People joke that our bodies begin falling apart in our 40s. Well, I must be an overachiever because my body started going haywire a decade earlier.
It was 2016 to be precise.
My hands were going numb. I was losing sensation in my fingertips (you've heard of butterfingers? That was me, but double-the-butter).
I figured I had neuropathy or carpal tunnel syndrome. I slept with braces on my wrists, tried to reduce inflammation, underwent electrical-current testing, saw M.D.'s and natural healers (I don't discriminate) and prayed like the dickens.
In other words, I did what most people do when they freak out.
I feared the worst.
I envisioned my hands becoming useless and having to use voice-to-text technology like Stephen Hawking.
I asked Clark Burt for a priesthood blessing.
We were serving together in the Stake Sunday School presidency.
Clark asked me if I had faith to be healed.
And again, to some it is given to have faith to be healed.
Sure I had faith, I thought. The Lord said in D&C 42 that if I have faith to be healed (and if it wasn't my time to die), then I shall be healed.
He that hath faith in me to be healed, and is not appointed unto death, shall be healed.
Notice it says "shall," not "may."
Assuming I had a few good years left, and believing all things are possible, I believed the Lord would heal me of my neurodegenerative issue or whatever it was, as simply as he had healed the lepers of their leprosy.
Is anything too hard for the Lord?
So I answered, "Yes. But do you have the faith to heal me?"
And to others it is given to have faith to heal.
Surely between the two of us we could muster the faith of a mustard seed, right?
Clean Hands, Pure Heart
Clark wasn't worried about my hands. He was worried about my soul.
"The greatest part of our energy in this life is spent endeavoring to rid ourselves of discomfort," he once said. "But God did not promise us comfort but to send us a Comforter. The irony is He makes us uncomfortable with our sin. One master sin is at the root of all the rest. It is the non-recognition by us ― and the consequent inactivity in us. It is the absence of our being in harmony with our Father and His Son. The Lord cannot save us from our sins while we hold on to them. So let go. Open your fists and let the Lord put His mark in the palm of your hands."
He who hath faith to see shall see. He who hath faith to hear shall hear. The lame who hath faith to leap shall leap.
Where I Cut My Wrists
Clark's blessing gave me confidence and bolstered my faith, but I decided it would still be prudent to operate (not from a lack of faith, but in a doing-my-part sort of way).
My orthopedic surgeon came highly recommended; after my consultation I ran into him at the American Fork Temple, where he was a temple worker.
So that was a good sign.
The first time he performed bilateral carpal tunnel surgery on me (you heard me right, first time), he cut into my wrists and enlarged the canal that protects the nerve going from our neck down our arms into our hands.
In Post-Op, the doctor visited me after I woke up from the anesthesia and wiped sweat from his brow. "It kicked my butt," he said (that's the closest to swearing a Temple Worker gets).
It had taken him 4 times longer than normal because my wrists were in such bad shape. For reasons unknown, underneath my skin is a wonderland of thick scar tissue.
Back at home, recuperating with my wrists and hands wrapped in bandages, I was barely able to text Clark an update. "I am doing well but am very sore. It's okay: I can still work the TV remote," I wrote after the surgery.
He texted back, "I am glad it went well. And if you can hold a remote you can hold your scriptures."
Now there's a man who takes his gospel study seriously!
"More Painful than Childbirth"
A couple months later I felt sick to my stomach. The pain increased and I wondered if I had appendicitis. They say to never Google your symptoms because you'll think it's terminal.
I was sure I was dying.
It was the middle of the night and I woke my wife up, telling her I was going to drive myself to the hospital. She wanted to take me, but we had young toddlers and no one to stay with them, so I told her I'd be fine.
I wasn't fine.
It was probably the stupidest thing I've ever done, driving while in so much pain, but thankfully I didn't hurt anyone (and an ambulance ride would have cost thousands of dollars!).
I stumbled into the Emergency Room and the nurse took one look at me and knew exactly what it was.
"Honey, you got kidney stones."
"Umm, not that I know of," I said.
A CT scan revealed an 11 mm stone (they call it a "stone," but these aren't like smooth river rocks; if you look at them in a microscope they are jagged crystals with a million spikes that pierce your ureter between the kidneys and bladder).
So, I had my first stone (yes, you heard me right: first stone. It gets easier once you know what's happening. Maybe someday I'll tell you about passing one in the bathroom at work after telling the Judge in chambers at the beginning of a jury trial that if I made any odd noises or gestures during the trial, it was because I had a stone stuck in my ureter).
The nurse told me she had stones, too, and it was more painful than childbirth (a detail I delight in repeating to my wife at every opportunity).
There's a procedure where they electroshock the stone with sound waves, bursting it into little pieces of sharp sand that can pass through . . . you know.
Clark brought me some homemade bread before the procedure. The risks weren't great, but it bruises your kidneys, and you never know.
I accepted the bread thankfully. "What's this?" I said, referring to some papers he passed to me with the bread.
"Something I wrote that I think you should read," Clark said.
I looked at the title of a multiple-page essay called, "Saved From Our Sins."
Well, I packed the essay in my hospital bag, for some easy reading. The day of the surgery, while I was being prepped for anesthesia, I read it.
The anesthesiologist came in. "Mr. Merrill, are you ready?"
He meant was I ready to go to sleep. But in the back of my mind, one wonders, what if there are complications and this is it? What if this is my last day on earth?
I put Clarks' paper down and smiled. "As ready as I'll ever be."
Put Your Trust in God
One of Clark's favorite scriptures to quote is from Romans Chapter 1.
Like the apostle Paul, Clark always warned me not to put my trust in men. He always pointed me to Christ and His holy word.
Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man. Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator.
(Romans 1:21-23, 25)
I had never read this scripture as being about prophets or living idols, always interpreting "creature" to be the natural man or carved wood or something. But re-read this scripture.
What better definition for "Anti-Christ" than when we "change the glory of God into an image like a man," as we do when we worship our leaders?
Do we turn the gospel "of God into a lie" when we serve those in authority above our Creator?
And so the greatest lesson Clark taught me was this:
We shouldn't put our trust in men, because our trust is in God alone. But in men we put our love; we pour our hearts into one another, never-ending.
I know in whom I have trusted. My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; He hath filled me with his love.
(2 Nephi 4:19-21)
One of the greatest things in life is to be loved by someone who truly trusts God, because their love is not their own but is a gift from God.