This is a talk I gave in church last Sunday. Thought I'd share it here for anyone going through a tough time.
If I had known about this chapter entitled 2021 in our family’s story, I probably would have skipped over the whole thing. I had no idea what depths of pain and sorrow and suffering would be woven into this portion of our narrative. And yet, as Paul taught and Sister Camille Johnson reiterated in the recent General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Christ is the, “author and finisher of our faith.” He knows the story from beginning to end because He is the Author and it is His intention that our story draw us closer to Him. He has already composed a glorious ending for us, returning home to Our Heavenly Family: Father, Mother, Brother, and our own dear earthly families——joy beyond compare. But when we’re in the messy middle of the story it can be oh so difficult to remember why we’re slogging through, and that glorious end seems too far distant.
Last week, Sister Johnson taught us, “…the natural man or woman in us is resistant to turning things completely over to the Lord and trusting Him entirely. Maybe that is why we choose to stick with the narrative we have written for ourselves, a comfortable version of our story unedited by the Master Author.”
If it were up to us our stories would be simple, straightforward, and full of ease. No twists and turns, no thorns, no rocky roads.
Sister Johnson reminds us that, “few of us would probably write into our stories the trials that refine us. But don’t we love the glorious culmination of a story we read when the protagonist overcomes the struggle? Trials are the elements of the plot that make our favorite stories compelling, timeless, faith promoting, and worthy of telling. The beautiful struggles written into our stories are what draw us closer to the Savior and refine us, making us more like Him.”
I’ll share a little from the chapter entitled, 2021 from the Book of the Fishbein Family.
First you need to know a bit of background on Shane. I’ll sum it up with he is one healthy guy. Back in CA his weekly agenda included soccer (2x/week), running, road cycling, mountain biking and depending on the week, a sprinkling of rock climbing, surfing, hiking, and golf. He ate like a champ, eschewing all junk food (minus the occasional homemade treat) and he was, annoyingly, never sick. And before I delve more deeply into our tale I have to thank my husband for being willing (though maybe a bit reticently) to let me to share our story.
This tale begins with a move to Boulder, CO in January. Within two weeks of arriving, Shane began showing strange symptoms: lack of appetite, food became intolerable, insomnia, difficulty regulating his temperature, no energy (he could barely take one lap around the block). I figured it was just a temporary thing and it would soon wear off. I busied myself with homeschool and my business and tried to ignore it, telling myself that he’d soon be better. Shane did the same.
Better never came and by mid-April Shane was still in the same state. He had the thought to test the house for mold, which we did and discovered that there was indeed toxic mold present. And as we learned about mold toxicity it seemed that every one of Shane’s symptoms lined up perfectly—-we had an answer! We then made the difficult decision for Shane to stop working and for us to return to California where Shane could rest and be surrounded by family and friends. And it was around this time that I realized that I was pregnant. There was no joy in this knowledge and I kept it entirely to myself as we navigated our final weeks in Boulder which involved Shane miserable resting in bed and me packing up the house and moving everything into storage. It was quite frankly, awful, depressing and I was paralyzed with fatigue and sadness. Hadn’t we just started writing a new chapter in our lives? And then I turned the page to find that the Lord was writing a very different narrative than the one I was composing for myself.
We arrived back in CA and I jumped back full-time into seeing clients while Shane continued to rest and care for the family the best he could. In mid-May, once we were settled, Shane had some bloodwork done, in a quest to understand what was going on in his body. One particular number looked unsettling and while one provider missed it, another sharp-eyed doc recommended a CT scan and x-ray. Shane obliged and within a couple of days we had the results back, cancer in his liver, adrenal gland, bones. We would soon learn that it had spread to his brain and heard the grim diagnosis—-Shane had Stage 4 Melanoma, widespread throughout his body. Shock, fear, despair, anguish were all emotions that coursed through our hearts and minds in those first days. The pain ran deep and it was always present. Immediately we came to the acceptance that Shane might die and that I might be left a widow with three children and a newborn. Improbable, impossible, frightening. And then, Shane began to deteriorate before my eyes. His night sweats and vomiting began, spending time which the kids drained him so he rarely saw them, he could barely climb the stairs and his daily walks became shorter and shorter. Eating was a burden, sleep a chore.
We asked the Lord for healing, multiple times a day, always adding the modifier, “Thy will be done,” to the end of our tear soaked prayers. On a side note, we've learned that humans have an infinite capacity for tears. We cried enough in those first weeks to fill the whole of Horsetooth Reservoir. And yet, the comfort and peace from our Father in Heaven and Savior through their Spirit matched the pain. Truly They gave us (and give all of us) what Isaiah prophesied, “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness…”
After visiting multiple oncologists, weeks of study, contemplation, and prayer, Shane chose six weeks of medical treatment in Europe. June and July were spent in two foreign countries, hoping beyond hope that what we were doing would result in Shane living a long and healthy life. Those weeks were challenging to say the least and included some of the lowest moments of our lives—-one afternoon in particular stands out—-Shane weeping like a baby from pain and there was nothing I could do for him. And yet, Shane and I learned lessons that we would never trade——the Atonement of Jesus Christ became a living, breathing thing to us—-we came to know that He, and only He, perfectly understood the pain and anguish of our situation because He had suffered it. We knew the truth that because Christ died for us, we will live again. Death is nothing final and nothing to fear. We could see the wisdom of our Heavenly Father’s plan for us to come to earth to learn and grow, suffer and stretch. The Holy Ghost was a constant companion bringing reassurance and peace, fortifying us in our darkest hours. Our love deepened and we began learning how to truly be a team. Our appreciation for every blessing was heightened and magnified, especially for the marvelous family and friends who supported us in a thousand ways, grand and simple. Our story was being written, forged really, by the most capable Hands in the Universe, and though it was painful, though we wished it away ofttimes, we were growing and learning rapidly in ways we sorely needed to.
For the first time was understood the words of a survivor of the ill-fated Martin Handcart company, “We suffered beyond anything you can imagine and many died of exposure and starvation, but did you ever hear a survivor of that company utter a word of criticism? Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay…” (Note: you can read the full text here)
The Lord has continued to record our story and it has included some beautiful blessings we only dreamed of. Since our return to the States at the beginning of August, Shane has made great strides. He went from being wheeled by me in a wheelchair through the Denver airport just nine weeks ago to this past Thursday when I dropped he and our daughter off at the airport and watched him dash into the airport, wheeling a suitcase behind him—-off to CA to enjoy the ocean, friends and his beloved home state. In the past three days he has played soccer with his old teammates (and even scored a goal), swum in the Pacific while Sage paddled alongside him on her surfboard and hosted a barbecue for dear friends. And his latest scans show that the cancer that was rampant is more than 50% gone. I can hardly believe the turnaround, but we know that our story isn’t finished yet. Complete healing is still a future destination.
Brothers and sisters, Paul reminds us to “run with patience the race that is set before us,” Remembering that with Christ as the Author we will finish victorious in the end.
May we have the courage and faith to say to our loving Savior, “Here, you write instead of me. I trust that what you have in store for me is far grander than I can imagine.” As Paul declared we are, “[the] epistle of Christ…..written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.”
The story He writes in our Book of Life, in the "fleshy tables of [our] hearts," will take us through turbulence and trial. It’s a bumpy ride, but we can trust that the end will be magnificent, and we will triumph on the final page of our story because of Christ's glorious Atonement. May we be, as Camille Johnson so aptly stated, “puny pencils in His Hand.”
I’d like to close with a poem that the kids and I memorized long ago and often recite on hikes. It is a reminder about who is charge and why we can trust ourselves in His hands.
The Master Weaver's Plan
(attributed to Benjamin Malachi Franklin)
My life is but a weaving
Between the Lord and me;
I may not choose the colors–
He knows what they should be.
For He can view the pattern
Upon the upper side
While I can see it only
On this, the underside.
Sometimes He weaves in sorrow,
Which seems so strange to me;
But I will trust His judgment
And work on faithfully.
‘Tis He who fills the shuttle,
And He knows what is best;
So I shall weave in earnest,
And leave to Him the rest.
Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Shall God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why.
The dark threads are as needed
In the Weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern, He has planned.
A final thought. There were so many wonderful stories trials (and coming through those trials) that I wanted to share, but as I wrote this talk I felt strongly that I should should share our family's story, even thought that is not my usual MO (with the exception of this blog). I want to be sure and share one particularly heart wrenching account of a European woman who suffered unthinkable loss during WWII. Every time I've struggled int the past decade I've come back to this talk to remind me that whatever I'm suffering others have suffered more. You'll find the story about halfway down the page, but just read the whole thing because it's so darn good!