Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Hero Spotlight

So! Every week or so, this blog is going to do a "hero spotlight." I want to post other people's stories, their experiences in dealing with any kind of chronic illness or physical hardship. This week I've asked my dear friend Stephen Merrill, to write something for us to share his story and thoughts with us. 

Stephen has been a great friend, strength and inspiration to me. He is chronically brave and strong. Seriously, this guy completely rocks. You'll see why. Here is Stephen the Great's thoughts and story:

"If there is one thing I know to be true for everyone in the world, it's this: life is not always rosy, and trials and adversity hit us all. It doesn't happen in the same way for everyone, but tragedy affects us all. Whether it be injury, disease, death of a loved one, divorce, job loss, etc. there will come a time when each of us will have our hopes and dreams threatened. However, no matter how grave the situation, don't despair, because there is always hope! Like my dear friend Caitie, who started this blog in hopes of empowering those of us who have been brought low by adversity, I'd like to share my story, with the same goal in mind.

My name is Stephen Merrill, and about a year and a half ago I had a freak accident that continues to affect almost every aspect of my life today. Towards the end of my second semester of college, I broke my neck & fractured my C5 vertebrae at a gymnastics facility. I immediately lost movement and function below my neck and would spend the next four months in the hospital. Dark days followed, as my once bright future was suddenly cast into doubt and I struggled to regain control of my body systems. Unfortunately, there is no cure for a spinal cord injury, and the only proven method of recovery lies in rigorous physical therapy. The prayers of a multitude of supporters followed me, but as time passed and no miraculous transformation occurred, the shattered dreams that so often haunted me seemed to be becoming reality.

For those who have gone through something similar, or for everyone that will in the future, let me say a few things about adversity. First, never give up hope. Life is beautiful, and you should make the most of the time you have, no matter how much your capacity to experience portions of it have decreased. I say this from experience, because there isn't a day that goes by in which I don't wish for more physical capability. Second, stick close to those that love and support you. I am fortunate enough to have a fantastic family, especially my parents, who continue to help me every single day. I also have some dedicated friends that have kept me in their thoughts and prayers and haven't let my injury damage our friendship. Thank you. I realize that many people don't have such a support system, so third, and most importantly, is to develop and stick by your faith. My faith in God and that he has a brighter future for me has been the foundation of my recovery. And he has truly blessed me. I have fully recovered from my ordeal in all ways but physically, and my physical recovery continues to slowly progress. I'm getting stronger everyday, and my belief that my future is bright and full of possibility is stronger than ever, despite the reality of my physical challenges.

I know that for many people, life is good, easy even. However, I can guarantee you that trials will come, because that's what life is about: responding to adversity and growing as a person. It's not until we are really struggling against something that we can become stronger. When, or if you are, please never give up hope, and maintain your faith that our loving Heavenly Father will make it possible for you to have all your hopes and dreams fulfilled. We may not understand why, how, or when, but if we but turn to him, it will happen. I have felt that heavenly comfort in my darkest hour and I know it is there for everyone, to comfort and enrich your life when there is nothing else available to you."

See what I mean? 

Stephen is the perfect example choosing to see the light, even when it is hiding behind the clouds. Because of that, his future is so very bright. I will never forget visiting Stephen right after the accident in the hospital. He greeted me with a smile and was so positive. When I left, I wept because I was so touched by his brave spirit and his courage. I would weep every time I left visiting him, because of his hope and determination  He continues to have the same great attitude and positive perspective, and he is a light to all who meet him. He shows us that miracles happen and that healing is possible no matter our circumstances. We must have hope. For me, Stephen is the definition of this scripture. I know that this scripture applies to each of us. God has beautiful dreams, plans, hopes and gifts for each of us, we just need to love Him and trust Him.

We love Stephen the Great! To learn more about Stephen's remarkable story and to share it with others dealing with any kind of paralysis, chronic illness or physical disability, check out his awesome family's blog at stephenmerrill.blogspot.com.

Sunday, December 9, 2012


As I was pondering of what to write for the next post, it was very obvious. 

My relationship with my Savior, Jesus Christ, and my Heavenly Father go hand in hand with my pain and illness. For me, I can't have one without the other. My illness brings me closer to God because I must rely constantly on Him, and in turn God gives me my chronic illness in order to learn more about Him, and to learn of His all encompassing love. In that sense, my illness is a blessing. It is a lesson, in my weaknesses that I am constantly learning and re-learning. Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have been constantly there for me every single day and night of pain. I know that their love is real, it is powerful, and it is healing. I know that it is only because of them that I am able to cope with my illness, and to still have peace, assurance and joy. Even in my darkest moments of illness, and pain they have never abandoned me. I have done nothing to deserve the grace given to me by our Savior, Jesus Christ. 

As I was thinking of how to convey my deep feelings for the Savior, I knew that I had to be bold in testifying of my knowledge of Him, His reality, His love and His life. 

When the Savior suffered for us on the cross and in the Garden of Gethsemane, He took upon himself our pains. Not just the pains, suffering and guilt of when mistakes are made, but all of the physical and emotional hurt and suffering we will ever feel. That is where grace comes in. In a scriptural dictionary grace is defined as, "...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 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." 

It is the grace of Jesus Christ, that carries me every single day. Grace is my angel mother typing this for me because my hands hurt so bad. Grace is dear friend being there for me in the middle of the night when I can't sleep because of the pain. Grace came to me last night, when I was in such pain I could hardly breath, and the Spirit said to me, "let God take care of you." Grace is the strength God gives me to get through my physical and water therapy each week. Grace is the help I am given to be able to walk each step. Grace is the peace, comfort and re-assurances of His love that God sends me when I pray, even when I am weak and full of mistakes. Jesus Christ doesn't make up the difference. He makes all the difference. 

This is one of my favorite paintings ever. In the history of the world. It also happens to be done by one of my favorite artists. Ever. In the whole wide world. It is done by James Christensen. This painting is entitled, "Sometimes the Spirit Touches Us Through Our Weaknesses." This is how this remarkable artist describes this painting, "The Latin post nubila phoebus translates as, 'after clouds, sun.' It's something like our saying that every cloud has a silver lining. I think that we often grow through adversity. No one wants trials and ordeals, and yet, having passed through the darkness, we often experience great spiritual illumination and feel the most connected with our Maker."

I know that we are lifted, touched, carried and surrounded by heavenly hands more than we know or realize. I also know that hardships, pain and illness can be a direct link to spiritual illumination, divine love and great personal recognition and growth. This is all possible because of the love and sacrifice of our Savior, Jesus Christ. He lives. His love is real. He can heal us, physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. 

I love how Paul perfectly describes it: "Unless I should be exalted above all measure, through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And He said unto me, my Grace is sufficient for thee. For my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, and reproaches, and necessities, and persecutions, and distresses for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then am I strong" (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

So, my heart is divided and made up of different beautiful songs. This is one of them. Please, enjoy and feel the Savior's love for you. Let God take care of you. 

Friday, December 7, 2012


Well, here we go. 

This is my little girl attempt to make some small difference. A good, and I hope a beautiful and brave difference. 

Once upon a time, there was a young girl. She dreamed of great and strong adventures. She dreamed of exploring, singing, sharing, dancing and loving. She dreamed of being strong and brave. She was a little girl, but she had giant plans. One day, her body became very sick and weak. Pain began to plague her body. She was so determined to not let her illness take away her dreams. For years, she and her loved ones searched for a cure. They searched, pondered, prayed, learned, cried and grew. The little girl's heart was broken countless times, and she has cried countless tears because of her physical challenges. She still has a hurt heart because of her painful body, but has decided to feel hope everyday. One day, a doctor gave her a miracle. An answer to call her pain and illness. She also saw a path to take to fight it. This girl is determined to fight. This reminded her that her illness is real, very real and very hard, but it is also possible, and in it's own way, beautiful. Her dreams are still possible. She is still searching for relief, and she is still chasing her dreams and her light. And that is where the story leaves off for now. 

I'm still writing this story, because it's my own. :)

Hi. My name is Caitie Graves. When I was 15 years old I began to have chronic pain and illness. Seven years later, that illness remains. I have been diagnosed with chronic pain disorders called myofacsial pain syndrome and central sensitization disorder and a stomach condition called irritable bowel syndrome. Essentially, my muscles and joints are in aching pain every day when I wake up, from when I lay down to sleep. They are very debilitating and hurtful. Every step hurts. Despite this, I am very, very, very grateful for them. They teach me. They teach me how to be brave. While they are life long lasting conditions, they are teaching me to be chronically brave. They will teach me how to be brave my entire life. While they make me weak, through my God and my hope and my faith, I can be brave and strong.

Why start a blog? Because I want to share my story. I know that I am not alone. I know there are many, many others who have these and other "silent" and "quiet" chronic illnesses. These illnesses may sometimes be invisible to others, but they are real, hard, heart wrenching, dream shattering, life changing problems. I want this to be a place of hope for others who are suffering. I want to share with them, and I want them to share with me.

The truth is, there is hope, and there is light. It is my prayer that as I share my experiences dealing with chronic pain and illness, others can feel brave, even when they feel weak and scared. I am here to tell you that is possible. Happiness and peace are possible in a life of pain and illness. I know it. Please, share this blog if you or any of your friends and loved ones deal with any kind of chronic pain or illness. Even if you don't, I would love for you to join me in writing the rest of my story and hear about your story in return. 

My story may not change the world, but it will touch it.