A Valentine’s Day Tribute to my Leggings (and my husband)

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I hate wearing jeans. They are leg prison. They are an unnecessary form of oppression. They are stupid.

So I mostly wear leggings. Years ago, my grandma got me the world’s most comfortable leggings ever from White House Black Market. There is not a softer legging in existence, I’m sure of it. I sported those black leggings so much that I wore holes into the knees, and inevitably those once-tiny holes stretched to frisbee-sized ones. Even though they are now unacceptable to wear in public, I still wear them around the house. I’m just not ready to retire those babies.

Months and months ago I voiced my utter sadness over the dwindling leggings. My husband heard and he obviously took note…

Because today for Valentine’s Day Brad surprised me with a package from…you guessed it…White House Black Market.  

A NEW PAIR OF THE WORLD’S MOST COMFORTABLE LEGGINGS!

It’s truly one of the most thoughtful gifts I have ever received. Every time I comfortably lounge in those perfectly crafted leggings, I will thank the heavens for a thoughtful husband who, gesture upon gesture, day after day, has demonstrated his love for me in the purest yet simplest of ways.  

This post isn’t really about leggings; it’s about love. I love you, Brad. I’m one lucky jeans-shunner.

And to my new black leggings:  I promise to love you until you are stretched so thin you barely conceal my booty. 

Tuning out the Negative Voices in my Head

c0bfab5e-4177-465a-8726-9fa8fcdf39c2The negative self-talk has been particularly loud this past week.

Phrases like these have bombarded my mind:

“You’re useless.”

“You’re a bad mom.”

“You’re falling short in every aspect of your life.”

“Why do you even try?”

I’ve given these words way too much power by even listening at all, so the voices—they continue to taunt and harass and demand my attention.

But I hereby vow to tune out all the negative feedback I inadvertently give myself. It isn’t healthy or helpful.

I have a plan and I intend to be proactive about implementing it.

First, I need to replace those negative phrases with uplifting ones.

“You’re doing the best you know how right now.”

“No one can love Milo quite like you can.”

“God is proud of every effort, no matter how small.”

“Keep trying! You got this!”  

Second, I need to remember that my worth in the sight of God is not contingent on what I accomplish—or don’t accomplish. His love is so pure and without condition. It is, I dare say, the most constant, steady, unfailing truth in existence.

I need to remember that when I try to talk myself into feeling like a failure.

Elder Bruce C. Hafen said, “We never have more value in the Lord’s sight than when we are feeling completely worthless.”

The Father and His Son are ready to pour out Their love for us the second we are ready to listen.

I’m ready now. I hope you are too.

Celebrating Two Years of Milo & Motherhood

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It is officially birthday month for my Milo, and I can’t believe he will be TWO.

To put into words how much I love this little human really is impossible. He is my purpose, my world, my peace, and my absolute joy. I have learned much (and failed much) these past two years as I’ve navigated my role as mother to this insanely cute wild child.

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I have learned that he who screams loudest is in charge.

I have learned that a spoonful of chocolate syrup helps the medicine go down.

I have learned that there is no such thing as peeing in private anymore.

I have learned that sometimes bribery is the only way.

I have learned that fresh air is good for his soul and good for my sanity.

I have learned all the words to the Paw Patrol theme song. No job’s too big, no pup’s too small!

I have learned that a leak-proof sippy cup is a rare find indeed.

I have learned that bananas are the worst possible car seat snack.

And that you can never have enough baby wipes on hand.

I have learned to embrace the crazy train that is us at church.

I have learned to hide my contact lens case from little pilfering hands.

I have learned that I am ⅛ as patient as Daniel Tiger’s mom.

I have learned that I’m not cut out to be the “strict” parent…and neither is my husband 🙂

I have learned that nothing heals the soul quite like a hug from your toddler.

I have learned that children are forgiving and gracious and close to heaven.

I have learned that I am 100% unqualified for this dream job of mine and also 100% divinely helped.

Most of all, I have learned that God gives us—imperfect mortals—an infinite capacity to love.

A few weeks ago Milo grabbed my face in his hands, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Mommy happy.”

It wasn’t a question; it was a statement. I am happy, and he’s the reason why.

Then he pointed back at himself and said, “Milo happy.”

Happiness will be my forever wish for the boy who made me a mom.

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Why it’s Okay if your Only New Year’s Resolution is to Just Survive

It’s that time of year again. Gym memberships are purchased. Quotes from the best self-help lit circulate. We vow to ourselves (and sometimes to the public) to make big changes.

“This will be my year,” we say.

I am a goal setter myself—and a HUGE dreamer. I always have been. I love making New Year’s resolutions. I love the metaphorical reset. I thrive on the idea of a fresh start.

But the past six weeks have robbed me of all ambition, motivation, and drive.  

I have been stuck in “survival” mode. It’s like I can barely keep my head above water, like I am doing only the bare minimum, and even that sucks all the life out of me. Tell me I’m not alone.

I think we all find ourselves in a place like that at some point. Usually, it’s emotionally or spiritually. Sometimes it’s physically. For me, during the month of December, it was all three.

I have been more physically sick than ever. Despite the festivities of Christmas time, I can count on one hand the number of times I actually got out of bed. I didn’t make gingerbread houses. I didn’t admire the lights at Temple Square. I didn’t play in the snow with my toddler.  I didn’t make it to holiday parties or deliver gifts to neighbors or attend church on the Sunday before Christmas. All I did was survive.

In fact, my daily to-do list for December consisted of these two items only:

1.) Keep my son alive

2.) Keep myself alive

The physical anguish has also taken a toll on me spiritually and emotionally. I have never felt more like a failure. Weird, right? To feel like a failure for being sick. I know it’s not my fault, but I feel too weak to build the mental dam that can block the self-deprecating thoughts from flooding in.

I am wracked with acute guilt for the mother I want to be, but can’t. I want to take Milo outside and together freeze our buns off while building a snowman. I want to chase him around the living room and barely avoid stubbing my toes on his inconveniently placed monster trucks. I want to engage in our daily fight of teeth-brushing—and of course win. But I’m honestly too fatigued.

Also, the realization that I’m not carrying my load in my marriage hurts. My husband is the most celestial degree of patient, and he has lovingly expressed that none of this is my fault, but I’m a bad listener. I feel burdensome and guilty that I cannot do the grocery shopping and certainly not the cooking. You should see the piles of laundry. And what my two-year-old wears in public with his dad. I haven’t been there for my husband like he has been there for me. I hate that.

I’m frustrated that I can’t contribute more to my church calling. I feel like I’m letting those who matter most to me down.

Social media certainly doesn’t help. We see the highlight reels of others’ lives, the edited, glorified version of everyday moments. Most tuck the bad and the ugly away from the public eye, leaving those of us in “survival mode” wondering why we don’t have it figured out. It’s an easy trap to fall into.

The root of my frustration is that I don’t want to just survive, I want to THRIVE. I wish I could set gargantuan goals that ignite within me a spark of motivation. I want to dream big. But right now, even just surviving feels like too much.  

And so here I am at the start of the new year, face to face with the disheartening truth that this trial of mine will carry over into 2019. It won’t just come to an end simply because 2018 did. No, the internal wrestling match is still in full swing.

For that reason, I am clinging to an experience I had a couple weeks ago, an experience that serves as a powerful reminder that it is okay if my only New Year’s resolution is to just survive.

I think it was a Thursday when it happened. I had, for like the 20th day in a row, been miserably sick all day. My son was with his grandma and my husband was at work. I was alone, thinking too hard about my physical and emotional plight and how much I hated it all. Then my eyes wandered to the Harry Anderson painting of Christ praying in the Garden of Gethsemane hanging in our living room.

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I see this painting every day, but that night the reality of what I was seeing really struck me. Christ really knows what it is like. Every bad, terrible, unfair thing that ever happens to us…He knows. He’s felt it. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He confronted the agony of our every physical pain, the anguish of heartbreak, and the constant ache of wishing you could do more and be more. His atoning sacrifice is infinite and all-encompassing. He knows how draining and even excruciating it sometimes is to just…survive.

With this astonishing reminder of what my Savior did for me came an accompanying reminder of His unconditional love. I felt it so powerfully, so undeniably.      

And then I had this epiphany, courtesy of a God who knew I might soon collapse under the weight of the burden I carried.

It was as if I could hear my Father in Heaven say to me, “Jessica, all of this—what you are doing now—is honorable. I have seen great faith from you.”

What? Really? This is faith? This is honorable?

Heavenly Father helped me to feel that my weeks and weeks of just getting by really were a great demonstration of my faith in Him. I felt not just His approval, but that He was proud of me for hanging on. He was proud of me for putting one foot in front of the other, for moving forward even when it felt impossible. He was proud of me for believing that better days were ahead even when all I could see then was darkness. He was proud of me for surviving.

I’ve decided it’s easy to trust God when things are going right. It’s easy to set big goals and accomplish great things when all is well, or mostly well, around us. Is there really any honor in that?

 I have come to truly know that there is no shame in merely surviving—whether that’s physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, or all of the above. It is a noble work to keep trying when we feel taking one more step into the unknown might kill us. I believe it’s when we are simply surviving that we grow the very most, and that growth is permanent. It is in survival mode that we produce unshakable faith and learn just how strong we really are. Surviving means we come to know Christ in a whole new way, at a higher and holier level. Surviving is honorable and admirable and worth celebrating in the eyes of God.  

Let me say that again:  SURVIVING IS HONORABLE AND ADMIRABLE AND WORTH CELEBRATING IN THE EYES OF GOD.

To those feeling like failures amid your goal-setting peers, I am speaking to you.

To those dreading 2019 because your resolutions fall short of your own high expectations for yourself, I am speaking to you.

To those brave enough to continue facing the same trial you have faced for weeks, months, or even years, I am speaking to you.

To those enduring to the end of a trial, I am speaking to you.

To those doing the very best you know how, I am speaking to you.

SURVIVING IS HONORABLE AND ADMIRABLE AND WORTH CELEBRATING IN THE EYES OF GOD.

To my fellow “survivors” out there, I echo these words from Elder Holland:

“Don’t give up…Don’t you quit. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead…You keep your chin up. It will be all right in the end. Trust God and believe in good things to come.”

2019 will probably feel like the world’s longest spiritual marathon. I don’t plan to cross the finish line first. I don’t plan on claiming a new personal record. My only goal is to finish the race. And that, according to God, is enough.

 

Thank you for the Trials that have Brought me Here

I recently discovered an old journal of mine. As I flipped through it, I found an entry from two years ago that brought back a lot of emotion. I had made a list of all the people and all the things in my life  I needed to remember to pray for—it seemed there was so much adversity at that time that I literally had to sort it all out on paper.

As I reviewed this list, I realized how much has changed since then. Milo came into my life, I quit my full time teaching job, I received a medical diagnosis that shook my world, I passed through one of the most difficult trials of my existence, my husband started a new job, we moved…

Everything has changed, and yet nothing has changed.

Because I’m still praying for a lot of the same things (and those same loved ones) on that list from two years ago.

If you had told me then that many of those prayers would remain unanswered even now, I think I would have sobbed knowing how hard the years ahead might be. It would have been impossible for me to imagine then that some things could actually get worse.

And yet amid amid those thoughts, there was another. It just kind of occurred to me that I am so grateful for the trials that have brought me here.

I am so grateful for the way these trials and disappointments have shaped me, the way they have pointed me toward the only true source of healing, my Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ.

If it weren’t for the items listed in that journal (and every other hardship over which I have desperately prayed), would I really know Him?Would I feel, to my very core, that Christ knows and understands what it is like? Could I have experienced “peace which passeth all understanding” if my soul never yearned for it in the first place?

I have actually needed every trial I’ve ever faced. I have needed the growth, the understanding, the compassion I’ve developed for others and their own unique trials. Above all, I have needed to get to know the Savior in the way that I have.

And that is why I really am grateful for all the trials that brought me here.

Motherhood & Mental Illness: How Will I Ever Make it Through?

Talking about our deeply personal “issues” can be scary. Launching my story into the blogosphere is one of the more vulnerable things I’ve done.

And so is loving the tiny human I call Milo. In fact, loving my baby boy (who’s definitely more of a toddler now than a baby) is THE absolute most vulnerable thing I have ever done. Or ever will do.

Parenthood is like strapping your heart to the outside of your rib cage, totally exposed. It is knowing that in any moment the child for whom you would literally die could get hurt, feel pain, experience sadness or disappointment or heartache. It is surrendering your control over life and its inevitable tragedies simply because you don’t have a choice.

The tender love of a parent is beautiful in all its rawness, but also terrifying when combined with mental illness. And that is the purpose of this post.

Motherhood, mental illness, and the seemingly impossible question:  How will I ever make it through?

I remember about 6 weeks into my pregnancy the round-the-clock morning sickness hit. And so did the deep, penetrating feelings of despair. I agonized over feelings of inadequacy and fear. I obsessed over worse-case-scenarios that I just “knew” were ahead of me and my baby.  Doing just the simple things became an impossible feat.

I figured my emotional crisis resulted from my physical one. After all, it’s difficult to be cheerful when you’re camped out on the bathroom floor 24-7, puking your guts out. I clung to the hope that as soon as the baby came, the sadness would depart.  

So when that perfect, healthy baby with big eyes and curly dark hair entered my life, I couldn’t figure out why those feelings didn’t just flee. Now don’t get me wrong—I was so happy he was finally here, and I loved him infinitely the moment I laid eyes on him, but those familiar feelings of darkness I’d experienced throughout pregnancy were there, more suffocating than ever.

Like any new mother, I felt overwhelmed with the responsibility of caring for such a small human, so fragile and so helpless—and I felt equally fragile and helpless. Even though anxiety and motherhood go hand in hand, I knew what I was feeling was not normal.

Paralyzing fear bit, and it bit hard, especially at night. My body was so desperate for rest, yet I dreaded falling asleep. I worried something horrible would happen to my baby in the night, particularly SIDS. That became an obsessive worry. I would wake up at least every hour in a panic—heart racing, sweat dripping—and lean over my baby’s bed to confirm he was still alive. I slept with the hall light on every night to illuminate his tiny body so that I could monitor the up-and-down movements of his chest. Nothing, including a sleep monitor, seemed to help. Thoughts that he’d be lifeless the next time I woke up tormented me.

The only thing worse than the nighttime anxiety were the intrusive thoughts that pecked at my mind for what seemed my every waking hour. Horrible, scary images popped into my head—thoughts I absolutely detested, thoughts I’d felt I’d done nothing to deserve. I felt stuck in a cloud of darkness that was slowly smothering me. I’d beat myself up over these haunting thoughts. I blamed myself, even though I’d done nothing to merit them.

It seemed everything around me posed a threat. I hated leaving the house for fear my baby would contract a life-threatening illness. I refused to drive without my husband, because that meant I couldn’t sit next to my baby in the back seat and constantly check that he was still breathing. Even news headlines became toxic. Whenever a disturbing story surfaced, my paranoia peaked. The irrational side of me worried I’d be capable of the monstrosities I read about in the news. I felt like a burden to everyone around me. I began to worry my husband would leave me if I became too much to handle, even though he was so gracious and supportive throughout my struggle. Logically, I knew these fears were irrational, but that’s the thing about mental illness and logic—sometimes the two can’t coexist.

I just felt so…dark. I can’t summon a better adjective. I sought even just a sliver of sunlight from the depths of a dark and lonely ocean.

After almost a month of feeling trapped in my own mind, I contacted my doctor. He diagnosed me with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety and prescribed medication. The medication gradually lifted the blanket of sadness, but the extreme panic and the intrusive thoughts lingered. I just didn’t feel like the diagnosis I’d received was complete.

So I continued to struggle, barely keeping my head above water. My husband encouraged me to finally seek help from a therapist.

About a year after Milo’s birth, I met with a wonderful counselor who identified something profound: Not only did I have the symptoms of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety, I had many of the symptoms of Postpartum OCD.

Postpartum OCD?! I didn’t even know that was a thing! I always associated OCD with excessive hand-washing and episodes of Hoarders, but I was dealing with obsessive thoughts—thoughts that bombarded me and worried me and scared me.

She pointed out that my case of OCD led to anxiety, which led to the feelings of misery and depression. We discussed how the layers and layers of emotional trauma had affected me, and I left that appointment ready to face the underlying problem of Postpartum OCD head-on.

At first I felt total relief; it was nice to finally have a name for what I was experiencing. Discovering the root of the problem that had dictated my life for over a year was liberating. As I researched the disorder, I felt comfort knowing that what I was thinking and feeling was not my fault, but rather some chemical imbalance wreaking havoc on my brain.

Unfortunately, that sense of relief didn’t last long. I began to let my mental illness define me. I felt guilty and ashamed because of my struggle. I felt like a defective mother.

Useless. Incapable. Broken.

That is why I am eternally grateful for a tiny little moment that eased months and months of pain.

One day I was just feeling so tired of it all. The OCD was so demanding, so emotionally draining, and I felt crushed by the load I was carrying. I began playing the “Why me?” game in my head for the 1,000th time. I yearned to feel like myself again. I wanted to be the optimistic, motivated girl I once knew, not the panicky, paralyzed mom with a stack of postpartum illnesses blackening her personal resume. I wanted out.

Then I felt this all-encompassing feeling of love from on high—so strong it was almost palpable—and I felt the words so clearly, Yes, those things might be a part of you right now, but first and foremost I need you to know that you are a Child of God.

That feeling from my Father in Heaven became the catalyst to true and continual healing. I began to call upon Heaven more intensely. I spoke openly about my struggles with Heavenly Father and turned to my lifelines—my infinitely patient husband and my loving mom. I stopped giving the intrusive thoughts so much power and started attaching them to a figurative balloon and let each float away.

Most importantly, I relied on Christ in an unprecedented way. I envisioned Him by my side, helping me fulfill the tasks before me, helping me fight the battles I was too exhausted to face alone. I felt His tangible presence as I took things one day at a time, sometimes one hour at a time.

There are days when I wish Heavenly Father would just “uninstall” the OCD from my mind, and thus the accompanying anxiety. And then there are days where I feel truly humbled, even grateful, for this trial. The promise found in Ether 12:27—that our weaknesses can be made into strengths through Christ—has come alive for me.

I see others and their unique trials with more compassion. I have connected with individuals I might not have otherwise. I don’t take Milo or the opportunity to be his mother for granted. Daily I thank my Father for giving me a piece of His heaven by sending Milo to me, despite my imperfections, weaknesses, and shortcomings.

And, oh, Milo is so gracious and forgiving of those shortcomings. He trusts deeply, radiates happiness, and heals my soul with his perfect spirit and bright smile. He brings breathtaking joy to my life.

One of the greatest blessings of this trial is the way it has transformed my relationship with the Savior. I trust Him. I know Him. I have learned that He is unfailingly true to His promise, “I will not leave you comfortless.” I have found Christ in my own personal Gethsemane. I’ve come to know that my hardship is not beyond His reach, that I am not beyond His reach. With outstretched arms and scarred hands, He pulls me from the mire of despair.

Again.

And again.

And again.

Said President Nelson, “In a coming day, you will present yourself before the Savior. You will be overwhelmed to the point of tears to be in His holy presence. You will struggle to find words to thank Him for…healing you from the injuries and injustices of this life. You will thank Him for strengthening you to do the impossible, for turning your weaknesses into strengths, and for making it possible for you to live with Him and your family forever.”

So to those who may be asking the same question I once did of How will I ever make it through this?, I say this:  The answer is Christ. He stands ready to help and to heal, to soothe and to strengthen. Whatever your own “impossible” might me, Christ has the power to help you conquer it.

I am so indescribably thankful for Him. I am also thankful for an infinitely loving Father in Heaven who gave His perfect Son so that I can be with mine forever.

10 Scriptures that have brought me Closer to Christ

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#1.  John 14:18

I will not leave you comfortless:  I will come to you.

I love verses when Christ speaks directly to us, and I love this promise. When I am grieving, when I am wracked with sorrow, when I feel like my world and my happiness are shattered, it’s as if I can hear the Savior speak these very words directly to me.

 

#2.  Alma 7:11

And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.

This verse highlights the all-encompassing nature of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. To think His atonement is infinite in its depth and coverage leaves me speechless and bursting with gratitude. We can tell Christ nothing of pain and suffering—He knows it all. He walked every lonely, painful path. He understands every trial perfectly. He suffered everything—literally everything—for you and me.

 

# 3.  Mosiah 8:20

O how marvelous are the works of the Lord, and how long doth he suffer with his people.

This scripture really resonated with me the last time I read through the book of Mosiah. Not only did Christ suffer for us, He suffers with us. His is the ultimate example of compassion and empathy.

 

#4.  Alma 5:60

And now I say unto you that the good shepherd doth call after you; and if you will hearken unto his voice he will bring you into his fold, and ye are his sheep

Everyone yearns to belong, to be part of something, to feel accepted and loved. Christ welcomes all with open arms and He seeks after the one. I matter to Him, and so do you.

 

#5.  2 Nephi 9:21

And he cometh into the world that he may save all men if they will hearken unto his voice; for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam.

This scripture really hit me the other day. One of the most heart-wrenching things to me is knowing that innocent children suffer, whether it’s abuse, neglect, loneliness, bullying, illness…..I’m grateful for this verse that emphasizes how infinite Christ’s suffering was. He literally suffered for “every living creature,” and that includes children. He can empathize with these perfect little souls when no one else can. As a parent, this is so comforting to me.

 

#6.  Isaiah 49:16

Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.

I remember reading this scripture as a high schooler, just after my family moved to a new state. Even though the students in my new high school were friendly and welcoming, I felt very alone. This was a powerful reminder that Christ understood that loneliness and that I wasn’t forgotten, for He had literally graven me upon the palms of His hands. There have been many times since high school that I found comfort in this same scripture.

 

#7.  Mosiah 16:9

He is the light and the life of the world; yea, a light that is endless, that can never be darkened; yea, and also a life which is endless, that there can be no more death.

Ever feel like the world is just so dark—like your world is just so dark? Jesus Christ truly is the light of my life, a light that will never ever burn out.

 

#8.  Alma 5:33

Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you.

When I think of Christ, I think of unbounded mercy. He doesn’t forgive reluctantly. He doesn’t rub our noses in our failures and mistakes. No, He stands ready to “receive” us with open arms the very moment we repent. And He forgives completely.

 

#9.  John 14:27

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

I have these ah-ha moments occasionally where I realize that worldly solutions will not work for the pain I feel or the grief I experience. When it seems peace eludes me entirely, this promise from the Savior Himself calms my troubled heart. He is the only true source of peace.

 

#10.  3 Nephi 11:14

14 Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world.
15 And it came to pass that the multitude went forth, and thrust their hands into his side, and did feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet; and this they did do, going forth one by one until they had all gone forth, and did see with their eyes and did feel with their hands, and did know of a surety and did bear record, that it was he, of whom it was written by the prophets, that should come.

This is where Christ appeared to the Nephites in the Americas. I get a lump in my throat when I envision this scene and what it must have been like for these people to come forth, one by one, to feel the prints of the nails in the Savior’s hands and feet. We will each get that opportunity one day, the opportunity to be in the presence of the man who died for us and to feel the scars He bears in our name.

I love this quote by Elder Holland:

“In a resurrected, otherwise perfected body, our Lord of this sacrament table has chosen to retain for the benefit of his disciples the wounds in his hands and his feet and his side–signs, if you will, that painful things happen even to the pure and perfect. Signs, if you will, that pain in this world is not evidence that God doesn’t love you. It is the wounded Christ who is the captain of our soul–he who yet bears the scars of sacrifice, the lesions of love and humility and forgiveness. Those wounds are what he invites young and old, then and now, to step forward and see and feel.”

I’ll never have the right words to convey my gratitude for the Savior. I’m thankful for the trials in this life that have urged me to embrace Him and His healing balm. I can honestly say He has never let me down. I’m grateful for His mercy, His grace, His healing, and His infinite love.