One of my favorite quotes from the movie “Anne of Green Gables” is when Anne tells her adopted mother, Marilla, she is in the “depths of despair” after accidentally dying her hair green. When Marilla says she can’t relate, Anne asks her to try and picture it in her mind.
“Can you even imagine being in the depths of despair?”
“No I cannot,” Marilla responds firmly. And then, a beautiful teaching moment: “To despair is to turn your back on God.”
Life is full of trials. I tend to be one of those overreactors, such as Anne, who falls apart when things go wrong. But life really gets put into perspective when you witness people close to you having very valid reasons to be in the “depths of despair” and yet are somehow able to find peace and comfort during their struggles, such as three courageous friends of mine who have battled cancer over the past few years.
When my dear friend Melissa Taylor was waiting for the phone call to confirm the return of her breast cancer, she said she was a ball of nerves.
Melissa Taylor smiles after undergoing treatment for breast cancer. | Provided by Melissa Taylor
“I felt dread,” she said, recalling the experience. She's now in remission. “I didn’t want to hear the diagnosis.”
When she was told the cancer had indeed come back for the second time, she said something unusual happened. Instead of initially breaking down and feeling overwhelmed with the weight of the situation, she said she had the most overwhelming feeling of gratitude wash over her.
“What was so amazing, is that the feeling of gratitude wasn’t mine,” she explained tearfully. “It was as if it was gifted to me. I felt grateful that they were able to find it. That is the Savior’s enabling power. To give us what we can’t possibly conjure up for ourselves, in the moment we need it.”
There were still dark times. “Little by little, my mind began to write fearful stories of what my future could look like,” Melissa said. “I bought into that fear, and soon felt like I was in bondage.”
One day, my sweet friend sat crying with her husband, vocalizing these fears. She had hit a low point, and didn’t see a way out of it.
Her loving husband quietly whispered, “I can be there for you, but I can’t go there with you.”
It was at that moment, when she felt that no one could possibly understand what she was going through, that an image of the Savior came vividly into her mind.
“I realized the Savior had the power to release those bonds of fear. He is always on our side, pleading to the Father for us, just as sincerely as we are. He feels what we are feeling. He is our advocate. And he is always there.”
That is the same confirmation my friend Lindsey Preston had when her 1-year-old daughter, Harper, was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor last year.
“Everything can seem so overwhelming and scary at times,” Lindsey said. “You can feel so alone and forgotten. But if you remember Heavenly Father loves you and has a plan for you, it can bring peace even in the most discouraging of times.”
Harper is happy as can be. She has an incredible attitude toward her cancer. | Carmen Rasmusen Herbert
Harper has had brain surgery, bone marrow transplants and is just finishing her last round of chemotherapy. Multiple complications have arisen during Harper’s treatment, and Lindsey has spent countless hours in the hospital by her daughter’s side.
“I know Heavenly Father is aware of Harper and the things we are going through. He knows of our heartache and pain," she said. "But I know there is a reason we are experiencing these things and he will bring us peace if we turn to him.”
Turning to God is not always easy. When the worst seems to happen, it’s easy to ask, “why?” But it is only when we choose to turn to God instead of turn from him that we can receive his miraculous healing power, as our good family friend and ward member Jarem Hallows has seen.
Jarem started an inspirational blog called positiveforcancer.com when he received a “positive” diagnosis for cancer several months ago.
“I don’t know why diagnostic jargon is what it is, but I actually like the term Positive For Cancer,” Jarem writes. “My feelings toward cancer are pretty simple — it is a Monster… I will undergo a major mouth surgery, radiation of the mouth and throat, and chemotherapy — the cancer treatment triumvirate. But the most prolific part of my treatment is positivity.
“The outcome we are hoping for is to be cancer free and to remain that way the rest of my life. But my quest is to do as (Elder) Neal Maxwell described by partaking of a bitter cup without becoming bitter.”
Jarem Hallows, who was recently diagnosed with cancer, poses with his family. | Kyle Decker
Sleepless nights accompanied by excruciating pain, endless hospital visits, feeding tubes and the inability to even swallow liquids have been just a handful of the daily monsters that Jarem has had to face. He is a loving father to five beautiful children and a husband to an amazing woman, Camilla, who is “fighting this cancer like it’s her own.”
On Sunday, Jarem stood in front of our congregation and bore a powerful testimony of hope and faith in our Savior Jesus Christ. He spoke of the humbling knowledge that our Savior chose to suffer “pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind … that his bowels may be filled with mercy… that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people” (Alma 7:11-12).
Jarem spoke of the incredible and overwhelming peace he and Camilla have felt during times when they should have felt despair.
“For those of you going through something like this for the first time, those types of (despairing) feelings can be expected,” Jarem wrote on his blog. “Don’t feel guilty for how you feel or where your mind goes. Don’t feel guilty. But don’t let those emotions take root. They aren’t from you and they aren’t going to be you.”
“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (see 2 Timothy 1:7).
Relying on God during the depths of despair can do miraculous things. It can turn grief into gratitude. It can turn fear into faith. It can turn panic into peace. It can turn anger into acceptance of God’s will and timing.
“Some of these trials in life are too heavy for a human to bear,” Melissa told me. “But we have a Savior that bears them so we don’t have to. If we believe him, they will be lifted and lightened, even so that ‘you cannot feel them upon your backs’ (Mosiah 24:14). I know this to be true.”