I have a best friend. Her name is Barbara. We love watching and singing along to movies. We go on walks together and look at the flowers on the temple grounds. We read princess stories together every night. When I’m around Barbara, I can be myself. Not only is she my dearest friend, but she is also my sister.
Barbara has cerebral palsy, a condition that affects her physically and mentally. She can’t walk, and she needs to be fed through a tube. She loves singing but struggles to verbally communicate her feelings, wants, and needs. And although Barbara is 29, mentally she acts like a toddler.
Even though Barbara is four years older than me, I’ve always felt like the “big sister.” My family’s whole world revolves around her. She is the sun, and we are the circling planets. While the situation sometimes has amazing benefits—like being able to skip lines at amusement parks—other times it means making sacrifices, like not going to certain activities or needing to host events in our home. Each day we review our schedule to make sure someone is always taking care of Barbara and her needs.
To help my parents take care of her, my older brother and I matured very quickly. We had to learn how to identify when Barbara was having a seizure and what to do, how to feed her through a tube, how to change her diapers, and how to prepare her medications when we were very young. While this early maturity helped me have confidence in myself, it did make socializing a huge struggle.
I felt so different from everyone my age. Even if I was invited to hang out with friends and my parents encouraged me to go, I struggled to have fun because I felt guilty that my parents had so much to do at home. Other times I would have a hard time enjoying myself when Barbara was struggling with her health. Most of the time, I just wanted a friend to sit down with me and listen.
Sometimes I felt like no one understood what I was going through. But a few things helped remedy that loneliness. I decided I’d try to reach out to people who might be feeling similarly. When I did go to activities or church, I tried to include those who were sitting alone or who looked like they were having a bad day. As Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught, “Miracles occur when we care for each other as He would.”1 And I saw miracles come into my life. I felt much more comfortable going to activities and was happier when I offered love to others.
Another thing that helped was realizing how much the Savior truly understood me. I realized that He knew exactly what I was going through and would always be with me. I focused more on getting to know Him through the scriptures and prayer. Sometimes when I prayed, I would imagine that He and Heavenly Father were sitting with me and listening. When I have difficult feelings and feel overwhelmed at how unfair Barbara’s situation seems at times, I remember that Christ will help me find peace and reassurance. Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained this perfectly when he said, “In unfair situations, one of our tasks is to trust that ‘all that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.’”2
Having a loved one with a disability can require near-superhuman strength. It affects your life physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, and spiritually. For the past 29 years, my parents have awakened nearly every day at 2:00 in the morning to care for Barbara. We all go to the gym regularly so we can be strong enough to lift and carry Barbara when necessary. And so many other responsibilities can take a toll on us all.
How do we possibly do everything?
This can be described in one word: grace.
“Grace [is the] enabling power and spiritual healing offered through the mercy and love of Jesus Christ. …
“The grace of God helps us every day. It strengthens us to do good works we could not do on our own.”3
What do I love most about Barbara? With her I’ve learned more about the Savior’s love for us. You can’t help but feel of His love when you’re around Barbara. Despite all her difficulties, she is always smiling, singing, and making us laugh. However, there are also days where I feel helpless, when nothing seems to make her feel better. But because of my experiences, I know with certainty that the Savior understands what both Barbara and I are going through. No matter our earthly trials, a beautiful aspect of the Savior’s enabling power is that we can not only be given strength to experience and overcome hard things but also do it all with joy.