Sunday, March 20, 2016

You Are Special

Growing up, I wasn’t really great at sports. I tried really hard to get into street basketball, but after an incident where I hit the ball too hard and my middle finger swelled up, I decided I just wasn’t cut out for basketball. Now, growing up in the hood, that was a signal that you were probably not really cool material. And at less than 5 feet, I really didn’t have much of a chance at basketball for a career either, so at the tender age of 10, I had to learn to let it go. My athletic abilities only manifested when I decided to give sports another try in high school. I went out for the cross-country team. I quickly learned that I wasn’t the fastest girl on the team. But this time, I stuck with it because I actually liked it. I liked trying new things, I liked that I could do it anywhere, I liked being healthy, and most importantly, I liked challenging myself to get better. I continued running “for fun” in college, and even recruited my then boyfriend, AJ, to run with me. He was trying something new (because as he used to say, “nobody runs for fun”) and I was getting a great outlet for school stress. We found it fun to introduce new things to each other that were apart of our lives. Something he introduced to me was snowboarding.

I remember going up snowboarding for the first time and being so excited throughout the whole day. I loved that it was like running where I could go as fast or as slow as I wanted. There wasn’t any pressure to beat anyone (except for AJ). I had found something else to challenge myself. I couldn’t wait to get home and sign up for the snowboarding course offered by BYU. The next month, I got my gear and resort pass and went back week after week. I found every opportunity I could to go up. I was so excited to have something to love the snow for and a sport that I was actually good at.

Unfortunately, my snowboarding career ended shortly on February 5th, 2009, just two class periods from the end of the season. It was a typical day for me. I got up, went to my early morning job and classes, swung over to volunteer at the MTC, headed back to my apartment to pick up my snowboarding gear, and met my snowboarding class up on the mountain. We went over drills as we had done many times before. On our last run of the day, I went up the side of a little hill to try out a new trick, but didn’t land it. I got back up, pushed and got momentum to do another trick off the bigger hill, not only didn’t land it and instead fell straight on my back and rolled over several times. I had the wind knocked right out of me. I remember trying to get up but not being able to. I felt excruciating pain all over my body. My instructor told me to lie there until snow patrol came. I said a prayer for help with all the pain and comfort that things would be all right. I was life-flighted to the nearest hospital (the most expensive ride of my life and I can’t even really remember it). I underwent over 16 hours of surgeries and days of drugs that made me loopy in order to minimize the intense physical pain.

In the first few days, I remember thinking, “Wow that was painful, but it was just a few broken bones, I’ll back to normal in no time.” From my long track record of sports (not), I had the luxury of never having broken a single bone in my body, so an injury of this magnitude was understandably taking a toll on my body. I couldn’t do much on my own, let alone get out of bed. I was hooked up to oxygen all the time, had to blow into a device that measured my lung capacity because I couldn’t breathe very well on my own, received weird and uncomfortable sponge baths, was constantly in pain and dizzy, and I celebrated Valentine’s day with some of my friends watching “The Lake House,” which I don’t recall at all.

10 days later, I was moved to the rehabilitation unit. I began physical therapy to regain my strength and occupational therapy to learn how to maneuver with my turtle shell on until my back was fully healed. However, my health kept declining, I lost my appetite and what little food I ate wouldn’t stay down. After a series of tests, I learned I had pancreatitis because of the trauma to my pancreas and was placed on a feeding tube that bypassed the pancreas. I was so tired and sick all the time. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I learned the horrible news that I had sustained a complete injury, which meant I’d probably never be able to walk again.

That was the breaking point for me. I was inconsolable. Shocked, overwhelmed, depressed, despaired, hopeless, those were some of the first words that came to my mind. I was constantly sad and confused with everything happening, and it was worse that there was nothing I could do. Try as I may to wish it all away, the prognosis wasn’t going to change. The fact of the matter was that I wouldn’t be able to walk again. “This is it,” I thought. What am I supposed to do with my life now? School? Career? Family? I didn’t know how I was supposed to do anything anymore. Just look at me. I can’t eat. I can’t dress myself. I can’t walk. I’m stuck in a wheelchair and I can’t do anything for myself. I felt completely broken and alone. I was ready to give up on everything. I remember asking “Heavenly Father, why me? Why do I have to carry the burden of this disability? Everything about this sucks and I’m so, so sad. I don’t know what else to do. Please help me. Tell me what to do.” I knew life wasn’t going to be the same and I didn’t think I could go through with it if I didn’t have my legs. Then, my answer came telling me I would not rely on my own legs anymore but rely on my savior, Jesus Christ. He would be my legs from now on. He had suffered all the pain and sins of the world and He knew exactly how I was feeling, so I shouldn’t feel alone. He loved me and would be with me. I could rely on His strength until I regained mine. He wanted me to find joy so I couldn’t give up. With these thoughts an overwhelming sense of peace and calm came to me. I knew it was all going to be OK.

I spent the next couple of months in the hospital. Learning all I could and giving this no legs deal another chance. Those were some long, painful days in physical therapy and I was a grumpy pants on some of those days (maybe many more than I’d like to admit), but I honestly only made it through with His strength. He sent family, friends, nurses, doctors, and even strangers from all walks of life to keep me in check and moving forward. Before this ordeal, AJ and I saved up money to go on a cruise with his family. The nurses and doctors used the cruise to motivate me to get better by the date of departure. I kept setting little goals for myself that would challenge me and lead me to my end goal of leaving the hospital: get dressed, put on my shoes, eat two yogurts, do my own hair, and push a little farther. Two and half months later, I was released from the hospital and went on my first cruise.

That summer, I worked my way up to a part-time job as a cashier at a cafĂ©. Then, I enrolled back in school. I started volunteering with various groups in the community. I went on to fulfill four internships, two of which were abroad. I got married to my sweetheart, AJ. Then graduated from college and was a speaker at my commencement. I’ve even gotten back up on the mountain, monoskiing and it’s one of my goals to be able to ski the Swiss Alps one day (soon). However, I’ve still never gone out for a wheelchair basketball team. 

From those days at the hospital, I never would have imagined that all of these wonderful experiences would have happened to me. I was about ready to give up on life, but I’m glad I didn’t because much of who I am and what I have now have come because of that accident. For one, my disability has taught me to understand and reach out to others with disabilities—people who are generally forgotten. I now see great potential in everyone and am passionate about helping others see and unlock that potential.

I have a wonderful eternal companion who has demonstrated his true colors through and through. He loves me not for my ability to walk, but really for who I am and I do. He believes in me and makes my desires possible. Together, we’ve traveled to 17 countries, climbing the ancient temples of Cambodia with me on his back twice, once when I was pregnant, without complaint when he had every right to do so. We have endured many trials together that besides God, there is no one I trust my life with more than him.

I have learned that I am Heavenly Father’s child and I have great power within me. I am special. I have many unlocked talents to contribute to the world and I’m slowly discovering them. I have learned that the Plan of Salvation is real and there is purpose in everything that happen to us. Our trials are only but a short moment in the eternal spectrum. I know that I matter to Heavenly Father and I can rely on Him. Trials will come to challenge us and mold us into who He knows we can be. He puts things in place to help us get through them and most importantly teach us and strengthen us. President Uchtdorf said, “It is often in the trial of adversity that we learn those most critical lessons that form our character and shape our destiny.” I don’t necessarily know what my destiny is yet. I’m still trying to figure out my skills and talents and which career I can apply them to. However, I do know who I am and what I believe. I know who is on my team always and that I can always rely on Him to make me a better me. In the meantime, I get to serve fine people around me, make a difference in my work, and run (or wheel) after my two little babies.

It is my hope that you know that you are special in the eyes of God, whose opinion matters most. Don’t ever give up. Take your trials, whatever they might be, in strides, because chances are, Heavenly Father won’t just remove them from your life. You cannot become the person our Father in Heaven intends without facing difficulties. You are uniquely equipped to tackle them. Make the most out of them. Learn from them. It’s not always going to be easy but remember that it’ll be worthwhile – just as you are. This was a difficult trial for me but I was able to make it with God’s love. Having this trial does not make me any more special than you. I know that if something like this happened to you, you’d be able to make it, too. Just trust in Him. He is with you every step of the way to help you become what He knows you can become. He loves you and is so eager to hear from you so he can help you. You are His child and therefore are stronger than you think you are. You have great potential and purpose, please have courage and seek those out. There are marvelous blessings in store for you. Trust in Him and enjoy the journey.