Since last General Conference, following the prophet’s counsel, I have been seeking to understand more clearly how I hear the Lord in my life, and I have just had a profound lesson about that, following a severe cycling accident. When the Lord says to “lift up your head and be of good cheer”, I have come to know that he can bless us with that good cheer under what seems like impossible circumstances.
I have told part of this story in a podcast, but now I will tell the rest.
We were taking a bike route called the Hiawatha Trail that is up on the border of Montana and Idaho. It is a route of long tunnels and trestles that ride high above pine covered mountains, where a train once traveled. Now, it is a lovely hiking and cycling trail that, unfortunately begins with a long dark, drippy tunnel that goes 1.6 miles through the mountain.
To go through this tunnel, the only thing you have are the headlights on your bicycle. On the day of my accident, we took jolly pictures of us and then started into the tunnel, and I was immediately surprised to find out that not only was it very dark, but also much wetter than I had supposed and many areas in the tunnel where the water made parts of the clay base very slippery and uneven. In the dark and wet on my electric bike, I was having a hard time staying balanced and steady.
We were almost all the way through the tunnel when I swerved a little bit to miss a bump, and my bike, with that electric assist, propelled me straight into the tunnel wall.
In those last seconds, I could see it coming, so I put up my left arm to stop the rest of my body from going into the wall. The pain was instantly agonizing. It was in a league of its own, an explosion of anguish.
Lying in a heap upon the ground, unable to move because my legs were caught in the bike, I cried out for my husband Scot who came instantly. He had a hard time dragging me out because my legs were so intertwined in the bike, but it was immediately clear that the bigger problem was my arm. It was broken into what the doctors would later call kibbles and bits and hung there at my side lifeless like a fish, but twisted as a pretzel. It was not unlike Harry Potter’s arm when in the story, an ill-used spell made him lose his bones playing Quidditch. It was quivering, vulnerable and staining my clothes quickly with blood.
Later, after we had driven the hour to the hospital in Couer d’alene, the doctor examining me in the emergency room asked what my pain level was. Then, looking at my arm, said I already know. It’s a 10.
From the accident site, we had to walk about 1.4 miles back to the tunnel entrance, all the time my arm hanging at an unnatural angle, all the time wondering how I could endure such anguish. A man who works there came to help us and announced, “She’s in shock,” but this is what surprised me.
I knew I was not in shock, and when he later looked into my pupils he agreed. “She’s not in shock.”
Instead, simultaneously as I hit the wall and my physical pain exploded, I was immediately in this calm and grounded place in my soul where I felt my ancient spirit telling me that all was fine. It was like my most eternal self was suddenly flowing in a river of spiritual light. While my body was suddenly broken, my connection to God was whole. I knew deeply that all was well and the Lord was with me. It was so profound I hardly have words to express it. The agony in my arm was overwhelming at the same time that I was feeling warm and hopeful and even happy in my soul.
My friends said I was being brave, but I knew it was something much more than that. It was a peace that truly surpasses understanding even while my body was in torment. How could I be having to such contrary experiences at the same time?
On our way from the Hiawatha trailhead, we pulled the car onto a dirt road in the woods and Scot, and our friend Ron, gave me a blessing. In that blessing I was told, “This is just an accident. It is not cosmic. It will not change your life.” It was another verification of what I already knew.
A Miracle that Kept on Giving
Yet the real miracle of this for me was that it continued as if I my spirit were encircled in love. I wasn’t in store for a straightforward, easy recovery. In the next few weeks I would be driven to the limits of my endurance. I had a first surgery the day of my accident to clean up my arm and straighten the bones. A week later, I had a second surgery where multiple pins and a long rod were inserted in my arm, all kept in place by a cast so heavy it felt like iron.
Almost immediately when I got home, I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t make it up the stairs without having to sit down for several minutes, gasping for air. Every breath seemed like a conscious choice and I looked around and marveled that people around me were breathing without having to think about it. “Breathe,” I told myself, “breathe.” My heart was racing and I was shaky. I abandoned my pain meds in case they were causing this breathless panic
A first trip to the emergency room yielded no insight, but I was sent home on oxygen. A few days later, I landed in the hospital again and after several tests they found both my lungs and heart had been impacted in the accident. Fluid was drained from around my left lung and I was sent home after several days to recover.
Sometimes when friends came to visit, I was too sick to even stagger down from my bedroom to say hello. I was using every particle of strength I could muster just to deal with it all.
Yet, there it still was in my soul—something solid and peaceful and to be counted on. It never moved or dimmed even when I felt I was just hanging on.
There were all kinds of natural man feelings that could have so easily been resident in me instead. I could have felt just overtaken by the pain so that there was no place for calm. I could have let my whole soul go to that place where I was screaming “Enough!” I could have been resentful that this had happened to me only halfway through a cycling vacation whose sunny, forested days I had hoped to store up in my soul against the long wintry, COVID-distanced days coming ahead.
I could have been blaming the Lord for letting this happen to me. After all, hadn’t I prayed for protection that very morning? I could have asked, why me? To which I surely would have heard Elder Neal Maxwell’s words in my head, “Why not me?” I could have been worried that my friends would resent me for cutting their trip short.
I could have felt humiliated, knowing there was surely pilot error in my injury. I could have been stuck in cosmic blaming. How could they let people go through this drippy, wet tunnel anyway? I could have rued and regretted all the things I wouldn’t accomplish or experience while I sat quietly trying to recuperate through many long weeks of forced healing,
It is one thing to feel calm somewhere inside in the instant of an accident, and another to maintain that golden assurance one tedious day upon the next.
But there was none of that. And it wasn’t because I am such a good person that I kept my calm under this situation. It was made clear to me that I was given a heavenly gift to help me bear what I must cheerfully endure. I cannot even imagine how impossibly difficult this injury would have been if it had been accompanied by the impossible burden of negative thought or fear or resentment.
To paint a metaphor, it was as if I were standing on the edge of a cliff, and it required all of my physical energy just to hold on from going over. Resentful, complaining, angry thoughts would have been the stiff breeze that I couldn’t have withstood, that would’ve blown me over the edge.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, Yes, life has its problems, and yes, there are negative things to face, but please accept one of Elder Holland’s maxims for living—no misfortune is so bad that whining about it won’t make it worse.”
I have felt like this was one of those instances when the Lord said, let me show you how to lift up thy head and be of good cheer in the midst of whatever happens in life. You can know that I will be there and that a tragic event does not absolutely necessitate tragic or negative feelings. To think that I must feel disheartened and despairing in the face of hard things is simply wrong. It is that despair that will make the hard thing even harder. When we somehow let our lives be comforted by the only One who can give that comfort is to open ourselves up to streams of light in the midst of darkness, to warm pools of stillness in the whirl of the storm.
I often think of Lucy Mack Smith during the printing of the Book of Mormon. Those who would have liked to snatch the manuscript away and burn it were near, and the Smiths often had to have a watch upon their house for protection. One night, Lucy hid the manuscript beneath her headboard and, as she was drifting off to sleep, she thought of the many events that had led them to the point for the manuscript to be ready for publication.
She wrote: “‘And,’ said I to myself, ‘shall I fear what man can do? Will not the angels watch over the precious relic of the worthy dead and the hope of the living? And am I indeed the mother of a prophet of the God of heaven, the honored instrument in performing so great a work?” I felt that I was in the purview of angels, and my heart bounded at the thought of the great condescension of the Almighty.
‘Thus I spent the night surrounded by enemies and yet in an ecstasy of happiness.’
So, her worry about her enemies who surrounded her house was swallowed in reassuring gratitude and joy.
Assurance as a Language of the Lord
How do we hear the Lord? As we asked our children that question, our son-in-law said, “I hear Him in assurance. I hear Him in consolation. I hear Him say, ‘I’m still here.’”
I knew the Lord has been speaking directly to me for weeks now.
I also knew that assurance becomes gratitude. My whole soul responds to His voice with that gratitude. It is ironic that in these past few anguishing weeks, feeling stripped of everything, including breath, even typing this article with one hand, I have felt awash in gratitude and have taken nothing for granted. My joy is in gratitude.
One morning after a hard night for me sleeping upright, on oxygen, on a recliner in the downstairs family room, Scot came and said to me, “I have great news. I have a pain med and two English muffins for you.”
That which might seem so minor in any other time felt like a huge gift to me.
I am convinced that you can pose your small moments as gifts, or as nothing special. You can be given assurance from the Lord and then be tempted to walk right away from it.
I just knew, during these days that have been hard for me, that I would not let my mind go to unproductive thinking. I decided not to entertain any negative or destructive thoughts that would erode this great gift of assurance I had been given. Why would I ever let something remove me from the divine assurance that I had felt?
I share this story because together we are all facing some hard times. The strangeness and distancing of COVID-19, the worries about the upheaval in our nation, the cancellation of things we care about, the sense that we don’t know when it will end. Yet what I know and what I am sure of is that even in the most difficult circumstances the Lord will offer assurance. It is one of the foremost ways He talks to us and that we can hear him. The temptation will always be to erode that assurance with negative thoughts, but let us value His voice of assurance as the great gift that it is.