It has been a while since part 1 and part 2 of this series in which I discussed gifts of the spirit. Today, I have invited a friend of mine, a woman and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to share a portion of her journey and her unique perspective of experiencing the Lord through the gifts of the spirit:
Sometimes I'm like green grass growing millimeters at a time. But just as I reach the heights, there comes the lawnmower— loud, menacing. In straight, orderly rows I'm shorn, hot metal spewing. What would it be like to let me grow? Reaching heavenward until the spikes tip over heavy-laden with seed, then fading to yellow— stalks drying to drop new life in wild and tangled beauty. Will I ever know what could be if the mower keeps on cutting me down to keep me in the bounds that man has set?
One false tradition in our church (which is actually quite pervasive and widely perpetuated even though it scripturally has no basis) is the belief that top leaders of the church have all-access to all gifts of the spirit all of the time. In our head, we know that people are fallible, and yet we treat leaders of the church as if they could say or do no wrong. We default to titled individuals.
The implications of this are incredibly damaging, probably in ways we don’t even realize. Whatever is said over the pulpit is thought of as something to be followed, no questions asked. Lay members wait around for permission, and thus lose the ability to be proactive in seeking their own relationship with the Lord. Our laziness prevents us from asking heaven for ourselves. Many times whenever members do receive revelation, there is this expectation it has to line up with what leaders have defined as legitimate revelation. They have been deemed the pattern, and so if it is something different than leaders have experienced, or it is something that is not ever talked about or received in a conventional way, it is labeled as “questionable,” “non-authoritative,” or “not credible.” They are treated as the proverbial middle-man, constantly between you and the Lord for checks and balances. This is all false tradition.
It can be even more complicated for a woman in our church. There is not just one middle-man. In my experience, there are at least two or more, which makes a personal journey with Jesus that much more difficult, even adding another layer of unbelief, quite often couched under the umbrella of priesthood titles in a hierarchy.
Awhile back I had a stake calling as president in the young women’s organization. As a presidency, we were praying about how to create experiences so the young women and leaders would be encouraged to seek their own relationships with the Lord. We had been tasked to visit each ward in the stake and share a message for their ward conferences. Unable to decide what to do, we settled on going home to pray about it individually, then coming back at a later date to discuss. In prayer, I had a remarkable vision open up to me where we were kneeling with these girls and leaders, holding hands in a circle and praying together. Though I have had experiences kneeling in prayer holding hands before, I had never experienced something like that in any church setting; however, I had faith that it had the potential to create a beautiful unifying experience for all of us—something that would open up minds and hearts to other ways to experience the spirit. I felt that Jesus wanted us to show these girls how to receive revelation, and I trusted that heaven knew what was best.
With a bit of nervousness because of the unorthodoxy of it all, I approached my counselors with the idea. It wasn’t long afterwards, though, that one of my counselors expressed her concerns and wanted to first get the stake president’s approval for such a prayer. It was as if this type of devotion or experience in a direct relationship was questionable all together. Realizing that she wasn’t prepared for such an experience, and knowing that the stake president was very much a by-the-book leader and would probably not approve, I sadly dropped the whole thing. Looking back, I realize I shouldn’t have given up so easily. The Lord was the author of the vision, after all. But I felt so defeated…and just didn’t have the energy to fight it (unbelief).
As another example: my daughter was made a president of her young women class and was asked to prayerfully select the rest of her presidency. After several days of thoughtful petitioning to heaven, she came back with the names of the young women and turned them into our bishop, the list promptly discarded as she was told which young women he felt were a better fit. She was incredibly disheartened. That class presidency didn’t function very well, as you can imagine.
The fallout from these types of interactions is that it trains you to default to someone else. It makes you question, “Is there only so far that I’m allowed to go in the revelation that I receive? Is there always going to be a husband, a leader, a bishop, a stake president, a general authority who has to sign-off on my own personal spiritual connection before it counts?” It creates an enormity of unbelief.
This, of course, is not at all the way the Lord operates. Whatever your experience, whatever culture and tradition you have been taught, you are entitled to have access to heaven. No strings attached.
Moroni 10: 8 And again, I exhort you, my brethren, that ye deny not the gifts of God, for they are many; and they come from the same God. And there are different ways that these gifts are administered; but it is the same God who worketh all in all; and they are given by the manifestations of the Spirit of God unto men, to profit them. 9 For behold, to one is given by the Spirit of God, that he may teach the word of wisdom; [how to apply knowledge—not the health code] 10 And to another, that he may teach the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; 11 And to another, exceedingly great faith; and to another, the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; 12 And again, to another, that he may work mighty miracles; 13 And again, to another, that he may prophesy concerning all things; 14 And again, to another, the beholding of angels and ministering spirits; 15 And again, to another, all kinds of tongues; 16 And again, to another, the interpretation of languages and of divers kinds of tongues. 17 And all these gifts come by the Spirit of Christ; and they come unto every man severally, according as he will. 18 And I would exhort you, my beloved brethren, that ye remember that every good gift cometh of Christ.
Wholeheartedly and without question, I have come to believe that all of the gifts Moroni lists (and more!) are available to anyone. All mankind—men, women, young, old. God is no respecter of persons.
I want you to know that the Lord loves diversity. He loves your personality, so your experiences won’t look like anyone else’s. A feminine heart sees with different spiritual eyes than a masculine heart, and so that is the beauty of embracing what resonates in your own soul. I would hope that you would start seeking for your own personal relationship with the divine (if you haven’t already) which functions completely independent from any other person or institution. You really do have a direct line to heaven.
One caveat: any spiritual experience should check out with scripture—especially the Book of Mormon—because of course there is such a thing as revelation from Satan and his followers. There is also such a thing as dark gifts, so you need to be discerning. But you are free to experience the Lord in so many more ways than you have been led to believe. Many times it will push against the grain. Sometimes, you will have to be courageous.
Allow me to share with you a few things to show you what I mean.
I am learning how to overcome my unbelief. It is a process, and I’m finding I have a lot of it, but every once in awhile, God drop-kicks a profound experience and I am in just the right position to catch it and run with it. A couple of weeks ago was one of those times. We happened to be on vacation.
My husband and oldest daughter were walking along the beach during low tide around an inlet where a sandbar stretches wide and long so that they could walk several hundred yards out into the ocean. Bits of sand dollars were strewn all over the shoreline, but it seemed impossible to find one that was completely intact. Lamenting over the fact, our daughter voiced to my husband that she wished she could find one. He replied, “You know, if you wanted to you could pray and ask the Lord to help you find one. That would be a really good exercise for you to practice. You ought to try it…right now.”
She wasn’t so sure about that, thinking that it was a really small thing to enlist the help of heaven, but the more she thought about it, her desire worked itself into a plan.
Determined, she prayed inwardly her intention and also that the ministering of angels would be there to assist her—specifically that her deceased grandmother would be there since she loved the beach. As she prayed, the thought came to her that she needed to praise the Lord, so she repeated words of hallelujah and gratitude in her mind.
Next, the thought came that she needed to walk over to a certain spot a few feet into the water, and so she did. Still silently praying and praising, a couple of minutes later a wave came in with something in it. Not sure what it was, she reached out her hand, and the thing suddenly flipped over, almost as if her grandmother had indeed reached out and turned it over for her, and an unblemished gray sand dollar landed into our daughter’s hand. In utter shock and reverence, she stood there for quite some time gazing at the pocket-sized sand dollar in her palm, awed that her prayer was answered so completely and quickly.
“Oh my gosh! Dad, look what I found!” she excitedly exclaimed when she came to her senses.
“Shut up! Are you serious?!” Simultaneously, unbeknownst to her, my husband was also inwardly praying that our daughter would be able to have an experience which would strengthen her faith by finding a sand dollar, and that the ministering of angels would help her do so.
When they came back to the beach house, she grinned and with glowing inflection in her voice exclaimed to me, “You’ll never guess what happened on the beach!” I was so taken in by the experience she recounted, and was equally grateful and in awe that God would be so mindful of her in such a real way.
The meaning of this washed over my mind and then through my whole body. Isn’t that like all of us? We are all broken fragments of something once beautiful and alive washed up along the beaches of life, pounded over and over by incessant waves pushing in and drawing out. Many times we don’t feel worthy enough, important enough. It takes faith and determination with heaven’s help for us to find wholeness in the swirling, cloudy, tumbling water. We could take all the broken pieces which have washed ashore and try to reconstruct something, but Jesus wants to remake us completely in his image. If you wade out into the ocean and reach your hand into the wave, he delivers. More than you think. Abundantly. Beautifully. Perfectly gifted in just the right timing. Sometimes right away, sometimes not, but he always gifts for the asking—many times through others, heavenly angels as well as earthly ones. We need to believe it, to ask, and then be willing to see with spiritual eyes the gifts that are there for the taking.
What a beautiful lesson, but there was more.
A few days later, I was sunning on the beach with my husband’s sister Jillian. We were talking about their father, Dan, who had recently passed away, and she asked me if I had had any experiences with him. Hesitantly, I told her that actually, yes…he had come to me in a dream. I stopped for a bit, not sure if it was right to share the experience with her, but then felt a gentle nudge, so I proceeded.
In my dream, my youngest daughter had just gotten back from a birthday party. She held in her hand 12 small brown paper bags, leftover party gift bags from the person who was having the party. I was a little concerned thinking that my daughter was greedy to have so many, but she told me that they were extras and her friend said it was okay. I took one of the bags to see what was inside, only to find a bunch of candy wrappers and remnants of trash, which didn't make a lot of sense. "Why did you bring home bags of wrappers?" I inquired. "I ate the candy on the way home," she replied a little sheepishly. About ready to throw the bag away, I perused through it to see if there was anything of value remaining, but was surprised to find that in the bottom of the bag, there was a small framed picture of Jillian's sister Tracy. I pulled it out to get a better look: a glamor shot of Tracy when she was younger, beautiful and smiling, much different than the way she looks now. Her life had been a hard one, with several broken marriages, hard relationships, a broken nose, chipped teeth, and an aged and aching body, and she was disconnected from God for the most part. As I was contemplating the strangeness of why a picture of Tracy would be in a birthday party goodie bag among trash, I turned to my left and the view changed to a kitchen. There were a couple of barstools and I was standing at the counter. I was suddenly overcome with grief as I remembered my father-in-law, Dan's recent passing. My eyes were full of tears, and I missed him terribly. I looked up, and to my amazement, Dan was there...right in front of me! He took my hand, and very intently looked into my eyes as if he wanted me to really pay attention, then proceeded to speak an important message. With a start, I woke up, but the message was gone. I tried over and over in my mind to retrieve it, but for the life of me could not remember what it was. I prayed for the meaning, because I knew that this was significant, and didn't want this moment to slip away from me. What was the meaning of Tracy's photo in the gift bag? What was the message you want me to know, Dan? What were you trying to tell me? Right away, the meaning was clear. "I love my daughter. To many, she might seem lost, but to me she is beautiful. She is known. She is loved. She hasn't been discarded." I knew I had to call Tracy and tell her about the dream and give her that message. Dan wanted her to know that he was watching over her, loved her, and hadn't forgotten her. And he wanted us to know that as much as her life seemed chaotic, the symbol of the glamor shot was a way to represent what her soul was really worth. I hesitated for a couple of days, wondering if she would think I was crazy before I gained enough courage to tell her, but it was a beautiful, healing conversation once I did.
As I relayed this all to Jillian on the beach, I suddenly became aware that Jillian might feel a little excluded in that message from her father. She and her siblings were all orphaned now, which was a hard thing for anyone to process, but ironically, Jillian had recently divorced, her life also spiritually broken and in shambles as she was also trying to figure out who she was, where she was going to live, and what she should do with her life. Jillian, too, would have benefited from such a personal message. I didn’t doubt that she was watched over and loved just as much as her sister, but my dream wasn’t specifically for her.
I awkwardly began with, “I’ve learned that our loved ones on the other side are more involved and present than we even realize,” but just then my husband came up and prodded me to go for a walk with him and our youngest son.
I left Jillian with much to contemplate as my husband, son and I headed off to the inlet again. Leaving our conversation felt too abrupt—like something was unfinished. After only a few steps, and emboldened by my daughter’s earlier experience, the thought came to me, “If our daughter could pray to ask for a sand dollar, certainly I could pray for a gift from the ocean to let Jillian know that she is loved and remembered by her mom and dad.”
I quietly prayed as I walked with my husband’s hand in mine, “Lord, is it okay that I practice the gifts of the spirit right here and now? Will you give me a gift that I can give to Jillian to let her know that she hasn’t been forgotten either?”
We came to the edge of the inlet and as we waded in the waves, I had the impression to praise the Lord—just like my daughter did. I began to thank the Lord for his goodness and mercy and told him how much I loved him and how much I wanted to receive a gift for Jillian. A couple of seconds later (not even exaggerating here) my husband, who was walking behind me, announced that he found something. I turned to find him holding a beautiful cream and pink conch shell. I appreciated this rare treasure, especially intact ones, because typically once they come to shore on this particular beach, conch shells have been broken either by predators or by weathering from the rough beating they get coming in and out with the tide.
While that was an amazing find, I wasn’t looking for a conch shell, so I let my husband give it to our son. I turned again to face the waves to keep looking for Jillian’s treasure, but after a couple of minutes, I slowly realized something was not right. I stopped looking and stood in the cool water lapping over my legs, deep in thought.
“Lord, I was thinking that you were going to have me find a sand dollar, but here my husband found a conch shell. Is that the gift you want me to give to Jillian?”
I knew right away. “Yes, that was the gift.”
Inwardly laughing to myself, I smiled, “God, you are so good. And to think I would have missed it!”
I asked the Lord if there was a message that I should give to Jillian when I give her the shell. He said, “Believe.” Ahh…that was probably a message for me also.
I explained what just happened to my husband, then to our son, who happily gave up the prized conch shell. My husband, with a gleam in his eye said to our son, “You know, you could ask Grandpa Dan for a gift for yourself. You should try it!”
Our son nervously laughed and walked away, not ready just then to be put on the spot like that. So, my husband and I recruited heaven on his behalf. A few minutes later? We found a petite spiraled shell with a crab in it. And then another. And another…until he had almost a dozen. A perfect gift for our son who loves animals. He gathered them up in a large scallop shell with some water—like a miniature pool to keep them alive long enough to make the walk back to show everyone, beaming with the knowledge that heaven watches over him also.
When we walked back to present the conch shell to Jillian, she teared up and was so grateful. I was profoundly humbled we were able to be a part of a message that was completely orchestrated by heaven just for her, but also one for our son.
God is really that good.
Matthew 7:7-11 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
I know that God is merciful to all. Sometimes the gifts are from Father, sometimes Mother, sometimes Jesus, and sometimes other ministering angels. It doesn’t matter your age, your gender, your upbringing, your race, your religious affiliation or status, your social status—your status in anything. It only depends upon a heart full of faith and guided intention.
Do you really believe that?
Moroni 10:24-25 "And now I speak unto all the ends of the earth—that if the day cometh that the power and gifts of God shall be done away among you, it shall be because of unbelief. And wo be unto the children of men if this be the case; for there shall be none that doeth good among you, no not one. For if there be one among you that doeth good, he shall work by the power and gifts of God."
In what ways are you experiencing the gifts of the spirit? How are you overcoming your unbelief in order to recognize them to bless the lives of others?
Now more than ever is the time to practice. You won’t get any better at it without starting somewhere. Things in the world are starting to intensify, and your spiritual connection will be the only thing that will link you to heaven in these last days. As is so evident in current events right now, the arm of flesh cannot be relied upon, and if you are waiting around for someone to tell you what to do, or if you think that you don’t have what it takes, you have unbelief. There is no need to wait.
You ought to try it…right now.
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