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Mourning the Plan

By Justine Dorton

When the doorbell rang at 7:30 in the morning, I wasn’t sure I should answer it. Who would be coming over so early in the morning? I peeked out the window and saw it was a FedEx delivery man. Did I order something online? I was briefly excited for the morning surprise.

As I grabbed the box, I remembered.

Oh. I have M.S. I now get medicine shipped to me overnight in little refrigerated cartons. I have to learn to give myself a shot.

I stared at that little box in my foyer. It was my first such package; a home health nurse was coming over later that day to teach me what to do with the contents of that little refrigerated carton sitting on my foyer floor. I sat down next to the box and stared at it for a moment. The noises of the kids’ morning shuffle were all around me, but it faded into the background as the box seemed to be emanating sounds of its own. The noise from the box was soft and pervasive, not penetrating my ears, rather moving in through my chest. Although wordless, I felt there was a message coming to me from that box: you are not ever going to be the same. You are now broken, and I will come to your doorstep every month to remind you of all the things you cannot do anymore. I’ll be there in your refrigerator every day so you can notice, and never ever forget – you are not whole.

I cried in my foyer that morning. I cried for a long time. I sat on the hard floor and mourned the loss of every single thing that wasn’t, or couldn’t, be mine anymore. My husband came and sat on the floor with me for a while, sitting quietly stroking my hair, trying to muffle out the box’s declaration with his hug.

The box won that morning.

With great slowness, the noise of the real world trickled back into my ears; I pulled myself up off the floor and put the box in the fridge. And although I couldn’t see it anymore, the message stayed with me for a long time. The life I had planned to live, that life was over.

——————————–

There are always great plans to be made when we’re twenty years old, sitting on the bed with our university roommates, planning out what our lives will look like, what kind of children we want, how beautiful things will be. We imagine certain details, certain events, certain friendships. For me it involved, among a lot of other things, a testimony that the Lord loves me, a motivated and loving man, a child (MAYBE two), a successful career in law, traveling, a mission with my husband, an Arts and Crafts aesthetic home, and a beautiful garden in my backyard.

Those dreams from college have, in almost every measure, not looked like I imagined them at the time. I DO have a motivated and loving husband, and I DO know the Lord loves me. But I have been forced to recognize that pretty much everything else on my long list of expectations has fallen by the wayside. Some of the changes from ‘the plan’ have been enormous blessings. Five children rather than one are a blessing I never expected to be so immense and overpowering. Leaving my career was both difficult and incredibly easy. The garden is indeed in the backyard, but beautiful isn’t something I’d ascribe to it.

Some of these departures from ‘the plan’ have been easy to roll with. Others have required intense periods of mourning.

And now, I face disability. It clearly wasn’t part of ‘the plan’. But a few hours after I peeled my tear-soaked body off the foyer floor, as a couple of fantastic friends called to check in on me, I started to run through the list of every person in the world that I love and care about. Not one has had their life go perfectly according to their ‘plan’. Cancer really does afflict people I know. Stillborn babies really are born sometimes. Car accidents, unemployment, failed businesses, depression, aging parents, divorce and infidelity really do happen to people I love. The list of things that are never on anyone’s ‘plan’ seems long and invasive.

And so it was that I found myself sticking a needle into me that afternoon, injecting a medicine into my thigh that might help me ‘survive longer’. I still cried about it; in fact I spent weeks still mourning the loss of who I was, of one more – or maybe a hundred more – things that were gone from ‘the plan’. But in the long months and now years that have followed, there emerged a new plan. This new plan didn’t actually have any expectations in it; rather it held my plan for right now.

The plan involved living. Right now. No more waiting for convenient times to “re-tool my plan”. No more waiting at all, in fact. Because right now I can walk. Right now I can use my hands. Right now I can play on the floor with my children. The blessings of ‘right now’ are all around me, they are staggering in their enormity, and they always have been. Was the Lord just waiting for those last few vestiges from my own plan to fall away so He could introduce me to the real plan, the one that would actually bring me more happiness than I thought was possible? So now although there is still a list of things I cannot do, I’ve left it on the foyer floor with the tears that hopefully drowned it.

M.S. brought me my new plan. M.S. opened my eyes to my new life, and it is still beautiful.

How has your plan changed?

About Justine Dorton

Justine is a mother to five children, and has a husband lodged somewhere (probably in the den). She is not very fond of speaking of herself in third person.

58 thoughts on “Mourning the Plan”

  1. We spent two-thirds of this year trying to move back to my hometown, where my parents and five siblings reside. Though our decision to do so was confirmed as good by the Lord, every step of the process was fraught with setbacks and disappointments. Initially our plan was to be settled by the end of the school year. Then mid-summer. Then before school started. We spent the summer with my parents, hoping to ease the transition from the old home to the new (hoping the old would sell). When I realized my boys wouldn't be settled in a new home and neighborhood and school before school started, I really had to mourn the loss of my expectations. That was a difficult time.

    However, when we returned to our home after a long and emotional summer, I had renewed appreciation for my blessings. I felt purpose in being where I was instead of longing for where I (thought I) wanted to be. I realized the grass was green in my own yard, and not so green in the yard I had imagined. We took our house off the market and canceled all moving plans.

    Last week some dear friends were baptized into the Church. They are here — not where I wanted to move. I marvel that if we had completed our moving plan, we would not have been a part of this glorious miracle. The Lord's plan is always the best plan, even if we have to mourn the loss of our will along the way.

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  2. This is such an inspiring post — thank you, truly, for sharing these tender feelings. I had an extra, unsuccessful pregnancy for each successful one (10 pregnancies, 5 healthy children) and while we had some scary times, and some sad ones, and that wasn't fun, I am so grateful for all it taught me. In hindsight, it wasn't a very hard trial compared to what many people face (I'm sure there will be harder ones in my future). I also love how far apart our children are as a result, because the older ones are so darling with the tiny ones. I'm glad our plans keep changing (and they do) — it's what make life interesting.

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  3. This is absolutely beautiful. Thank you for sharing the pain and joy of your journey. Best wishes to you.

    Something I wasn't expecting in my life plan: having a husband who would teeter between faith and darkness for years. I'm still not sure how it's all going to work out, but I have hope and gratitude that he is a remarkably good person regardless of his activity in the church.

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  4. "Was the Lord just waiting for those last few vestiges from my own plan to fall away so He could introduce me to the real plan, the one that would actually bring me more happiness than I thought was possible?"

    Wow.

    This may be one of my all-time favorite Segullah posts. Thank you, Justine.

    I both mourn and rejoice with you.

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  5. Justine, I wish wisdom didn't come at such a price. But thank you for sharing yours.

    Thank you also for the reminder of the reality of the struggles others experience. One of the hardest things about deep pain is the sense of loneliness, and the realization that your sorrow is just another sad story to most people. I think one of the greatest gifts we can give each other is validation. Letting the stories of others be real for us. That's a real needle you stick in your leg, and those are real lesions on your MRI, and this is real wisdom that you're sharing as a result.

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  6. "The blessings of ‘right now’ are all around me"

    I love that line. It took an ordeal of similar heartache for me to get to the same "right now" place…only I'm kind of a remedial student so I'm barely there now. But this post sums up so much of how this past few years have been for me. And now, I'm so grateful for the things I've learned and the insights I have about the pain I endured all those years.

    I agree…this is a post for the books. One of my very favorite ever. Loved it!

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  7. Thank you so much for sharing your struggles and your faith. Although I don't know you really well, I feel blessed to have met you so many years ago through Dyana and crossed paths with you off and on because you have always been an example to me of a woman of faith and strength. I'm so touched by your hope and faith in the Lords's plan for each of our lives.

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  8. I grew up with an inactive father and my plan was to have a different sort of family. I married my husband in the temple after we both served missions and I was sure that we were both going to be active Church members forever. Nine years later my life looks very different from my 'plan'. It has been hard and I have definitely had to take time to mourn what I lost and what I thought would be my future. Life is good, but it is hard too, and one of the hardest things for me is living with unmet expectations and things that don't fit what I thought would happen.

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  9. One of the greatest blessings in my life recently has been to start to see how much I underestimate the Lord's love for His children. Mom o boys and Foxyj, the Lord has said over and over that He will gather His children like chicks under His wings (d&c 29:2). And the Lord's promises are sure. Don't discount grace in our lives, you beautiful women!

    I know we're all struggling with something, and KLS, you're right that too often we feel so isolated in that struggle. Sometimes choosing to let go of my expectations is so dang hard, but it has always ending up being a blessing. Always.

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  10. This is the very first time I've come to read this blog, and you put into words the exact feelings and experience I had. Gathering your very young children around you to try to explain Mommy's New Disease; having them watch–horror-stricken–as some strange lady makes Mommy stick a needle in her leg; wondering if I would see those beautiful children graduate high school, serve missions, marry, have their own babies–the losses and the fears and the dream-stifling were what I mourned. And sometimes I still do, 15 years (and a relatively healthy body) later. It's difficult to explain all of this to people, including family members. It's a blessing to know that someone out there understands all of it–the challenges and the resultant blessings.
    Thank you for sharing your talents and your heart!

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  11. Oh Justine, this is so beautiful and wrenching. I have had many times in my life where I sit in my closet and cry about deviations from the plan — my plan. You said it so perfectly: "Was the Lord just waiting for those last few vestiges from my own plan to fall away so He could introduce me to the real plan, the one that would actually bring me more happiness than I thought was possible?"

    Love you dearly.

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  12. Justine, when I read the title of your post, my mind instantly went to "the Plan"—the plan of salvation. I know that suffering, opposition, and pain are a part of the overall plan, so that we can learn and progress, but sometimes I mourn over that part of the plan. I hate pain.

    But you are right: the Lord's plan for us will bring us more eventual joy and happiness than our own plans. I'm learning that more and more the older I get.

    I love and admire you greatly! I can see that you are living joyfully and purposefully and that you rejoice in the now. Thank you for writing this beautiful post and sharing your wisdom with us.

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  13. Beautiful, Justine. I love you and have been very moved by your strength through this, even knowing you haven't felt strong all the time. You are a blessing in my life.

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  14. Was the Lord just waiting for those last few vestiges from my own plan to fall away so He could introduce me to the real plan, the one that would actually bring me more happiness than I thought was possible?

    Oh, wow. That brought me to tears and was exactly what I needed to read this morning. Thank you, Justine!

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  15. Justine~

    Reading your post, I couldn't help but think of some verses from the book of Jeremiah, that were life-changing for me, when I ran into some barriers in my life's plan.

    The children of Israel had been carried captive to another land. Their own life's plan had been diverted, against their will, and they were expecting immediate intervention from the Lord. But it was not to be. He had a different plan, and His counsel, through His prophet was thus:

    Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon;
    5 Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them;
    6 Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished.
    7 And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.

    In other words, the Lord wasn't going to immediately relieve their burden, and in the meantime, He didn't want them pining away, fruitless, while life sped by. He wanted them to live in the moment, so that, eventually, they would be increased, and not diminished.

    The last I find most comforting:

    11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.

    This comforts me to know the Lord has a personal plan in place, and not one of evil, but of peace.

    Thank you for sharing your personal struggles and griefs, and insights. I hope you find peace and comfort through the Savior. Best wishes.

    Jeremiah 29

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  16. Justine, your ability to be peaceful—to find peace no matter the circumstance—has served as an example to me so many times in the short few years I've known you. Thank you for that. This is a beautiful post.

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  17. Everyone is making me cry! To mourn together and take care of each other even in the midst of our own sorrows – what a privilege.

    There are women here that I know intimately, some I know only a little, and some I've never met, and yet to share our own sorrows and mourn our own losses together makes me feel connected to humanity in a way I cannot adequately describe. Thank you for those words of connectedness.

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  18. Justine,
    Thank you so much for this post. Having shed tears over the loss of my own plan, your post speaks straight to my heart. I thank God for the knowledge and hope of His plan for me. I learned recently that we are never told in scripture to "plan" only to "prepare". And she who is prepared shall not fear.
    Beautiful post and thank all of you for your comments as well

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  19. Wonderful post. Like so many others, I can relate to the process of watching my 5-year plans go up in smoke, only to be replaced by the Lord's infinitely better plan. You would think I would learn over time that His plan is ALWAYS better. Never once has my plan been better than the Lord's, even though sometimes it takes me a while to catch the vision. Thank you for the reminder.

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  20. My plan was to be married by 20 and having kids. If I ever worked, it would be part-time. And I'd be living in the country or a small town.

    Well, the plan before that was to be an equine vet.

    What actually happened?

    Freshman year of college: hated chemistry, decided to change major to something I was actually interested in. Though it was my choice to make this change, I had no idea where I would go with that. Especially because I planned to be married by 20 and a stay-at-home mom.

    Now, at 36, single, no kids, I have a bachelor's degree, a master's degree, a great career in children's books, and am living in New York City.

    Who knows if I'll ever get married? When I hit 34 I had to start admitting to myself that it'd probably never happen–after all, first dates are few and far between. Don't even ask when my last 2nd date was. I can't remember.

    So I can really empathize with the feeling of having to learn to let go and enjoy where you are. My job is great and I do make a difference in the world, so I suppose I have to be content with what I've been given.

    I hope someday I can find the peace you've found. My "peace" is to just pretend that part of me doesn't exist, because it's the better alternative to wallowing. It'd be much preferable to find true peace.

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  21. Wow, this is such a powerful post. I know exactly what you are talking about, but I think I am still lying on the foyer floor crying for a while. I hope to come out with the kind of insight and wisdom you have gained. Beautiful, beautiful post.

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  22. Justine,
    Watching you go through all that you have, I am amazed at your gracious beauty and untiring dedication to the Lord…no matter your circumstances. Thank you for opening up about this and helping all of us look at our circumstances in a new way.
    Love you.

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  23. This was emailed to me and, as fate (or the Spirit) would have it, it was the very thing that has been on my mind lately. Giving up the "plan" for the "present". And perhaps, by forgoing the "somedays" I actually do believe more in the gift of the now.

    The M.S. part is why I think it was forwarded to me, but I think disease or not, life is not as perfectly packaged as we surmise it will be. I actually feel blessed at times when I think of M.S. coming into my life. Although debilitating physically, it has been liberating spiritually. For me, for now.

    Thanks, Justine!

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  24. Anna and Aundrea, I'm so glad to hear from you. There are so many times I've felt like KLS mentions – so isolated in my personal struggle. And it's so true that it's been a very spiritually liberating experience for me.

    Aundrea, I'm also so glad to hear that you're still moving 15 years later. It used to terrify me to think of ending up in a wheelchair, now I think it would get me great parking!

    It's all a wild roller coaster ride. I'm just hanging on and trying to not scream!

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  25. "It used to terrify me to think of ending up in a wheelchair, now I think it would get me great parking!"

    Oh, Justine, how I love you!

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  26. Justine, my heart goes out to you. The only answer is to have faith in the plan of Salvation. The Lord gave us that knowledge for a reason. That's so when your plan doesn't go according to plan you can rely on His beautiful plan. I saw this work as I watched my cousin (age 39) slowly slip from this world with cancer. His beautiful wife and children are now alone in this life but they have KNOWLEDGE of God's plan and with that knowledge they know they will see him again. He didn't let cancer define him either. He served in callings faithfully to the very end. It made that knowledge that much more real for me.

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  27. Such a moving piece. Thank you for sharing.

    How has my plan changed? I thought for sure by 37 that I'd be married and have a kid or two. Instead, I'm single, I have a career that is somewhat draining (education). Last year I decided that instead of mourning, I was going to turn my "Plan B" into "Plan A," and I've had an absolute banner year, professionally.

    I'd give it all up in heartbeat for a family, though.

    Stacy–I totally hear you. I also just "pretend…"

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  28. "It used to terrify me to think of ending up in a wheelchair, now I think it would get me great parking!"

    Being in a wheelchair isn't all that terrifying, but I'd sure give up that great parking space if it meant getting out of this chair… 🙂

    I'm sorry to hear of your diagnosis. M.S. sucks.

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  29. Oh, Gabrielle, I know you're right! But i've been working so hard to reconcile myself to whatever path this thing takes me on, so I've been coming up with lists of positives for some likely eventualities. It has helped me smile instead of cry.

    And seeing how I've had both stitches and sliced off part of my thumb in the last few weeks while chopping food, I'm hoping it will mean I get to hire a cook in my stead. Ha.

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  30. My plan certainly wasn't to get divorced, but the beauty in my now is incredible.

    Then my beautiful, safe new plan is fizzling into nothing as I type this as well – though into something so much better. Those last vestiges as you put it can be so difficult to let go of though…

    Stunning post Justine. Thank you.

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  31. Oh, Justine, what hard-won wisdom. I'm deeply moved by this post, and honor you for your gentle submission to this very hard "new plan". I can only add my witness that when we're called to give up our plans (and they were good, noble plans, weren't they?), when those plans dissolve slowly before our eyes or when they implode in one sudden, deafening blast, there's still something solid and undying deep underneath all the debris. It takes work to reach that solid surface with our toes, but it's there. I've taken heart from the following ideas;

    C.S. Lewis:

    "Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, the death of your ambitions and favorite wishes: submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look out for yourself only, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look to Christ and you will find Him, and, with Him, everything else."

    Nicolas Wolterstorff:

    "And sometimes, when the cry is intense, there emerges a radiance which elsewhere seldom appears: a glow of courage, of love, of insight, of selflessness, of faith. In that radiance we see best what humanity was meant to be. . .In the valley of suffering, despair and bitterness are brewed. But there also character is made. The valley of suffering is the vale of soul-making."

    Justine, because of your meekness and God's grace, MS might be devouring your body, but it's also buidling a formidable soul.

    Love you.

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  32. SO, So beautiful. I'm having a hard time giving up on my plan. I keep thinking that maybe this year everything will change and come together the way I'd hoped.

    I'm such a chump.

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  33. "I can only add my witness that when we’re called to give up our plans (and they were good, noble plans, weren’t they?), when those plans dissolve slowly before our eyes or when they implode in one sudden, deafening blast, there’s still something solid and undying deep underneath all the debris. It takes work to reach that solid surface with our toes, but it’s there."

    Thank you for adding this powerful witness, Melissa–a witness that carries a full punch. Hard-won wisdom, indeed. You have dealt with the blow that would level any one of us and have somehow managed to toe your way down to that solid foundation beneath the debris.

    "But look to Christ and you will find Him, and, with Him, everything else.”

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  34. I read this all day yesterday (kept coming back to see the comments) and still don't know what to say other than God bless you and I'm so glad you're my friend.

    Much love (and a few tears too).

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  35. This was such a deep inspiring post to read. I admire the grace and courage you are exhibiting as you face this new plan.

    I planned to get married at 24, have at least 3 kids (with 3 year spacing for my children), and stay home with them while my husband supported us.

    I got married at 20. I had my first child at 22 and my fifth child at 30. But really, though the road to get here has been difficult and not as I'd planned, we finally arrived three years ago to the place I expected to be in the end. We live in a wonderful suburb of a major city. My husband works with a great firm. I stay home. I got what I wanted in my plan in the end.

    Except I don't think anymore that this is what is best for us. I think the Lord sent us here so I could see that what I thought was best maybe isn't.

    And now we're feeling like its time for something else but we don't know what yet.

    Thanks for sharing this.

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  36. Justine, thank you for your wise and beautiful heart, and for the courage to share it with us. Melissa, that C.S. Lewis literally took my breath away.

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  37. Beautiful post and one I can relate so strongly to. After trying for 10 years after our 1st born, we were blessed with another son, who was born premature and many life threatening birth defects. How little did we know of the journey we were beginning. A long and hard one, BUT one that has been incredibly sweet and sacred. 11 years of sleepless nights, feeding pumps, 18 different medications, countless surgeries, ER visits, hospital stays, 911 calls, Ambulance rides, 15 different Doctors, hospital and Doctor bills, insurance fights have been worth it. I have learned so much and would not give it up. The Lord has been mindful, merciful and so close. It has been a privilege to raise a special Child of God's.

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  38. thank you for sharing such a beautiful story.

    I appreciate your attitude and example. For me, my biggest story of how life has not been how I'd hoped as a college student- I ended up still single at age 41, never married and no kids.

    I know I need to do better at the things I can change, a lot of my trials in life are due to my own fault.

    As time went on, I thought if I had kids I'd work in a nursing home and if I didn't have kids, I'd work in a pediatric setting. well. So much for that! I work as an occupational therapist in a nursing home and have worked w/those w/special needs a direct care giver, I feel this is how I've been able to try to make a difference. I feel it is an honor to be able to help the elderly.

    Still I do wonder- to me, I could do both (ie have a family and do this job) and have "my way". Oh well!

    There is a quote that I've heard (maybe by Elder Maxwell, but I'm still searching) that talks about how those who don't have trials should be at the feet of those who do, serving them. That is something I try/hope/want to do.

    So many have so much pain in the world and so many face such challenging trials. I just hope I can strive to do whatever I can do to help, in some tiny way.

    thanks again, best wishes in this challenge!

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  39. Justine,

    I usually read all the comments before I add my 2¢, but I just wanted to say thank you for such a beautiful post.

    Right NOW! I am trying to learn that. Why is my head still in the clouds?!

    The Lord's plan is amazing!

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  40. Ok. I read all the comments and am so inspired.

    I forget names and specifics (remember head's location?), but I loved the comment that the scriptures say to prepare, they don't say to plan! That's profound!

    I also was in awe od Melissa's C.S. Lewis quote. Thanks for sharing.

    And my plans were so varied and all over the map, it was inevitable I would hit on one of them. I'm grateful for where I am now and hope I can serve at the feet of others for some time more.

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  41. Thank you for such a courageous and introspective post Justine. The comments have been wonderful, especially the quotes from Melissa.

    I've changed my plans so many times that I don't want to plan at all. Trying to remember that every once in a while things turn out better than I plan keeps my hopes up. It seems as if God is trying to break my proud and controlling heart against his plan. Which is, as you said, better for me anyway. It pushes me to my knees, exactly where he wants me.

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  42. Thank you for your article. It is like you jumped inside my head and wrote down everything I have been thinking. I was diagnosed with MS this summer. I think I am still comming to terms with it. However it is nice to know other people are feeling the same way I am.

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  43. This is the first time I have read your blog. You captured my husband's feeling so well. He was diagnosed with Type II diabetes this summer. Not as serious as MS, I know, but for him it was devastating. He is finding that life does go on, even if it is not in the direction you expected. I will pray that your life gives you what you need as well.

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  44. Justine – I am just reading your post for the first time. Heart-breaking and empowering all in several minutes. You are a beautiful champion. I expect you will inspire and strengthen many throughout your journey. Falling in love with our new plan (as Robert Frost says – "Always fall in love with what you are asked to accept") is such a surrender. You expressed it so tenderly. A good friend of mine just learned her seventeen year old daughter has MS. So young. She is definitely mourning right now. I have a better window into her soul after reading your words. Thank you.

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  45. Oh, 17, that's so tough. But I really love the idea of falling in love with things I have to accept. I may as well smile about it because being grumpy won't change anything, it'll just make me a grumpy M.S. patient.

    And Nora, for me it seems that life is hardly ever really going in a direction I can anticipate or plan for. I'm just kinda winging it now!

    Thank you for all the kind words. We're all going to be ok. A religion teacher I have said something the other day about how Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were all given amazing blessings and promises, but then he added, "it's just that none of those blessings came in their lifetimes…" I get that.

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