I was born with a congenital disease called spondylolisthesis: a condition where one or more bones in the spine slide over the bone(s) below it. This can cause severe pain, numbness, weakness, and restricted movement. My first surgery took place in 1968 when I was 15 years old. During this eight -hour surgery, doctors did a spinal fusion to halt the forward movement of two of my lower vertebra. After eight weeks in the hospital, my recovery was unsuccessful. It was necessary to redo the operation the following year, resulting in reasonable success.
A third operation was required when I was 21 years old. I was also married and had one child. This surgery arrested the disease but did not create a smooth opening for the nerve roots. As a result, I had an enormous amount of pain in my lower back and legs, requiring me to use large amounts of prescription narcotics. My father hoped that I would some day take over the custom steel fabrication business that he had started, but the harder I worked, the more medications I had to take. I hoped for change.
When I was 24, a family friend invited my family to listen to the missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. After six or seven weeks, we were baptized. When I learned that the priesthood could provide blessings for health and for comfort (Doctrine & Covenants 35: 8-9), I asked my home teachers to come to my home. They blessed me that I would be able “to deal with my situation properly.” This was not the blessing I wanted. After a couple of years, I asked for another priesthood administration, but I received a similar blessing. I was more than a little disappointed: I wanted to be healed.
When our family doctor informed me of a new clinic in another city that solely assisted people who suffered from severe chronic pain, I could hardly wait to go. After a few weeks, I was able to meet with the intake nurse and discuss every detail of my discomfort. After three hours, she looked at me and announced that the clinic's programs could not offer me any treatment. She explained: “You are not abusing yourself with prescription, street drugs, or alcohol; you are not abusive to your wife or children [now four children]; you are functioning socially and not suffering depression; you work every day and care for your family.” Then, she concluded: “You are already at the place we want our applicants to be when they finish our program.” I was heartbroken.
That's when I remembered the priesthood blessings I had already received. My Father in Heaven had answered my prayers and had given me the help I needed “to deal with my situation properly.” I now understood my first miracle of healing.
Many years passed, and the pain in my back grew with each day. Since I was attending teachers’ college at the University of Western Ontario, my doctor and I agreed that I would take enough medication to remove 60% of the pain and thus not affect my ability to study. I was able to begin a new career in teaching high school. After my first day, I thought, “Wow, what a wonderful job.”
As time went on, the pain increased to a point where I could not stand. I would fall down in the halls of the school and in my classes. It became so intense that I had to leave teaching. I returned to my doctor and requested another operation. Due to the amount of accumulated scar tissue around the nerves, he said that it was impossible to do any more surgery on me.
I was devastated. The only thing left was to go on permanent disability. This was not an easy thing since I believed in hard work and taking care of my family. As time went on, I had to use a cane and sometimes a wheelchair to get around. In my heart, I was getting ever more bitter about my situation.
A few more years passed, and I took my daily prescriptions. I also had large amounts of other emergency medication that my wife could inject as needed. I saw my life as just survival. That was my life... I thought.
One morning, I woke up with an enormous amount of pain. I could hardly move. I rolled out of bed onto the floor and climbed up the bed to get to my feet. Using my cane, I made my way to the living room where I usually said my morning prayers. I could barely function. As part of my prayer that morning, I told my Father in Heaven that physically and emotionally I could no longer handle the enormous amounts of chronic pain I had suffered for 50 years. I didn't ask Him to take it away. I just told Him that I could no longer handle my pain and my doubts about my purpose in life. Then, it was like turning on the light in a dark room. Suddenly I was standing in the light. THERE WAS NO PAIN!
I wanted to know what had happened. Then through inspiration, I realized that I didn't need the pain any more. I had learned the lessons that I needed to know. It was not enough that I was not using drugs and alcohol. It was not enough that I was not abusive to my wife and children. It was not enough that I was not depressed. The problem was that I had a bad attitude towards my fellow man that needed correction. I remembered that just shortly before this prayer I had decided on a couple of adjustments that I needed to make about my life towards other people. One adjustment was to realize that every person suffers, something. The second adjustment was that most people are doing their best. It did not matter whether their suffering was physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual or for a family member. I am not to judge; I am here to love and help others (Matthew 22: 39). My Father in Heaven knew what it would take for me to learn this lesson. My pain had been a tool used to make me a better person. This was my second healing miracle.
After this healing, I offered a real, heartfelt, soulful prayer. My Father in Heaven didn't need to use my physical disability and pain to learn the importance of prayer. As Elder Donald L. Hallstrom taught “While it is good to pray for and work for physical protection from healing during our mortal existence, our supreme focus should be on the spiritual miracles that are available to all of God’s children” (Donald L. Hallstrom “Has the Day of Miracles Ceased?” Ensign 2017)
Today, I take nothing for pain. I can do what I want, age appropriate of course. It took me a long time to learn the lessons that I, a stubborn man, needed to learn. Now, I try harder to be more understanding of my brothers and sisters with whom I share this earth. I have a testimony that God lives. He desires nothing more than to have us grow and develop so that we may return to His presence. I testify that Jesus is the Christ and that He has an enduring love for each of us. So, soften your hearts and let Him guide and assist you through this life.