Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Celebrating 5 years of Life in a Wheelchair

February 5th marks five years since my accident. I’ve dreaded this day in past years because along with the painful memories, I end up replaying that day in my mind, wondering what I could have done differently, and feeling helpless as a result. This year, however, I choose to view it as a special day to celebrate my life since my spinal cord injury. For those of you new to my blog, the complete story of my accident can be found here. Recently, I was humbled to share my story and thoughts at a fireside for teenage girls in Draper, Utah about overcoming adversity and finding joy in the journey. The following is an overview of it:

1. Trust in His plan for each of us. There is a purpose for all of this.
God put me through this accident as an opportunity to find myself. At first, I felt particularly alone and helpless. I kept asking God “Why me?” and felt like giving up. I cried and cried until one night, God conveyed to me that I shouldn't feel alone. He was there, listening and understood my pain. At that moment, these words, "You may not have your legs now, but let me be your legs and carry you through this life" came to me. I felt comfort and solace. I finally understood the atonement of Jesus Christ who has felt my pain even more than I ever will. He bore the most bitter of cups so that I could be spared. He already provides me strength, knowledge, and His trust but now I must make it through and return to Him.
My story has unfolded more miraculously than I could have imagined over these past five years. My accident made me understand that I need to live life to its fullest and to pursue my passions of traveling and service. I pursued internships in Cambodia, Scotland, and Washington D.C.; I travelled throughout Asia, Europe, and the East Coast documenting these adventures on my blog. Amazing things resulted like sitting at a roundtable discussion with President Barack Obama and meeting the First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond. Then, I graduated from college and married my college sweetheart. The greatest miracle came when we learned I was pregnant. After my spinal cord injury confirmation, the doctor told me I couldn’t have children; if so, it would be a high-risk pregnancy and a C-section was the only possible method. Nevertheless, I had a “normal” pregnancy with the exception of me feeling like a large lady in a wheelchair with an overactive bladder for nine months. On September 5th, 2013, my little Boston was born and brought the greatest joy into our lives.

2. Stay positive
It is inevitable that we face challenges. How we react to those challenges and the demeanor we maintain will determine our outcome. Notice I said our “outcome” instead of the challenge’s outcome. Problems always work out, but how will we wind up? Elder Uchtdorf said, how you react to adversity and temptation is a critical factor in whether or not you arrive at your own “happily ever after.”
We make choices everyday especially when adversity crops up. You can either let it bring you down and quit or you can choose to stay positive and say, “I’ll try harder next time, it’ll get better…things will work out in time.” That last one helped me during physical therapy, transitioning back to school, and finding post-graduation work. I spent 2 ½ months in the hospital and it took a long time for me to progress because something would happen like pancreatitis and to make my health regress. I had trouble staying motivated, but my nurses kept reminding me, “Look how far you’ve come.” In that time, I had learned to breathe on my own again, sit up by myself, scoot from side to side, etc. I made a choice to stay motivated and to see how far I’d come. In time, I became the mobile and independent person I am today.

3. Have an attitude of gratitude
Learn to count the blessings that are all around us and embrace all of those little things. Whenever I am feeling a little discouraged by day-to-day difficulties, all I have to do is turn to God and verbalize how thankful I am for the little things of that day: the gospel, my family, my wheelchair, my strength, and all of my blessings. Over time, I’ve found some perks to being in a wheelchair. For one, your shoes stay new for a long time. Others are always having a seat wherever you go or bypassing lines. Noticing these things illustrate how blessings outweigh all frustrations. Heavenly Father loves to hear from us and see our humility through our gratitude, and will reward us with more blessings. Surprisingly, I am a much happier person now than I ever was prior to my accident. I feel and am grateful for Heavenly Father’s love for me as He helps me with the difficulties of being in a wheelchair. But don’t wait for an accident to be grateful, you can be grateful for things in your lives now.

4. Serve others
We can find joy in service and taste the sweetness of our Father’s glory when we serve. I love service and feel it is the best form of therapy. By serving others, I have learned to think more outwardly, care for others and love them as Heavenly Father does. Service can enrich our lives in every way and it’s something we can do no matter what circumstance we are in.
While in Cambodia, I taught in the capital’s slums. The majority of Cambodia is Buddhist, believing in reincarnation and in my case that disabled people have done something in their past life to deserve it. The stigma around disability is rampant: Whenever I left the house, strangers stopped me just to ask why I was in a wheelchair and I was exhausted by these daily questions about my disability. However, my service challenged existing notions that their teacher couldn’t be a wheelchair. It was funny when my students learned that I speak Cambodian fluently and had understood all their initial questions and comments they made among themselves regarding my disability. From my service, both my students and I grew. They gained a new perspective that went against the notion that those with a disability can contribute to society because I became someone they loved and respected. I learned to be patient with people who don’t understand disabilities.

5. We are all here to help one another
During my recovery from the accident, I found much comfort in this quote by President Thomas S. Monson, “Whenever we are inclined to feel burdened down with the blows of life, let us remember that others have passed the same way, have endured, and then have overcome.” 
We are not alone in our trials. Others are going through them too and we shouldn’t be embarrassed about our issues. Instead, we should seek comfort and help. It made me feel vulnerable to open up to others about my inner struggles and questions because I’ve always felt like such an independent person. But it was a relief and liberation to be able to confide with those I love about my feelings and learn that I wasn’t alone. Friendship is Heavenly Father’s gift to each of us. We are here on this earth together at this time so that we may teach, learn from, and comfort one another. We are to be each other's beacon. If we endure together, we will grow strong together, and we will overcome together. 

My testimony
Elder Uchtdorf said, “Isn’t it remarkable to know that our eternal Heavenly Father knows you, hears you, watches over you, and loves you with an infinite love? In fact, His love for you is so great that He has granted you this earthly life as a precious gift of “once upon a time,” complete with your own true story of adventure, trial, and opportunities for greatness, nobility, courage, and love. And, most glorious of all, He offers you a gift beyond price and comprehension. Heavenly Father offers to you the greatest gift of all—eternal life—and the opportunity and infinite blessing of your own “happily ever after.”
These last five years have been filled sadness and frustration but are overpowered by laughter, adventures, courage, learning, accomplishments, and gratitude. I’m grateful for every minute of it and I’m grateful for those I am able to share it with. Do I wish I could walk again? Yes. But would I change all of the things I’ve endured and learned? No. These lessons are invaluable and have made me who I am today. No one chooses to go through difficult times, but these experiences are part of life and we come out of these challenges more refined and learned. We become closer to our Heavenly Father and learn of his great love for us and come to trust that He will get us through. There is a plan and purpose for us. Stay positive. Be grateful. Serve others. Help one another. We will all come out on top. Keep being the best you and doing what you know is right. Find the joys in your journey. February 5th will be a bittersweet remembrance of the day I lost the usage of my legs, but it's also the day when my life’s greatest joys ensued. 

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France

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