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Reader voices: Combating a chronic illness at Christmastime through the Atonement

Many must endure and cope with chronic pain and illness. The Christmas season is especially difficult for me as I deal with a disorder that doesn’t respond to medication. I continue now, as I have in the past, to seek relief.

One of the ways I would do this is by taking walks with my husband at the break of dawn. The gentle falling snow and the glittery sparkles of the Christmas season helped to dull my mental pain. The shimmer of the shining lights that accompanied the season also provided solace from a silent storm.

Working on creative projects also helps to divert my agony. My ailment during the Christmas season has often been absorbed in undertaking extensive sewing projects. Christmas has become tolerable — even bringing temporary joy — through camouflaging it as I meticulously would apply sequins to a glittery silver table decoration and sewed matching nightshirts for the family. Lining up in front of the Christmas tree for a family photo is a picturesque sight and brings a positive distraction from mental pain.

Last year at Christmastime, my husband and I received a mission call for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

With family surrounding us and with joyful tears, on Dec. 29, 2015, the call came to my husband and I to serve in the Missouri St. Louis Mission.

I anticipated that the mission wouldn’t need to be used as a coping method for me, not this Christmas. I figured this Christmas gift of a mission call would be one of caring — caring for those who were searching and seeking to bring Jesus Christ into their lives. Our mission would be full of contentment and happiness. It would be as simple as Elder Jeffrey Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles shared: “to love and care and pray for the people you are assigned” (see “Emissaries to the Church,” October 2016).

I was mistaken. It takes survival techniques to be a missionary, especially for one who suffers. The agony did not leave, and I found I needed to gain strength beyond measure to carry me through serving a mission. The mission president contemplated giving us an early honorable release because of my distress. My husband served by my side: loving, caring, supporting and bringing emotional sustenance.

And Christmas is coming once again. We are still serving. I’ve learned to teach in pain and to love, serve, write and to study. I have learned to cope, and I have learned to care for others as a full-time senior missionary alongside my husband.

We have served investigators ,and it is an honor to serve Jesus Christ as “when you are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God” (see Mosiah 2:17).

Celebrating the birth of the Savior is my greatest distraction from pain. My husband and I have felt service from one who has given the gift of service to all mankind, from our Savior Jesus Christ. He agonized over my pain before and during my mission, and he has buoyed me up. Through his Atonement, he suffered for our sins, and he suffered for our pain, my pain. I am not alone, nor is my husband.

We never walk alone. President Thomas S. Monson said, “You will one day stand aside and look at your difficult times, and you will realize that he was always there beside you”(see "We Never Walk Alone," October 2013).

I have agonized through the years, even as a missionary. My pain and the survival skills I have accumulated are part of me. The school of learning to cope has become my abode, a sweet dwelling place of accomplishments. The priceless gifts and talents — some of which have been accrued through suffering — bring distractions and solace from a silent storm.

The Savior’s love for me was and is a splendid diversion. Christmases will long be remembered.

Jelean Reynolds is an accomplished author. She is a mother to five children and a grandmother to 19 beautiful grandchildren.