I never questioned the reality of God and the spiritual realm. Religion was part of our life even though there were periods of time when we would not attend church or when my father would not join us when our mother would take us. Accordingly, nothing seemed unusual when my great-grandmother died, and her last words were, “Don’t worry about Shirley [my mother]. She is having a beautiful baby girl.” At that very moment, my first younger sister was being born in a hospital across town. I believe the spirit world is much closer to us than we realize.
We did not always attend church when we lived out in the country on Jackson Road, but this is where I began to have spiritual experiences that deeply affected my life. Sure, I had felt God’s spirit before, such as when I was baptized when I was eight years old. I remember standing behind my father as he drove home after my baptism―some cars didn’t have seat belts back then―and telling him, “I feel so good that I want to be baptized again.” But these later spiritual experiences when I was twelve years old helped change my life.
During this time, our family often read the scriptures on Sunday nights. This is the first time I remember feeling the warmth and love associated with family discussions of spiritual things. One night after one of these discussions, I felt such a burning testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel that I wanted to dedicate my entire life to missionary work. As I contemplated how I would implement this desire throughout my life, I felt that marriage and children would be a distraction. Therefore, I decided that I would make the sacrifice and never get married and have children but be a full-time missionary for my whole life. Lying on the top bunk that night, I decided to tell the Lord of my decision, fully expecting that he would be pleased with this choice and bless me with a warm feeling to confirm my decision. To my shock, the answer was an emphatic “No!” I did not expect this at all. I was truly surprised and felt somewhat rejected. Then the feeling came that I would have no greater purpose in life than my relationship with my family. I then felt better. Later, reflecting on this experience, I realized that this was absolute proof that God exists and answers sincere prayers because the answer I received was the complete opposite of what my young mind expected.
I had another unforgettable spiritual experience when I was twelve years old. Even though the dream I am about to describe was about the second coming of the Lord, it really was a chastisement for my neglect of my younger brother. As I previously mentioned, my brother was four years younger than me and almost six years younger than my older brother. He was also a few years older than our three younger sisters, who were all close in age. We lived out in the country, so he didn’t have anyone to play with, and I didn’t provide much relief from his loneliness.
In this dream, I was in upstate New York, walking through the smoldering frames of buildings after some massive destruction, along with a few other individuals. The devastation of 9/11 reminds me of the destruction surrounding me in this dream, but it wasn’t in an urban area. A noise drew our attention to the sky, and a section of it opened up as if it parted in the middle and rolled open on both sides. As it opened, I could see the face of the Savior through this opening in the sky. At this point, our full attention was on the Lord. However, the sky apparently continued to open up as I could see he was standing in the air, with lots of other people or angels behind and around him. But my focus was totally focused on the Savior standing in the air.
I felt an overwhelming love emanating from him. This love acted like a magnet and lifted me up in the air to meet him. I could see that several other individuals were rising in the air with me, so I looked around to see if the people I cared about were with us. As I did, I saw many people on the ground, cowering in fear and trying to hide. I wondered how this could be. Didn’t they feel this overpowering love from the Savior lifting them up? Why were they afraid?
Then I saw my little brother on the ground, also afraid. I felt bad for him and wanted him to feel the love and rise up with us and not be afraid. I wondered why he could not feel the Lord’s love. Then I realized that I had not been as good an older brother as I should have been, and he was afraid because he had not felt enough love from me during his life, and that was why he was afraid and not comfortable in this situation. I began to feel guilty for neglecting my little brother. I felt ashamed and no longer felt drawn to the Savior. I began to sink to the ground. That is when I awoke with the clear message that I was, indeed, my brother’s keeper, and I needed to extend more love and attention to him, or I would be held responsible for my neglect.
This dream should not be construed as a prediction of some future event and certainly not as any negative implication about my brother, who lived an exemplary life. But like many spiritual dreams, it was a message to me personally to repent and mend my ways. We are all interconnected, and our actions affect other people, especially our family and those close to us, for good or bad. Just as the actions of the school bully to a great extent were the byproduct of his negative life experiences, for which others were responsible, so too, in the eternal scheme, we will be responsible for how our actions and neglect affect others.