirit, spirit and body. As Ali continued to struggle for relief, I could see the darkness creeping into her eyes and heart. So we began talking with someone who could help her reframe this enormous life change for her, figure out where to put the overwhelming burden of it, and gather the mental tools to push through.
While it has only been a few months of this, it feels like a lifetime has gone by. I was on my knees morning and night, and would pray frequently throughout the day – longings and pleadings continually swirling up and out of my mouth towards heaven.
Please take her pain away. Or lessen it. Give her relief. Help her bear this burden, Lord. How I wish I could take it away from her.
Be with her Heavenly Father. Help us find the right people who can help. Please let her sleep, so she can rest.
Father, send her angels to help her through this. Mom, if you can hear me, please be with Ali. She needs you.
Rest. Deliverance. Healing.
How we yearned for these.
I would apply ointment to Ali’s back, massage her muscles with my hands, and pray. I would pray that God’s healing power, which I know we can access through faith, would flow through my hands and into her body.
I have come to understand better in the last few years, that women have the unique ability to harness priesthood power, which is simply defined as God’s power on earth. We have a dear Prophet leader who has taught recently in our church, that women have access to priesthood blessings and power equal to that of men in our church. A truth I have always known in the core of my soul, but one that has never been so articulately and clearly stated to our worldwide membership. He taught that faithfully keeping our religious covenants, and asking with believing hearts, will open the heavens so that power will flow down into our lives.
That was may prayer. That we might call down power from God to bless and heal our Ali.
Ali’s physical therapist, Amy, who does not share our faith, but is deeply spiritual, would often work manually on Ali’s body, and when she did, she would go quiet and deep, and hold certain positions for a long time. Whenever I noticed her going quiet, I would go quiet too and silently begin to pray.
Father, please. Inspire Amy to know what Ali’s body needs. Help her know what to do. Let your healing power flow into her, like a shaft of light, out of Amy’s hands, and into Ali’s body.
I cannot explain what these moments were like during those weeks of intense physical therapy. I don’t have words to define what we experienced, or explain it. But we witnessed healing. A miraculous easing of Ali’s pain. It was a scary road at times, but never lightless. Every few days Ali would be gifted with new light to take the next step and press on.
Love and healing entered Ali’s life in multiple forms. On the hardest days, it seemed someone would call, or stop by, bring a gift, send words of encouragement that they were praying for her, remind her that she was not alone in this, and that God would carry her through. That love, those words, were an absolute salve for her soul.
In addition to these kindnesses, someone did the 12 Days of Christmas for us.
Now, you have to know, all my growing up years, we did the 12 Days for a different family every Christmas. It was paramount that we never be caught. We joyed in the thrill of dressing up in ski masks and dark clothes to race off doorsteps into the crunching snow. We even feigned a limp if we were seen dashing away. 😂 Secretly, I wished someone would do the 12 Days for us, but they never did. Now, it is one of my children’s favorite holiday traditions. They love donning Harry Potter cloaks before we whisk on and off someone’s porch to leave holiday gifts.
When our doorbell rang this December evening, we answered it to find a large (Santa size) bag on our porch, full of packages. One to open each evening. The emotion I felt, when I realized someone was doing the 12 Days to US, surprised even me. I literally burst into tears. Partly because it had been such a rough month for Ali, but also because it must have realized a deep, childhood longing, that touched reservoirs of emotion I didn’t even know existed. I understand all the hours of loving preparation and effort it took to pull this off, and the kindness of it undid me, just like that.
We never figured out who it was. If perchance, it was you, bless you. You made our Christmas so memorable and special, at such a needed time.
And to the rest of you, who reached out and have been part of Ali’s journey, please know how grateful we are. Ali and I spoke often of angels, and these conversations included your names. You have been her angels.
Ali and I also talked a lot about suffering – the cross none of us want to bear, a pain that wrecks the soul and writhes the body. It is sobering, leveling, shattering. Yet, Ali has come to know Jesus in a way she never would have, without this trial. To know just the tiniest fraction of what He suffered, has connected her to Him, tethered her forever to the only One who has been able to truly understand her experience. And there is healing in His wings.
We have realized that this turn for Ali is not a deterrent from her life path. It is meant to be part of her life path. We can look suffering as an obstacle, or a roadblock. But I think God intends for it to tutor us, to play a significant role in our becoming. Maybe this challenge will inform Ali’s future, open new doors to her, guide her into a profession she wouldn’t have chosen? At the very least, it will gift her with greater compassion and understanding for others. Never will she look at someone who is suffering in pain, and not be drawn out in empathy towards them.
She has been so brave, this girl of ours. She is not out of the woods. There will continue to be some downs and hurdles. Dealing with these issues will be a lifelong journey for Ali. But we are seeing progress. We are witnessing God’s great help, and the gift of lovely friends who have carried her.
Ali has returned to school for a few classes, will add more in next week, and we have high hopes that she will be able to return to dance.
I have shared this quote with my kids for years now, but these last few months, it rang especially true.
The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.– Elizabeth Kübler-Ross
Jesus went lower than us all, so it is no surprise, that in our lowest of lows, we can find Him there. We live in a fallen world, where things rarely go as planned. But it’s remarkable that the healing God offers can mend our hearts. It may not always mend the body, and our spirits may forever suffer a rift or two, or even three – some griefs are that profound, that altering. But He will guide us through it, to a better place. A place where our burdens are not so heavy, and our hearts not so broken.
Light and life to all He brings.
Ris’n with healing in His wings.
p.s. I meant to get this out to you before Christmas, but maybe late is better than never? It’s a PDF I prepared for the young women in our congregation, to read during the 12 Days of Christmas. We gave them each an ornament, with a different name of the Savior. Use it next year if you would like.
And lastly, a couple happy photos from my Dad in Samoa. The week of Christmas he dressed up as Santa. The nurses said he was the first “palangi” (white) Santa they’ve had at the hospital. He looks beyond jolly, and I think he loved this as much as the kids did.
On New Year’s Eve, he and Sue drove to the most western beach on the island. It’s just miles from the International Date Line, the very last place on the earth to wave goodbye to 2020. My Dad said, “I threw a rock at 2020, and turned around, ready for a new and promising year.”
Let’s all throw a rock at 2020 and turn our faces to the new year. ☺️ I hope you had the most lovely holidays. I trust there is healing ahead for all of us. Blessings to you and yours in ’21. ❤️