What comes to mind when you hear the word Strength? What does it mean to you?
When I posed this question on Instagram a few weeks ago, the underlying theme I heard was resilience. I believe there is great truth in the fact that resilience and strength go hand in hand. But, as I sat down to prepare my presentation on This Is Strength, I had another thought. There has to be something or someone at the center holding it all together. Just like in the wagon wheel above, in order for all the pieces to function properly, there has to be that center piece supporting (or connecting) the spokes. In life, I think we are all connected through Christ. He is our main source of strength. All of us are the spokes and our common stories are what draw us together with Him.
My presentation ended up so completely different from what I had originally planned to share, but I know it ended up being the exact message that someone in the audience needed that morning. And once again, I find myself feeling the urge to share it here as well. So here goes…
Winter of 2013-14, I was living in metro Detroit with my two oldest children. At the time, they were ages 7 and 3. My husband had been living in Brazil for over a year while the kids and I stayed behind in Michigan. We would see each other once every 3 months or so – either he would come home for an extended weekend or I would fly solo with both kids to Brazil. That particular winter was record breaking in Michigan. Over 100 inches of snow dumped on us during between Christmas and the end of January.
From the worst part of that month long blizzard, I remember one specific day. I was shoveling the driveway to ensure I’d be able to drive kids to school (because that’s how we do it in Michigan…there’s no shutting down – everyone still goes to school and work). As I neared the halfway point in my shoveling adventure, I looked to my right and then to my left and wondered where in the world I was going to put the rest of the snow. The mountains of snow all around me were taller than me! If you’ve stood next to me, you know that I’m only 5’…100 inches of snow…well, you get the picture. Thankfully I’d just started going to the gym for stress relief and somehow managed to throw that snow over my head. I finished up the driveway and as I turned around to go back inside my warm house, a snow plow came and created a pile as tall as me at the foot of my driveway. In that moment, I just stood there and cried (and muttered some not so nice things to my husband in my head – knowing full well he was enjoying 85 degrees on a beach that day.)
I think back on this experience frequently because it just seems like such a good tangible example of having no idea how I was going to get through a trial. And then being able to look back and realize somehow, I made it. The Lord has used such a simple example to teach me two things about myself. First, I am way more resilient than I give myself credit for. And Second, strength comes in the most baffling ways.
At the beginning of this year, I started reading the Book of Mormon from the first page again. But, this time, my intention is to find new lessons and to dig deeper than I have before. I spent all last year just trying to establish a pattern of consistency. This year, I’m picking up on themes and learning how to make the stories applicable to me, to my family, to my church callings, to the world in general. I had set my theme for this year to Lean In. I have no real agenda, no firm goals but I really want to let the Lord guide me this year. So, as I came to 1 Nephi 4:6-7, a lightbulb turned on and I now have these verses in several places I see regularly. They read “And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do. Nevertheless I went forth.” As I’ve continued my Book of Mormon study and as I have dove in to the Come Follow Me curriculum, I have seen the overriding theme that is encompassed by the word Nevertheless.
I’d like to take you a little deeper into where my life was during that snowmaggedon several years ago. When my oldest son was not quite two years old, I learned I was pregnant with baby number two. I was incredibly excited to have another baby. The first Dr appointment when I heard a heartbeat was so exciting and I immediately started mentally rearranging the furniture in the townhome we were renting to make room for baby stuff again. I was super anxious to find out gender and I was even more excited to involve my son in the process of preparing for a new baby. We had recently moved cross country from Las Vegas to Raleigh and only had one car. Around the time I was 10 weeks, our townhouse flooded with sewage water. Renovations began quickly, but that was not so fun with an almost two year old and morning sickness. In the midst of that mess, I was due back for another checkup. When it came time for the appointment at the end of my first trimester, I had to take my little one with me while my husband stayed at work (thanks to the one car issue). Dylan’s 2nd Birthday was in just a couple days and I planned to let him hear his new sibling’s heartbeat and then explain to him what was going to happen. This little picture of perfection had formed in my head and I just knew he would be so excited. The nurse came in the room and pulled out the Doppler. I was distracted watching Dylan and trying to ensure he didn’t start messing with any of the equipment. After a couple minutes, the nurse left the room telling me she’d be right back. A few minutes later, the Dr came and moved me to a different room and said ‘We’re going to have an ultrasound today!’ My experience with ultrasounds, to this point, was that they are awesome! And I immediately thought ‘How cool! Dylan will get to see this baby instead of just hear a little beat.’ Instead, what happened is that the Dr gave me his apologies and told me I needed to schedule a D&E. Looking back, I realize that strength is holding your composure in front of your two year old when all you want to do is lie down on the floor and sob. But, I did just that until my husband came home from work that evening. And then two days later, I celebrated my son’s birthday at The Little Gym with a dozen of his friends knowing full well that two days after that I would be saying farewell to someone I was dying to meet.
I wish that I could say that was the end of my journey with infertility and loss. But, my story doesn’t end there. Three months later, I saw two pink lines followed up a few days later by another miscarriage. And then another one a few months after that. By the time my due date for that first miscarriage rolled around, I was not doing so hot. And the due date just happened to be my brother’s birthday – so the reminder was always there. But, I got through it with the help of a dear friend who was traveling the same road at the same time. Talk about a bonding experience. Thankfully, by the end of that summer and around the same time I had discovered I was pregnant the year before, I was pregnant again. And this time, it was meant to be. I participated in every single test possible and found out really early on that I was having a girl and she was due near my Birthday. Life was great. As Christmas approached, we had told all our family and friends and I basically requested only baby stuff for my gifts that year. Three days before Christmas, I was sitting at the table playing Kerplunk with Dylan (isn’t it funny how we remember little details like a specific game?) and Mike walked in from work with a look on his face. He’s not a very expressive person, but I could see it on his face that he had something to tell me. I sent Dylan off to play with the dog and watch a cartoon. Mike sat down at the table with me and said “They let me go.” It took me a minute to understand and and being the kind wife I am, I made him repeat his statement. “They laid me off.” Here I was 7 ½ months pregnant, we’d been talking about buying a house and we were just so completely happy with our life. This was during the recession and unfortunately for us, my husband works in the construction industry. He had already survived 18 months of layoffs, but apparently his time was up. That was not my favorite Christmas and this was our second one in a row with devastating news. He interviewed for weeks and after a month finally received a job offer – in Virginia Beach. Let’s just say that pregnancy, job loss and moving really don’t go well together and depression hit me hard. We made the move because we had no other choice at the time. And I hated every minute of it - I literally cried every single morning wishing it was all just a bad dream. When I look back on our time in Va, the only light I find is Lena. She holds a place in my heart that can only be held by her.
After Lena, I actually had another miscarriage and then had a couple Drs tell me that I had so much damage from previous pregnancies and two C-sections, the chances of me having another baby were minimal. So, we moved on and determined our family was complete. Needless to say that when Myla joined our crew 5 ½ years later, well, there was a lot of shock and tears for a different reason. But, also, as I’ve looked back over the years, I can see the Lord’s hand in the timing of her arrival just like I can in Lena’s timing. He knew exactly when I would need their sweet spirits to fill my soul with light. When I found out I was pregnant with Myla, we had just moved from Detroit to Charlotte NC. We again had no family around and to be quite honest, my marriage was a little rocky after having spent the previous two years with my husband living in Brazil while the kids and I did our best to survive that awful Michigan Winter.
If it had been someone else telling me this story, if I hadn’t been the one living through it, I would stare in awe and wonder how in the heck I survived. And to be honest, I almost let it knock me down for good. It was during that time my husband was in Brazil that I walked away from everything I’d been raised to believe in and it was after Myla turned 2 that I felt strong enough to follow the prompting to come back.
As I look back at the things life has thrown at me, and wonder with sincere curiousity how I managed to come through to this point I’m at now – the phrase ‘Nevertheless I went forth’ is at the forefront of it all. It is very rare that we are able to see the things that are coming our way. I have come to learn that Strength is being able to trust Heavenly Father and say ‘Nevertheless, I’ll keep going.’
I recently read a speech given at BYU by Elder Gerald Causse (For When I am Weak, Then Am I Strong) and I loved this quote “The Lord often places His servants in situations with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. In this manner He pushes us to humble ourselves and to rely solely on His strength. He makes us instruments of His miracles and the manifestations of His power and compassion.” I have loved President Nelson’s challenge to cultivate our personal spiritual gifts this past year. As I have worked on a couple of mine , the Lord has taught me some powerful lessons by encouraging me to think back on all the experiences I have had in the past decade. Experiences that I can very clearly see it was His strength that made me strong and able to push through to find the light. The blessings of knowing that He knew when it was the right time for my daughters to join our family – during extremely dark moments when I would need something to find joy in. If you haven’t yet taken the prophet’s challenge to increase your capacity with your own spiritual gifts, I strongly encourage you to do so – Speaking from experience, you will find so many lessons and blessings.
As a closing, Elder Causse also shared these words “When the Spirit accompanies us, we become aware of a powerful transformation taking place within us. Our weaknesses are transformed into strengths and our natural abilities are magnified and enhanced beyond even what we believe is possible. The Spirit sanctifies us and progressively raises us beyond our mortal condition.” I love that word ‘progressively’ because it implies that the more we work at it, the more strength we will be given. Which takes me right back to those verses in 1 Nephi ‘Nevertheless I went forth.’