LDS World: A man who is thankful for cancer

Published: Sunday, Nov. 14 2010 7:00 a.m. MST

He attended the U.S. Air Force Academy, was always physically active and usually met others with a wry smile. Even-tempered and kind, he is a genuine, good man who loves his family and they love him. We use the expression "firm in the faith." It perfectly describes Paul.

Sunday when he stood to bear his testimony to our ward he was, inevitably, a changed man. Cancer — brain cancer — has a way of doing that to you.

Paul walked slowly to the stand at a determined pace. As he clasped the podium, he struggled to find and deliver the words he so desired to speak. He explained that the tumor was pressing on his brain and wrecking havoc. Occassionally, after garbled words, he chuckled. Then he would bear down in a gallant attempt to capture and deliver his message. He spoke slowly, simply, powerfully.

"I am thankful for my cancer." Can someone truly be grateful for a disease that is ravaging both body and brain, impairing speech and thought, and capable of taking life? Recall the Prophet Joseph Smith's affirmation, "(Afflictions) have been my common lot all the days of my life; ... and I feel like Paul, (the apostle) to glory in tribulation."

I admit, I often question the purpose, the meaning of suffering. Is there any value in adversity?

Paul, deliberately and methodically continued, "It (my cancer) has allowed me to draw closer to my Savior, Jesus Christ."

Remember the survivor of the Martin Handcart Company who, after listening to others criticize the venture, stood and described, "I ... looked back many times to see who was pushing my cart, but my eyes saw no one. I knew then that the angels of God were there. Was I sorry that I chose to come by handcart? No. Neither then nor any minute of my life since. The price we paid to become acquainted with God was a privilege to pay, and I am thankful that I was ... in the Martin Handcart Company."

In 1853, Brigham Young stated, "Joseph (Smith) could not have been perfected ... if he had lived a thousand years and led this people and preached the gospel, without persecution." Addressing the crowd, "Do you think that persecution has done us good? Yes ... let it come, for it will give me experience. ... Do you suppose I should have known what I now know, had I not been persecuted? ... (In adversity) we have seen the works of the Lord." Suffering allows us the privilege of seeing the Lord active in our lives.

Adversity also has the power to bond us to Christ through his example and through shared experience. Wilford Woodruff described "our Savior ... as an example for his followers. ... The Son of God ... (had) to descend to the earth and pass through what he did — ... persecuted, afflicted, scorned, a hiss and byword to almost all the world. ... There is something about all this that appears sorrowful; but it seemed necessary for the Savior to descend below all things that He might ascend above all things. So it has been with other men."

Paul's testimony continued, "(My suffering) has allowed me to glimpse eternity. I can never be removed from the love of my Savior." Brigham Young witnessed, "Were it not that the Lord turns us into these difficulties, and leads us into these trials, we could not know how to be glorified and crowned in His presence." Orson F. Whitney affirmed, "No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God."

With short, simple phrases, agonizingly drawn, Paul delivered a profound and commanding tutorial:  Adversity has the capacity to propel us into the arms of Jesus Christ, to help us come to know him as our mentor, our comforter and our exemplar. I admit, I share President John Taylor's sentiments, "I do not desire trials; I do not desire affliction." Yet, he adds, "Let it come, for we are the Saints of the most High God, and all is well, all is peace, all is right and will be, both in time and in eternity."

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