i used to think i was different, and not in a good way.
i would listen to them, standing at the pulpit, wiping their eyes and accidentally scraping their tissue across the microphone with a soft whiiiiiissshhh. they would testify of the miracle that had occurred, the moment they heard God's voice telling them to get out of the fast lane now! while seconds later they sat safely a lane over in the freeway, horrified, as the semi truck that had previously driven behind them careened into the minivan that had previously been in front of them. i watched their faces crumple in gratitude as they announced to the congregation that their prayer was answered in exactly the way they needed, curing an illness they had been informed was incurable. i listened to them weep over the day they used their last stamp and last check to send their tithing off in the mail, and how the next day some sort of money would be found so they had just the right amount to pay the overdue rent.
i'm not sure where i came up with the name, but i started calling these stories and testimonies "Angel Moroni Moments." these examples were told to us sitting in the pews below, and i knew even as a young girl that they were told with the intent to promote and build my faith, while they testified of their own.
surprisingly, i realized some time later in life that they had the opposite effect on me.
the more i heard of these miraculous moments, the more inadequate i felt. i must not be good enough yet, to hear Him warn me of upcoming danger, i would tell myself. i must try harder. if i try hard enough, and am better, and good enough, then he will speak to me/cure my disease/fill my bank account. i just know it. i'm not going to be perfect, they told me i never will, but
growing up with this mentality can be dangerous for anyone, but especially for someone who was already predispositioned to feel not good enough. i constantly doubted and questioned my abilities to even deserve God's presence with me as i fumbled my way through life, and for 18 years had no idea how to recognize Him, if He actually was there. i read poems about footprints in the sand and being carried through trials, and they seemed nice enough, but i doubted their validity. i wondered if people said these things to just make themselves feel better when they went through a rough patch in their lives, to give them something to hold onto and believe in.
i had read The Book of Mormon a couple of times beginning to end, taking Moroni's challenge each time i finished. i prayed and asked if it was true. i would stand up after kneeling, and wait.
i questioned the nothing, because maybe it was actually peace? not nothing? was this what peace was supposed to feel like? there was no booming voice, or even quiet whisper, that i could hear or recognize. and i had heard the stories, and realized deep down that i wanted what they had spoken of. i wanted to feel
because either these people i had listened to all of these years were delusional, or they weren't. it felt as simple as that.
so, i decided to take matters into my own hands.
i was spending my summer up in jackson hole, wyoming, a place that made me come alive from the inside out. the majestic teton mountains spiking and peaking over a calm lake enveloped by hundreds of thick, green pine trees was where i found sanctuary. this place spoke to my soul, and as i finished the last chapter of the Book of Mormon yet again, i knew that if i was going to hear God's voice speak to me, it would be when i was living surrounded by some of the most beautiful landscape He had created.
it was after 2 o'clock in the morning when i finished reading the final "Amen." and closed the book. the rest of the rental home was dark, and quiet. i was laying on the couch, which was my make-shift bed for the summer, and i stretched and looked over the back of it, squinting to see the tiny fluorescent green numbers of the clock on the stove in the kitchen.
i sat there for a minute, thinking. an idea came to me, so i reached over, turning off the small lamp on the side table, and rolled off of the couch and onto my knees. i had heard of others praying to God like he was there, standing in the room, but i wasn't sure about this. i had been trained to speak formally, using "thee's" and "thou's" as a token of respect. i didn't want to be disrespectful, but i wanted it to feel real...maybe for the first time in my entire life.
i closed my eyes, and started to speak, beginning the same way i had began all of my prayers. "dear Heavenly Father..."
and then, the words poured out of me. frustration and questioning became the theme of the prayer, asking aloud why i wasn't good enough to feel it. to know. and to know in the way people so confidently said, "i know it's true." did they really know? and if so, how? and how could i get there? as i worked out my thoughts, the frustration turned to a challenge. not me challenging myself,
i was challenging Him.
i said that i had an idea of what He felt like when he spoke to me, but i wasn't sure. i described the chills starting from my lower back, working their way up and over my shoulders, the goosebumps that would inevitably line my arms, the tears that would easily spring to my eyes. but, i said, this could just be me.
maybe all of this time, it's just been me, not really You, i said.
so, i told Him that i wanted Him to leave me alone, for 5 minutes. to not let me feel Him near me. to quiet whatever voice that may have possibly been speaking to my spirit for years, and to let me do this on my own. i wanted to see if i could mimic this same feeling. truthfully? i was fairly confident that i could.
okay? deal? i asked.
i peeked over the couch again to look at the clock once more.
here we go, i said to myself. and knelt down again. for those five minutes, i did everything i could think of. i conjured up my most spiritual memories, and the feelings i had when i was in church, or on the temple grounds. i thought of testimonies of those who were closest to me. i thought of religious movies i had watched, and replayed scenes from their most inspiring moments. i tried to cry, and even resorted to opening up the book of mormon to read 3 Nephi, which has always been my favorite part of The Book of Mormon. after all of this, i looked up at the clock.
i was one minute past my time limit. and i had come up with nothing. i knelt down again.
"well, i'm back," i announced to the darkness. "and i couldn't do it. but...can you?" i challenged again. i told Him that it was His turn. but along with my challenge came a promise. "if i can feel You, even if it's just this once for the rest of my life, i promise to never ever doubt this feeling. i will never question whether it was really You, and not me. i will never minimize it to myself or others. and if i can continue to feel this feeling throughout my life, i promise to never doubt that You are here with me, and that this may not be how you speak to everyone, but this is the way You speak to me."
"okay," i whispered nervously. suddenly i realized that if i didn't feel anything, what would i do after that? i hadn't thought through this spur of the moment challenge. i resolved to deal with that when/if it happened.
"um, it's Your turn now."
and as i ended that sentence, immediately the chills started in my lower back, so strongly that i almost gasped. the goosebumps covered not only my arms but my legs, and the tears began pouring down my face. i knelt there, and just let myself feel Him cover me from the top of my head to the bottoms of my feet. after a few minutes, i spoke aloud again, and my prayer turned from a challenge to gratitude.
"so this is You. it's so nice to know, thank you. now, since i know now this is You, i have some questions for you."
my answers came again, in the same form.
ever since that night of challenging God, this is how i've been communicating with Him. it wasn't an "Angel Moroni Moment," so to speak, and i've never shared the experience over a pulpit. there was no life-saving miracle, but it was what i needed to stop wondering what He sounded like for me.
even though it took me years to be able to see His presence in my life, in His many different forms, it was the beginning of my recognition of Him. and that night, it was what i needed to hear the voice that had been there all along.