Barbara is a Mormon woman who is an example of courage, faith, endurance, love, and service. She is a woman of varied interests and talents, who has overcome significant obstacles in her life. She is also my aunt. Her words in this portrait are taken (with her permission) from a priceless book she wrote as a gift to her nieces and nephews a few years ago. (p.s. I’m re-posting this today because it got a little buried last week when accidentally posted simultaneously with another portrait.) ~Michelle
As a physical education major, I dreamed of being a high school teacher and coach, perhaps even serving on the LDS Church Sports Committee or playing ball for a county recreation team. I played intramural volleyball, field hockey, basketball and softball. I served as a dorm officer, a Sunday School teacher, a member and officer of Spurs (a national service organization), and one of six members of my university’s Women’s Intramural Council. In an average week, I attended over 9 hours of honors classes and participated in more than 20 hours of physical education activity classes. Often, I either practiced or performed in school plays — acting was my second love! I thrived on this fast, intense pace.
That pace was ground to a screeching halt when Barbara was in a car accident at the age of 19.
When the car skidded off the road, she was thrown from the car. Her back was broken, and she found herself paralyzed from the waist down. The dramatic miracle she prayed for did not happen. She struggled with hard questions:
Now what was I going to do? How do I live the way the Lord wants me to live in a wheelchair that I didn’t want to be in? Could I learn to live in this situation and like it? Was liking myself in a wheelchair even possible? Could I live life as a paraplegic with the same enthusiasm, excitement, vitality, and love of life as I had before?
I felt that to survive with my spirit intact, I had to change my attitude, my entire perspective of life. I had to eliminate the ever-present feelings of self-pity, doubt, and depression that had become my new norm. I had to discover how to meet challenges and grow positively from every experience. I needed to not ‘just get through’ each day, I needed to look forward with vigor and excitement at what was ahead. I was determined to do it, and knew that I alone would have to accomplish the task!
I remembered a quote from President Spencer W. Kimball: ‘We are not here for the fun of it. We are here for the joy of it, and we want to go forward and do our work as we should do it.’ I don’t know exactly when I began to accept my situation and realize that being the product of a great miracle and/or walking again was not essential for happiness.
Barbara built her life around important principles, which she sums up using the word JOY. She says:
I finally discovered that JOY meant having positive and fulfilling relationships with God and His Son, Jesus Christ (J), Others (O), and Yourself (Y).
As she moved forward, facing her challenges, Barbara learned to appreciate the wonder of her body, rather than focus on what her legs could not do. She worked to love and be patient with herself. She learned about the importance of trying, and not being so afraid of failure. (There was, after all, much failure along the way in learning to do things she had taken for granted: sitting up, getting into bed or the bathtub or the car, getting dressed, cooking, doing dishes, and so forth.)
She discovered new talents and interests, things she could do without the use of her legs. She writes:
I found I could do things I didn’t think were even possible for me. I play a mean game of table tennis (ping pong). Although I can’t climb mountains (and no one seems to anxious to push me up the trails), I can still go camping and see the sunset. I can ‘run’ rivers, even though I can’t run races. I learned to love tennis. I played catch on an intramural softball team. In my never-ending discovery mode, I even tried racquetball.
Barbara also tackled her fear of deep water and learned to swim. She discovered that being a paraplegic was an advantage in swimming, because half of her body naturally floats!
Barbara completed her college education, and also got a Master’s degree and a PhD. She taught junior high school (youth ages 12-14) for over 17 years, and then spent many years teaching at the university level. She is a talented public speaker and has spoken at many church, educational, and other events. A favorite memory of mine was when I met her in Washington D.C. and heard her keynote speech for the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity.
Being in a wheelchair presents significant obstacles when traveling, but Barbara has faced those obstacles and explored numerous places around the United States (including Hawaii several times), England, the Caribbean, and Israel. One of my favorite pictures is of her on a roller coaster ride. I admire the way she allows people to help and serve her to make such experiences possible. The stories she tells of tender service rendered in her behalf throughout her life move me to tears.
But one of the things I admire and appreciate most about Barbara is the many ways she serves others. She has used her talents of painting, drawing, ceramics, cake decorating, cross stitching, writing, and entertaining to bless the lives of others, in particular her family. I’m honored to be a part of that family. Barbara’s challenges have brought our family together in special ways, and she has done many things to bring us together as well. Part of the reason I have a close relationship with my cousins is because of Barbara. Through the years, she has hosted numerous parties and showers and activities that have brought us together — and brought us closer to her. She gives gifts of time and self that are precious to us. While she mourns the fact that she has not been able to be a wife and mother in this life, she has nurtured us as “her children.” The next generation of more than three dozen grand nieces and nephews is now being blessed by her love and service.
I’m grateful for the faith she has lived and recorded for her family. After her accident, she struggled with questions of “Why me? Why now? What did I do to deserve this?” She felt that perhaps the accident was somehow a punishment. She felt alone and abandoned by God.
Elder Harold B. Lee, an Apostle at the time (later the president of the Church) came to the hospital to give her a priesthood blessing. Barbara remembers in particular five simple words:
“Barbara, the Lord loves you.”
I realized there was one one person I could turn to for answers — my Father in Heaven. God does have all the answers, and He has provided me with answers to my specific questions. They didn’t come to me all at once, but they did come. By turning to Him, I now know God lives. He is listening and wants us to reach out to Him. He is real! I truly LOVE God. He has become my best friend. At times, I feel Him take my hand, give this chair a push, and we walk and talk together. I feel a close kinship to Christ and to my Father in Heaven, probably because my need for Them is so great.
It is my testimony that God, the Father, lives and loves me as He does all His children. I know that He knows my name; listens, hears, and answers when I pray; is aware of my trials and successes; and cares for me.
I know that God’s only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, lived on this earth, left a legacy of love, then gave His life on the cross for each of us, and was resurrected. He atoned for our sins making it possible for each of us to experience everlasting and eternal JOY when we return to our Father in Heaven after having loved and lived righteously.
I know my purpose on this earth is to experience JOY by fulfilling my God-given potential and loving and serving His children.