I have spent 30 years thinking about what I am about to share with you. 30 years ago, I gave birth to a son, one that would change my life in every way here on Earth, and eternally as well. His name is Jeffrey, and it was clear right away that something was wrong after he was born. He “failed to thrive”, which led us into a whole new world that we would call the “medical subculture”.
Jeffrey weighed 4 lbs 10 oz. at birth and over the years of his life he has been diagnosed with: a heart defect, a kidney defect, epilepsy, club feet, inguinal hernias, tethered spine, syringomyelia (fluid-filled pockets along his spine), hypotonic muscles, strabismus (weak eye muscles), parts of his brain missing, cerebral palsy, muscle contractures, severe osteoporosis in hips and legs, tight heel cords, a pilonidal cyst, diabetes, urine retention, and gout. He has a steroid deficiency and growth hormone deficiency.
I have it written down, but offhand I’m not quite sure how many surgeries he’s had, and they include eyes, ears, mouth, toes, feet, heels, spine and bottom. He’s taken medicine every 4-6 hours his whole life. He has almost died twice, once from septic shock and once from pneumonia.
Every single illness he’s had has made us wonder, “Is this the one that will take him? He is confined to a wheelchair, cannot speak, feed or toilet himself, wipe his nose, pull up the covers, make choices for himself. That this has been a stressful life for Jeffrey, my husband and I goes without saying.
And yet, how can it be that he has changed my life forever?
I was not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints when he was born. I was raised as a Christian, but I never felt like I understood the gospel of Jesus Christ, nor did it help me in any way in my life. After Jeffrey was born I began to have the “why” questions: Why was this happening to our precious little boy? Why was this happening in our lives? Were we being punished for poor decisions made when we were youth? Why does God allow such suffering in a baby? Why couldn’t we have had a “normal” child when others that don’t even want a child are blessed with a healthy one? Why is God not helping us? Why does God not love me?
I was taught by some amazing sister missionaries and decided to take what felt like a leap of faith for me, I decided to get baptized. Jeffrey was 5 years old at the time. What really sparked my interest and drew me in was learning about the Plan of Salvation, the Great Plan of Happiness. I learned that there was a point to the experiences we were going through! I learned that there was a plan in place that challenged us and made us grow. I’ll never forget Boyd K. Packer, one of the 12 apostles who has recently passed away, saying in a talk given in April 2012,
No pain will last forever. It is not easy, but life was never meant to be either easy or fair.
It was as if he spoke those words just to me! I wasn’t being punished by these experiences, I was being blessed. I was being trusted to love and care for one of God’s most beloved spirits. Not only does God love Jeffrey very much, he also loves me. Really loves me! We were even blessed after 10 years to have that “normal” child, Jeffrey’s brother Thomas! And in a full-circle moment, Thomas is serving on a mission for our church in Santa Rosa, CA, and was able to baptize a man much like Jeffrey (though less severely mentally challenged).
Jeffrey is a beloved spirit! He is truly the kindest and purest spirit I have known in my mortal life. The miracle to me is that Jeffrey can smile and greet and desire to get through another day with joy and love. That he can grab someone’s hand and want to connect with them, sometimes desperately. That he changes people, without being able to speak a word. He has been my missionary and what I call my “second Savior.” His presence in my life and pure love for me has led me to my first Savior, Jesus Christ. He completely turned my life toward the Lord.
I have only two goals in my life regarding this man who has shown me only Christ-like love, and they are:
- that he should go to bed every night knowing that he is truly loved, and
- that I try to live my life on earth in such a way that I am worthy to live with him again after mortality is over.
I want to live with both my Saviors and I know I can because I know about the Plan of Salvation and what I need to do to be with them again. My gratitude for both is on a cellular level, as is my love and devotion.