Hurting, then Healing
For Stephanie Jensen Bills (BS ’12), a BYU nursing grad and mother of three young daughters, a necklace, photo, and handkerchief from her BYU days remind her of what matters most, and point her and her children towards love and service.
The story of those objects began when her fourteen-year-old younger brother, Brady became ill and died of viral meningitis and encephalitis in 2005. Bills wears a necklace with Brady’s name engraved on it to remind her of his influence. “I wish he were here,” she says. “He made a difference in people’s lives; he made a difference in mine.” It was during her brother’s illness that Bills determined she wanted to be a nurse. “I realized what an important role nurses play, and I’ve always wanted to do something to help people not only physically but also spiritually,” she says. “And that’s how the nurses took care of my family when Brady was sick.”
When Bills found out she had been accepted into BYU’s nursing program, she worried how she would afford school. She thought she’d have to give up her place on the BYU cross-country team to balance her schedule and make ends meet. She was fully prepared to make that sacrifice, but instead, Bills received a Helen Rhoda Drake Bingham Signature Scholarship, which, she says, “was an answer to prayer for me; it let me study nursing and continue running.”
Although challenging to do while studying, running gave Bills great satisfaction. She loved the team’s esprit de corps, that the team gave its all for her, and that she could do the same for them. She found strength in praying with her teammates and joy in sharing the gospel as an athlete. “BYU is unique,” she says. “Where else would I get to run and study nursing together with the gospel?”
At a special luncheon, Bills met the Binghams, the family who provided the scholarship. The meeting left her teary, so great was her emotion and gratitude, and Bruce Bingham gave her his handkerchief. Bills still has the handkerchief and a photo of her taken with the Binghams. “These items remind me to be grateful and remind me that I, too, can change somebody’s life.”
The scholarship’s origin was meaningful, too. Helen Bingham grew up in rural Illinois in the 1920s. She was inspired by the nurses who cared for her sister, who suffered from a terminal lung disease. Helen went to nursing school, enlisted in the U.S. Army, and served as a nurse at a base hospital in Germany during World War II. After the war she returned home and attended to those around her for the rest of her life. In 2005 Helen’s son Bruce and his wife Jean established a scholarship in Helen’s honor.
Today, while raising her daughters with her husband, Kevan, Bills reflects on the role of BYU in shaping her life. “My BYU experience educated me to be a nurse but prepared me to be a healer and positive contributor in anything I might be doing in life,” she says. “I work a couple times a month as a Labor and Delivery registered nurse and love it. . . . Before having our second child I decided to stop working to be with my babies more. I missed working so much that I decided to go back—even if it is very part-time. I missed being able to serve others in that way and having that fulfilling outlet in my life. I'm happy when I'm setting an example of service for my girls and they enjoy helping me at our neighborhood weekly service days.”
The role the Binghams had in her education is never far from her. Bills says, “I would love to give back as the Bingham's have and provide financial assistance to a BYU student. . . . The desire to serve others is ingrained in me and part of that is because of my experiences at BYU.” But for now, she says, “I am grateful that one of the ways I get to do that is [as a nurse] in the hospital setting.”