During the first weekend in April, and the first weekend of October of each year, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints conducts its respective annual and semiannual General Conference of the Church. Each session of the Conference is replete with uplifting and inspiring messages in word and in music that provide nourishment for the hungering soul, and a cool refreshing drink from the springs of Living Water.
While listening to the messages presented during the 183rd Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ held in April 2013, there was a particular message delivered by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest presiding group within the LDS Church) during the Sunday afternoon session that seemed to resonate within my soul. The title of his message was Lord, I Believe.
“If Thou Canst Believe. . . .”
In his gospel account, Mark recounts the story of a loving father, who perhaps in final desperation, brings his son “which hath a dumb spirit” unto the Master, beseeching Him to have compassion and heal his son. The account is found in Mark 9:17-24:
And one of the multitude answered and said, Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; and wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not. He answereth him, and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you? Bring him unto me. And they brought him unto him: and when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming. And he asked his father, how long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, of a child. And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us. Jesus said unto him, if thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.
“If thou canst do anything, have compassion on us”
It was Amelia Barr, a British novelist, who once said, “It is only in sorrow bad weather masters us; in joy, we face the storm and defy it.” Reflecting back on Monday, 12 April 2010, I believe that I now have some understanding and insight as to what Amelia Barr was endeavoring to convey in her statement. For it was on that day that the storm winds raged, and joy suddenly turned into sorrow.
I was vacationing in Utah at that time and was enjoying the company of my hosts in their home in Cache Valley. The day started out as any ordinary day. I arose from my slumber, thanked the Lord for another day, showered, got dressed, had breakfast with my hosts, and we made plans for the day. I could have never imagined that in just a few short hours, my family and I would experience a dramatic, life-changing event.
As my hosts and I were returning to their home around noon, I received a telephone call from my brother-in-law in Manassas, Virginia. I could sense the anxiousness, frustration, and urgency in his voice, letting me know that something was seriously wrong. He had called to inform me that the life of the older of my two sisters (she was 46 years old at the time) was weighing in the balance. At that time he and she had been married for 19 years, and their son was 11 years old.
I had just spoken to my sister a couple of days prior to this, on Saturday, 10 April 2010. I could tell by her voice that she was tired and maybe even a little concerned about something – perhaps about the upcoming medical procedure she had scheduled, her unemployment situation, her family, or any number of other things – but I never gave it much thought. We talked for a few minutes, and the conversation ended with her telling me that she would call me the following week. How could I have possibly known that the conversation that we had that afternoon would possibly be our last?
My sister had gone to the doctor’s office on the morning of 12 April 2010, for what should have been a “routine” medical procedure. However, during the course of the procedure, she suffered major complications which resulted in her respiratory system crashing. In the midst of all of that happening, she also suffered oxygen deprivation. My brother-in-law reported that at the time that she was medevac to a nearby hospital, she was only breathing two to three breaths per minute on her own.
The voice on the other end of the telephone was frantically pleading for me to get to the hospital as quickly as possible, but my sister was lying helpless in a hospital in Fairfax, Virginia, and I was many miles away in Logan, Utah. The chances of me catching a flight to be there at her side anytime soon seemed to be an impossibility. Although I was in the company of dear friends at that moment, I don’t believe that I have ever felt so helpless and so all alone.
When I arrived back at the home of my friends I immediately called my younger sister to inform her of what had happened. While I was speaking with my sister one of my friends looked up the telephone numbers for the Logan and Salt Lake Temples so that I could call and have my sister and her family’s name placed on the prayer rolls. Although I could not physically be at my sister’s bedside at that moment, there was one thing that I was able to do, and that was to call out to my Heavenly Father in earnest prayer and I called upon my family members to do the same. I believe that at that very moment I could relate to how the father in Mark’s account must have felt, for I too wanted to cry out “if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.”
I was indeed concerned about my sister and how things would turn out, but as I began to commune with the Lord in earnest prayer about the situation, there was a quiet peace and assurance that came over me to remind me that “. . . all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Neither I nor my family may have understood why all of this had happened, but one thing we do know for sure is that God always has a purpose and a plan for all things that happen in our lives. Because of that calm assurance, I was able to continue throughout the day and rest peacefully that night knowing that God had the situation totally under His control. He did indeed have compassion on us, and He did help us by reminding us that He was in total control.
The next morning I received a telephone call from my older brother informing me that the doctors did not give our sister much hope of surviving. Her breathing was being totally controlled and regulated by a ventilator, she had a feeding tube in place, and she was not responding to anyone or anything. The doctors’ report was that she would be in a vegetative state for the remainder of her life. They also reported that we could expect her to be on the ventilator for at least 6 months or longer and they were strongly encouraging my brother-in-law to pull the plug and end it all. That was the doctors’ report and diagnosis, but Jesus who is the Master Physician said otherwise.
“Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief”
I remained in Utah until the weekend and then headed back home to Maryland, and as soon as I was able I went to the hospital to see my sister. When I walked into her hospital room my heart sank as my physical eyes beheld all of the different machines and gadgetry that were being used to sustain her life. The feeling of hopelessness and loneliness revisited me. My mind was flooded with such thoughts as, “If only I could take the pain and suffering for her”, “If only I could turn back the hands of time to just a few short days prior to all of this happening to her, then everything would be alright.”
It was at that moment that the Lord reminded me that my focus was not in the right place. I was allowing my physical eyes to dictate what appeared to be, and not exercising my faith and looking at the situation from an eternal perspective. The Lord let me know that even though it appeared that machines were sustaining my sister’s life, the real truth of the matter is that it was the Lord, the giver and sustainer of life that was keeping her. It was as if I could hear the Savior say at that moment, “if thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.” And I know that my response must have been, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”
I was then reminded of the atonement of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Two thousand years ago a loving Savior saw that we were broken and hurting and in dire need of healing. He knew that there was nothing that we could do of our own accord to make ourselves whole again. Because of His TREMENDOUS love for us, His children, He did not want us to suffer in pain and agony, and so he took all of our sicknesses, all of our pain, all of our sorrow, and even our death sentence upon Himself. He became broken and spilled out – the healing balm of Gilead – that would make us whole again.
Seven years have now come and gone and my beloved sister remains in a vegetative state in a skilled nursing home in Arlington, Virginia. I truly believe that it has been nothing short of obedience to the Lord, fasting, and earnest prayer, and the everlasting love, tender mercies, and amazing grace of the Lord that has allowed my sister to still be with us at this time. She may not be able to respond to us audibly and with her usual smile, but I do believe that she is aware of the love of family that surrounds her and the continuous prayers that are offered daily on her behalf.
Some may look at an incident such as this as a major setback in life. Some, having to face these trials and adversities, may have thrown up their hands and given up all hope. But I am reminded of my sister’s own words that she wrote in one of her last emails to me before all of this occurred. She wrote, “Some have told us to give up. I said “GIVE UP ON WHAT, GOD? My question to them was, did God give up on you? He did not have to carry His cross, be nailed to it, whipped all night long, pierced in His side, made a joke of, and die for your sins or my sins. Giving up is not an OPTION.”
To her words, I add a hardy AMEN! Giving up for neither me nor any of my family is an option. The Lord has brought our loved one and all of us too far to leave us now. He has never given up on us and we are not about to give up on Him. I can still hear the Master saying, “if thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.”
Keith L. Brown
Keith L. Brown is a convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, having been born and raised Baptist. He was studying to be a Baptist minister at the time of his conversion to the LDS faith. He was baptized on 10 March 1998 in Reykjavik, Iceland while serving on active duty in the United States Navy in Keflavic, Iceland. He currently serves as the First Assistant to the High Priest Group for the Annapolis, Maryland Ward. He is a 30-year honorably retired United States Navy Veteran.