My Spiritual Journey — Part II
A miracle has occurred in my life.
I have experienced a spiritual rebirth. I wasn’t looking for it. I didn’t deserve it. And although I didn’t know I was ready, the Lord knew I was. And today I am a changed man.
Let me catch you up…
A year ago, I wrote about the first 40 years of my spiritual journey. In this article, I’d like to cover the events of the last year.
Last year about this time I hit a wall. For 21 years I was an active member of the LDS Church. From all outward indicators, I was a faithful Mormon. I attended church meetings. I fulfilled my leadership callings. I went to the temple. I did my family history work. I prayed with my family. I wore a white shirt. However, I had not been truly converted internally. I was going through the motions. Painting by number. Checking the boxes.
I reached a breaking point where I knew that checking another box didn’t even matter if I didn’t believe it. I could no longer pretend. I had to be honest about my feelings and own them even if it meant ridicule and heartache from others around me. I had a testimony of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, but not of the restored gospel. A year ago I moved Church from a commitment to on-demand status. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done is sit with my family around the kitchen table and tell them I’m leaving the Church. In hindsight, I realize this was a necessary step in my journey.
Now that I was able to set church aside, I thought this is my time to become truly connected with God and my Savior. I felt that, in a way, the LDS Church was getting in my way of my relationship with them. Now there were no barriers. I started hiking often and spending more time in nature. While my family would go to Church on Sunday, I would head into the mountains, to read, ponder, pray, and rest. I was now doing what I wanted to do, not what some organization wanted me to do. Although these experiences felt liberating, they were somewhat empty.
In fact, as I look over the last year, the path has been pretty dark. I picked up some bad habits. I became less patient. I felt less love for others. I became more selfish. My media choices degraded. I struggled with depression. My mind was carried away in worldly things. I was experiencing tragedy, betrayal, and heartbreak like never before. And it seems like just about everything I touched just fell apart or stopped working.
I see now that the Lord was breaking me. He was humbling and preparing me for a beautiful plan he had in store.
Now, let’s talk about this miracle, shall we?
It began with lunch with a friend that I almost missed. I was 45 minutes late. I lost track of time, which NEVER happens to me. Chip was gracious enough to wait for me. We caught up on business and family stuff on got on the topic of spiritual things. He asked me where I was at spiritually and I told him I love the Lord, but I’m just done with the Church thing. I told him how I just couldn’t do it anymore and the last thing I wanted was for that to change. Although the path through the last year had been the darkest of my life, I felt I had justified and even valiant reasons for being on the path.
Chip asked questions and listened. Then he began to bear his testimony. He spoke for at least 20 minutes teaching me, testifying of Christ’s plan for us and way back. He told he was “on fire” spiritually and has been for the last three years. He taught me the many things he’s been learning and shared how it’s helped his family. Then he shared with me two books that I ought to read. The first was an audiobook called The Atonement: A Personal Search for the Meaning of the Atonement by Cleon Skousen. The second book was Following the Light of Christ Into His Presence by John Pontius.
I listened to Chip’s testimony and took down the names of these books in my phone. Honestly, I felt I was doing this to humor Chip because at the time I had no intention of reading them. And I’d heard testimonies like that before. I just wasn’t interested. My heart was broken and I just didn’t care what he felt or what these books said.
The next day I was flying to Michigan to help my brother with an addition to his house. While I was in the airport I felt this urging that I should download these books as audiobooks and listen to them on the plane and throughout my trip. I thought, what could it hurt? I downloaded the Skousen book and listened to it first at the gate (it’s only 45 minutes). It was good, but It didn’t really speak to me at the time. When I boarded the plane I started listening to the Pontius book.
That night a terrible snow storm hit Salt Lake City. In all my years of traveling I had never seen the window of a plane completely covered in snow and Ice. Even after we went through the de-icing routine, our plane had been coated with wet, icy snow within 30 minutes. We sat on the tarmac for 4 hours that night. I have to say, though, that the time flew by and I wasn’t as annoyed as I normally would be. That book was speaking to me. The flight was cancelled and hijinks ensued over the next 12 hours, however I had prevailed and rebooked another flight to depart the following day. I listened to the book on the plane and when I arrived in Chicago, couldn’t wait until I got to the rental car so I could listen to it as I drove. That night was a terrible snow storm in Michigan. It took 4 hours of driving in white-out conditions to get to Kalamazoo where I had a late dinner with my friend Jeremy. At about midnight, I decided I was going to continue to drive to Jackson, listening to the book all the way.
It was a glorious week helping my brother. I loved every minute of it. I attended his church (JaxNaz) and was fed by the message there. The words of this book were allowing the Light of Christ to slowly seep into my soul. I felt warmer, kinder, more patient, and more humble than I had in a long time. It really felt like this book was written in a different language — one that I could understand. I’m sure I’d heard some of these words before, but not in this way with this emphasis. Something was happening to me.
The topic of the book is what the title says. It’s about how to follow the light of Christ into his presence. It is written by John Pontius, a faithful man who is a member of the LDS Church and had a strong testimony of these things and a great way of teaching (unfortunately he passed away in 2012). In the book he teaches the process of how to receive personal revelation. He illuminates a pathway that we all must walk in order to qualify to live again in the presence of our Father in Heaven. It’s the beautifully simple process of learning to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit and becoming totally obedient to it. It’s about taking literally the first principles and ordinances of the gospel and allowing the Lord to take you by the hand and change you. It is the same process that every prophet and tremendously spiritual person has followed and testified of since the beginning of creation.
There were two major concepts here that solved an unfinished puzzle in my heart. First, is that it’s a personal journey. One on one. There is a divine path that we all must walk in order to return to our Father in Heaven and gain eternal life. The beauty is that it’s so simple that anyone can understand it. To pass through the gate you must turn your heart to the Lord, bury the natural man and be born again, listen to the voice of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit and commit to complete obedience to the promptings. Once you do this you open the doors to heaven and Christ’s light will begin to rain down upon you teaching you, testifying of truth, and changing your heart. And that’s the second concept — He WILL change you. He will change you from someone who loves the ways and things of this world to someone who cares of them not. He will remove your weaknesses, fill your soul with love, bless you to be able to see people as Christ sees them, remove your desire to do anything bad or harmful and put within you a desire to do good continually.
After my time in Michigan was up, I was driving back to the Chicago Airport and finishing the book. By this time the book had penetrated deep into my soul. I knew the things he was teaching were true. I can’t describe it any other way than I felt like I had learned these things at some point. Not in this life, but before. Not intellectually, but spiritually. It was like I was uncovering a gem that I had never seen, but had in my heart this whole time.
“Is this true?” I asked as I drove to the airport. I had never thought that he could change our hearts and our desires. “Could it really be that beautifully simple? And could the Lord really change me?” If he can change me….then maybe….just maybe…. I might have a chance, but if not there is no way. I can’t do it on my own. I’ve tried. I’ve fought as hard as I can for 41 years and I sit in this car a sad, heartbroken man with little hope.
At that moment, on the morning of January 11th, somewhere on the road in West Michigan, I cried out to the Lord with a loud voice. With tears in my eyes I told the Him that I was ready, I wanted to be changed, and I knew I couldn’t do it without Him. I laid down my life. I told Him that I wanted to serve Him and committed to complete obedience to His commandments and voice. I wanted to do His will and follow Him for the rest of my life.
At the end of the prayer I asked, “What would thou have me do, Father?” In that quiet moment, I heard in my mind “Throw away your vape” (yes, I was vaping…not proud). I asked “where?” He said, “At the Chicago Airport.” As the vape pen left my hand, again I heard in my mind “Read the Book of Mormon.” I began reading as soon as I got home. While reading I received other promptings of a specific nature that the Lord had desired of me.
Over the next several days, several promptings came and I obeyed every one. Slowly, I began to feel Christ’s light begin to glow within me — sort of like a sunrise. I could tell he was changing me.
Over the course of the next several weeks I began to see the fruits. I began to desire good things. I no longer was interested in the media I had been consuming. I had an unquenchable thirst for more truth and couldn’t read enough to satisfy. I saw my family differently. I had more hope. I really didn’t care about my cars or things (crazy, right?). I began sleeping in peace and awaking eager for what the Lord had in store for me today. My sins felt far from me. I don’t know how, but my sins no longer had power over me. I had no desire to hear, see, speak, or do evil. It’s as if Satan was bound. I was enjoying a fragment of celestial glory here on earth.
There was one experience in particular that I felt the Lord was teaching me in a very personal way. Tamara, Piper, and I went to In-n-Out Burger for lunch. When I opened the door I looked from a distance at the menu board and saw something about a charity asking for donations. I heard the Spirit whisper “donate.” I didn’t even know what this charity was, so I read the board and it said it was about ending human trafficking. I asked back how much? I heard “$10.” Immediately I heard opposing thoughts such as “$10 is a lot,” “Your meal isn’t going to be much more than that,” “Maybe you should just round up your change,” and “What about $5?” At the time I thought these were my opposing thoughts, but I know now it was the voice of the adversary trying to keep me from following a prompting. I told the lady who was training on the cash register that I would like to donate. When she asked how much, all of those conflicting thoughts raced through my mind and I almost said $5, but in a split second I decided $10 is right. When I said “ten dollars,” I immediately felt the spirit wash over me and I wept. In that moment I gained a testimony of personal revelation. I learned that God would speak to me about small things in a very specific way to move forward his work. Not only that, but I could hear Him and I could obey. This completely removed any doubt I had whether or not I could be an instrument in his hands.
Over and over, experiences like this occurred in which I was taught a new pieces of truth. I have begun to keep a record of each prompting I receive, what action I take, what blessing I receive, and any opposition that accompanies it.
And the opposition has come. In fact, within 20 seconds of the In-n-Out experience I pulled out my phone to find an email with some heartbreaking news that took the Spirit away for the next 48 hours for me. In the Book of Mormon, 2nd Nephi 2:11 teaches that there must be opposition in all things. If not so, righteousness could not be brought to pass and the plan of salvation would not work. With the greater light, I was also receiving greater opposition that I must rise through. I know that these things have and will be tests of my ability to continue to hold my newly acquired spiritual gifts.
And of course… the gate to this path is in plain sight and so simple that most people walk right by it. I did for 21 years. It’s supposed to be that way. There are thousands of analogies that could be made here about taking seriously the first step in any process and getting it right — pickling, bread baking, quilting, building, etc.
And of course… it’s a personal journey in which we’re supposed to follow the will of the Father and walk hand in hand with the Savior. Why would we think we could do it any other way? There are millions of good deeds and boxes to check. We could never do them all. Why would we think that the Lord would be OK with us to do only the ones we felt like doing and ignore the ones he has asked of us? How would this move his work forward?
And of course… Satan is telling us lies — that it can’t be this simple and you have to check all the boxes. Check them better. Now, check them faster. He wants us to feel comfortable showing up to Church in body, but not in spirit. Going through the motions. He wants us to follow our own will and feel like we’re redeeming ourselves. As with all great lies, these are half truths.
I am so grateful for the Lord sending his messengers to come and find me. This process has been just glorious. There are no words. I could write endlessly and only scratch the surface in describing how I feel.
I can’t even begin to count the ways our lives have been blessed by the hand of the Lord in such a short time. It’s affected everyone in my family. It’s as if the winter’s ice has begun to thaw and we are waking up from a cold dark sleep. There is light in our eyes that wasn’t there before. There is more hope. There is love like never before.
After 41 years, I am reborn. I am committed anew to walk with my Savior and stand for him in all places.
And I am filled with joy.