Resources: The Big Three

In 1990, when I was 8 or 9 years old, I looked at the calendar and thought that the Second Coming would happen in the year 2000.  I wasn't sure I had enough time to prepare.  When I was a teenager, I heard about doctrines like "calling and election" and "Second Comforter."  I was extremely interested in those doctrines, but they rarely came up at church or in seminary.  I asked someone about them and I was told most people don't make their calling and election sure till they die, and that's when most people receive the Second Comforter too.  I believed what I was told, and pushed the doctrines to the back of my head.

I wish I hadn't.

During my search for information on how to reach a higher spiritual plane, I spent a lot of time on Google.  I learned so many things I wish I had known decades ago.  There are people today who have made their calling and election sure.  There are people today who have received the Second Comforter.  I was incredibly interested in learning all I could about these topics and how to have these experiences myself.  I found a number of resources that I highly recommend.  The following three people are what I would call "The Big Three."  I can't recommend them enough.

LDS Perfect Day
One of the first sources I found.  I probably bookmarked 50 pages on his site my first time through it.  I devoured as much as I had time for, staying up late into the night reading.  I couldn't fall asleep because I was so excited about what I was learning.  I felt like I'd been spiritually starving and I was finally receiving nourishment.  I can honestly say I've probably read 90 or 95% of his posts at least four times.

His blog's focus is on developing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  I'd heard that phrase before but wasn't sure it was supposed to be literal.  Well, yes, it is.  He writes about calling and election, the Second Comforter, spiritual gifts, and much more.  His more recent posts also come in podcast format.

Mike Stroud
When I was engaging in a bit of Google-stalking on LDS Perfect Day, I came across someone who said that LDS Perfect Day's voice didn't sound like Mike Stroud's.  After coming across that same search result several times I finally decided to find out who Mike was.  He had a website of podcasts that cover different gospel topics, but he has since removed the podcasts from his site.  The above link is to an unofficial Facebook group.  Many of those who love Mike's podcasts made sure to download them before he removed them, and some of them have made them available to others.

I felt the same way I did reading Mike's podcast transcripts as I did reading LDS Perfect Day's blog: like I was spiritually starving and just couldn't get enough information to satiate me.  I turned Mike's podcast transcripts into an ebook and read whenever I could.  Mike covers many "meaty" gospel topics.

John Pontius
I discovered John later than I did the other two.  John wrote several books including one called Visions of Glory.  When it came out, I read a review on Meridian Magazine that said the book was contained false doctrine.  This, unfortunately, poisoned my mind against John and his books, so I avoided him as a source.  However, I heard a lot of good things about him, so eventually I read Following the Light of Christ into His Presence.  (I hid this book so nobody would know I was reading it. I didn't want to be caught reading something that might contain "false doctrine.")  Following the Light was motivating and inspiring and I didn't sense any false doctrine at all in it.  Many months later I read Visions of Glory, The Triumph of Zion, and Journey to the Veil, and loved all of them too.  (And no, I didn't think Visions of Glory contained any false doctrine.)  I haven't yet finished reading John's blog but what I have read has been just as inspiring as his books.  His focus is similar to LDS Perfect Day - essentially becoming a celestial person through the process of spiritual rebirth/baptism of fire, calling and election, and receiving the Second Comforter.

Hearing my name

Hopefully by now I've convinced you that I'm no spiritual success story.  I'm not even sure why I'm blogging.  I feel like the blind leading the blind.  But I have had one special experience since my spiritual awakening (more on that in my next post).

Last August I woke up in the middle of the night and had a hard time falling asleep again.  I had recently had a falling out with a friend and was worrying about the situation.  As I was laying in bed thinking, I suddenly heard my name very clearly in my mind. I was very surprised. My previous thoughts had had nothing to do with my name, and I was pretty sure the voice wasn't the same voice I associate with my own thoughts.  It was a male voice, and not a super deep one. "That... was not me!!!" I realized. "That.... was Jesus?!!" I quickly called out to Him in my mind, thinking of Samuel's boyhood experience. No response. I wondered if I was dreaming, but I was pretty sure I was awake - I even opened my eyes to verify it. Soon afterwards, I finally fell asleep.

In the morning, I recorded the experience in my journal, still not 100% sure what had happened. A couple of days later I mentioned the experience to a friend, who confirmed that it HAD to have been Jesus. I was so excited! It was the greatest day of my entire life, the single most amazing thing that has ever happened to me. Jesus spoke to ME! He knew my name! I had gone from having strong faith in Him to feeling like I absolutely KNEW He was there and that He was aware of me and my righteous desires. I couldn't fall asleep that night because I was just so jubilant.

If an experience like this can happen to me, it can definitely happen to you.

True Confessions: The ARP meeting

Another example of how I'm no spiritual giant:

I volunteer with a nonprofit in my community.  The nonprofit holds an LDS Addiction Recovery Program meeting each week for the addicts in their program, which I love to go to.  The atmosphere is wonderful and I learn so much about the others in the room and their testimonies - and they have a chance to learn more about me.

One night in January I showed up at the meeting location and found out that the schedule for the night had changed at the last minute.  The group was supposed to do a different activity that night, but they weren't prepared for that activity.  Someone talked to one of the guys in charge of the nonprofit and he said the volunteers at the meeting should all share what God means to them and what the Church has done for them.  This was probably the last thing I wanted to share with the group.

The male ARP facilitator shared his testimony first.  I was planning to go after him because I figured I would look less bad if others ended on a high note, but his wife beat me to it.  Then the only other volunteer left besides me followed her.  As she spoke I knew it was not going to go well for me.  She talked about how she feels close to God when she prays, and she feels His love when she prays, and stuff like that.  Oh, awkward.  I wanted to die.

So then it was my turn.  I said I grew up in the church, there were probably 30 Mormon kids [in my grade] in my school but most of them weren’t “good.”  The church kept me out of trouble but probably also made me a bit self-righteous.  I know the Atonement is real and that Jesus lives.  I know God is there.  But I don’t have a relationship with Him.  I’ve felt His love once but have never felt close to Him.  I said I’d completely rearranged my priorities 10 months ago and started engaging in long sincere prayer and meditation and real scripture study.  I said I’d removed all worldly distractions from my life so I’m really boring; I don't watch TV like everyone else.  (That got some laughs.)  I said I figured there had to be something higher than the spiritual rut I was in, and I was going to do all I could to find it.  I was totally crying as I talked.  Thankfully, that room was a safe space for me to share, even though I didn't want to and still felt completely humiliated.

I won't give up.  I'll continue to ask.  Someday I will have that testimony!

True Confessions: The Visiting Teaching Message: God's Love

Another example showing that I'm no spiritual success story:

The February 2017 visiting teaching message was titled, "Christ's Atonement is Evidence of God's Love."  My visiting teaching companion generally was too busy to come with me, which meant I would be teaching by default.  This was another message I dreaded teaching.  I've spent a lot of time in my life intellectually knowing God loves me, but my heart feeling like He doesn't.  I have only felt God's love for me once in my life, despite praying off and on to feel it ever since I was a teenager.  I am incredibly grateful for that one experience, but I haven't felt it since.  I'm also grateful for that experience so I could at least share a little testimony at the end of my lesson!

When I taught this time, it was super awkward because I had asked someone to come with me that I didn't know very well, and I didn't know the woman I taught very well and wasn't clicking with her at all.  Not a safe spot for my confession.  But I did it anyway.  I don't think either of them knew how to respond.  I think my substitute companion asked my visiting teachee when she feels God's love, and she responded that she feels God's love and feels close to Him when she prays.  I was kind of dumbfounded.  I have never had that experience.

I won't give up.  I'll continue to ask.  Someday I will have that testimony, and will know in my heart what I know in my head!

My lesson, for the curious...

This month’s visiting teaching message is titled, “Christ’s atonement is evidence of God’s love.”

President Benson said, "No mortal being had the power or capability to redeem all other mortals from their lost and fallen condition, nor could any other voluntarily forfeit his life and thereby bring to pass a universal resurrection for all other mortals.

"Only Jesus Christ was able and willing to accomplish such a redeeming act of love.

"We may never understand nor comprehend in mortality how He accomplished what He did, but we must not fail to understand why He did what He did.

"Everything He did was prompted by His unselfish, infinite love for us."

Unlike the rest of us, Christ wasn’t motivated by duty, glory, honor, or any other worldly reward.  He was motivated by His love for you.

In C.S. Lewis’s book “Mere Christianity,” he said, “[God] has infinite attention to spare for each one of us.  He does not have to deal with us in the mass.  You are as much alone with Him as if you were the only being He had ever created.  When Christ died, He died for you individually just as much as if you had been the only [woman] in the world.”

It amazes me to think that Christ would have atoned just for me.  I can imagine Him having enough love to atone for billions and billions of people, but it’s harder to imagine Him loving just me enough to die for.

Several years ago, I went reluctantly to a Relief Society fireside.  The woman who spoke had experienced a horrible event as a child, and she testified how she felt God’s love during the event and throughout her life afterwards.  At the end of the fireside, I escaped the chapel quickly so nobody could see me crying.  As I left, I felt God’s love for me very strongly.  I don’t know why that was when God chose to answer my latest round of “do You love me?” prayers, but I was very glad I had chosen to attend that fireside and have that experience, since it is my one experience of feeling God’s love for me.

True Confessions: The Visiting Teaching Message: Daughter of God

Again, I tell you that I'm nobody important or special in the world.  I'm average.  In some ways, maybe below-average.  Here is a story that proves that point:

The April 2016 visiting teaching message was about how we are daughters of Heavenly Father.  Unfortunately, it was my turn to teach the lesson that month.  As soon as I saw what the topic was, I dreaded it.  I don't really have a testimony that I'm a daughter of God.  I logically know it.  I've been taught it since I was a child, and I said it every Sunday as a Young Woman.  I recently received a blessing where I was told I'm a daughter of Heavenly Parents and I absolutely believe it - at least mentally.  But my heart doesn't feel it.

I prayed and prayed the first two weeks of April, "Please, help me know that I'm Your daughter.  I need to teach this lesson and I don't have a real testimony of it!  Please!"  The answer never came. 

After teaching my lesson, instead of bearing my testimony of the doctrine, I admitted, "This is something I don't have a testimony of yet.  This is something I've been praying off and on about since I was a teenager.  But the answer has never come."  It was horrible to admit, but my companion and the women I visit taught at that time were three of my best friends in the ward, so it was a safe space to make that confession.

I won't give up.  I'll continue to ask.  Someday I will have that testimony, and will know in my heart what I know in my head!

My lesson, for the curious:

The Family proclamation says, “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.”

Sister Sheri L. Dew gave a great talk in Women’s Conference about our divine identity.  She said, “Our spirits long for us to remember the truth about who we are, because the way we see ourselves, our sense of identity, affects everything we do. It affects the way we behave, the way we respond to uncertainty, the way we see others, the way we feel about ourselves, and the way we make choices. It affects the very way we live our lives.”

I searched for General Conference talks that explain how knowing that we are daughters of God influences our lives and came up with three ways.

#1 - Knowing we are daughters of God gives us self confidence.
James E. Faust said in the 1999 General Conference, “Being a daughter of God means that if you seek it, you can find your true identity. You will know who you are. This will make you free—not free from restraints, but free from doubts, anxieties, or peer pressure. You will not need to worry, “Do I look all right?” “Do I sound OK?” “What do people think of me?” A conviction that you are a daughter of God gives you a feeling of comfort in your self-worth. It means that you can find strength in the balm of Christ. It will help you meet the heartaches and challenges with faith and serenity.”

Sister Dew said: “As we come to understand [our divine nature], we will feel a greater sense of mission and more confidence living as a woman of God in a world that doesn't necessarily celebrate women of God. We will cheer each other on rather than compete with each other, because we'll feel secure in our standing before the Lord. And we'll be eager to stand for truth, even when we must stand alone-for every consecrated woman will have times when she must stand alone.”

I think in today’s world it’s very easy not to feel much self-confidence.  We are bombarded from all sides with the world’s ideals of what we should look like, dress like, and act like.  If we know we are daughters of God, it’s easier not to buy into those ideals.

#2 - Knowing that we are daughters of God helps us resist temptation.
Elaine S. Dalton shared a story in the April 2010 GC talk that really illustrated this point.  She said, “I have always loved the story of the son of King Louis XVI of France because he had an unshakable knowledge of his identity. As a young man, he was kidnapped by evil men who had dethroned his father, the king. These men knew that if they could destroy him morally, he would not be heir to the throne. For six months they subjected him to every vile thing life had to offer, and yet he never yielded under pressure. This puzzled his captors, and after doing everything they could think of, they asked him why he had such great moral strength. His reply was simple. He said, “I cannot do what you ask, for I was born to be a king.”

“Like the king’s son, each of you has inherited a royal birthright. Each of you has a divine heritage. “You are literally the royal daughters of our Father in Heaven.” Each of you was born to be a queen.”

#3 - Knowing that we are daughters of God helps us treat others with love and kindness.
When we know we are daughters of God, we have to acknowledge others are children of God as well, and need to treat them with love, kindness, and respect.

C. S. Lewis said something that I always found rather sobering: “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship. … There are no ordinary people. … Your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses” (“The Weight of Glory,” in Screwtape Proposes a Toast and Other Pieces [1974], 109–10).