Stories of Faith | Cherisse Lunt
The Savior’s Atonement helps me every day. But maybe I should back up and tell you a little about my story to explain.
Seven years ago, our family of 4 moved to Menlo Park so that my husband, Chad, could pursue his career. We moved away from all of our family and were excited to begin a new adventure. In October of 2008 (just over a year after we moved here), we welcomed Lucy, our third baby into our family. It was just like any pregnancy (except that I gained a ton of weight) and Lucy was a perfectly healthy little girl.
When Lucy was around 4 months old, we started to notice that Lucy wasn't using her arms and legs as much as our other children did at that age. However it wasn’t enough to worry me too much. At her 4 month appointment I mentioned our concerns to our pediatrician and after looking at Lucy, she was also a little concerned so she set up an appointment for us to meet with the neurologist the next week.
My husband, who is very curious, began to research Lucy’s symptoms. He sent an e-mail to family asking for them to pray for Lucy and he mentioned to me that Lucy’s symptoms matched a disease he found online. When he told me about the disease, I told him he was crazy and that there is no way Lucy could have this disease—it was genetic and neither of us had any history of any genetic disease.
A week later, we met with the neurologist. She was examining Lucy and filling out paper work for blood tests. As she was writing, I received a text from Chad that said, “Ask her if she thinks Lucy might have _________”. I showed the neurologist the text and she exclaimed, “I really hope not”. She said she would have them test for that disease (along with many others on her list) just to put our mind at ease.
Not even 2 weeks later, Chad and I were called in to meet with the neurologist. At this point I knew something was wrong but Lucy just seemed so healthy, just a little slow. I still didn’t think there was much to worry about. We were taken to an examination room where we sat together, waiting for the Neurologist to come. The door opened and our pediatrician walked in with the neurologist. It wasn’t until that minute that I knew that something was very wrong. They jumped right into the diagnosis; Lucy had Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) Type 1. I was confused and asked, “What is that?” I looked to Chad for an answer and his eyes were clouded with tears and I knew then that Lucy had the disease that Chad was so afraid of, the disease that was neuromuscular, degenerative and terminal. The doctor’s told us that they were so sorry and that there was nothing that they could do for Lucy; there was no treatment or cure. They said that it was our decision how we would take care of Lucy (they gave us names of some SMA specialists to contact) but to take her home and just love the time we had her. When we asked how long they thought we would have with Lucy, they said she would be lucky to see her 1st birthday.
As any parent would be, we were broken, sad and helpless. That day, Lucy seemed so healthy, but over time, Lucy lost most movement and strength in her entire body. She has never been able to hold her head up or sit up, and any fine motor skill that she had is mostly gone. Lucy’s lungs are very weak and she is in chronic respiratory failure. She uses a vent and a bipap mask to assist with her breathing. She lost her ability to cough and swallow making her body very fragile and prone to sudden choking and illness—even a common cold can be fatal.
This disease has completely altered our family’s life. Lucy’s care is demanding, difficult and scary. I had absolutely no experience in nursing or respiratory therapy, nutrition, orthopedics or special needs and I didn’t realize then that I would need these skills, and many more, every day. Our apartment is filled with machines and equipment and my time is consumed by caring for Lucy, keeping track of appointments, supplies, machine maintenance, advocating for services, taking care of my older two children Dallin and Jocey, along with other regular “mom” responsibilities.
I know that a lot of people say and believe that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, but my life is a living example that this isn’t so. I was not and am not in any way strong or experienced enough to handle the challenges in my life. What I do believe with all of my heart is that our Heavenly Father loves us. He knew (and we all knew) that coming to earth would be difficult for all of us and that we would all go through things that we wouldn’t be able to do alone. I believe that we all came to this mortal earth to experience life. Whatever that life may be, I believe it will be difficult in one way or another.
But thankfully we don’t do it alone.
In my family’s case Heavenly Father has sent many, many angels to be a support to our family. I won’t even begin to list the kindness and love that has been shown to us. We have been lifted by thousands of kind acts of service, prayers, fasting and friendships.
Perhaps even more importantly, we have been given the Atonement of Jesus Christ, which can give us strength and hope when we don’t have enough on our own. Through the experiences of my life, I have gained a testimony of the encompassing power of the Atonement. I know that because of Christ’s Atonement, my family can be together forever, that Lucy will someday have a perfect body, and that even though her time might be cut short in this life she will still be able to experience the things we hope and pray for, for each of our children.
I have also learned of many other ways that the Atonement blesses us daily.
In my religion’s edition of the Bible there is a Bible Dictionary that helps explain Bible terminology and concepts. Under the word “grace” it explains something called the “enabling power” of the Atonement:
Grace—A word that occurs frequently in the writings of Paul. The main idea of the word is divine means of help or strength, given through the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ. It is through the grace of the Lord Jesus made possible by his atoning sacrifice, that mankind will be raised in immortality, every person receiving his body from the grave in a condition of everlasting life. It is likewise through the grace of the Lord that individuals, through faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means. This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts.
There have been many times that I have felt that I have expended all that I have, whether it be physically, emotionally or spiritually, but through the enabling power of the Atonement I have been able to do more than I am capable of—and to endure longer than I could do on my own.
Another way the Atonement enables me to do things beyond my natural ability is that it gives me hope. My father-in-law put my feelings into words perfectly when he said, “the Atonement gives us hope for the future, happiness in the present and healing from our past”. Because of the Atonement, I can find true peace and happiness, even when times are difficult and sad. The Atonement gives me so much hope for our family’s future, both in this life and the next.
I was reminded of this recently when our family was at a tech museum in San Jose, CA. For some context, almost all children with SMA Type 1 cannot speak. For some reason, Lucy can. Lucy’s voice is one of our most cherished blessings. She is a little hard for most people to understand but she and I can converse all day long. At the tech museum there was an earthquake simulator which my older children, Dallin and Jocey were going to sit on. Lucy really wanted to but the machine operator thought it would be too dangerous. I broke the news to Lucy that she couldn’t go on the simulator. She began to cry and when Lucy cries, she creates more spit and then she starts to choke (she usually gets her way). I took her away from the simulator to calm her down, but nothing I said seemed to make her feel better about not being able to sit on the simulator. I started talking about our plans to go ice skating after the museum and she started to calm down. I told her how fun ice skating is and how Chad was going to push her so fast on the ice. Her crying subsided a little and said, “I want to go ice skating all by myself with my own toes”. I said, “I know you do Lucy, but remember, we need to help you stand up. She then looked at me with a serious voice and she said, “Jesus will help me stand up by myself”.
I, too, know that because of the miraculous gift of the Atonement, that Lucy will stand up by herself someday and that our future is bright and we can hope for an eternal life and happiness.
I want to end by sharing some thoughts on hope in the Atonement that I love from one of the leaders in my faith, Dieter F. Uchtdorf:
“Hope sustains us through despair. Hope teaches that there is reason to rejoice even when all seems dark around us. With Nephi I declare: ‘Press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father; Ye shall have eternal life.’ This is the quality of hope we must cherish and develop. Such a mature hope comes in and through our Savior Jesus Christ."
To all who suffer—to all who feel discouraged, worried, or lonely—I say with love and deep concern for you, never give in. Never surrender. Never allow despair to overcome your spirit. Embrace and rely upon the Hope of Israel, for the love of the Son of God pierces all darkness, softens all sorry, and gladdens every heart.”
I know that if we have faith and keep moving forward with hope, we will blessed with the strength and help to deal with the challenges of life. I've seen this every day.