Friday, May 16, 2014

A Personal God

[B]y the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

I think it would be fitting to start this blog with a brief summary of my life, accentuating the reasons I believe in a merciful and just Heavenly Father, and in Jesus Christ the Savior, and have hope in an afterlife of glory to be inherited after this mortal life is done.

I was born a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon) Church. My parents both converted to the Church before they were married, and so I was born and raised in the Church. I was born in Utah, but my family moved around and all but my earliest memories are of Fort Collins, Colorado, where my family moved when I was about 5 years old. Until I graduated from high school, my family would live either in Fort Collins or one of two nearby towns, Windsor or Greeley.

Growing up was difficult. My mother's family had a history of severe depression, and so all the children (me and my two sisters) were diagnosed with depression at young ages and put on anti-depressant medication with insufficient oversight. I believe I was 12 or 13 when I was first put on Paxil, an SSRI, and it caused me serious behavioral issues until I got off them at age 24 (more on that later). Because of behavioral, mental, and biological issues, I was prone to severe depression, lack of ambition, and suicidal ideation.

Although I attended church weekly growing up, I only believed and lived my religion half-heartedly for the first part of my teenage years. Although there were some notable experiences that cemented my desire to live the Gospel, such desires usually fled after a time and I was left to struggle by myself. I wandered through thick mists of confusion and searched for a guiding rail to hold onto that would lead me to a better place than I was currently in. Up until this point, I only remember one concerted effort to seek the will of God in my life, and at the time that effort didn't seem to have lasted long or produced valuable results.

When I was 17, in the summer before my senior year of high school, I was still wandering somewhat aimlessly, doing what I did because I was told to do it and rebelling half the time. I was semi-inactive at church and had only a very shallow belief in the doctrine. I hadn't had any significant experiences that would root me in my religion. This all changed during a trip in July to move my older sister from Kentucky back to Colorado for school.

I don't remember the exact sequence of events leading up to this trip, but I do remember becoming very concerned with my future and what I was going to do after high school. I was debating whether I would take a course of action that would lead to leaving the Church, and was on a crash-course for emotional disaster after high school.

While on the trip, I decided to read the Book of Mormon all the way through. I had never done so before, but a few days into the trip I developed a hunger for reading it that I had never felt before. I read the entire thing, from front to back, in a 48-hour period. I was mesmerized by the events and message(s) contained therein, and I decided that I really wanted to know if it was true or not.

In the last chapter of the Book of Mormon, there's a promise written that anyone who reads the book and then asks God, in the name of Christ, if it is true--and if they have "a sincere heart, with real intent, [and have] faith in Christ"--then God will testify of the truth of the Book of Mormon to them on a personal level, by the power of the Holy Ghost (Moroni 10:3-5). I decided to put that promise to the test and see if it was true.

Because I didn't begin keeping any kind of significant journal until years after this incident, the exact order of events are foggy. The key events, however, are emblazoned on my memory and dramatically altered the course of my life.

When I was reading the Book of Mormon that first time, I was overwhelmed by the positive, joyful spirit I felt. I felt elated and eager to learn more. I wanted to know and understand everything in that book, because of how wonderful it made me feel. Most of all, there was a generally calm, content feeling that pervaded the entire week surrounding my reading of the Book of Mormon (which was a rarity in my life, which was anything but calm and fulfilling). Reading the Book of Mormon brought a clarity of thought and a hope for the future that I hadn't experienced before, and it was wonderful. Looking back on it now, I realize that was the effect of the Holy Ghost, the Comforter, which was testifying the truth of the Book of Mormon to me by removing the contention in my heart in response to seeking after truth from the fount of all truth- God.

Two other notable events happened that week. The first, and the one that stands out supreme in this triumvirate of spiritual experiences, occurred within the next two days of finishing the Book of Mormon. In the wake of my newfound enlightenment, I began re-evaluating my entire life. My chief concern was the same thought that had dominated my childhood and teenage years--I wanted to be a family man, a good husband and father. I went to the Lord and asked about my future.

In response to this inquiry, I was given a brief, crystal-clear vision of my future. The contents of that vision are sacred and should not be shared in a public venue such as a blog; suffice it to say that it was a vivid, intense, instantaneous moment that transcended waking reality. In one split second I saw and fully comprehended a scene that would have taken at least two minutes to absorb otherwise. It occurred when I was fully awake, although my eyes were closed at the time. I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it was a gift from God to comfort and guide me in my efforts, and give me hope of receiving what I wanted most out of life: a loving wife and children.

The final experience, another manifestation of the Holy Ghost, was a prolonged experience where I was commanded to do something very specific and very uncomfortable. That experience revealed a lot about me to myself, and it still acts as a sort of "guiding rod" and comfort to me. Again, the details of what was required isn't as important as the fact that it did happen.

These three experiences--the deep and abiding feeling of peace in response to seeking truth from God, the dramatic vision of my future, and the receipt and following a command from God--was the beginning of my faith and have formed an irreplaceable part of the bedrock of my hope in God.

Since those experiences, life has been up and down. The initial weeks of hope and joy were followed by months and then years of struggle, interspersed with times of joy and peace like oases in the desert. Old demons returned and had to be conquered slowly; new demons arose and had to be put down. Old habits died hard, and new habits were slow to form. Nevertheless new habits did form, old demons were put to rest, and new, priceless knowledge was gained--all thanks to the continued guidance and patience of God.

Throughout the journey, there have been many more times of deep and abiding peace as well as the dramatic manifestations of the Spirit. Since that week in July so many years ago, I have had dreams and visions teaching me very important lessons. In times of great need and growth, I have had angels minister to me. Although I never saw the angels (except in a few dreams), I heard their voices and experienced an influx of physical and intellectual power that I know didn't originate from inside of myself. More than once, that angelic help was related to helping me overcome my natural laziness to be able to get to an early-morning job on time that, if not for the help, I would have lost at a time where losing my job could have meant homelessness or severe emotional trauma.

The greatest events, however, judging from the affect they had on my life, both occurred in the year 2012. Both times my mind became perfectly still--much more still than the deep peace I experienced the first time I read the Book of Mormon--and I received two very, very strong impressions. These impressions were accompanied by a feeling of awe amounting almost to dread and fear. How Daniel described his feelings, upon seeing the Lord of Hosts, accurately reflects how I felt:

Therefore I was left alone, and saw this great vision, and there remained no strength in me: for my comeliness was turned in me into corruption, and I retained no strength.

The first impression was to go to the local college campus and preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the free speech zone (a prospect that filled me with dread), which I eventually did. The second time, I was commanded, by the Lord, to stop taking the anti-depressant medication that had hindered my emotional growth for so long. I did that as well, and I was somehow given the emotional and physical strength to stop taking the medication cold turkey (a course I wouldn't personally suggest to anyone else).

These events, all of which came through the medium of the Holy Ghost have convinced me of the following facts. I believe these to be true because I have personally encountered the Spirit of God more than once, and every encounter has either taught or reinforced one of the following:

-There is a God. He exists! Moreover, God wants to be involved in our lives. He is willing to move heaven and Earth for our good, if we will let Him. We don't see his hand more in our lives because of our lack of faith (belief). We are hindered by our own ignorance, wickedness, and lack of believing what is possible. He is our Heavenly Father, which is a literal title because we are the same species, if you will, as he is. We are gods and godesses in embryo, and this mortal life is a very difficult, very refining period of trial, error, and repentance.

-Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He exists! He is our advocate with God, and it is his atoning actions that allow us to be forgiven, healed, and return to live with God one day. He is the God of this world, who willingly gave his life for us because he loves us.

-Through the medium of the Holy Spirit, we can be comforted and healed and learn about the Gospel of Christ, which is the "Good News" or "God-story" of Christ. Healing, peace, and knowledge comes through this medium, which is received as a result of Christ's mercy and love towards us and our keeping His commandments.

-Joseph Smith was a real prophet of God. He translated the Book of Mormon, which was written for our generation as a sign to the world that God has not forgotten us and that he will fulfill all the covenants he made to our forefathers.

-The Book of Mormon is real scripture for our day. I believe it to be historically true, and that it was translated by the gift and power of God. It was meant to be read and understood in conjunction with the Bible, and the two were meant to "grow together" to establish the true doctrine and Gospel of Christ. The Book of Mormon contains a roadmap on how to learn and do God's will for each of us, personally, and by so doing be brought back into the presence of Jesus Christ, whether in this life or the next.

-Anyone and everyone in the world can come to know these same things. There is a set pattern that must be followed and, if followed, it will always produce the same results: a personal knowledge that God exists. That pattern requires humility, faith, and action, which are very hard to put together sometimes. There is a very real power opposing our growth and happiness, and it seeks to keep us from approaching God and learning about Him personally. Each person has the option to either give in to that evil power or choose humility and love.

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