I Gave My First Interview

A couple of weeks ago, I was interviewed by Bishop Bill Reel of Mormon Discussion on Podbean.com.  Seems that one of you suggested he talk to me so to whom every you are, THANK YOU!  I have to say, they make Bishops pretty young in some places.  In any case, it was a pleasant experience and what I liked the most is that he let me talk.   But be aware, I was quite nervous (its quite obvious) and there’s only so much one can fit in an interview.  So give it a listen and let me know what you think and if you have any questions.

And no, “Tony” is not my real name

My Podcast Interview by Bill Reel

The Surprise of the Gift of the Holy Ghost

I know I’ve been posting a bit more frequently lately, but that’s because I’m going through a lot of new and unexpected experiences that I thought I would share.  This week, it’s the surprising lesson of the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

For the past 9+ years, I’ve been operating on the Light of Christ.  Well, actually, that’s all I was worthy to have.  But what wonderful experiences I’ve had with it.  For one, I’m comforted that I was not so far gone, that I was beyond feeling it.  Second, it has taught me, guided me, protected me and comforted me.  Third, the Light of Christ is no slouch.  Quite the contrary, it’s a powerful influence on us IF we allow it to be.  So, what is the light of Christ?  Here’s one definition form the church’s website:

The Light of Christ is the divine energy, power, or influence that proceeds from God through Christ and gives life and light to all things. The Light of Christ influences people for good and prepares them to receive the Holy Ghost. One manifestation of the Light of Christ is what we call a conscience. (Link)

This light is what gives us our inherent knowledge of good and evil.  However, this is not a permanent light, just as the Gift of the Holy Ghost is not a permanent companion.  One can ignore it and lead a life that would totally snuff out this light, leaving them with an absence of true moral discipline.  Instead, they go with what makes them feel good.  And as we all know, there are a whole lot of bad to horrific things that will do that.

Back to my story: So I was under the impression that the Holy Ghost would not be much different than the Light of Christ except I wouldn’t feel empty all the time.  I would hang around after church meetings because I knew that as soon as I left the building, that wonderful spirit I was filled with would leave me.  Many times I felt the influence of the Holy Ghost witness to me of what is true, but then he would leave me.  He would leave me because I didn’t have the Gift of the Holy Ghost.  This is one way I knew that my impression or lesson was of God; the empty feeling I got afterwards.

Could it not be the Light of Christ that taught me?  Scripturally, I don’t believe it’s so.  The Light of Christ is a force that helps us differentiate good and evil.  It’s an influence that guides us to do good.  It’s the conscience that influences us to act in a positive manner and lets us know when we don’t.  The difference is that the Holy Ghost testifies of truth and is a conduit of guidance from our Father in Heaven.

I had many occasions where folks have said in class that “non-members don’t have the Holy Ghost.”  I would remind them they do and I would use Moroni 10:4 – 5 to prove it:

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

He is talking to all who pick up, read and sincerely want to know if the Book of Mormon is true, member or not.  By extension, it’s also to know if anything else is true.  This is where I was.  Relying on the Holy Ghost to let me know what is true.  Once he told me, he left.

AOF 1But the Gift of the Holy Ghost is even more.  It is not only to have the Holy Ghost testify of what is true, but to have that holy spirit as a constant companion.  He is the third member of the Godhead who works in perfect unity with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ (Link). So to have the constant companion of the Holy Ghost isn’t only about having a good feeling all day.  What it is about is what I didn’t know before and I learned afterwards; It’s to have the presence of God with me 24/7 if I stay worthy of it.

When I came home after my baptism, I was filled with the wonderful comfort of the Holy Ghost.  And what surprised me what that I felt as though my Father in Heaven was right next to me.  Since then, I have continually felt filled, not hollow.

When it comes to the Gift of the Holy Ghost, what I learned is that it’s not about having concourses of angels with trumpets filling my apartment, or to have visions upon visions upon revelations.  It’s about having that constant feeling of being close to my Father in Heaven.  THAT is what surprised me, THAT is what I learned, THAT is what I now know is more precious to me than all the computers, cars, adulations, anything.  Once I felt that, I’ve been trying my best to keep it.  I want it, I need it, I crave it and if obedience is the only way to have it, then hey, I’m there.  And what I don’t know or am not good at, I’m going to learn.  It has become that important to me.

A Rare Second Chance

My days as a non-member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints are over.  Today marks the end of a journey where I was constantly hunting down the Spirit wherever I could find it.  Today marks the rare occasion where I have been given a second chance.  Today is the beginning of a whole new life.

I have been rebaptised back into the church, and what a wonderful baptism it was.  It was comedic, but most of all, It was of a spiritual nature that I’ve not felt for a long, long time.  But this one is different.  I walked out of the church building and instead of like before, where I felt hollow because I had to leave the Holy Ghost behind, I took him with me.  But let’s start at the beginning of my day.

It started with me waking up and knowing what today was going to be.  I began to be anxious because I wanted to have an intense spiritual experience at my baptism.  I was so worried that I fasted and prayed that it would be so.  You see, I had become used to the Light of Christ.  I would feel the promptings, but when it came to intense spiritual experiences, I would have them as the Holy Ghost testified of what was true, and then it would leave.  That was what I was expecting to happen.  So I worried.

Then it came time to leave for church so I prayed some more before I walked out the door.  Well, today was testimony meeting so it was going to be another interesting Sunday (last week was Stake Conference so fast Sunday was moved to today).  But I felt very comfortable with the spirit I was feeling.  I was in church, so I basked in the light of the Holy Ghost.  My baptism was announced in priesthood and then in sacrament meeting.  Testimonies were given but I felt this urgent need to get up and bear my testimony.  I knew I wouldn’t be permitted to and I while I felt the need to stand up, I also felt myself being held back.  Now was not the time, it will come.  But I was surprised when a couple of members included me in their testimonies.  I didn’t know I made that kind of difference; I’m just another sinner.  But it was an acknowledgement of the difficult changes that I made and their respect for me because of it.

After church, I met with my Bishop one more time.  I usually met with him weekly so this was the last meeting we would have for a while; the weekly meetings no longer being necessary.  It was a wonderful send off and I could tell he was very pleased with my progress and the big step I was about to take.

Our meeting was over, time to go home and prepare.  In my little apartment I felt a need to present myself clean to my Lord so I showered, put on a new change of clothing, packed my bag and then said another prayer, concerned again that I would please have a spiritual experience during my baptism.  I then left and got to the stake center where immediately upon entering I felt that this was going to be one doozy of a baptism.  Changed into my white clothing and stepped out into the forming crowd.

There were all kinds of folks that showed up.  More friends than I anticipated but I still felt that this was going to be spiritually more than I expected.  Opening song (I was now an emotional goner by this point), opening prayer, talks were excellent and then came the moment. Before my dad took me to the font, he stood there and thanked everyone there for being my friends and support.  I was already emotional so this just sent me over the top.  I was pleased he saw that I was surrounded by some special people who really made a difference in my life.  These were folks who were there when I was angry and rude to when I got some humility.  They were patient with me as I believe most of them knew that I was going through some tough times and some tough changes.

But the baptism was comedic.  The first time, my elbow was up.  The second time, I felt my dad pushing me down so I thought, “forget it, lay down.”  So I did, I was under, and had a dickens of a time getting up.  But who cares how graceful it wasn’t, it was done.  Got dried off and had a minute to myself before I walked out of the dressing room.  Did a quick reflection of what just happened; more like a disbelief that I actually got this far.  But on to the next and final step: confirmation.  I didn’t ask anyone to come up to the circle, so thus far it was my dad, the Stake President and my Bishop.  Then I leaned over to the man conducting the service, by very best friend who has seen me through more changes than anyone else.  I told him I wanted him and two other people.  He called them up and the confirmation proceeded.

I shouldn’t have worried about having a spiritual experience.

As soon as my dad said “receive the Holy Ghost” I was immediately given a spiritual, sacred rush that was unmistakable.  It was emotionally downhill from there.  My Bishop bore his testimony, my Stake President bore his testimony, and then my friend bore his testimony.  I was so moved that, at the end when as the elder who was giving the closing prayer was walking up, I had to get up (jump up I believe) and bear my own testimony. It was building up inside me all day so I had to get it out and I felt that this was the moment to do so.

What did I say?  Well, this is what I remember.  Said that about 9.5 years ago, I was so rebellious and had such an attitude that I lost everything that should have been precious and important to me.  But now I have just gotten back what is, next to my children, the most important thing which is my church membership.  I spoke about how as I looked back, I could see the hand of God and all the friends who have helped me along the way.  To my friends, I say “thank you.”  I then had to pause, I looked up and said “I love this church, I love this gospel, I love my Father in Heaven, I love Jesus Christ and I love the Atonement.”  I thanked God and I closed.

After the closing prayer, all the people came up, and even lined up to congratulate me.  It seemed like dozens and dozens of people took the time out of their schedule to share this moment with me.  I believe there were about 50 people there.  Regardless, by the time I was done, I had no more tears left to shed.  The outpouring of love and support was awesome and comforting.  More people than I realized watched me take this journey.  And now they were welcoming me home.

For the first time, I left the church building not feeling hollow, but filled with the Holy Ghost.  This journey, as dark and difficult it was, all the sudden became not only worth it, but consigned to be behind me and left to the realm of experience.  I’m home.  And as long as I strive to be worthy, I can now have the companionship of the Holy Ghost; a gift that is worth every pain, tear and cry to once again possess.

Countdown and Reminiscing

These are my last couple of days as a non-member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  This Sunday, at about 5:00 pm, I will be rebaptised and be back in full fellowship of the church.  Phase #1 of my repentance, recovery and rehabilitation will be done.  For the last couple of weeks I felt like I’ve been floating around in a cloud in anticipation of having my excommunication over with.  So it’s been natural that I’ve been reminiscing on my journey.  And with that reminiscing, a few things stick out.

When I think back on where I’ve been, where I’m at and the process in-between, I see a whole lot of people, a chorus of people, who have had an influence in one way or another on my recovery.  There have been people both hindering and helping; both judgmental and accepting; both naysayers and supporters.  But all have had an influence and that influence was highly dependent on how I received their counsel and actions.  Such as from that one sister who told me that I was in the right place when my wife left me, to the unknown one or more who petitioned the Bishop to not allow me to attend church, to the church leader who called me to a calling and then later chastised me because I did things that were out of order.  I could have been offended and driven off many times but I decided to have courage and take the bad with the good, learn and incorporate both lessons into my rehabilitation.

But there are many dear and true friends that I’ve made along the way.  They all have been my supporters and all have had faith in me when my own was wavering.  All were patient as I changed from an obnoxious, toxic person to a humbled person trying to figure out which direction to turn.  So many have given me blessings when I was in need, all of them listened to me when I whined and complained about how difficult life had become.  I’m sure that at points some were exacerbated with my stubborn unwillingness to change only to be surprised when I learned my lesson and moved forward.  Some I berated argued and yelled at; I was like a dog at the end of a leash, yapping and fighting at being forced to go in one direction until I submitted. All are very precious and dear friends for whom I have strong loyalties to.

Another thought is how I’ve been very careful these past few weeks to not give in to temptations.  I’ve been reading, praying and staying active in the church in an effort to ward off the evil that so easily tempts me.  But what I’ve discovered is that it’s not the big things I have to worry about, it’s the little things.  For example, baptism wipes away sins so the thought came to mind that I could do just about anything and it will all be taken care of.  Can there be anything more dumb and uncommitted?  I was at the market the other day and I had this hankering and strong desire to get me some coffee ice cream. Now first of all, ice cream is the last thing I need but coffee flavored?  I knew that it would not only trigger a need for more coffee, but open the door for more “little sins” that would add up to bigger ones.   What did I do?  I didn’t even go to the ice cream isle.  I want to have a spiritual baptism.  I can’t have that if I’m rebelling even in a small way.

I also looked back and I can see the hand of the Lord in every aspect of my journey; from my first prayer after my excommunication to the present day.  I had to get humility and the proper attitude to listen.  But I believe that because I wanted to change, but didn’t know how, I was guided along until I was able to feel the Spirit.  And even then, I was further guided along but with much richer blessings.  But at the time, I was oblivious to all what was happening around me, except the evil that I felt.

There came a time I had to call and plead with the Lord to take away from me all these temptations, sins and the evil that I was surrounded with.  It was almost like Alma of old (minus the prophet part) but what goes for him also pertains to us.  So I did remember Christ and He remembered me.  The sweetness and peace of the Spirit I was allowed to have at that moment changed my direction.  How grateful I am for that experience.  How grateful I am that I had enough presence of mind to call out to God, and that God answered my desperate cry for help.

But there was one moment that I can point to that got me on the road to recovery.  It was when I was by myself, in my little apartment, surrounded by darkness, feeling the evil in the room with me, doing what I’ve been doing all along and trying with all my might to fight them off with my own will power, and loosing.  It was at that moment that I remembered the Lord, knelt down and said a little, desperate prayer; “Father, help me!”  I guess I was humble enough because I reached out and someone grabbed onto me.  It was at that moment that It was made known to me in a small, simple, quiet way that my Father in Heaven knows me as an individual, that He deals and interacts with me as an individual, that I am counted, that I matter to Him because I am His and I belong to Him because I am His child.

Don’t get me wrong, I still had to deal with my behavioral issues, my anger issues, my lack of tact, my constant and consistent sinning and my rebelliousness.  But it was at that moment that I knew that if nothing else, there was one person I would turn to who would fundamentally change me.  And it was that person whom I learned had a much larger perspective on what my potential really is.  That He sent his Son to pay the price of sin and suffering so that I wouldn’t have to if I would repent and put forth a sincere effort to change.  I did, and soon I will perform the ordinance of baptism to show my obedience and enter into a covenant with my Father in Heaven to, instead of constantly and consistently sinning, strive to constantly and consistently obey His commandments, bear another’s burdens and stand as a witness of the goodness and power of God.

How I look forward to that!  How I can’t wait to come back into the fold of God!  How I can’t wait to finally come home!

The Application Is In…

…and I don’t know how I feel about it (This was written before the decision, update below).  Bizarre, I know.

I learned that my time requirement has been met and my application has been forwarded to the First Presidency for a decision.  They will send a letter to my Stake President giving their ok for re-baptism.  But as my title says, I’m not sure how to feel about it.

It could be because I was rejected twice so I don’t want to get my hopes up.  The first time really hurt especially when they said I needed to wait 18 more months.  But then I did say I would accept any decision that they made.

It could also be that I’ve been a non-member for so long and active in the church with callings, assignments and what-not that I think it’s going to be more of the same.  While having callings as a non-member is a huge blessing to me (it’s given me more blessings that I can ever count), it also seems have its negative points.

Another reason could be because I’ve identified myself as an excommunicant that it’s become my “church identity.”  I’ve not been shy about letting others know about my status; mainly to set the level of expectation but I also believe there’s a little of “I’m a bad boy” type of pride. It may also very well be that I like the attention that I get as a person working his way back into the fold.  This church loves repenting folks and gives them all the support they need.  I almost feel that once I’m baptized, I’ll switch from being the prodigal son (the one getting all the attention), to the son who never left (the one who got little attention).  I’m not really sure how I’ll feel after baptism but however it is, I’ll deal with it.

But it could also very well be, as a friend pointed out, that “a watched pot never boils.”  Those who are strictly focused on one goal to the point of anxiety never attain what they’re so worried about.  I learned that when I was denied the first time.  So now, I just sit and wait.

That is until this morning (update time)…

I received a call from my Stake President telling me that I’ve been cleared for re-baptism!  HALLELUIAH!!! As I was on the phone with him, I had a wonderful feeling engulf and overwhelm me to the point that I had to tell the Stake President that I had to hang up, I was getting way to emotional to stay on the phone.

Wow! What a total 180 from what I felt just a few hours before.

So now I need to have a Bishops interview where we’ll set the date, a Stake President’s interview and then the baptism.  It seems the first phase of my repentance and rehabilitation is close to coming to an end.

I called a friend to let him know and he reminded me of what I said to him once:

Friend: “What would be the one thing you would tell an addict?”

Me: “The gospel is very simple, don’t over-complicate it.”

As I was talking to him, it came to my mind that all I did was learn to stop being rebellious, learn to listen to the spirit and discipline myself to act on it.  That’s it.  Every struggle, every pain, every success and every spiritual experience is a result of the weakness of mortality and the “natural man” which is undisciplined and carnal.  I had to learn to go beyond asking God for help to developing enough faith, trust and obedience that I would feel comfortable asking God to take the weakness and addictions away.

Everything I’ve been through in the past 9.5 years has trained me for that very result; learn to stop being rebellious, learn to listen to the spirit and discipline myself to act on it.

I may find out later that there’s more it, or that I’m off by a bit or a mile; that’s the nature of this being a journey.  But for now, this is what I believe to be the truth.