I have a testimony of the Church. That testimony has been reaffirmed and strengthened countless times over the past six years as I have attended Church meetings, as I've interacted with Church members and leaders, as I've studied the scriptures and prayed, and as I've tried the best I can to apply the teachings I've received through the Church.
My testimony has come to me through spiritual witnesses, occasions when I've experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit in a most powerful and undeniable way. In these situations, it was more than "just a feeling." It was more than just an emotional reaction to a particular situation. I've felt the Spirit many times, in diverse situations. My feelings or emotions in these situations have varied. Before the Spirit's presence has been manifested to me, my emotional states have ranged from happy to sad, from content to angry, from confident to fearful. My emotional state has sometimes been intense, sometimes not so intense, sometimes just very calm and open. The Spirit does always reassure and give me a sense of peace. I often weep in its presence. But my emotional state, I've realized, is not the trigger for the Spirit, and it is not the Spirit. When the Spirit is there, it's a distinct presence. It's unique and it's powerful. When the Spirit is present, it is always proof to me of the objective reality and existence of God. It's something I observe as clearly and distinctly as I observe anything in life. And on numerous occasions, the Spirit has told me that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true Church of Jesus Christ, and that I need to stay close to it.
My testimony of the Church is also based on the blessings I've experienced, the increased strength, peace and joy I've experienced in my life as a result of my affiliation with the Church, and as a result of applying the principles and teachings I've received there. I can honestly look back over the past six years of my life and say that I have become a more loving, more peaceful, more centered and more happy person. And I can see exactly how this is a direct outcome of my willingness to apply gospel principles in my life.
I never would have done these things, if I hadn't received a spiritual witness that the Church was true. So I can honestly say that I count my testimony of the Gospel as my dearest treasure. I also find myself being able to tap into a seemingly endless reserve of strength and patience because I know that God is real, and because I know that the physical, material world that we live in, that we see and touch, is not all that there is. There is far, far more. What we experience in this world is only the smallest part of reality. And I know that what we haven't seen, what we haven't experienced or touched, is far greater and more beautiful and filled with infinitely more joy and glory than what we have seen, experienced and touched. So my testimony gives me a great sense of optimism. Thanks to God and Christ, all will end well, if we just trust.
Because I have a testimony of the Church, I have a profound desire to be a member of the Church, to be able to participate fully in all the life and ordinances of the Church. It's painful to me not to do that. But I trust that the time will come when the current barriers to my membership will be removed, and that will be a glorious day! The Spirit has reassured me on numerous occasions that when all is said and done, I will not be disadvantaged in the least because of my present circumstances, which are beyond my control. And I am learning to trust those reassurances.
The purpose of the Church is to make Saints out of us. "Saint" is just a word that means "holy." And "holy" means that which is peculiar to God. To be a Saint is to belong to God, to live in the way God would have us live.
In order to enter the Kingdom of God, we need the saving ordinances of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. But after we receive those saving ordinances, we need to become perfect, even as our Heavenly Father is perfect, and we need to endure to the end. Compared to those latter tasks, the ordinances are a simple thing. Baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost takes just a few minutes. But perfecting ourselves and enduring to the end takes a life time.
I am often sad that I can't be a member of the Church. But I've realized that just because I can't be a member of the Church doesn't mean I can't make good use of my time here on earth. I can still work on perfecting myself. If I do that, the rest will sort itself out in due time. On the other hand, if I don't work at perfecting myself, if I squander my time here on earth thinking, "Oh, there's nothing I can do, because the Church won't baptize me," when the time does come that I can be baptized, how sorrowful I will be that I didn't take advantage of every opportunity for growth that I could have! The vast majority of people who have lived and died on this earth, lived and died without being baptized. They will be judged based on what kinds of lives they lived, based on the opportunities that they had. And so will I!
I've also sometimes had mixed feelings about attending priesthood meeting, because I don't currently hold the priesthood. At first, when I first started attending Church, I wasn't even sure I would be allowed to attend priesthood meeting. But my Elder's Quorum president, Bro. S., insisted on my coming to priesthood meeting with him. He moved out of our ward many years ago, but I actually tear up even now as I remember him, and how grateful I am to him. In my early days coming back to Church, he, more than anyone else, made me feel loved, needed and welcome at Church, and at priesthood meeting.
I've learned over time that the central principle underlying priesthood is service. Whether or not we are actually ordained to the priesthood, we can all find ways to serve. For me, in my situation, service is my priesthood. And striving to live worthily will heighten and increase my capacity for service. So now I never feel hesitant about attending priesthood meeting, because teaching us to serve and be worthy is what priesthood meeting is all about.
General Conference was a double blessing for me. First of all, it was an opportunity to gather with other Saints and to feel the Spirit present. I can't adequately describe how moving this was for me. I rarely feel so safe, loved, protected and happy as I did this past weekend, attending conference. It was like being at home, but better. Like being in my heavenly home. That's how it felt to me. So just being there was a blessing.
But the messages of conference were profoundly encouraging to me. They were all about the things we can concretely do to become more perfect, to be more like our Heavenly Parents. It was a school on How to Be a Saint. There wasn't a single talk I heard that I didn't see directly how it could apply to me, and how I could use the principles discussed to become a better person:
From Donald L. Hallstrom of the Quorum of the Seventy: It's possible to be active in the Church, but less active in the Gospel! [That was encouraging to me, because I realized even if I can't be "active in the Church," I can still be active in the Gospel!] The things of the Gospel are less visible and more difficult to measure, but they are the most important! We can become more active in the Gospel through personal prayer, through reverence in relation to the Sacrament, and attending Church in the right spirit, thus allowing the Holy Spirit to be our teacher.
From Paul E. Koelliker of the Quorum of the Seventy: Awakening the desire to know is how we open ourselves to the Spirit! The Spirit works in particular patterns, so that we won't be deceived. And that pattern is: Love and enduring to the end. "By this shall men know ye are my disciples, that ye have love one to another."
From Dallin H. Oaks: I was delighted to see Elder Oaks present Roman Catholic orders and Protestant missionaries as examples of sacrificial service to God that Latter-day Saints could learn from!
From Henry B. Eyring: It takes time to build a foundation of faith that can endure. He emphasized the importance of personal integrity. And he reminded us that the Lord "showed himself not unto men until they had faith in him."
From Robert D. Hales: The sacrament helps us "come to ourselves" and "remember who we are."
From Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Seventy: "We shall reap if we faint not." [Boy, do I need that reminder.] All things which are good lead to Christ, and invite and entice to do good continually. I was also grateful for his use of D&C 20:37, a scripture that I've memorized to help me prepare for baptism.
From Quentin L. Cook: Have the courage to refrain from judging others!
During his talk, I remembered how, when I was most angry, God spoke love to me, and welcomed me back. God blesses us even when we are not worthy to be blessed!
From Richard G. Scott: This whole talk was incredible, about receiving revelation and inspiration from the Holy Spirit. He began by explaining that in order to receive revelation, the Lord expects us to ask. He talked about the importance of being careful not to do things that drive the Spirit away. He talked about how we can be more attentive to revelations that we receive at night, in our dreams. He spoke about the importance of writing down the revelations that we receive. Recording the impressions and revelations we receive from the Lord will show the Lord that we value such things, and regard them as sacred! He spoke about the importance of humility as a prerequisite for receiving revelation. He reminded us that divine guidance does not take away our agency, and that communication with our Heavenly Father is not a trivial matter.
From Dieter F. Uchtdorf: Patience makes perfect.
The moment we judge, we condemn ourselves. Refusing to forgive is a grievous sin. Forgiving ALL men includes forgiving ourselves. “We simply have to stop judging others.” "Heaven is filled with those who have this in common: they forgive, and they are forgiven." (Have I ever mentioned before how much I LOVE President Uchtdorf?? Seriously, I could be the president of the Minnesota chapter of his fan club.)
From President Thomas S. Monson: The priesthood is a commission to serve. “I love and cherish the noble word ‘duty,’ and all that that implies.”
I loved his discussion of the plan of salvation in the 4th session. We passed through a veil of forgetfulness so that this life would be a time of trial and testing. He emphasized the importance of learning through experience, learning good from evil, and learning that our acts have consequences. Agency involves thinking, choosing and achieving. Blessings are earned from a lifetime of striving, seeking, and finding.
From Julie B. Beck: I thought this was a truly remarkable talk about the Relief Society. She emphasized that the Relief Society is not just a program, it is a divinely ordained part of the Church.