"Miracles are never wrought without prayer, felt need, and faith...they are the natural result of the Messiah's presence among men."
Bible Dictionary

Saturday, April 14, 2018

This Is Me

Seven years ago today was the last time I slept through the night without being bothered by nerve pain. It was the last time I got out of bed without assistance. The last time I made myself breakfast, and ate on my own. And that’s just the beginning of the list of things I lost after my accident later that day seven years ago. These past seven years have contained an endless stream of obstacles, and I’m quite proud of myself for what I’ve been able to accomplish. 

In the past year I finished off several years of higher education and found a job that is already preparing me for a successful professional career. I’m also buying a house and operating with more and more independence. There’s a lot to like on paper, but in actuality none of this means my day to day life isn’t fraught with challenges. Nothing comes easily as a high level quadriplegic, but I do it day after day. It’s not a glamorous life, but it’s the I’ve been tasked with making the best of. So I’ll keep on doing it! If I’ve made it through these seven years, how tough can the rest of them be?

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Broken Things

I'm just a few days away from the six year mark of the onset of my paralysis. I'm not much of a poet, but I thought I'd try to express some of the unique emotions and difficulties I go through.

Broken Things

If I wasn't broken, I wouldn't sit when others stood.
If others ran and jumped and played, I'd join them in the fray.

If I wasn't broken, I'd be strong and tall and sleek.
My muscles wouldn't atrophy, I wouldn't be so weak.

If I wasn't broken, I'd do things on my own.
I wouldn't need another's hands, or Siri on my phone.

If I wasn't broken, I wouldn't shiver in the spring.
The summer wouldn't burn me up; the winter wouldn't sting.

If I wasn't broken, my body wouldn't jerk.
Pain wouldn't keep me up at night, nor interrupt my work.

If I wasn't broken, I wouldn't be depressed.
When all my peers go do the things that give life that special zest.

Metal bars around a lion, a bird with crumpled wings.
There's a certain savage sadness to a soul that cannot spring.

Of all the other people, are there any quite like me?
Their lives are free and fun and real, while mine much burdened be.

But though their lives seem easy, I know that underneath,
lie pains and hurts and nasty things that they would like to sheath.

For are we all not broken? We've wandered far from home.
Through times of trial, pain and sin, often do we roam.

But broken things can mend themselves, and learn to live again.
Resilient courage is ours to claim, as broken, mortal men.

And since we all are broken, each can sing their song.
Different parts that harmonize, in heaven's eternal throng.
(Credit: Elder Holland)

My life is tough to say the least, but somehow things work out.
Miracles have buoyed me up, and wiped away my doubt.

Christ my Savior ransoms me, when it's more than I can bear.
For trials can be overcome with fervent, humble prayer.

And though I'm pretty broken, there's wheat among my tares.
I've every blessing that I need...plus a wheelchair.

I love this picture. Not only because the paralyzed man is me, but because of the incredible faith he's showing by attempting to reach the Savior. The man can't move, but he embarks on a risky and dangerous undertaking, trusting that Christ will help him succeed. If there was no miracle at the end of his descent, he would have been stuck on the ground, unable to move and surrounded by strangers. Furthermore, being raised back up on the litter would likely be an unstable contest against the unforgiving jaws of gravity. What an example of faith in the Savior amidst fear and trials! 

There are no days off of paralysis. For the past six years I've been trapped in a body that is not only unable to do things that life necessitates, but is barely able to move at all. But as the years have passed, I've gotten used to it. I've figured out how to get by with the little function I have, and carved out a small place in the world that I know I can be successful in. Most of the time, I'm content with that. Happy even. But sometimes, when it seems like the sun is shining for everyone but me, the weight of what I've lost comes crashing down. It can be a disparaging, crippling burden. My life is not glamorous. It can be frustrating. Humiliating. Disappointing. But it's still my life, and I'm still me. My trials are numerous, and the forecast says they're going to be around for awhile yet. But I know how cope with them and find peace and happiness in the small things of life.

I've heard some people say that they've accepted their injuries and disabilities to the point that they wouldn't go back and change themselves if they could. That's not me. I'll probably never get to that point. Honestly all the trials of my particular injury are just too severe. But that doesn't mean I'm giving up. I'll be graduating soon with a Masters degree in an exciting field (for me at least!) with exciting career prospects. There's still plenty for me to achieve in life! I know there will be more difficult times ahead for me but in some ways, that's just life and I'm not so different from everyone else (even though I am). When those times come, I'll do what I've always done. Rely on my Savior, Jesus Christ. For although it often seems like no one understands the unique pains I experience, he does. Through the Atonement, Christ experienced all the afflictions and brutality of mortal life and can therefore alleviate my pain and make my burdens lighter. I know this is true. I've seen blessings and miracles in my life that can be explained in no other way.

I'll making a significant transition soon, from student to full-time employee. I'm not sure exactly how I'll be able to make things work and have the help I need to be successful, but I have confidence it will work out. I've made it this far! And whether it be one more year of paralysis, another six, or the rest of mortality, I know it will be okay. My Savior has a plan for me, and if I continue to trust in him, he won't let me fail.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Building Faith by Sharing the Gospel

I wrote out what I planned to say in entirety, since I had a firm 10 minute time limit. I had aspirations to lightly refer to my notes and confidently throw my gaze across the crowd and seize their hearts. Instead, the sea of 1200+ faces ended up sucker punching said confidence, and I’m honestly not sure how much of what’s written here actually came out of my mouth. But in a perfect world, this is how it would have gone.

Five and a half years ago, like every other freshman guy at BYU I received my mission call, and I was called to the Buenas Aires North mission in Argentina. And like everyone else, I thought this was the first step in what I think of as the five M's of Mormon maturity: mission, marriage, acadeMics (you got the M there?), eMployment, and last but not least, money.

This is corny.

I'm not sure what order those go in, or where maturity happens (if ever), but that's the traditional path that most of us are somewhere on. And that's the path I thought I was headed down as well. Just three weeks after I got my call the course of my life changed dramatically. I suffered a C-5 burst fracture in my neck in a freak accident at a local gymnastics facility. My spinal cord was damaged severely, and I became paralyzed from the chest down. I don't have time to relate all the details of the aftermath of my accident and my recovery or express all of the emotion that surrounded that time, but it suffices to say that my plans, priorities, and outlook on life changed quickly and dramatically.

I went from worrying about if my hometeachees were cute or not and thinking about how many points Jimmer would score in his next game to hoping the muscles in my chest would strengthen enough to get the fluid that was building up in my lungs out on its own so I wouldn't need a tube stuck down my nose to suction it out. Most painful thing I've ever experienced by the way. Instead of entering the MTC, I spent the next two years in either a hospital, doctors’ office, or physical therapy clinic. Just as soon as I was entering the part of my life full of freedom and growth, it was gone, replaced by a frustrating grind of trying to get my body to do the simplest things, things that I had always taken for granted. Not only was I not going on a mission, but I now had doubts and fears about all the M's on the list. I had always been a great student and quick learner, but how was I going to continue in school without being able to write or use a computer? And what about finding a job? Or getting married?

Time passed, and I have been able to work things out, with the help of so many small miracles. I've been able to get out and live on my own, I'm on the verge of earning my Master’s degree in Statistics from BYU (not crazy!) and I've accepted an exciting job offer. Those were difficult goals to reach, but maybe more difficult was dealing with the emotional demons that have plagued me since my accident.

From the beginning, I felt different, unable to do things that other people were doing, and separated from the rest of the world. These were difficult things to deal with, and at first I tried to cope by denying I was any different than anyone else. I stayed as far away as possible from conversations about my accident and limitations and became frustrated and depressed by feelings of emptiness and difficulty connecting with other people.

Searching for answers, I came across Christ's words to the Nephites in 3 Nephi 12:16 "Therefore let your light so shine before this people, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven" I realized that my efforts to be no different than anyone else was dimming my light and suffocating who I was. Paralysis was a part of my life now, and I needed to own it, despite how debilitating and just plain difficult it was. I also realized that I have a unique platform to empathize with others and share the gospel. I wasn't able to serve a mission, but because of the trials I've been through I have been able to connect with others that have gone through similar things and been left with a broken heart and contrite spirit. So I took a leap of faith and began to put myself out there by sharing my story on social media.

Years ago my family had a blog we would use to post updates on my recovery. I decided I was going to get back on and reboot it and I started sharing the gospel through personal experiences. And just to be clear, I'm not plugging my blog in stake conference.

This is also corny.

Now, I said before that my mission experience has been different than most. While my peers were preaching the gospel, I was literally going through the refiner’s fire and being shaped for a different kind of mission. As I've shared my story and my experiences seeing miracles from God's hand in my life, I've been able to not only connect with others, but also build my own faith.

Clayton M Christensen said "We share the gospel because we know it will help others become better, happier people. But the blessings for us are priceless"

As I've shared the gospel, I've been able to more clearly identify the Saviors hand in my life, and know that he loves me and that I am a child of God. And I've been able to strengthen the personal relationship I have with my Savior, which is truly the most valuable relationship we can build.

If you are looking for a way to grow your own faith and testimony, might I suggest sharing it with others?

As I've done this, I've been amazed at the personal strength and confidence I've gained in the gospel and in myself. The church is rolling out a new social media missionary program, and since my roommate is one of the co-chairs and the meetings are at my apartment, I attend. I know sometimes we feel silly sharing messages of the gospel on social media, and I'll be honest in saying that in the past I've been dismissive of messages I've seen on Facebook but lately I've developed a testimony of it. Honestly, we should all do this. If the excuse to not be a missionary in Provo is that everyone is already a member, isn't sharing the gospel on across the world on the internet the answer? And even if it is just your LDS friends that see your message, don't we all need those messages from other people to help us be converted again and again?

Now, final point, I talked earlier about how I felt different, unable to do things that other people were doing, and separated from the rest of the world and that I had to come to terms with all of these things in order to let my light shine. But as members of the church, don't we all feel these things? Don't we all feel different? Unable to do what other people are doing, and separate from the world? Satan would tell us that these are restrictions, and there is more excitement in life in pushing these restrictions as far as they can go. He would have us fight against these supposed boundaries the church puts around us. However, like my process of coming to terms with paralysis, true happiness comes when we know we are different than the world, and choose to abstain from those things.

As Christ said in Matthew 16:25 "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it"

When we fully commit ourselves to the gospel, we are taking the shade off our lamps and allowing our light to shine unhindered. Not only does this draw others to the light, but it helps us purify ourselves and have a greater measure of the spirit to be with us. I testify that this is true for each one of us and despite the darkness or despair that trials can bring into our lives we are being watched over and guided along. We are being molded into what our Heavenly Father would have us be, and he has greatness and joy in mind for each of us. All we have to do is trust him. And really try. Honestly, earnestly try.

Brothers and sisters, I know of no better way to strengthen our faith than by sharing the gospel with others. It doesn't matter who they are, family, friend, member, non-member. Any dialogue we have about the gospel is a positive thing. One of Satan's most clever lies is that the gospel is just for Sunday, and it's not cool to get preachy outside of church. Don't believe that! It is cool! Share the gospel and others as much as you can. It will be a blessing to yourself, and everyone around you.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Calming the Storms of Life

Early in the first century AD, a small group of men fought for their lives against the unbridled forces of Mother Nature. Although making just a short journey across the Sea of Galilee, they quickly lost control of their small vessel. The unloosed wind and rain and sweeping waves combined to create a tempest that was both singular and deadly. It was, perhaps, a testament to the awesome force on display that the men, many of whom were fishermen by trade, were swiftly reduced to cowering, crying out, "Master! Carest thou not that we perish?"

The Savior had been sleeping, unaffected by the impending doom. He arose, stretched forth his hand, and rebuked the very forces of nature, saying, "Peace, be still." I imagine that he spoke the words quietly, but with an intensity that turned a whisper into a roar. Quietly commanding, and impossible to disobey. And obey the sea did, for the tempest instantly ceased and all was calm.

Crisis averted, Christ turned to his young disciples. "Why", he asked, "is it that ye are so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith?" For some time, these concluding remarks have troubled me. Did they not call upon the Savior in the midst of their troubles? I imagine they had previously been exerting their considerable skill towards navigating out of the storm. Surely they had done all that they could do, and then supplemented their efforts with an appeal to the divine. Why then were they rebuked?

"Why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith?" - Mark 4:40

The answer of course, is that they were not. Jesus Christ was teaching them the same lesson that he's been teaching me the past five plus years and counting. It's just that sometimes, it can be an awfully hard lesson to learn.

About a year and a half ago, the seas of my life, after so long and unexpectedly being in turmoil, had calmed. Things were going for me, and going well! In doubt for so long, I had identified what I wanted to do with my life, and it looked like I had the means to do it. I had just been accepted not only into a top-notch graduate program, but also for an internship with a high caliber company. And best of all, I was feeling great physically (which is saying something). Clear skies, and calm waters ahead! But that's not life. And the storm hadn't abated - I was just in the eye.

It wasn't that it all went wrong. It went right - in the wrong direction. My internship was a great experience, an intellectually stimulating career builder. But it wasn’t necessarily all that I expected, and I struggled to maintain the excitement I’d found life could offer while living some distance away from friends and family. Nevertheless, I made it through my time there and performed admirably. The sea was still relatively calm, but dark clouds were massing on the horizon. School was starting soon.

School has never been anything new to me; its been a constant my entire life except for the year I took off immediately after my injury. However, since then I had been going primarily part-time to account for my limited physical ability. I knew that wasn't going to be an option in my graduate program, and I knew the course work would be rigorous. So for the first time in a long time, I found myself a full-time student, and for the first time ever I found myself a completely overwhelmed student. The difficulty of the curriculum was compounded by my inability to take notes in class, type more than five or six words per minute, and write with more proficiency than a slow and laborious scrawl.

But I was making it. There were late nights, less than perfect grades (hard for me to accept) and awkward moments. The tempest was rising, but I had trimmed the canvas and stowed extra cargo belowdecks in order to meet the challenge. Until a wave I hadn't seen crashed into me at full force.

I was on my way out of attending a BYU soccer match when I first noticed my right arm wasn't responding the way I was accustomed to. Now, I don't have much strength (understatement) but what I do have is primarily in that arm. Driving my chair, eating, writing, using my computer and phone, everything. But as I attempted to drive my chair out of South Field, I found that I could barely manage. My arm felt sore and weak in unprecedented ways and I was fraught with worry and frustration during the slow, jerky trek back to my van.

Looking back now, I’ve realized that the symptoms had been building for some time, but I’d been stubbornly refusing to admit that anything further detrimental could possibly be happening to me. My muscles had been spasming with more severity for months and my ever-present nerve pain had been getting worse. The diagnosis was the development of a syrinx in my neck, essentially a build-up of spinal cord fluid that was putting pressure on my spinal cord and slowly causing my worsening symptoms. To put this in the stark perspective that only numbers can offer, there are about 282,000 people in the U.S. living with a spinal cord injury. Of those, 13.3% are classified as complete tetraplegia (my condition, which characterizes the high level of paralysis and low chance of improvement), and of those 3-4% develop a symptomatic syrinx. You don't need to be a statistician to work this one out, but I'll tell you that that amounts to me being one of about 1300 people in the U.S. with a similar prognosis. That's about a .0004% chance. It's impossible to say how often a syrinx develops in the middle of masters' coursework, but it's safe to say that in the span of a few months a storm the like of which few others ever see had developed in my life.

Surgery was the only option. And it was surgery of an intensive nature that was not without risk. Worse still, there was a minimum period of two weeks through which I would be incapacitated. So treating my insidious and progressive condition would have to wait at least two months until there was room in my schedule for it to elbow Christmas break aside. The hit on my strength slowed my pace on assignments from turtle to snail pace. I was already barely keeping my head above water at times, but at this point the storm reached its zenith.

I don't think I can adequately explain how difficult things were for me at the end of that semester. I lived a day and an assignment at a time. Nonessential tasks like part-time work and most of my social life were dropped. Were there still good times, miracles, and the invaluable support of friends and family? Yes, yes, and undeniably yes. Did I smile throughout most of it? Probably. But for better or for worse I tend to play most of my issues close to the chest.

Like Christ's disciples, I turned to the other passenger on my boat, the Savior. "Master", I cried, "Carest thou not that I perish?" Unlike the storm on Galilee however, not every tempest in our life is dispelled immediately. Some burn intensely and then are suddenly quenched, while others wax and wane throughout our lives, raging fiercely and then softly retreating. My trials are generally of the latter nature, and knowing this, I asked my Father for the same thing I do every day. Simply, the strength to endure. The response I received was the same that the disciples of old heard. "Why is it that ye are so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith?" There was no rebuke, or impatience with my weakness. Only love, coupled with a gentle reminder of who I was. I am a child of God. My Father in heaven has blessed me tremendously, despite my many trials which at times can be overwhelming. My journey through life of late hasn't been smooth sailing, but when is it ever? For anyone? It has not included miraculous healing or even substantial improvement, despite my fervent longing for such blessings. But that's okay. Jesus Christ is in the boat with me, sailing through whatever life may bring. As we trust in him, he will not let us fail completely. For has he in the past?

This was the same lesson that Christ was teaching his disciples so many years before. It's a tough lesson to learn and once learned sometimes even harder to maintain, because when the storms of life rage fiercely it can become tempting to think we stand a better chance with one fewer passenger. Fortunately, no matter where we are in life, he will never give up on us. Our Savior wants so desperately to help each of us, individually, that he died for our sakes. Because of this sacrifice, the very creator of heaven and earth can and will guide each of us through the storm, if we just allow him on board.

I know that this is true. But he doesn't lead us around the storms of life, rather, it's a course straight through them. My first semester of graduate school was full of trials that had both everything and nothing to do with actual school work, but it was not impossible. I didn't fail. (Except for one test. Complete disaster.) The surgery went well, I was able to recover some strength, and 2016 started with calm seas. Of course, more trials came up pretty quickly. But that's life right?

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Flavors of Pain

I recently read a book.
To anyone who knows me that shouldn't be much of a surprise. I read a lot, and this was one of six books I've finished since school got out, plus the Unbroken audiobook (does that count as reading?). However, this book is worth mentioning because unlike the entertainment-value fantasy series I usually read, there was a lot of substance to this one. It is called The Alchemist, a allegorical story of a young man who loses everything, and then gains it back with interest in pursuit of his "Personal Legend". According to the story, the Personal Legend is what each of us has at the core of our being. It's our unshakable desire to achieve "something" in life. We may not know what it is, or think it to be impossible, but it is there nonetheless. There are a lot of takeaways from the story, and I fully recommend it, (it's only about 100 pages!) but one idea really struck me as something to write about. There is one character who knows what his Personal Legend is and has the means to achieve it, yet for whatever reason, doesn't. Do we see this in our lives? Are there opportunities for us to progress that pop up, ready for us to take advantage of, that we instead let pass by? There are plenty of reasons why we let this happen, but they all have one commonality: they are excuses, and one of the challenges we all have in life is figuring out how to overcome them.

There are plenty of things to be afraid of in life, but I've thought about it a lot and have come to believe all of our fears can be summed up in one word - pain. We fear things that hurt us. Things that have hurt us in the past, or might in the future. And sometimes it sure seems like life is out to get us - in 17 different ways at once, with contingency plans A, B, and C ready to go as we move past one trial just to face the next. That's often how I feel, but I'd have to say that one of the aspects of myself I'm most proud of is my ability to press on despite the onslaught of challenges. As this is my blog, I thought I'd share a few of these personal painful challenges and the only way that I know how to deal with them. 

Physical pain

Spinal cord injuries aren't clean afflictions by any means. There are often a lot of fun little side effects ready to manifest themselves when the paralysis itself isn't enough. Like nerve pain. I live with constant pins and needles in my feet and neck. The intensity varies from invisibility to unbearability (not a word), but aside from taking medication, all I can do is grin and bear it. It's amazing what we can get used to and subconsciously cope with, given enough time.

Pain of loss

Some pain, however, can't be pushed aside, no matter how much time has passed. The loss of function in almost all of my body is one of those pains. Similar to physical pain, the severity of this pain waxes and wains, but never goes away entirety. I don't think I can even express through words the intense agony this pain inflicts, and the misery it leaves behind. I can't possibly describe the resulting feelings of embarrassment and inadequacy. Paralysis has affected every aspect of my life. There are no days off, and no relief from the immobilizing vicegrip that has settled over me. This pain...is excruciating.

Pain of missing out

FOMO. Fear Of Missing Out. It's a real thing, and it's ravaging through a college town near you, keeping scores of young twenty-somethings awake well past a decent bedtime. Except for me! I'm incredibly responsible, possessing copious amounts of fortitude that allows me to throw off the chains of immaturity that binds my weaker peers. Knowing the great importance of keeping a sharp schedule, I get to bed early! Every night. Because getting to bed isn't something I can actually do on my own. It takes assistance, and assistance is a job, and jobs operate on a schedule. A schedule that means when it comes to late night activities, I miss out. Of course, I also miss out on lots of nature excursions, sporting events, and active games. These are things that I used to absolutely love participating in. Heck, everyone loves being able to independently go about their passions. It's part of life, part of being human! Except now...it's not.

I have a great appreciation for the things I am able to accomplish and experience despite my challenges. I'm currently independently working a great job where my coworkers appreciate my abilities and I'm planning on moving back to Provo next Fall to finish school. I have a great support system that is dedicated to go to bat for me and make life possible and better. I wrote a whole post on this awhile back (the one with the memes). But this post is about pain. And this section is about the pain of missing out. That's the pain that twists in my gut when I'm alone, not able to join in with everyone else. It's the brief flash of pain that accompanies the realization, in the cases that I can attend the activity, that things will have to be done differently for me, or I'll have to be in different seating. The pain of having missed the opportunity to serve a mission, and do a hundred other things. In those moments the good things don't seem as good. The voice that whispers, "What if you had never gone to that tumbling gym?" seems deafening. And the pain seems to consume everything else.

So there's three pains that I deal with constantly. Really I probably covered more than that with the way I got rolling in that last section, but either way that's enough from me. I started thinking about all this after reading this part of The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher. (So maybe there's more than just entertainment value in my books) :

"Growing up is all about getting hurt. And then getting over it. You hurt. You recover. You move on. Odds are pretty good you’re just going to get hurt again. But each time, you learn something.
Each time, you come out of it a little stronger, and at some point you realize that there are more flavors of pain than coffee. There’s the little empty pain of leaving something behind—graduating, taking the next step forward, walking out of something familiar and safe into the unknown. There’s the big, whirling pain of life upending all of your plans and expectations. There’s the sharp little pains of failure, and the more obscure aches of successes that didn’t give you what you thought they would. There are the vicious, stabbing pains of hopes being torn up. The sweet little pains of finding others, giving them your love, and taking joy in their life as they grow and learn. There’s the steady pain of empathy that you shrug off so you can stand beside a wounded friend and help them bear their burdens.
And if you’re very, very lucky, there are a very few blazing hot little pains you feel when you realize that you are standing in a moment of utter perfection, an instant of triumph, or happiness, or mirth which at the same time cannot possibly last—and yet will remain with you for life.
Everyone is down on pain, because they forget something important about it: Pain is for the living. Only the dead don’t feel it.
Pain is a part of life. Sometimes it’s a big part, and sometimes it isn’t, but either way, it’s part of the big puzzle, the deep music, the great game. Pain does two things: It teaches you, tells you that you’re alive. Then it passes away and leaves you changed. It leaves you wiser, sometimes. Sometimes it leaves you stronger. Either way, pain leaves its mark, and everything important that will ever happen to you in life is going to involve it in one degree or another."

We all have different kinds of pain in our life. There's rejection and betrayal. Failure and embarrassment. Loneliness hurts. And so does transgression. But no matter what our flavor of pain it is, it does make us stronger. Pain changes us, and helps us progress through life - if we have the courage to continue fighting for our Personal Legend.

Sometimes though, when the pain is severe, the promise of future betterment doesn't mean much. The hurt, isolation, and loneliness can be intense. And in those moments, the only tried and true successful strategy I've found is reliance on the only person who has perfect empathy for us. It's my Savior, Jesus Christ, and through the Atonement he has literally felt it all. All of the pains I have and will experience, as well as yours. The strength that this reality can bring is very real, and has helped me through many dark times. I've been through a lot of challenges and will continue to fight through more, but upon reflection, with the perspective Christ's Atonement provides, I've realized how much that pain has helped me develop into a better and stronger person.

"And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people...and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities."
Pain is an interesting thing to deal with. We are all racked by it, but often have a hard time expressing to others the depths of our anguish. Personally, I often worry that the alien nature of my pain to others, along with its constant presence, makes it hard for me to really connect with others. I wear my pain like a suit of armor, and I can be hard for me to let my guard down and really admit how hard things can be for me. One thing that I've discovered however, is the ability to truly emphasize with those who are going through similar trials. Empathy is a rewarding and therapeutic feeling to impart. And finally, I've found that when I do put myself out there and share my pain with others, it's always a positive experience and I'm blessed with an outpouring of support. Thanks to you all for helping me keep going. Here's to relying on the Savior for the strength to overcome pain, and courageously continuing on our life's journey to find our Personal Legend, and with it, true joy and happiness.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Why I'd make a terrible cat burglar

For my internship this summer, I have to obtain a government security clearance. As such, I've filled out several different forms and input piles of personal information into government websites. So in the unlikely event you're contacted about me, please say something nice!

Most recently, and memorably, was the fingerprinting "adventure" I suffered through. Fingerprinting is (crossing my... fingers) the last step in obtaining the security clearance. To have them taken, I went with my Mom up to Salt Lake to the Northrop Grumman office, an appointment having been made previously. It turns out the ink method is now archaic, and prints are all digital these days. Which I'm sure is great in terms of ease and efficiently for 99% of the population, but it also turns out the print machine is rather picky and requires a perfect image to validate the fingerprints.
Well, what if you can't actually move your fingers into the required positions? Or what if your joints are really tight and like to involuntarily clench up? That makes those perfect images pretty difficult to capture. And by "pretty difficult" I mean four pairs of hands, a full hour of effort, and a handful of swears (not from me, I promise!) It was a little bit of a spectacle I'm sure, but hey the prints finally got taken and are presumably acceptable.

Ironically, if you think about it the whole thing was a colossal waste of time. Why would I need to be fingerprinted? My hands and fingers would be useless in committing any kind of crime. If anything I should have had tire marks put on file - that's what will really identify me at the crime scene.

No deep message on this one. I just thought I'd share and encourage you to laugh at these kind experiences rather than be frustrated and annoyed! It makes life much brighter.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Hard Work!

I keep a running "to-do" list on my phone. It's a pretty simple organizational strategy - when I hear or think of something I need to do, I'll make a note of it. The list will include emails to send, calls to make, medications to refill and pickup, etc. I don't even consider schoolwork here - that's separate.
Currently, there are 20 items on my list. 13, for 65%, are directly disability related. And honestly that's a little low for me, I'd say on average that list runs 75% disability tasks. The point is, there is a lot a lot more to my disability than sitting in a wheelchair. There are doctors, home health aides and nurses, medical supplies, and medications. Insurance, Medicaid, vocational rehab, and other disability programs. BYU's disability center, notetakers, professors, and testing centers. These are problems to be solved that before my injury I never would have expected. These are headaches, endless back and forth trying to obtain disability accommodations, or retain Medicaid. It's a lot of hard work! But I've learned a lot these past couple years as I've taken more and more responsibility for these things on my own (my parents are great and still help a ton).
Hmmm...this isn't really going anywhere interesting. Instead, let me tell you about how I'm preparing for my internship this summer. It's with Northrop Grumman, a government contracted aerospace security company. They're at the Hill Air Force base in Clearfield (45 mins north of my parents) and I'll be doing some analysis on missle reliability data. I'm excited to really see some interesting statistical problems and get into a potential career environment. However, like most things for me, it's not quite that easy.
There are two major obstacles to work out for me to be succesful at my internship. First, transportation. I'm really close to bringing my van home, but it's going to take me awhile before I'm driving independently, wherever I want to go. The goal is to have that down, 100%, by the beginning of next semester. In the mean time, I'll have to figure out an alternative to get to and from work.
Second, being able to work and getting through the day. Obviously, I can't just sit down at the typical intern workstation and be productive. I'll need a special setup for a desk, computer, and phone. Additionally, I'll need help with lunch and bathroom stuff in the middle of the day.
Plenty of obstacles. There's been a lot to figure out. But it's nothing that a lot of hard work, many many prayers, and a dedicated support system can't work out. I'll have family to help me commute, and I may move up north with my little brother once his school is out. The great country we live in provides for workplace accommodations and non-discrimination due to disability, and after a meeting with 7 or 8 different people at the office on Wednesday, I feel confident I'll have what I need to be a productive intern.
That's generally how things go for me. I can still do almost anything I want to, but it ends up taking lots of planning to get the pieces I need in place. It can be frustrating not being able to immediately see how things are going to work out, but if there's one thing I've learned (and continue to learn) it's how to walk by faith, trusting in my Heavenly Father to consecrate my best efforts and help me tackle the challenges as they come. He's been there through all of difficulties of the past four years, and I have complete faith that he'll be around for the next four and beyond.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Miracles (3 of 3)

A while back, I decided it was important to find an internship in my career field this summer. This was really an easy choice because I'm out of relevant undergrad courses before I start my Master's program in September, I didn't want to watch Netflix all summer, and internships look great on resumes. Unfortunately, a good statistical position is hard to find. Over the course of my search, I probably filled out 50-60 online applications and did at least 10 phone interviews. (Aside: Why is there no quick application website/program? It's the same information every time! Those applications took me forever to fill out...seems like I shouldn't have had to waste that much time.) Eventually, I did find a great position that I'll be starting at in May (!), but that's another story. This is the story of an interview that yielded no results and was really pretty standard and unimportant, except for one small miracle that made it remarkable.

To fully understand the story, you have to know about my constant struggle with muscle spasms. I wrote an entire post about spasticity awhile ago, but I'll brief the subject here. Because of the nature of spinal cord injuries, it's really common for muscles to uncontrollably contract and shake, in unexpected and unpleasant ways. Unfortunately, my muscle spasticity has gotten worse recently, and while there are ways to manage it, total prevention is impossible. For me, this means throughout the day I'll have to stop what I'm doing and try to stretch and loosen up to prevent my muscles from freaking out too badly. If I don't, I run the risk of having my legs and core tighten up and throw me off balance in my chair, potentially into a position I can't sit back up straight from. When that happens, there's really nothing to do except call for help from someone nearby to give me a push back up. It's just another frustrating reality of my injury that, for four years next Tuesday, I've had to learn to manage.

The interview in question was a phone interview, set up through BYU's disability center. It must have been part of a program that tries to place students with disabilities into the workplace (pretty disappointed with the programs of this nature that I've become a part of. None of them have turned up much for me). Anyway, as a result the interview was to happen on campus, in a private conference room upstairs in the Wilk. I showed up at my scheduled time and got set up, no big deal. There was a student there assisting, but once the call started he'd be waiting outside the door to let me out when I gave the secret all-clear signal (knock). (I'm loving the parentheses this time around). He let me know he'd check back in 45 minutes and then rang the number and stepped out.

After only a couple minutes of introductory small talk, disaster struck. My body only gave me a couple seconds of warning before unleashing a devastating spastic attack.

Disclaimer : this happens to me really, really rarely. Don't be too concerned. Also, I am writing in hyperbole for maximum dramatic effect. 

Unable to fight it, I grit my teeth to avoid making any strange noises over the phone and prayed I'd be able to ride this one out and remain upright. Alas, it wasn't to be, and I ended up completely leaning over the side of my chair, without the core strength to correct myself. Now, the call was still going on, and the woman I was interviewing with, oblivious to the situation, continued to ask me questions. Although I was strained I continued to give responses while I considered my options.

There weren't many. Almost every time I'm thrown off balance, it's towards my right side, and this time was no exception. I'd automatically started searching with my left hand and arm for some kind of grip or leverage to correct myself, but I wasn't finding it, and I knew there wasn't much hope of that working unless I got something right away. I quickly sifted through my remaining options. Try to knock on the door? Too far away, and I couldn't reach my driving controls in this position. Tell the lady I'd need to end the call and wait for rescue in silence? Humiliating. Call out for help, and try to salvage the interview afterwards? Even more humiliating. Continue the interview, despite the fact that I'd undoubtedly do poorly? Undesirable, but this would have won my game of pick-your-poison if not for a sudden and unexpected deliverance. Just as I'd accepted the imminent but unavoidable difficultly the next 40 minutes would bring, my body had another moment of unexpected feedback. This time, my muscles contracted in the opposite of their usual pattern, and I flipped back up into midline in my chair. Crisis suddenly averted, I offered a quick prayer of thanks and continued the interview. 

I haven't forgotten this experience, and I hope I never do. To me, this was a manifestation as clear as day that my Father in heaven is watching over me and loves me. Now, like my story in the snow, there are alternative explanations for how I was able to get back up. My body is pretty crazy and messed up, perhaps this time it spasmed the right way? Or maybe all the effort I was putting in triggered a spasm response? Possible. Maybe even probable. But I believe a lot of times miracles aren't miraculous in the traditional sense, they can just be chance working out in our favor. And doesn't the God that created us have the power to tip the scales? Also, I mentioned that nothing ever came of this interview. I would have been fine if I had to play out the rest of the time slumped over. Uncomfortable and embarrassed, but fine. However, the point is that this was a miracle. Although life continues to be a roller coaster with an unclear destination for me, I take this experience to be my Father helping me have just a little less uncomfortable embarrassment in my life. Helping me keep on going, day by day, just a little farther. And that gives me faith that although bumpy and full of hardships, there will be plenty of joyous times in my roller coaster ride through life to throw up my hands and smile for the camera.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Miracles (2 of 3)

Note : Knowledge of Utah geography will enhance your reading experience.

About a month ago, Utah got hit with a nice winter blizzard. Being from Arizona, and seeing that it was March, I was woefully unprepared. It happened to be one of the two days a week that I take the Frontrunner from Provo about 40 minutes north to South Jordan to go to Neuroworx...but actually this had been an interesting day already. It was Fat Tuesday, and iHop gives out free pancakes and raises money for the children's hospital. Not wanting to miss out on such an opportunity, my friends and I made a heroic effort to wake up early and try to partake before our schedules sent us scrambling back every which way to our normal routines. Alas, we neglected to factor our location in a college (these people love free food) town full of Mormons (these people love free food) into our schedule. So we were sent scrambling back. With a McDonald's breakfast instead. Pitiful.
That story has absolutely nothing to do with the point of the post except to highlight that in all that time running around Provo and Orem before I hopped on the Frontrunner to head up North to NeuroWorx the weather was great, just a little chilly! However, as I crept closer and closer to my destination, the snow started and became heavier and heavier. In my (limited) opinion, it was a full on blizzard, and when the train doors opened I was going to have no choice but to do battle with it.


I hate the cold and the winter elements. It's not that I'm a Scrooge and hate the whole season, it's just winter is hard for me for a few really legitimate reasons. First, as you might have guessed, it's hard to navigate a wheelchair around through snow and ice! You slip and slide and sometimes can't go around drifts or "step over" trouble spots.
Second, as you might not have guessed, because of my injury, I have a hard time regulating my body temperature. I'm almost cold blooded sometimes. So when it gets cold and I have to stay out in it, my muscles will tighten up like crazy and hurt. Which is bad if I need my hands to drive my chair out of the train, down the platform, across the tracks, down the ramp, along the road, across the road, down the sidewalk, through the parking lot, and into Neuroworx.

Back to March 3rd

So I get off the train and start the aforementioned route. I'm feeling it already because I didn't do a sufficient weather check to realize it'd be a blizzard just 40 minutes north of Provo, and I'm only wearing my "cold" outfit, not my "cold cold" gear. Anyway I'm going along, cold, but I'm making it okay! All the way until I get to the transition between the "across the road" and the "down the sidewalk" parts. Turns out, this transition features a little 45 degree wedge-like ramp. It's the only way off the road I'm crossing (which is moderately busy) and it's covered in snow and ice. I don't have any options except to go through it, so I do. Well, I try to. I make it halfway up before my wheels start spinning and I stop moving. I've been in these positions before, and usually I can pull back and try again, or turn slightly and power through. But, none of that is working, and I start panicking. I'm feeling worse and worse because of the cold, and less and less certain of how I'm going to get unstuck. Finally, I offer a quick prayer for help and jam my driving controls forward as hard as I can. And it works! My chair rocks back precariously and I zoom over the whole snow pile, almost running off the sidewalk on the other side. Crisis averted, I make my way into Neuroworx where I melt them a giant puddle of water from all the snow I caught on my chair and go on with my day.

This story really isn't that dramatic. It's totally possible that I just needed one more push to make it over the hump. That the friction of the wheels had melted away the trouble spot. Or I pushed the controls at just the right power to navigate through. Plus, even if I was stuck, I wasn't, because I could have called Neuroworx and had some of the therapists push me out of there. It would have taken longer and been embarrassing, but I've been through worse.

While those alternatives to how I got up the ramp are possible, I can't dismiss the whole experience with one of those explanations. It's very likely that one of those things happened though, because in my experience that's often how God works. Miracles aren't always dramatic alterations of what we think are possible. Oftentimes they're just chance being directed in our favor. And yes, I could have been fine calling over and being rescued. But isn't it nice sometimes, rather than having to take the effort and strain of solving a problem, to have your Father step in and fix it? This was one of those moments for me, and they happen in all of our lives...we just have to look and recognize them.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Miracles (1 of 3)

Can we ever doubt that God is watching over us? Well sure, I guess. It's a pretty human thing to do to cast uncertainty over things we can't see in front of us. But should we doubt him? Or more importantly, does he really have an active hand in our lives? 

I would submit to you that he does. And it's much more of an effect than we often think. In fact, the reality that we are watched over and blessed by God makes all the difference in our lives. For me, this truth is what helps and empowers me to continue to live life to the fullest (see my previous post below, meme with purple heart).
But what does any of that really mean? It sounds nice, but for some it may just seem like words. And words, like wind, are fleeting.
Simply put, for me it means this:
1. Things work out.
2. I can have joy.

A lot if times, things work out for us and we don't recognize that God's hand was in it. Actually I would say almost every time that's the case. But miracles do occur for us...and they aren't always miraculous. Often we're blessed through the efforts of other people, or by trying "just one more time", or maybe a solution to a problem just pops into your head. Here are some examples of "things work out" miracles that I've experienced.

By April 2012, I had exhausted the possible sources of quality physical therapy options close to home in Arizona. Knowing that I needed more help to continue to recover and regain independence, my family made the difficult decision to separate, sending me and my Mom to Salt Lake City and having my younger siblings stay at home with my Dad. In Salt Lake, I was able to start specialized SCI therapy at NeuroWorx, which we quickly realized was immensely beneficial and something that needed to be continued into the future. Unfortunately, remaining separate from the rest of the family was quite a challenge, and my Mom and I were staying in a small unit in a less than desirable neighborhood that was some distance from NeuroWorx (short term accessible apartments that NeuroWorx makes available for these situations).

With these challenges on our mind, my family attended a session of our church's semi-annual General Conference in Salt Lake. Amongst the thousands of people that were attending, we happened to run into old friends from Arizona. Who now had a place very close in NeuroWorx, in Riverton. Which could be made accessible. Which they were about to leave to embark on a mission to Cambodia. And they would love to have someone living there to watch over it.

Would we have been okay living in the smaller apartment in Salt Lake for longer? Yes. Would we have found somewhere else eventually and been able to figure out what was best for our family? Yes, probably. But being able to move into our friends' home in Riverton was a huge blessing. With all the other struggles and challenges we were dealing with, Heavenly Father took care of that one for us. Could it have been a coincidence that we met up with them and their home was available, and perfect? Maybe. But I don't think so. I think it was a miracle.

I'm planning on writing about two other experiences, but it turns out this is already pretty lengthy. And while you lovely people that read this blog are...lovely, eventually you stop reading when a post gets too long. So let's call this one #1 of 3 and I'll post the penultimate and final entries (on this topic) later on! 
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