Episode #14: Published Feb 25, 2019
When Jon was asked to turn off his flashlight in the depths of a cave during a youth activity, he had an experience with darkness and light that stuck with him the rest of his life. That dark cave and its lesson in opposition became a spiritual anchor to Jon when he and his wife Emily were faced with the real ups and downs of a life-threatening illness.
View a full transcript of the episode below.
KARYN: Hey Friends, KaRyn here. Before we get to the stories in this week's episode, I wanted to ask a quick favor of you. If you're getting something from these stories that we're sharing each week, would you take a quick minute and write a review on iTunes for us?
Every written review helps this show to show up on iTunes for more people who could use a little storytelling magic in their week. We really appreciate it. Welcome to "This is the Gospel," an LDS Living podcast where we feature real stories from real people who are practicing and living their faith every day. I'm your host, KaRyn Lay. In this week's episode, we're bringing you a story all about the ways the light and the dark move together in the practice of our faith. It's a theme that I think most of us will recognize in our own spiritual lives. Being human means that there are going to be times of palpable darkness when the worry fear or pain may feel like they blind us to anything good or possible around us. In my weakest moments, it feels devastating. But in my wisest moments, I understand that these experiences are the key to more fully recognizing the light of the Savior when His hand reaches to meet me in that darkness. Our story comes from Jon who had an experience when he was a young man that taught him about the delicate balance between light and dark, a lesson that has proven invaluable as he and his wife Emily battle a disease that often threatens their faith.
JON: When I was 17 years old, I went on a youth activity to a, it was a cave. We went spelunking for a day in northern Alabama. And it was a fun experience, right, we got the opportunity to crawl around and just experience or explore this cave. And after about a half-day of exploring this cave, we got to a point where our guides sat us down and started speaking with us and just-- he may have been trying to share some sort of object lesson or just kind of teach us something. I don't remember the exact story that he was trying to share. But what I do remember is he asked all of us to sit still and be quiet and turn off our headlamps. And all of us turned our headlamps off and we went from being able to see what was around us, to complete darkness. And the darkness at that moment was very palpable. It was something that you could feel, no matter how hard you tried to stare at your hand in front of your face, or no matter how hard you tried to squint or just let as much light in as possible, no light was was in those depths. It was a very memorable experience. I felt this darkness as a young man and hadn't really ever experienced anything in life up to that point. And, you know, since then, went on to college and into a career and my wife and I were married and we had three children.
But a few years ago, over the period of about two years, some of that darkness started to creep in. People shared their light with us and it lifted us up and helped us. So it all kind of started one day when I was I was sitting at my desk at work and I got a phone call from my wife. And it seemed somewhat of a normal phone call and told me that she was at the emergency room and she needed me to show up as soon as possible. That had happened a few other times, so it wasn't you know, being a father of three boys and having a pretty active family, that kind of thing is is not something that really shakes you. So I just okay, thought I'd get my car and start heading south towards the emergency room. And once I arrived, I walked in and the scene was almost in slow motion. The doctor was telling me what was going on. He mentioned that they had found something in her chest and they weren't quite sure what it was but it was causing other health issues for her and she needed almost immediate medical attention. I was processing all of this and I think it was kind of a moment of shock, I started to feel a little lightheaded and was starting to get a little woozy about this situation that was facing us, facing my wife. So I sat down, and I turned to the nurse and said, "Nurse, do you have any ice?" And when I said those words, I immediately started to fall over and I passed out, I passed out completely. And next thing I remember was waking up in a hospital bed next to my wife. Some help I was, I had just tried to process this idea that my wife was facing something pretty grave. And I really didn't know what to do. Previous to that I'd just lost a good friend from work to cancer. And while he was going through this trial, I thought to myself, you know, how do his wife and his his three children deal with this? And how are they going to make it through? And I think all of that, because it had just happened, was so vivid in my mind that when this hit, it was oh no, this is my life now, this is what we have to go through. But yeah, it was this, this unknown and that's where this spiritual darkness started to creep in, where we didn't know what was going on, we were running off of a lot of adrenaline, you know, just get through one moment after the next. And I feel like that period of about-- for about a period of two, three weeks, it was just these kind of clips of our lives. And we move from one clip to the next, with really not much thought for what was coming. It was just very reactive on our part. We tried to get a diagnosis and we were basically told that it's part of a subset of cancer, which is is not very comforting to hear that there's various options you're dealing with because the treatments are so different. We had heard there was going to be a chemotherapy regimen, but we weren't certain what it was going to be. One morning, it was a Sunday morning, about 3 a.m, a bit of the light came through. I woke up and was wide awake. And the first thing that came to my mind, just as vivid clear as day, the words "T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma." So the first thing I did was I looked it up, is this a real thing? And it was, it was a real thing. I pulled Emily aside and I just said hey, "I want to tell you something. This morning, the words T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma came to my mind. I think that this could be what we're dealing with." And her response was immediately you're crazy. Like what are you thinking? Is she going to go back to her doctors at this point and say, "Yeah, my husband figured it out. I have T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, you can stop running tests, you just give me that treatment." So where this comes through again, another phone call that I received while I was sitting at my desk at work. And it was a call from Emily and she shared with me that the diagnosis had come back. And that it was T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma. And the only thing that I could really gather from that was that we have, you know, a loving Heavenly Father who wanted to share a bit of light with me, as the primary caregiver for my wife. I think he wanted me to know that when we did get a diagnosis, that's what we were dealing with. And so we could kind of, I don't want to say check that box, but we could have the reassurance that we knew what we were dealing with and we could come up with a game plan with our doctor.
Initially, it was going to be a four-month treatment, she would have been finished by the end of that year, 2015 and life would have been back to normal. But because it was a lymphoma that behaved like a leukemia, she had to have an adult leukemia chemotherapy regimen, which changed everything, it made it very difficult. There were several setbacks, and it just was something that caused a lot of confusion for us and it made life difficult. But people around us that helped us out and lifted us up, made it so much easier. I distinctly remember one instance, and this was just, it was perfect for me. Because I'm the kind of person that when it comes to asking for help, I'm probably the last person to do so. And having to deal with this situation of caring for my wife and my children and in getting us through, it was mostly adrenaline. We would go from one thing to the next, whether it was doctor visit, blood transfusion, diagnosis meeting with the doctors, biopsy, you name it, it was just one thing to the next. And the people around us are the ones that really lifted us up. And there was a Sunday at church when a man in our congregation came up to me and he basically just told me, "Look, John, my wife and I are going to watch your kids this Friday. And you guys go out and enjoy an evening together." And for me, that was amazing. To hear somebody just offer this without asking what we needed, without asking, you know, how they could help. They just offered and they did it. And I can't think of any greater commodity in this life than time, you know, to just spend time with my wife who was, at this point in time, was suffering. So we went to this resort in Central Virginia with some friends for a weekend away. And we thought that it was just going to be a good opportunity to get away from everything. We really had a good night and then we went to bed and in the middle of the night, she had these throbbing, deep, bone pains. So we had to go to the emergency room. And we spent really the rest of that weekend in a hospital at the campus of University of Virginia. And a buddy of mine from work, who knew I was concerned about work and what was going on, he out of the blue called me up and just asked how I was doing. And, you know, this was on the way home from the hospital. And he called just to say, Hey, you know, John, I was thinking about you, I hope you're doing well. And I don't think he realizes how much that meant to me. It was just a quick, how are you doing? How's Emily doing? And not just that, but you know, everything's gonna be fine at work, you're going to be okay. And it gave me a bit of, kind of brightness and hope for the future. Which was, which was just wonderful to have. Her platelets were really low, and they were so low that they weren't even registering. And your platelets are what help you clot, you know, help you stop bleeding when you bleed, but her body just was rejecting it. They got to the point where they were saying, okay, well, we just have to keep trying. But it was kind of a Hail Mary, you know, it was like, "Okay, this may work, you know, let's give it a shot." And even in the hospital, she was not accepting these new platelets and she wasn't accepting the blood transfusions, and it just was not working. So, you know, after we had received the bad news from the doctor, basically that things were getting pretty grave and if the bleeding wasn't controlled, it was going to be a bad situation, right? And we're talking, you know, she was already kind of on death's door at that point, but it became worse. That's when this darkness set in. The hope that we had throughout this whole process was gone. And the very realization of us losing Emily was right in front of us. So we had stayed together for a while, I mean it was a dear moment us, and we cried together, we talked about how this was it and we seemed okay with it. Which was difficult to comprehend but at the same time, it was just a lot of darkness for me. And it may have been because I, up to that point had hoped that everything would work out. And in this moment, it seemed like it wasn't going to. So I left the room and I was in the hallway and I didn't want to tell Emily about this, but I was calling her parents and letting them know that they should probably get to Virginia as soon as possible, because it could be maybe that day, maybe the next day. And they immediately dropped everything and started on their way. And it was a feeling of being very alone, it was a feeling of extreme sadness and going back to that cave as a young man and in that very palpable darkness. That's what I experienced again, that this time, there was no just turning the headlamp back on and moving forward. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I think so often we think about the idea that everything's just going to work out, and that we have this understanding of who we are and where we came from and where we're going. But even in that moment, that kind of escaped me. And there was very little that I could do to grasp the light.In this moment of extreme darkness, there was a bit of a moment of clarity. It was a New Testament, so this is one of my favorite stories from the New Testament, it popped into my head. And this had been something that had kind of played top of mind for for the, you know, year, year and a half process. And it was the story when the woman in the crowd that touches the Savior's robe and he feels somebody touch his robe, and basically asks, "Who did this?" And it was this woman who had suffered from an issue of her blood. I don't know what exactly it was, but that related to my situation. And that that scripture story came to life for me. I just immediately, in my head, went to the thought that my wife was like her and the faith that she had shown in the fight that she had put forth and everything that she had done up to that point was very similar. And maybe in that moment, she needed me to share that light with her. I don't doubt for a second that it was my father in heaven communicating with me, and just letting me know, this is what you need to do. So I had this impression that I needed to give her a blessing. And when I shared that with her, it was like, yeah, perfect. That's exactly what we need to do right now. My mom and dad were in the area and I called them, they came to the hospital. And my father and I gave a blessing to Emily and the blessing was short, it was only like five words. And basically what it was is I commanded her to be healed. And there was a power in that room, I think it was Emily's faith. I think it was her desire to be able to receive this blessing, to be able to call upon her father in heaven and accept that we were just called upon that day to help her. It was really interesting how the next day transpired. She started to accept these transfusions. And the next morning when the doctor came in, he looked at her charts and this is an experienced person who'd been practicing medicine for decades. And he came in and just looked at us, kind of puzzled, and said, "Are you religious people?" And we said, "Yeah, we're religious." And he just was interested in what the change was, that this very dire circumstance ended up working out. And it doesn't always work out, it could have been the opposite. It could have not worked out for us and it does not work out for so many. But what I want to share in telling this story is that when it seems like all is lost, and we're completely consumed with this darkness, we just need to remember that there is a way for light to come back in. The light does not have to be overshadowed completely by darkness. And there's no guarantees with this process, right? We're about three years removed from when this happened and there's no guarantees in the future. There's no guarantees of what the future holds with her health. But the reality is, we've been given the gift of life for at least two and a half years. And that's something that we'll forever be grateful for, the recognition that all the people that helped us throughout the process. Our friends, our neighbors, members of our congregation at church, coworkers, everything that they did to help, everything that they did to lift us. But most importantly, what God did to help us. He came through. I know that there are there situations where it doesn't work out this way for people. I know that it's not always this clear. And I know that sometimes it ends up to be much worse than what we dealt with. But I think that the lesson learned for me is that there is hope. And there's brightness, in even the darkest of corners. In recognizing what darkness can be, I want to truly follow my savior and have that light with me all the time.
KARYN LAY: That was Jon. We're so grateful to him and to his wife Emily for sharing such a deeply personal time with us. You know, when our team gets together to decide what to include in each episode, we sometimes worry about the number of stories we share that involve tragedy, illness, and loss. We wonder to ourselves, is a story only valuable if it involves the most extreme moments in our lives? Honestly, I don't think so. Because I know that there are so many quiet, worthy moments that highlight the best parts of our discipleship beyond the extreme. But I do think as John's story illustrates, that often it's during those times when the darkness seems deepest that our transformation through the contrasting light of the gospel can be most memorable. It's that flip of a light switch in a dark room or the flash of lightning in a black stormy sky or the transfer of energy from the touch of the Master's robe. We share these stories with each other because they're universal reminders that light conquers dark and that Christ is the source of all lasting and true transformation. That's it for this episode of This is the Gospel. Thank you again to John for sharing his story and faith and thank you for listening.
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