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I enjoy exchanging texts with my sixteen-year-old granddaughter, Mariah:
Mariah: Grandma, I found a quote I thought you would like. “The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it.”
Me: True. Thanks for sending quotes to me. How are you?
Mariah: Good and u?
Me: Same, and it is good to be good.
Mariah: Yep. And it’s fine to have problems too.
I was shocked. How could she think it is fine to have problems? Doesn’t everyone try to avoid problems at all costs? Aren’t problems ugly and messy and painful and sad and totally unwanted complications to life?
I am sure you know that Mariah is okay with problems at such a young age because of personal experience. She has had many health problems, requiring multiple surgeries. She also suffers with severe allergies. By working through problems, she has gained experience and observed positive benefits. “It’s all in how you look at problems,” she said. If you look at a problem as the end of the world, it is very difficult to turn it into something positive. If you look at a problem in a matter-of-fact way, in that problems are just part of life, you are much more likely to see the benefits.” She has also learned to cope with problems that come to stay.
Mariah’s father, Michael, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease when he was thirty-seven and she was ten. His wife, my daughter Anne, and their five children have learned that when a family member has something bad happen to him or her, you unite, make adjustments, serve with love like you would want to be loved and served, and rally again and again at each new stage. They have learned that happiness is not a road without speed bumps. They are a loving family and know how to have fun. Another major life lesson they have learned by observing their father is that if you are the person the bad thing happens to, you cope with dignity and faith.
The billboard shown here dotted major roadways across the state of Utah last year and made Michael a face for Parkinson’s.
About this same time, Anne was asked to share her feelings in Relief Society about how Michael’s health affects her. She wrote:
Michael and I have been married for twenty-four years. He is an energetic, intelligent, caring man. After six years of marriage, his right hand started to shake, then his right leg. Just before our fourteenth anniversary he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.
Parkinson’s is a degenerative, neurological disease. No matter what we do, it will never get better. Some of the symptoms include tremor, stiff muscles, difficulty standing, difficulty walking, involuntary movements, muscle rigidity, problems with coordination, slow shuffling gait, sleep problems, fatigue, dizziness, poor balance, falling, restlessness, soft speech or impaired voice, anxiety, loss of smell, jaw stiffness or reduced facial expression. That is a partial list and doesn’t include the side effects from all the medications.
I am not always optimistic with the challenges. I get sad, frustrated, lonely, angry, hurt, and feel helpless. But through it all, I try to look for the positives that have come with the challenges.
- I’ve learned that the Lord is aware of me and has a plan for me. It is not the plan that I would have picked for myself, but it is the plan with the greatest growth potential for me;
- I’ve learned to celebrate what Michael can do today, not what he will not be able to do in the future;
- I’ve learned that trials don’t define the person. Michael is an awesome person with a terrible disease.
- I’ve learned that Michael’s trial affects everyone who knows him, especially our children. Because of him, they defend persons with disabilities, are patient, loving, and understand why he can’t do things. They are very willing to help. They anticipate his needs. They are proud of him and love him.
- I’ve learned there are different ways the Lord lifts burdens. Sometimes He carries them for you; sometimes He takes them away; sometimes He strengthens you to carry them; sometimes he raises up other people to help.
- I’ve learned that problems are like vitamins. You don’t always want to take them, but they are good for you. I would not change or trade Parkinson’s in our home. It has brought me closer to my Heavenly Father and my Savior. It has taught me lessons I would not have otherwise experienced.
If problems are so beneficial, if they teach us, refine us, and bring us closer to Deity, should not we actively seek them?
I know a person who says, “If there is not a wolf at your door, you should pray for one.” I have met wolves and they don’t need invitations. They come. They stalk, injure, scare, prowl, howl, and kill. They beguile. (You can ask Little Red Riding Hood about that.) Wolves make house calls. They take up residency. They bring their friends. Praying for strength seems a wiser course of action than praying for wolves.
Three great men, Caleb, Spencer W. Kimball, and Henry B. Eyring are examples of how to meet problems when you see them on the horizon. Presidents Kimball and Erying prayed using the same words as Caleb. They did not ask for wolves but for strength. President Kimball said:
“Caleb concluded his moving declaration with a request and a challenge with which my heart finds full sympathy. The Anakims, the giants, still inhabited the promised land, and they had to be overcome. Said Caleb, now at 85 years, ‘Give me this mountain’ (Josh. 14:12). This is my feeling for the work at this moment. There are great challenges ahead of us, giant opportunities to be met. I welcome that exciting prospect and feel to say to the Lord, humbly, “Give me this mountain,” give me these challenges” (www.lds.org/general-conference/1979/10/give-me-this-mountain?lang=eng).
In 2012, President Henry B. Eyring quoted President Spencer W. Kimball: “There are great challenges ahead of us, giant opportunities to be met. I welcome that exciting prospect and feel to say to the Lord, humbly, ‘Give me this mountain, give me these challenges.” (www.lds.org/general-conference/2012/04/mountains-to-climb?lang=eng).
I have observed negative and positive response patterns. You can either:
- Stay focused on the problem OR stay focused on solutions.
- Sweep the problem under the rug in denial, shame, guilt, anger OR face the problem openly with courage and hope.
- Wallow in self-pity OR wallow not.
- React like a victim—give up, give in, give out OR act like a survivor and create a plan of action and if needs be contingency plans B, C, and D.
- Self-medicate with media, food, pornography, drugs OR self-medicate with prayer, scriptures, hymns, fasting, temple, faith.
- Blame God because life is unfair OR thank God for your life which is His gift to you.
- Allow the problem to consume all your time and energy OR use your time and energy to look upward in faith and forward to what can be done.
- Think of the day you found out about the problem as the worst day of your life OR think of the day you found out about the problem as the first step toward resolution.
One undeniably good aspect of problems is that they qualify you to help others who are similarly affected.
About ten years ago my visiting teaching companion called and starting asking questions about breast cancer. I didn’t know if a friend or relative had just been diagnosed. In confusion I said, “Diana, who are we talking about?” “Me,” she said. “I’m sitting in the parking lot of my doctor’s office. I’ve just been diagnosed with breast cancer.” Stunned, I thought for a long minute, pondering what my first response should be. I said, “I’m sorry. But you are in for a great adventure. Hang on. I’ll help you through it.” Why did I respond that way? Of course, it is because I have climbed that mountain.
The best “good thing” about problems, the reason Mariah knows it’s fine to have problems, the reason Anne said, “I would not change or trade Parkinson’s in our home,” is because of the spiritual blessings that compensate.
My friend, Judy, shared her experience: “I had four children under six when my husband left. For many years I parented alone. I was afraid if I remarried the constant, truly constant, comfort from the Holy Ghost would leave me to help other single mothers. When I did marry, the sacred umbrella of hope I had been living under did dissipate. How I missed the physical, spiritual, financial, and social protection of the Holy Ghost. But I understood. With a faithful husband and the four more children who were born to us, I was not as vulnerable and my loneliness was gone. Of course the Holy Ghost is my constant companion as promised but not to the same degree.”
Mariah meets problems face-on without drama. Caleb and presidents Kimball and Eyring looked heavenward to be equal to the mountains before them. Michael and Anne meet their wolf up front, leaning on each other and their Father in Heaven. Diana sought out others who had already climbed the mountain she was about to climb. Judy found the source of her strength in the Holy Ghost.
Problems, challenges, wolves, mountains, however you frame your oppositions, are a fact of life. As long as you are breathing, all of your problems will never be behind you. Trusting that it’s fine to have problems understands God and His eternal purposes.
To read Marilynne’s new book Evidences for the Prophet Joseph Smith as Found in the Pearl of Great Price for free click here.
To read her new book Ministering Sisters attached to the Vine for free click here.