Recently I achieved a small victory and made it out of bed and into the gym before 5:30 am. I avoided the crowded kickboxing class and chose an elliptical machine in a quiet corner. Browsing through the small TV screen in front of me, I attempted to find something that would help me ignore my protesting muscles as I pushed through the routine. Instead of mere distraction, I found enlightenment! On the screen stood former BYU president Rex E. Lee [1935-1996] and his beautiful wife Janet G. Lee giving a joint lecture to the student body entitled “Find Beauty In The Storm“, given January 23, 1990. At that moment in time, President and Sister Lee were only 6 months into their new assignment at BYU. In fact, this would be their first of many joint devotional lectures given over the following 6 years.
The lecture begins with a startling revelation that two years prior, President Lee had been given a terminal cancer diagnoses. The subsequent 5 long months of hospitalization, painful treatments and a miraculous recovery had been kept a private matter – Until now. I was extremely moved by the choice to share their personal and miraculous journey, and in turn, I would like to share some excerpts of their message.
Janet: Today we want to tell you a story. In a very real sense, it is a love story–our love story. We want to discuss with you some of the things that we learned, together, from the most trying and unpleasant experience that either of us has ever had, our experience with cancer
Standing side-by-side, Rex and Janet share the joy of being a vibrant, healthy, successful couple in 1987. Rex was at the zenith of his career as a prominent Supreme Court lawyer who recently had taken a teaching and law position in Utah – relocating with his wife and 7 children.
Janet: My life was easier and more pleasant than it had been in years. All seven of our children were doing well… We had our daughter’s wedding in April and were looking forward to our son’s marriage in June.
Rex: On May 18 I wrote in my journal, “Life is interesting, enjoyable, and busy. I cannot imagine any combination of activities and circumstances that could make me as happy right now as I am with the combination I have…Life could not be better.”
Janet: My journal entry at about the same time was: . . .”Life is as close to perfection as it can get in this life. It makes me uneasy. I feel there must be a challenge ahead. I know the cycle well. Each time our lives become too easy, it is time to grow again.”
Janet: In my journal, I described…”The past several days have been a blur–tests and more tests, each confirming the diagnosis: Cancer! Lymphoma! T-cell immunoblastic lymphoma, in the final stage! All such ugly, terrible, ruthless words. I wish we could run away, but where can we run? There is no way to run away from truth–from the awful facts. In a few short days, my beautiful, wonderful life has been shattered, and I am terrified!”
As I peddled away on my little machine, captivated as this story unfolded, I could not help recall my family’s own heart-wrenching experience three and a half years ago, when our daughter was hospitalized with a life-threatening condition. I empathized deeply with the Lee’s pain and sorrow, their feelings of gratitude for wisdom gained, infusion of faith, and the bonds of love forged that can come in no other way. All of us will suffer through at least one major “storm” in this life. And, it is highly likely, we will find ourselves “battening down the hatches” on a regular basis, seeking refuge from “inclement weather” [i.e. “learning experiences”]. This is part of our mortal journey. But, no matter how hard the wind blows, or how dark the future may seem, we have been given a sure promise that we never walk alone. Someday, all of our storms will come to an end. And, when the clouds lift, the view will be glorious!