Virginia Jefferies’ Convocation Speech: Courageous in the Face of Fear

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Master’s program graduate Virginia Jefferies and her son.

Excerpt from Virginia Jefferies’ convocation address, delivered on April 25, 2019.

I didn’t think that I could ever become a nurse.  I was so afraid of blood and needles. When I was little, I passed out at my cousin’s house when he stapled his thumb, I passed out at the dentist office when he fixed my cavities. As a young woman, I passed out at church on Easter Sunday when my teacher talked about the Crucifixion, and as a college student I passed out watching the Miracle of Birth video in a family life class.  Then before my mission, I passed out at work at my office job, when my boss was telling me about what it’s like to have an episiotomy. She even called 911 and an ambulance came for me. I remember coming to, under my desk, with a paramedic removing my blazer. I certainly didn’t think that I would ever be able to become a nurse.

Then I served a mission… and while I was on my mission I almost passed out several more times. We visited patients in hospitals.  Just walking into a room with an IV in someone’s arm made me feel faint.

But when I came home from my mission, my own little sister lay in a hospital bed.  She had just had her spine fused and a metal bar installed in her back.  Out of my love for her, I stayed the night with her in the hospital.  While I was there . . .  I saw angels.  They were wearing scrubs.  They visited my sister all through the night, responding to her moans and cries.  They spoke to her in gentle, hushed tones and ministered to her.

That night changed me and I felt called to be a nurse. But that night didn’t take away my weakness. A few months later, I found myself at the BYU counseling center where a wise counselor guided me to start small and simple and to work up from there to overcome my fears.  She had me write a list in ascending order – of situations with blood and needles that scared me – and then slowly work through them to overcome my fears.

The first task on my list was to prick someone’s finger.  Fortunately, I had a friend that was an ER nurse that was kind enough to oblige my first attempt.  I was so scared. But grateful that I knew he would be able to take care of me if I fainted. I did survive that first lesson: sweaty, and clammy, but without passing out.

I was eventually accepted into the nursing program at BYU.  Unfortunately, I did pass out during orientation . . .  across the feet of the two girls sitting beside me.  During the break I heard one of them say, “maybe you should get a different major.”

Yeah, well, you can’t just get a different major if God tells you to be a nurse.  So, I persisted with faith and prayer, and miracles happened one after the other, and I did make my way through that list.  By the second year of the nursing program I faced the fear at the top of my list.  Witnessing open heart surgery.  As a nursing student I stood at the head of the operating table beside the anesthesiologist.  The chest was cleaned and draped for surgery.  I watched as the sternal saw cut the sternum. The ribs were spread.  I stood in awe of the wonder of the glory of God as blood dripped to the floor before me.  Just then the kind anesthesiologist turned to me and asked, “you alright?” and I said, “yeah, I’m alright.”  And I am standing here to tell you today that that was a miracle.

 

6 Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise.

7 And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls. (Alma 37:6-7)

 

This is the work of God. When he calls us, he qualifies us too. Elder Neil L. Anderson, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said, “When we are on the Lord’s errand, he will be with us, he will strengthen us, he will build our capacities.” Friends, I testify to you that the Lord makes weak things strong.  When we get into the yoke with him, we do not pull alone.

Serving God’s children as a nurse is practicing the Healer’s Art.  With him, we walk on sacred ground when our patients experience heartache, loss, sickness, and pain. I have held a patient and cried with her after she received a cancer diagnosis. I have spoken with love to a young man who reluctantly survived an overdose.  We share our patients’ deepest sorrows and greatest joys.  I am so grateful to be a nurse.  The Healer’s Art is beautiful. He is with us. And he will make more of us than we could ever imagine.

More than a decade after I got my nursing degree here at BYU, I felt my Father calling me back to become a nurse practitioner. Several weeks ago at an urgent care, I had the opportunity to do suturing for the first time on a patient. His lip was split open, and blood was spilling freely from the wound.  I approached him with a gentle smile on my face, and my suture and needle driver in my gloved hands.  It was a big day for me! Ironically, I had just used my asthma inhaler. One of the side effects of albuterol is tremor. But I wasn’t scared. Once again, love replaced fear.

Our God is surely a God of miracles.  He joys in using the weak and the simple to do his work. Bring what you have, even if it’s just a few loaves and a few small fishes and you carry them in your shaking hands.  Don’t be afraid of the smallness of your offering. The Savior will take you with your talents and multiply them in his service.  With him, you can care for the five thousand. And when the wind picks up, and the waves start slapping at your legs and you get scared, just put your eyes back on him.  He will lift you. And together you will walk on water.

Our work is his work.  With him, we can do it. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, teaches, “the Lord has never required expert, flawless effort. Instead he requests a heart and a willing mind.” Nurses and friends, we don’t have to be perfect today. The Savior gives us the gift to be human. You get to make mistakes and it’s okay.  Making mistakes is part of learning and growth.  Don’t give heed to voices that discourage you. God is with you. He will give us our daily bread. He will direct the spindles in our Liahonas as we exercise our faith in him to do the small and simple things. We can go forward with faith and there will be wonders among us. As our dear professor, Lacey Eden, told our class, “there are people out there who need you.”

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