by Brittany Fisher
"It's important that we share our experiences with other people. Your story will heal you and your story will heal somebody else. When you tell your story, you free yourself and give other people permission to acknowledge their own story." Iyanla Vanzant
My story is one of heartbreak and healing, trials and triumph, mourning and miracles, grief and gratitude, pain and pure joy. I truly believe there is power in the written word. We all have experiences: the good and the bad, the joyful and heart breaking. We do not always get to choose what happens to us. Loss, grief and sadness touch all of our lives in one way or another. Although we do not always get to choose what happens to us, we do get to choose how we will react, how our life will develop and how we will tell our story.
To understand my story you have to understand my relationship with running. I fell in love with running at 15 years old when I trained for my first marathon. From that moment on, I was in a committed relationship. Running was my refuge and my joy; it was also where I felt closest to God. During long runs I would pour my heart out to God and just talk to Him, as I ran through the beautiful nature He created for me.
As a 21 year-old cross country and track runner at Utah State, life seemed to be going my way. I was thriving socially, emotionally, physically and spiritually. I was surrounded by the best of friends, had a healthy cross-country and track season, and felt closer to God than ever. I had such a strong desire to serve a mission, but I kept getting a resounding “NO”. I had spent months and months wrestling with God about serving a mission. Finally, I submitted my will to His and put an end to my mission papers. At the time I couldn’t fully understand why He didn’t want me to serve, but I soon found out He had a different type of mission for me in store.
On March 12, 2012 my life changed forever. It would be the last time I would ever run, jump and climb in this life. I was always up for adventure, so when I received the invitation to go rappelling out at Cougar Cliffs near Snow Canyon in the early morning, I agreed.
While out at the cliffs, I fell approximately 80 feet, upon impact I shattered numerous bones in my legs, feet and spine. The most significant break was the burst fracture at the T12 vertebrae in my spine - that burst fracture damaged my spinal cord, leaving me paralyzed from the waist down.
In life flight there are two types of calls they go on: rescue & recovery. With rescue, they are planning on going in and rescuing a person that is in critical condition but still alive. A recovery is when they are prepared to just go in and retrieve a body of someone who has already passed away. Based on the situation described, the life flight crew assumed they were going on a recovery mission. You can imagine their surprise when they reached the bottom of the cliff and saw a blonde haired girl with hair strewn all over the place. Not only was I alive, I was wide-awake, alert and talking. I remember joking with the paramedics and life-flight team about not being about to race in my upcoming track meet that week and asking who would call my coach and tell him.
From St. George I was life flighted to Las Vegas where I was officially declared paralyzed from the waist down. After over 10 hours of reconstructive surgery, I began a long road of recovery and rehabilitation. I was transferred to a specialty spinal rehabilitation hospital that became home for the next 3 ½ months, where I began to heal and learn how to live life in a wheelchair.
A few days after I was transferred out of ICU, I found the courage to look down at my legs. From the night of my accident I hadn’t looked down at my legs because I was terrified of what I might see. As I laid in my hospital bed I looked down. All I could see were swollen, lifeless, cut up and bruised legs. It was one of the first moments I felt doubt creep into my mind. I remember looking down and wondering what is left? Who am I? Who is Brittany Fisher? Before, Brittany was a student-athlete, a runner, a zip-line tour guide, a rock climber and an adventurer. In that moment, I was in the midst of an “identity crisis”.
In the days, weeks, months and years that followed I came to learn that my identity did not lie in the sports I played, the music I listened to or the clothes I wore. I learned that my true identity, and all of our true identities, lies within our divine and eternal roles - such as a daughter of God, a sister, a future wife and mother. I learned that WE ARE DEFINED BY OUR SPIRITUAL CHARACTERISTICS AND ATTRIBUTES – NOT OUR PHYSICAL ONES. I love this quote by Russell Ballard:
“You weren’t chosen for your bodily characteristics, but for your spiritual attributes, such as bravery, courage, integrity of heart, thirst for truth, a hunger for wisdom and a desire to serve.”
Over the past few years I’ve been taught countless lessons. I’ve felt the Lord take me by the hand and personally tutor me. One moment He was teaching me about His atonement, then patience, next forgiveness, and then suddenly He was teaching me about justice and mercy. The lessons have been constant and at times exhausting.
But one of the most important lessons I would like to share is that because of the principle of free agency you get to determine how your story will develop. We all have “experiences” many of them leaving us with heavy burdens to carry - some last only a few days, others last from months to years and some last a lifetime. I’ve learned that most of the burdens and trials we carry cannot be seen by human eye. President Monson reminds us that our “decisions determine destiny”.
Although we do not always get to choose what “experiences” we encounter, we do get to decide how we will react and how we will allow them to affect and shape our lives. The plan of salvation is based on the Atonement and free agency. We have the blessing of free agency to decide and choose for ourselves. I challenge you to CHOOSE JOY. Regardless of your experiences CHOOSE JOY. I love this reminder from President Uchtdorf:
“It is your REACTION, to adversity, not adversity itself, that determines how your life story will develop.”
It doesn’t matter nearly as much WHAT our specific trials are – what matters is how we respond. We can choose to turn to the Lord or away. We get to choose how we will claim our experiences and how we will move forward. We can allow our experiences and trials to claim us, making us victims or survivors. But as President Uchtdorf reminds us it is our reaction that will determine how our life and story will develop. In my story I have chosen not to become a victim or a survivor; I’ve chosen to become a fighter and more importantly I’ve chosen joy. Joy that is found in Christ and His gospel. When we share our stories in our own time and in our own way, we begin to take control and shape our future. Regardless of our experiences, injuries, challenges and trials we all have the same capability to live full and JOYFUL lives. Now I’ll be honest there was a season of heart breaking grief and depression. But in the end I learned I don’t necessarily get to choose what happens to me, but I got to choose how I would react - and I chose JOY.
At times we face “experiences” that are supposed to be for our good. Human nature may tempt us to question God and ask “why me?” or “why do bad things happen to good people?” I found my personal answer to this early on during my hospitalization and maybe it can help you now or one day down the road. Richard G. Scott said:
“Just when all seems to be going right, challenges often come in multiple doses applied simultaneously. When those trials are not consequences of your disobedience, they are evidence that the Lord feels you are prepared to grow more. God gives you experiences that stimulate growth, understanding and compassion, which polish you for your everlasting benefit. To get you from where you are to where He wants you to be requires a lot of stretching and that generally entails discomfort and pain.”
Your “experiences” are evidence that the Lord feels you are prepared to grow more. There have been countless moments of discomfort and pain along my journey, but there have also been moments of great hope and tender mercies showered down upon me. I’ve been given the blessing of healing and I’ve learned that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to walk without assistance or run. But I’ve been healed by being given patience and understanding to bear this burden and submit joyfully. The Lord will help us grow through our unique experiences, teaching us how to become the daughter of God that He wants us to be. The lessons I’ve learned in these past 4 ½ years have been more than I can count and share all at once.
My story has been filled with triumphant first steps that have led to slow and assisted walking, but they are steps nonetheless! My eyes have been filled with tears of grief and pure joy. This past summer I had the opportunity and blessing to be sealed in one of God’s temples to the most patient, kind, genuine, and (can I add) attractive husband. God’s promises are true and constant, no matter what “experiences” you have or had and regardless of the choices you’ve made. Through this journey I have experienced deep pain, but with that pain I’ve witnessed His tender mercies and pure joy because I chose God. I know He saved my life for this mission – to testify of Him and His strengthening and healing Atonement.
What I love most about Christ’s Atonement is its ability to heal physically, emotionally and spiritually. The Atonement is not just forgiveness for our sins; it can heal, strengthen and change us. There is hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ and in the scriptures. That hope will fill our lives with light and joy. Remember your divine identity as His daughter has nothing to do with your outward appearance or abilities and everything to do with your spiritual attributes. I know in God’s timing all things will work together for our good as we choose to react to life’s experiences with faith and hope in the Savior. He hears our prayers and answers them in His own time and in His own way. He has a unique mission for you and gives you your own “experiences” to grow and live up to your divine potential as His daughter.