Monday, November 14, 2016

Life lessons from a PhD #2: Stay on the bus

2014 - 2015, I had a serious problem with my back. At first, I thought I had just overexerted it and that it would correct itself (back pain/problems are just a natural result of being tall and having to contort yourself into smaller/shorter spaces your whole life), but gradually my condition worsened. It became extremely difficult and excruciatingly painful to do even simple things, like stand up, lie down, sit, or walk.

During this time, I was not only heavily engaged in my full time PhD, but also taking a class, teaching a class, serving in a demanding calling at church, and working part-time as well. Weeks were very busy, and in a new country without any family around, I had no time or opportunity to be sick or ask anyone for help. It was a very challenging time. My health steadily deteriorated until I got to a point where I feared for my future--whether I would be able to remain in NZ and finish my PhD, whether I would be able to walk or run again, or whether I would end up in a wheelchair.

I'm grateful for difficult experiences, because they offer you the opportunity to test what you've been taught. You can turn either to the Lord or to the world. There is a scripture in the Book of Mormon (Mosiah 4:22) that teaches that our lives belong to God, and my faith told me He could help. Most days, after getting home, I would just lie on the floor and cry because of pain and sadness. I often didn't eat because I couldn't bear standing or walking in or to the grocery store, or to cook in the  kitchen--I'd just lie on the ground and feel bad for myself and cry and pray for healing. Each morning, fearing the pain ahead, I would kneel and plead for help to get through the day. Those prayers were repeated as needed until eventually, I felt that I was getting by hour by hour solely by His grace--I talked to God constantly and relied on Him even for the strength to walk a very short distance. To me, my back pain was a personal crucible that felt like an unconquerable Everest--the Lord was my sherpa. And one day, He taught me an invaluable lesson.

It was a Tuesday--my busiest day--and I was headed to the church for Mutual after working and being at Uni all day. My back was on fire--it felt like there was a spear stuck into my lumbar region and every movement or step would send torrents of fire down my leg (I eventually was diagnosed with several bulging and torn disks). I planned to take the bus straight to the church from Uni to get there on time. Now, to help you understand: the route that would take me from school to the church was driven by three different buses--routes which followed the same roads out of the city but then split off to different places the further out you got from downtown. I had only ever taken two of the buses, but when I got to the stop at school, it was the third option that was there. As I boarded, I asked the bus driver if he went past the stop I needed to get off at in order to get to the church on time. He said he did and I got on without worry--I felt grateful that I was able to make it to the bus, and peaceful that I'd get to fulfill my commitments on time. I even said a prayer to thank God for helping me make it. I settled in and started reading while the bus took off.

As the bus passed where I would have normally got off for my own house stop and went further down the road I was less familiar with, I started to panic--the bus turned down a different street, off of the route that I knew would take me to the church, and looked like it was completely deviating from the route I knew I needed to be on. I became very frustrated and internally upset with the driver for lying to/misunderstanding me, and I pushed the button to get off so that I wouldn't get too far off track.

As I got off the bus, I began to cry. I was in so much pain, and felt disappointed in and let down by God--how, when He knew my condition and deadlines, could or would He allow me to get on the wrong bus, get off track, and be deceived by a driver I was now convinced
a) hadn't understood my question
b) had been dishonest
or c) hadn't cared?

Heavenly Father usually helped me so much and was so kind.

Time was ticking and I still had to get to the church, so I started walking around the corner to get back on the right road and on a different bus. It would be more expensive and time consuming, but I had no other choice.

I was still crying when I made it to the stop and sat down on the bench. As I sat feeling sorry for myself and waiting several minutes for the next bus, I kept my eye on the road and the corner I'd just walked around. A bus turned and headed my way. I stood up to flag it down. As it got closer, I was shocked and flabbergasted to realize that it was the same bus I had just got off.

The driver stopped, opened the door, and looked at me.
"Why did you get off?" he asked.
I felt sheepish. "I thought you were going a different direction," I said.
"But I told you," he said. "We're just turn to the mall but turn back around --we go the rest of the way down this road."
He shook his head at me but was actually very nice. It was me who felt red faced and embarrassed as I re-boarded. I sat down and felt quiet. In my ongoing conversation with God, I felt humbled and apologized for being upset. Then I asked, "okay, I know you don't do anything that isn't for my good, so what am I supposed to learn from this?"

The answer came immediately, as a very clear thought and piece of instruction to my mind and heart: 

Don't get off the bus. 
Trust the driver--he knows where he is going. 

I understood immediately that it was a lesson for a lifetime. I understood that "the bus" is a metaphor for the Gospel, and staying on it meant to be faithful to the covenants I have made. Trusting the driver and his direction means trusting Jesus Christ, the head of the Church, and that ultimately, if I believe He is in control, whether He leads me down unfamiliar roads or takes routes I don't know, if I stay on His bus, I will get where I wanted to go in the first place--where He promises He can take me.

I love this lesson, and I'm grateful for the way I learned it. Within a few months of that bus experience, two of my closest friends left the church (as I have mentioned in a previous post), my back continued to be a problem, and other trials came too. But what I learned then has helped me. I am encouraged that if ever I am in doubt of where the bus I'm on is headed, I can always go ask the driver Himself, and be reassured that it's going where I want to go--that I'm still on the right track. Although He is busy driving, He still has patience and time for me. Also, I am convinced that if I ever find myself outside of or off the bus, I don't have to worry that He won't let me back on--there is always a way back and a way home.

How grateful I am for this lesson. I know these things are true. Stay on the bus friends. Trust the driver. He really does know the way.

Love love,