I must begin to address this topic by confessing that I am a sinner, and that much of my life I have been in the dark. Some memories of my own wrong-doing have been weighing heavily on me lately. I'm aware of my weaknesses, and the way past failings have contributed to present-day struggles. It would be easy to get discouraged, to become ungrateful, and/or try escaping into denial. And I probably would have shipwrecked long ago but for the comfort and sustaining guidance I've received from the Spirit.
I understand and accept LDS doctrine regarding the Gift of the Holy Ghost. Mormons believe that while the Spirit is at work in the world and can and does inspire people of every nation, kindred, tongue and creed, only those who are baptized and confirmed members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are entitled to the Gift of the Holy Ghost, which they understand as the right to constant companionship of the Spirit so long as they keep their covenants and remain worthy.
Last Sunday I was very moved -- as I believe was everybody in attendance -- when a member of my ward told the story of his brother who had been excommunicated for the past seven years, and who was finally in recent weeks able to be re-baptized and received back into full membership. He wept as he told how his brother testified of the Gift of the Holy Ghost that had been restored to his life, of the difference that he could feel. As an excommunicated man who hungers to be restored to full membership in the Church, to say that I was moved and humbled by this story is an understatement.
I have no basis for denying the truth of the LDS doctrine regarding the Gift of the Holy Ghost in principle. I believe in it, and I affirm it. However, I admit that some aspects of my own experience may seem contradictory.
I experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit from the time I was quite young growing up in the Church. I sought and received gifts of the Spirit as a young priesthood holder and later as a missionary. I enjoyed the Gift of the Holy Ghost as a member of the Church. The reason -- after nearly twenty years away from the Church -- that I have begun attending the LDS Church again, and that I have begun living the gospel as fully as I am able, is because when I experienced the presence of the Spirit so powerfully in August 2005 telling me to "come home," I recognized that the Spirit had been missing from my life for most of the time I had been away from the Church, and I desperately wanted it back.
I recognized that the Spirit is more than "just a feeling." It's presence is discernible and unique, unlike any other presence. When I felt it, I immediately recognized it because I had been so familiar with it once as a member of the Church, and it filled me with the most indescribable joy and peace.
At first I didn't know what to do. I couldn't imagine leaving my husband, with whom -- at that point -- I'd been in a relationship for some 13 years. I assumed that the only way to have the Gift of the Holy Ghost in my life again would be to become a member of the Church, and I knew that the Church would not baptize me again unless I left my husband. So for a good month or so after my encounter with the Spirit, I tried dismissing it, rationalizing it away, and otherwise ignoring it.
But the Spirit was insistent. It kept coming back to me and reminding me of the encounter I'd had with it, and kept reiterating the same message again and again. It was time to "come home." Whenever I felt the Spirit gently prodding me in this way, I was always grateful for the profound peace and joy I felt in its presence, but I was also worried about what it would mean for my life to give in. I brought my anxieties and concerns back to the Spirit, and essentially said, "OK, I need to do this. I will do this. But what do I do? I don't know how to proceed." And the Spirit told me that I did not need to worry about the future, that everything would work out, and that for the time being, all I needed to do was to take one step at a time.
So gradually, I made changes in my life. I started attending Church in October 2005. Shortly thereafter, I also stopped using pornography, and started applying the principles of the Law of Chastity more fully to my relationship with my husband. In January 2006 I started praying daily and reading the Book of Mormon. The following March I began living the Word of Wisdom again, and so on.
Once I accepted the challenge of the Spirit to come back to the Church and start living gospel principles (some time in September 2005), I began to feel the presence of the Spirit in my life frequently. Once I began praying again in January 2006, I began to feel the Spirit's presence daily. This was a very emotional time in my life. I would get down on my knees to pray, and immediately the Spirit would descend on me and I would just start weeping tears of gratitude. I would just thank my Heavenly Father. I had been so unworthy, I had been such a sinner. I didn't understand why He would care about me or reach out to me when I had done so much to alienate Him. And all I ever felt was more love, more comfort, more reassurance.
Because I believed (still believe) in the LDS doctrine regarding the Gift of the Holy Ghost, every morning when I knelt down to pray, I would begin with an acknowledgment that I knew I was not entitled to the Gift of the Holy Ghost, but that I needed the Holy Spirit in my life to help me stay on the path. I was very aware of the precariousness of my position. Still, every single one of those prayers was answered.
There were times when I did not feel the Spirit as immediately or powerfully. Sometimes I was definitely aware that the Spirit was not there. In those situations, I would reach out to God in prayer, asking for help. And then I would patiently wait. I would still my heart, calm my thoughts, and keep doing what I knew I was supposed to be doing. I would keep doing what I had been told, the best I knew how on my own. And eventually, I would become aware of what it was I was doing wrong, how I had driven the Spirit away, and what I needed to do to correct course, and the Spirit would be back in my life again. Gradually, the absences of the Spirit were rarer and rarer. They still occur occasionally, and then I need to repent.
At a certain point I had to confront the issue of my relationship with my husband. From the beginning I had acknowledged that it was possible the relationship would have to end. I had never felt the Spirit prompting me in any way to end it. But logically, my renewed testimony of the Gospel and of the Church seemed to point to that. I knew the Church was true. I knew that the present, modern-day leaders of the Church are called and ordained and inspired by God, and I knew what they taught about my relationship. I knew that my path of reconciliation with God -- in light of my testimony -- must lead to membership in Christ's Church. So logically, it seemed that my relationship would have to end. But at no point in the various promptings I had received from the Spirit, was I being prodded to address this.
I had at various points prayed about it, and when I had, the Spirit had very calmly and clearly told me that I was not to leave my husband. Occasionally, in some of the discussions I had with my husband, this would come up, and I would reassure him that my understanding was that I was not to leave him. But there was always a grain of doubt in my heart, and I wondered if that was only "for the time being." This came to a head about a year after I had been attending Church regularly, in October 2006. (On my birthday, actually!) Wrestling with the logical process had caused me to become quite emotionally labored about the whole thing. I was feeling under tremendous stress. And finally as I was riding my bike down Chicago Avenue in south Minneapolis, I cried out to God, "If my relationship eventually needs to end, I need to know!" And that is when I received a clear and definitive answer, I should not leave my relationship with my husband, ever. To do so would be a sin. And I should stop asking about it. That was a commandment, and so I have kept it, and stopped asking about it.
In May 2008, when the news hit that California would be legalizing same-sex marriage, I received a clear, unequivocal and very powerful prompting. My husband and I should travel to California and be legally married. I've posted elsewhere at length about that experience, and about some of the pain and subsequent wrestling after Proposition 8 was passed with heavy Church support. I don't have much more to add to what I've already written, but through the experiences I had in connection with our marriage it was made extremely clear to me that deepening my commitment to my husband was something God expected of me. Furthermore, deepening my commitment to my husband through our legally contracted marriage resulted in many rich spiritual blessings, all of which I can't enumerate here. And it resulted in a deepened, more powerful relationship with the Spirit.
Last spring, I received a number of very clear promptings about a few more changes I needed to make in my life and some specific things I needed to do. After obeying those promptings of the Spirit, I received a very clear prompting that, after more than three years of pleading every day for the Holy Spirit to be granted me as a temporary gift, I no longer needed to do that. Rather than asking for the Spirit, I should pray for help to be obedient, to be faithful, to be loving, to be patient, knowing that so long as I did what I was asked, I would be entitled to the continuous presence of the Spirit in my life. I was reassured that I need not worry any more on account of my exclusion from the membership of the Church. That was not something I had control over; if it had been possible for me to be baptized, I would have been a long time ago. The Lord had looked on my heart and had accepted my offering, and was rewarding me accordingly.
I realize that this will deeply offend and anger certain people. In the last couple of months, I've already been accused several times of being under the control of Satan, told that I'm deceived, that I'm in the gall of bitterness, that the Spirit can't possibly be in my life, and so on, and so on. These folks are entitled to believe what they want. I can't really argue with them, because they will dismiss everything I say on this count anyway. And I really don't want to or feel the need to argue with them... My only concern is that other readers of my blog not engage with these kinds of commenters. I tried explaining my position to some of these folks, just to preempt defensive comments from some of my other readers/friends. But at this point, I'll just ask you to respect my wishes not to engage with these folks. It doesn't serve any purpose.
I don't see my personal experience as proof that the Church's doctrine on the Gift of the Holy Ghost is wrong. At best -- if I were trying to resolve contradictions between my experience and the teaching of the Church -- it would be that I see myself as the exception that proves the rule. I don't take the presence and guidance of the Spirit lightly, as I hope this post makes clear. In order to have the Spirit in my life, I have had to be attentive, careful, faithful, and obedient. And I have prayerfully had to ask day after day after day, and work and wrestle. I still don't -- and don't imagine I ever will -- take it for granted.
The reassurances I have received have allowed me to enter into a deeper, more trusting relationship with my Father in Heaven. I still yearn for, and look forward to, and pray for the day when I can be baptized as a full member of the Church and have priesthood-bearing hands placed on my head to confirm me and formally bestow upon me the Gift of the Holy Ghost.