Nephi’s words resound in my ears: “Having seen many afflictions in the course of my days, nevertheless, ... having had a great knowledge of the goodness and the mysteries of God” (1 Nephi 1:1). It isn’t often that you find your own words reflected back at you from a man who wrote them thousands of years ago!
My “afflictions” started when I was 20 years old serving as a missionary in the Ghana Accra Mission. I was diagnosed with leukemia. It was a tough experience—one that I hope never to revisit. But it is also one for which I am eternally grateful. It changed me into a more compassionate human being. It helped me become even more strongly linked to my parents and siblings. (My brother, who was my bone marrow donor, and I are now identical genetic twins when it comes to our bone marrow and blood!) It deepened my soul and heightened my spiritual senses. But what I really want to tell you about is the experience of my dear friend, my sweetheart, my wife—Elise—and how she and the Lord have taught me how to find peace even in dark places.
About a year after my diagnosis, and when I had just begun feeling a little bit normal again, I stopped by the house of my dear friend, Elise, to wish her a happy birthday. As we talked, the conversation turned to the subject of faith.
Elise mentioned that when she was younger she had wished she could know the future. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just know who we’re going to marry or what our future will look like?” Then she paused. “But the more I think about it, the more grateful I am we all get to walk by faith. For example, tomorrow something bad is going to happen to someone in the world. But because we get to walk by faith, that person can enjoy today! They don’t have to fret or worry about what is going to happen tomorrow.”
The Spirit seemed to radiate from her as she said this. I can still feel her words. They proved prophetic. The next day Elise was in a terrible accident. She suffered traumatic injuries to her back and head. One of my best friends, the girl I had hoped to someday marry, was on the brink of death.
The feelings I felt over the next two weeks as her life hung in the balance cannot be adequately captured in words. However, the words “anguish” and “humbled” and “meek” come the closest.
From my own previous experience battling cancer, I had come to know that God is our Father—a loving, tender Father. I had come to know our Savior—a loving, tender brother. In the days following Elise’s accident I felt Their love, but I also felt intermittent floods of anguish. “What if Elise dies?” “How can I continue without this beautiful person in my life?”
I recall three distinct moments that prepared my heart for what was to come. The first was calling up a mutual friend. We cried on the phone together. We mourned together over Elise’s accident. I felt power through the Holy Ghost as we spoke. The second came in the evening as I walked across campus at BYU–Idaho, pondering what was happening and talking to the Lord in my mind. As I talked to the Lord, I finally felt the power to say (with real intent), “Thy will be done.” I told Him that I was fine if He had to take Elise. I didn’t know what I would do without her, but I told Him I trusted Him and that I loved Him. The wave of love that I felt from Him at that moment was consuming. It was not just a figment of my imagination. It was real. It’s an experience that has been an anchor to my testimony of God’s reality and love.
A few days after this experience I was feeling more at peace, but God saw fit to continue teaching me. The teaching came in the Idaho Falls temple. On the wall is a beautiful mural. I was sitting right next to it, but all I could see was what appeared to be random, rather ugly brushstrokes on the wall. As I looked at these brushstrokes, the Holy Ghost spoke to my mind again. He taught me that this trial was a single brushstroke in my life, but not a random one—that God had a bigger plan in mind, that He was in control, and that these experiences would work together for my own good and for the good of others.
Well, six weeks later Elise left the hospital and began a slow, painful recovery. Fifteen months after her accident, we were engaged. Three months after that we were married. Many more trials have come. Elise has had complications from the accident, including having a stroke. There have been a few more times when I have had to face the possibility of losing my sweetheart. But I can testify that through these many afflictions we have experienced the goodness of God. During stays in the hospital and the days after returning home we have felt a sweetness in our hearts. We have found reasons to laugh, smile, and praise Him.
More trials are ahead, for sure, but from these past experiences we know that God is our Father. Jesus is our brother. And, together, with the Holy Ghost, They are leading us to the promised land as They did Nephi and his family.