The more I get to know the wonderful people who surround me—the students in my classes, my professional colleagues, my neighbors, and the people I meet each day—the better I understand the beautiful complexity as well as the heart-wrenching difficulty that is a part of each of our mortal experiences. In my experience, it is often within the diversity of our circumstances, even the difficult ones, that we recognize the loving hand of our Father in Heaven most clearly.
As King Nebuchadnezzar saw a fourth form “like the Son of God” standing with His servants in the midst of the fiery furnace (see Daniel 3:24–27), we may also recognize His presence and influence in our own lives and the lives of others, especially in difficult times.
Learning in the Midst of Adversity
Being the parent of a daughter with special needs is an incalculable blessing that comes with some significant challenges. Two summers ago, my family had to cancel three different planned family vacations. We had been looking forward to them for quite some time, but each time as our departure dates drew near, my 11-year-old daughter with complex special needs became sick and needed to be hospitalized. In the end, the very capable doctors concluded they weren’t able to offer much help besides added medication and uncertainty. We amended our plans, like we’d become accustomed to doing, and tried to make the best of it. Still, all of the changes added up to a pretty well-rounded heap of disappointment. This wasn’t the first time, nor will it be the last.
On this occasion, however, some things the Lord had likely been trying to teach me for quite a while came into a much clearer view. I’ve found that for me, at least some of the difficulty that I have experienced has had as much to do with my expectations as it has with reality. For years, disappointment has lurked around the expectations we have had regarding medical solutions, especially quick ones. It has stalked the expectation of things like “normal” vacations and devoured much of the expected schedule for fitness or hobbies. Comparing our lives to others sometimes brought both frustration and longing. The reason is simple: our normal is just different. It is carefully and specifically tailored for us, and that’s a very good thing.
Gratitude for the Simple Things
This realization happened as I took up residence in the children’s hospital again that summer. I found myself surprisingly at peace. As my little girl sat on my lap late on a Sunday afternoon, I felt grateful. We had nowhere to go, no one but the occasional nurse to stop in and check on us. I remember feeling that even, and maybe especially, in this setting, all is right. We’d rock back and forth, and I would talk. She’d vocalize in return, and I got to hold her tight. I brushed her hair and sang songs we both love. We talked about my thoughts, her siblings, and her wonderful mom.
Even though she is now unable to speak, we definitely communicated. Somehow, without the natural ways of expressing it, my little girl has a way of communicating her love, and in that moment, it was completely overwhelming. I remember thinking that it really couldn’t get any better, anywhere. Period.
So, I may not have the greatest vacation logs on my social media feed or the fastest times on my runs. I’m okay with that now. Better than okay. In fact, I’m great and grateful for the opportunity to rock, talk, hug, sing, brush, love, and be loved. It’s these things, these (over)compensating moments, that remind me just how good God is to me. There is nowhere else I’d rather be than right by her side. It is a sacred privilege to be able to support and encourage my little angel, to love her and be loved by her as she ascends her mountain of difficulty.
Gifts from Him
So yeah, I miss things, opportunities go by, potential in some areas may go unrealized, and chances may be missed. I’ll keep trying to make the most of them, but somewhere in the memory of a Sunday afternoon in a hospital rocking chair I’ll remember with great gratitude the beauty and the blessing of simple, pure, and powerful love.
All of it, every bit, was a gift from Him on His day. And I love Him for thinking of me and finding both her and me in our extremity.
My gratitude on this occasion and many others has come as a gift from a loving Heavenly Father who has given me everything—including the eyes to see things as they really are. Maybe that could be one of the reasons Alma characterizes our responsibility as “let[ting] thy heart be full of thanks unto God” (Alma 37:37).