“Sometimes Trials Don’t End—and Other Lessons I’ve Learned since Becoming a Quadriplegic,” Ensign, February 2020
Sometimes I hear people say, “I went through a serious trial that was very difficult to deal with. But now that it’s over, I realize that I’m incredibly blessed.”
Now, this is a perfectly reasonable sentiment, and I’ve felt the same way many times. But sometimes trials don’t end this way, and once in a while I get frustrated when I think about how one of my trials will not end. At least not any time soon.
In April 2011, I had just received a call to serve a full-time mission in Buenos Aires, Argentina, when I broke my neck in an accident at a trampoline gym. I was rushed into emergency life-saving surgery and was told afterward that I would never walk again. My mission—the next chapter of the successful life I had been building—wasn’t going to happen.
The days that followed were surreal. My doctors and I fought to stabilize my body in the ICU while hordes of well-wishers streamed through, trying to distract me from the awful reality of my situation. They didn’t know what to say—and how could they? Days before, I was one of them. Now I was someone else. Different.
In those acute days of my injury, I received many priesthood blessings, several of which spoke of miracles and healing and promised that I would serve my mission. In the years that followed, I’ve often thought back to that time and traced God’s hand in my life. Many of those blessings, spoken with much conviction at the time, have not yet been fulfilled. I never made it to Argentina, and to this day I experience life as a quadriplegic, with only limited movement in my neck, shoulders, and arms.
If I had to label my trial, I’d simply call it “paralysis.” But along with that have come a whole slew of other issues I’ve dealt with over the years: a frustrating dependency on home health aides; the annoying complexity of transportation in a wheelchair; the challenges of eating, adapting to school and work, surviving in the cold when your body doesn’t regulate temperature; and on and on.
I’ve grappled with each of these trials nonstop for years, but that doesn’t mean they get any easier. Instead, after years of struggle, I have learned how to cope with them and have adapted my life accordingly.
I’m not trying to diminish the struggles that other people go through. Comparing myself with others is a losing game. And I know that we all have baggage we’re carrying around, whether it’s paralysis, the death of a loved one, unemployment, depression, anxiety, or other burdens. Our trials are uniquely our own, and it’s impossible for me to say that my life is harder with paralysis than my neighbor’s is with poverty.
Although it’s true that often blessings come when a trial is over—as people often testify at church—I’d suggest that the greater blessings come during the time of hardship. Sometimes it’s just hard to see those blessings for what they are.
I haven’t yet experienced miraculous physical healing, but I know from experience that my Heavenly Father is watching over me. On the first night I spent in the hospital, in the midst of being completely overcome by a torrential downpour of despair, I suddenly felt the clouds part. The Holy Ghost brought a feeling of absolute peace and conveyed words from my Heavenly Father directly to my mind: “I am watching over you, my son.”
These simple words have shaped my life ever since.
It’s been eight years since my injury. Eight years is a long time to go without voluntary movement in most of your body. It’s a long time to have to deal with almost constant nerve pain and muscle spasms. A long time to require assistance for basic daily tasks. But it’s also been a long time in which I’ve been able to grow closer to God as I recognize the nearly constant stream of miracles that have guided me through a forest of trials.
My mission in life thus far has been different from the one I always thought I would serve. Not one step on this journey has been pretty, nor is my life glamorous now. There have been more tears than I’d like to admit and more miracles than I can count.
Often those miracles have simply been the ability to get through another day of frustration or moment of pain. I’ve come to realize that having the Lord watching over my life has not made it easy, but it has made it possible. Because of Him, I’ve made it through dark days and have even managed to find a few measures of joy in the journey.
I’d trade away my daily trials in a heartbeat, but there is no substitute for the tender relationship I’ve cultivated with my Heavenly Father and the Savior as prayer after desperate prayer has been answered.
As a result, I have hope for the future. I know from hard-earned experience that although the process won’t be easy, as I trust in my Heavenly Father and my Savior, They won’t let me fail.
The message here is this: no matter the struggle, there are blessings to find and light to see. The lessons learned and strength found in the midst of formidable obstacles are the real boon of trials. We are all trying to make it through this challenge of mortality. Let’s try to always find the blessings throughout our trials and help others through theirs.