To the Very Core of My Soul

To the Very Core of My Soul

From Chicken Soup for the Latter-day Saint Soul

To the Very Core of My Soul

But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour.

Matt. 9:22

Sophomore year of high school, fifteen years old, a time for fun and youthful memories.

I was optimistic and excited about life!

Things soon changed for me when during a fall volleyball practice, while simply bending to pick up a volleyball, a sharp pain in my back brought me to my knees. This event was followed by regular acute backaches and pains that would leave me in tears, and laid up, unable to move for the remainder of that year. Each time I had an acute back spasm I would wonder what was happening to my back. Why was I experiencing so much pain?

The acute back pain was frequent and severe; it consumed that entire year. Despite a first doctor’s opinion of “muscle tightness” and prescribed muscle relaxants, the only relief I ever experienced was laying in bed with my knees up. Instead of doing fun teenage things, sometimes I would spend hours, days, attempting to relieve my back pain.

I was convinced there was something I could do to help myself or to fix my back. I remember one Saturday walking to a friend’s house for a girls’ fun afternoon. Carrying a bag full of stuff, I counted every ten steps I took and switched hands so my back wouldn’t lean to one side too much. Relieved, I arrived at her home without incident, only to sit on her bed and to be gripped with another attack of acute pain. I was so depressed! It seemed no matter what I did, nothing was making my back better; the pain seemed endless.

That summer, instead of spending fun days doing things I loved—jogging, hanging out, going out on the weekends, playing outdoor sports—I spent a lot of time at home, laying on my back, watching TV, but also spending time with my younger sister Elizabeth.

It was also during this summer I had time to consider a more spiritual aspect to my pain.

My father had given me a blessing earlier that spring with a promise that I would heal and the pain would subside and I would be made whole. I believed that I would; if I had enough faith and was worthy of the blessings, my back would heal and I wouldn’t have the excruciating pain—I would be whole again.

However, no matter what I did, or didn’t do, I continued to have aches and overwhelmingly painful back spasms. Even at girls’ camp that summer I had another of these acute attacks of pain, and another priesthood blessing— that the pain would subside, my back would heal and I would be made whole. I began to become so confused: Was I not worthy to be healed? Was my faith not strong enough? What more could I do to help myself?

My junior year of high school began a new struggle: a struggle to find the Lord and discover why my faith was not strong enough to make me whole.

While I was wrestling with my thoughts, we continued to pursue medical relief. A second opinion found a condition called spondylolisthesis. An X-ray discovered two fractures of the lower vertebrae, a condition the doctor proclaimed he usually only saw in geriatric patients. He gave me a list of exercises and stretches that I could do to strengthen my back, combined with physical therapy. However, he laid an emotional bomb: He also told me that I should not jog, play volleyball, or any other sport that involved bending or twisting of my back. He said too that I would not be able to carry a child to full term because my back would not be able to handle the weight. If I were ever to get pregnant, I would have to remain in bedrest for the majority of the pregnancy. I was sixteen years old, and I had just been told that my life as I had known it and loved it would never, and could never, be the same. The things that I enjoyed, and looked forward to—even pregnancy—were no longer an option.

However, I had the optimism of youth. The doctor knew what was wrong and how to fix it. I followed his program meticulously for months, but was continually plagued with the acute attacks of pain. After all my diligent efforts brought no relief from pain, I found myself more emotionally lost than ever. The only difference these months had produced was not physical, but spiritual; I had begun a change of heart.

We were studying the Book of Mormon in seminary that year and I loved it! I looked forward to the emotional relief that the Spirit of the Book of Mormon provided in a time of physical and emotional agony. I found solace in the words of Christ as He appeared to the Nephites; as he blessed them, taught them and healed them. However, I still felt personal inadequacies; I felt that I lacked the faith, because if I had faith, then my back would heal.

Several blessings later, and after many days of pain and tears, we found another doctor, who offered a third opinion. An MRI revealed two herniated discs surrounding my fractured vertebrae, and these herniations were pinching the nerves, which caused the acute attacks of pain. The doctor scheduled surgery and that March, I began the healing process. I wore a back brace, which I affectionately referred to as my plastic milk jug, for several months after surgery, even to my junior prom and through the beginning of my senior year.

The summer before I left for college at BYU I received the final clearance from my doctor that I was completely healed. I could jog, play volleyball, do anything I wanted—and even have babies! Three years of suffering had finally come to an end.

As a young college student, in retrospect I saw so much good that came from this experience. Being a high-school invalid kept me home to grow closer to my family. It also brought me closer to my Savior through the need I felt for spiritual relief from my physical and emotional anguish.

But still, I had a lot of confusion in my heart. Why had it taken almost three years for a blessing to be fulfilled? During a discussion with a college friend, relating this intense test of faith, I shared with him that when my physical pain and heartache was so intense that I couldn’t handle it one day longer, I had finally found a doctor who could save me from my pain and suffering. My friend offered that this was no coincidence.

The Savior knows our breaking point. He knows when we can’t take it any longer; He will take us to that point— but no further. And He will bring us back. And He did. But it wasn’t until I looked back on those three years of my life that I realized it. I had faith that the first blessing my father gave me would come to pass; what I didn’t realize was that it was in the Lord’s own time and according to His will. It wasn’t that I was not worthy or that my faith was not strong enough—on the contrary! It was simply that the test was not over. The Lord was aware of my pain, and he was aware of the blessing I was promised through the priesthood. But it was in His own time and in His own way that the blessing and my prayers would be answered. I wanted the pain to be taken away the first day I experienced it, and I wanted to do it myself—by myself with my own work.

But the Lord knew me better than I knew myself, and neither was it time for that healing to occur, nor could I do it alone. I needed to exercise my faith, increase my testimony and humble myself to the very core of my soul so I could learn to depend on Him, place all faith in Him and place my life in His hands. I could no more save myself from my pain physically than I can save myself spiritually. The Lord intervened in my life specifically, like He has done for all of us through the atonement. He did for me what I could not do for myself. And if I have faith in him, all blessings promised to me by the Holy Priesthood will come to pass, in His own time.

Shelley Ball Andrus

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