Faith and Blessings


Have you ever had an experience where you were promised a specific blessing, perhaps even at the hands of a priesthood holder, and this blessing wasn’t fulfilled? How did you reconcile this? Did you feel that the Lord’s plan for you changed or that you hadn’t exercised enough faith for His blessing to be applicable in your life?

Below is a story that I wrote for the “New Era” magazine a few years ago. It details my experience where I was given a promise of healing in a blessing and I had to reinterpret that promise when it wasn’t fulfilled as I had originally expected. I wrote this story on the heels of my Father’s death from cancer. I was wounded and trying to make sense of a world with so much pain. I was trying to understand a Heavenly Father who would leave so many of my prayers and the prayers of my family unanswered, who would let my Dad suffer such a slow and horrific death. The process of writing this story brought me much peace, it was as if in the crafting of it I was reminded of God’s love for me and he was speaking through me, to me, as I put the words on the page.

A Promise Kept
New Era, Jan 2001

My 13-year-old mind whirled as the nurse pushed the electronic button to raise the head of my hospital bed. The induced stupor of pain-killing drugs numbed my awareness. Flickers of pain shot through the right side of my body. I closed my eyes, grimacing to endure the discomfort.

As the nurse adjusted the pillows and bedcoverings to make me more comfortable, I relaxed my facial muscles and opened my eyes. Looking down, I realized that the nurse had pulled back the yellow blanket and sheets that had covered my lower body.

“No!” I screamed. I yanked the bedcoverings back down and yelled again, “No!” Dropping my head into my hands, sobs shook my body as I realized what I had seen: my right leg had been amputated.

Continuing to cry, I reviewed in my mind the promise I had been given in my patriarchal blessing just two weeks before. “You will have the faith to be healed,” Patriarch Kimball had said. When this blessing was given, I felt an overwhelming sense of joy. My parents and I interpreted this statement to mean that the malignant bone tumor in my knee would be healed and my leg would not be removed.

Patriarch Kimball’s remarkable words were a testimony to all of my family and friends that a miracle would occur. As my doctors prepared me for the amputation surgery, they assured my parents that they would check one last time to see if the tumor was there. If it was gone, they wouldn’t perform the surgery; I would awaken with two intact legs. However, if the tumor was still there, an immediate amputation was necessary to prevent the spread of the cancer cells to the rest of my body.

My mother looked in the door to my hospital room. I could see she was crying and guessed she had heard my outburst. I couldn’t control the anger I was feeling, so I closed my eyes and lowered the head of my bed. I didn’t want to see the nurse, my mom, or anyone else. I felt betrayed. Lying there on the bed, alone and miserable, I cried bitterly in anger at everyone I had trusted.

For several days, I refused to look down where my leg used to be. When a physical therapist came in to help me take my first steps with an artificial leg, I refused to cooperate. I fell into a depression. I just couldn’t believe that life could continue without my leg.

About a week after the surgery, my father insisted that I take a wheelchair ride outside the hospital. I sat in the chair, slumped over, gritting my teeth in pain as my father pushed me outside for the first time. Dad took me into a rose garden that spread out in front of the hospital. I looked over at the lovely rose bushes growing around me, and I felt so ugly, so deformed.

As I sat there feeling miserable, the desire grew within me to reach out for the roses, to smell the individual flowers. I expressed this to my dad, and he tried to move the wheelchair close enough for me to do so. But the chair was too awkward over the grass and dirt around the bushes. I started to cry again in frustration that I couldn’t accomplish one simple task. Dad knelt down at the side of my wheelchair and stroked my hair. When I stopped sobbing, he took my hands in his and looked straight into my eyes.

“You can do it, you know,” he said. “It won’t be easy. Everything—even smelling roses—will be harder from now on. But I know, and you know, that you can do it.” We were both silent for a long time as I looked into his eyes. In that moment I realized that I had no choice about the loss of my leg. It was gone, and I needed to accept it. I also understood that I would need all of my strength and determination to do the things I would want to do. I will do it, I thought to myself.

I spent many hours learning to manipulate my artificial leg. It was awkward and painful, and I often fell down. At the same time, I still had chemotherapy treatments every two weeks. Because of the treatments I was bald, weak, and severely underweight. At one point about six months after my surgery, I was so discouraged that I told my oncologist (the doctor who was treating my cancer) that I wouldn’t continue my treatments. She explained to me that if I didn’t finish the prescribed course of treatment, the cancer had a high chance of returning, and she urged me to continue. I was emotionally and physically exhausted, but in the back of my mind I remembered my father’s words and I felt renewed strength to continue with my treatments.

Six months later, the chemotherapy treatments were over. I still felt discouraged about losing a leg, and I was overwhelmed with fear about facing the future as a one-legged person. My mind turned again to the promise given in my patriarchal blessing. I wasn’t healed, I thought to myself. Why wasn’t I healed? I wondered if it was a lack of faith on my part. Maybe I hadn’t prayed hard enough or believed that Heavenly Father could heal me as was promised in my blessing.

As these thoughts ran through my mind, I started to cry. I curled myself up into a fetal position and sobbed for a long time. As I did so, I remembered all I had accomplished in the year since my surgery. I had adjusted to my disability and learned to walk again. I had completed my full course of chemotherapy treatments and was gaining weight and strength again. My hair was even beginning to grow back. Then it came to my mind, with a small and simple whisper, that I had been healed. I was healed of the overwhelming pain and anguish that came when I realized my leg was gone. I was given the physical and emotional strength to tackle the challenges of life following the surgery. Most importantly, I was in remission from the cancer.

With that realization, I bowed my head in prayer. I thanked my Heavenly Father for the fulfillment of the blessing of healing. I thanked Him for my father’s wise counsel and for the support of my family and friends who had helped me through the most difficult months of my life. Most of all, I thanked Him that I was still alive—for I realized that with or without my right leg, my life was worth living.

Jana

Jana is university administrator and History professor. Her soloblog is http://janaremy.com/pilgrimsteps/

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  1. Caroline says:

    Jana, I read this a few years ago, but reading it again right now actually brought tears to my eyes.

    I’ve never had a blessing that went unfulfilled. (But I can count on one hand the times I’ve had blessings.) One was the patriarchal blessing I got right before I got married, and that was sufficiently generic so that so far, nothing strikes me as discordant or unfulfilled.

    A couple were after I was married and was suffering acutely from food poisoning, and I was willing to try anything to stop the pain.

    And the most interesting one was when I was 16 and suffering from a kidney problem. I got a blessing a couple of weeks after the bishop showed up at my house unannounced and uninvited to give me one. I was young and didn’t react well to having one thrust upon me without notice and sent the bish away. But after thinking about it for a while, I did ask for one. And I did get better very soon after that. I don’t know what to make of that experience now. It’s possible that God did decide to heal me, or it’s possible that I was just lucky.

  2. zeeny says:

    As a teenager I prayed about what college I should attend. It is the only time I have prayed and been given an answer that I actually heard. When I got a letter from the university, I was shocked to open it and find out I had not been accepted. I remember going to my room and crying sitting up against my bedroom door. I had moments of questioning my testimony, which may seem extreme, but how could this happen? I was sure I would be going to this school…it was made clear to me from the answer to my prayer. To make a long story short, I did get into this university but it wasn’t in the way I was expecting. It took more time and a very kind mom in order for my prayers to be answered. I guess sometimes I have my own time table about how and when my prayers should be answered and the Lord has his own!For me it is maintaing the faith in between the two timetables.

  3. Tanya Sue says:

    That story always hits me so hard. You were so young to have such an experience. I have had multiple blessings go unanswered.

    I have had quite a few medical problems in the last 9 years. I have been promised health and healing multiple times. The hard part is that it is always told that it is contingent upon my faith. That always makes me stop and wonder if I have enough faith. I look at the things that I have done to show faith-still working despite the illness, still doing service, still praying and still doing all that I can to be a good and faithful servant. Yet due to the wording I continue to wonder what else I need to be doing to show faith to be healed.

    I think I have come to the understanding that there are many factors that go into a blessing and I cannot come close to understanding them all. Perhaps it is about timing, or that sometimes the priesthood holder desperately wants a certain thing to happen so they say what they hope will happen. I have one friend that will only say what he feels prompted to. Another friend feels that a blessing should be about blessing someone and will always bless them with the desired result-whether he feels prompted to or not.

  4. Deborah says:

    Jana: I had never seen this piece. It’s powerful and painful. It must be interesting to see your children approach this age and realize how young (in some ways) you really were to be going through this. I think of your dad’s advice — and the fact that your blog is now filled with stunningly beautiful flowers. Because of those pictures, I’ve been looking at the new spring flowers much more carefully and snapping my own portraits.

    In the last few years, I’ve become more confident in God’s love — and less confident my understanding in God’s ways. I used to feel smugly about other religions’ description of the Mystery of God. Now I think it’s a sacred way to describe diety.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  5. jana says:

    Do you Deborah, how crazy it is that I never connected my love/ passion for flowers with my experience with my Dad? My Dad’s Dad was an avid gardener and planted an award-winning garden every year. I’ve often felt that my gardening passion came from my Grandpa, so I usually think of him fondly when I surrounded by my own growing flowers.

    So today I spent the whole afternoon in my garden–I still have the dirt deep under my fingernails from weeding–and I can’t think of any better way to find peace. It helps me remember how awful-ly frustrated I was way back then (23 years ago!) when I couldn’t even smell a rose, much less imagine that someday I would be growing my own gorgeous blossoms! 🙂

  6. amelia says:

    thanks for sharing this, jana. it’s beautifully and powerfully written–as your writing tends to be.

    i’ve never had a specific situation like this in which i felt i had been promised a blessing and then did not receive it. but when i’m in my darkest moments of loneliness and frustration and depression, it sometimes feels like my whole life is flying in the face of countless blessings i received as a child, youth, and adult. blessings that promised me marriage and children. i plan on fulfilling the latter for myself by adopting if i remain single. but even having that plan for the future doesn’t assuage the feelings of betrayal and hurt that hit me when i’m down.

    i’ve mostly made my peace with these feelings. it hasn’t been easy. sometimes the feelings show their faces again. and i am not entirely confident that i won’t give in to them again in the future.

    i don’t know exactly how i have made my peace with feeling like there are blessings i’ve been given that remain unfulfilled. very little, if any of it, comes from thinking about marriage as something that will happen in the “next life” (as so many people reassure me). that is cold comfort to me. i think most of it has to do with finding alternate ways of understanding and applying the gospel which do not take the place of marriage and family, but allow me ways of finding fulfillment that i may have found in marriage and family if those blessings had been given me now.

  7. Dora says:

    I also went through a period of my life when I was very ill, and relied on the hope of the myriad blessings I received for healing. For the most part, they have been fulfilled, althugh the process was not easy or quick.

    There are many components to my patriarchal blessing … some of which are continually being fulfilled, and some of which have yet to be. I don’t generally worry about these.

    However, whenever I receive a blessing, I always think about the bless-er. Are they relying exclusively on spiritual promptings? Are they saying what they think I want to hear? Are they saying what they desperately want to hear? And how could one even truly differentiate between these motivations? Anyway, I generally only ask for blessings from family or very close friends. That I ask them, and that they serve me in this way, is a mark of our love for each other, which give me comfort.

    What does not give comfort is when people put value judgements on blessings or trials that have been given, or not given, to others. I tend to think they are rather like Job’s “friends,” who wonder what his sin is that he should be “punished” so, or blaming him for not being faithful enough. I think it’s very inappropriate and small-spirited.

  8. jana says:

    Just a short time ago a close family member was diagnosed with colon cancer. Our family, along with many other Saints, prayed and fasted. When he went into surgery they found the cancer completely gone, despite the biopsy confirming a large mass of cancer just a few days before. When I heard the good news I was overjoyed. But a part of me still wondered why he’d received healing and so many others don’t, even when they are told that that will be.

    I have these pictures of me as a young teen, so ill that I could barely smile for the camera (at the time I was so wasted from chemo that I was 5’5″ and I weighed 70 lbs). And now I feel so strong, I feel like every year I am only getting healthier. Ove the years I also watched many, if not most, of my friends who were diagnosed with similar cancers die. Yes, I feel quite blessed.

    Dora: I have some photos from when you were ill that I look at on occasion. We were so scared for you! It was so hard to feel helpless to do anything to make things better for you during that tough time. And I am so thrilled by the health that you enjoy now! 🙂

  9. AmyB says:

    Jana, I remember listening to your podcast in which you discussed your changing views of this experience. If I recall correctly, you originally attributed your lack of being healed to some moral deficiency on your part. I think that’s the tragic underside of believing in faith healings. If it doesn’t work out, then there must have been a lack of faith or some sort of sin. I just don’t think that’s true. I haven’t been able to reconcile a God that heals one person and lets the next die. If God is that involved, why is our world plagued with war and genocide, and gross mistreatment of women and children? I can live with the mystery of it, and I don’t doubt that faith healings happen, but I also remain skeptical.

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