Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Why I Write About Angels

The written word has always had a powerful effect on me—even works of fiction, like the great writings of JRR Tolkien. I thrived on his simple yet profound words like, “Faithless is he that says goodbye when the road darkens.” I spent the first nineteen years of my life in spiritual darkness. I had no intention of saying goodbye, but of finding a way to bring light into my life. I wasn’t born into an LDS home, but I was born into a home with a mother who believed in Jesus. She faithfully took us to the small Baptist Church in Charleston, Maine for several years. I had lots of questions—and not many answers. But the Lord had a plan for me and guided me… looking back, I see his loving hand in training and preparing me for my future as an author who writes about angels and the spirit world that surrounds us.

For years, I had this strong feeling that I needed to write a story using the wealth of experiences that I have had, but try as I might, I couldn't. But, just like one of Tolkien’s characters, Samwise Gamgee says, “It’s a job that’s never started that takes the longest to finish,” I had to ‘start’ by allowing myself the necessary time to develop my talents, before I was ready to effectively use them. While working hard to develop my writing, the Lord gently taught me the eternal truths that I would weave into the fabric of my stories, but it would take a long time, even years to go from the ‘start’ of my journey toward the ‘finish’ which in reality is truly a never-ending story.

I remember when I first heard the Joseph Smith story--where he had seen an angel. I could relate to it, because I had had similar experiences in my youth—not nearly the magnitude, nor especially the magnificence, but enough for me to know at a very young age, that there was more to life than what we see—and that not many had seen what I had.

When I hear stories like the following told by Kent F. Richards in the April 2011 General Conference, I don’t question, or wonder—I believe.

“Thirteen-year-old Sherrie underwent a 14-hour operation for a tumor on her spinal cord. As she regained consciousness in the intensive care unit, she said: “Daddy, Aunt Cheryl is here, … and … Grandpa Norman … and Grandma Brown … are here. And Daddy, who is that standing beside you? … He looks like you, only taller. … He says he’s your brother, Jimmy.” Her uncle Jimmy had died at age 13 of cystic fibrosis. “For nearly an hour, Sherrie … described her visitors, all deceased family members. Exhausted, she then fell asleep.”
Later she told her father, “Daddy, all of the children here in the intensive care unit have angels helping them.” -Kent F. Richards

Children and angels seem to go so naturally together. I was only nine years old when I had my first experience with angels.

Though it was many years ago, I vividly remember the bedroom I shared with my older sister, JoAnn. It was big enough for our twin beds, which straddled the only heat source in our room, a small register in the middle of the floor. Our bedroom had one window that looked out over the meadows and on to the woods. The room had three doors, one that led down an enclosed stairwell to the kitchen, a short door that opened to a small cubby, and a door to the attic. JoAnn slept in the bed closest to the window—mine was by the attic door. The door that led downstairs to the kitchen was at the foot of both our beds.

JoAnn had stayed late at a friend’s house and upon returning, decided to sleep downstairs on one of the two couches in the living room. I awoke during the night and went downstairs for a drink of water. I left the door upstairs open. As I ascended the stairs, my eyes beheld a being, all arrayed in white, sitting on JoAnn’s bed, facing mine. I did not turn and run, but quickly surmised the situation. I looked to the heat register to see if any light from it could be causing the image I saw. I checked the window and the attic door for any signs of light. There wasn’t any, and yet the being remained, eyes fixed on me. He did not do, or say anything. I suppose he waited for my reaction to him. He presented no danger to me—no reason to fear him, but I did. I’m convinced that a staunch Baptist upbringing entrenched in unnatural fear gripped my young heart, of which I sorely regret. I inched my way over to my bed, snatched a pillow then hurried downstairs to the second couch with our family dog, Duchess, by my side. I did not sleep, but prayed for protection for the rest of the night.

Who was that being; and what was his purpose? Why was he entirely white, from the top of his head, to the bottom of his feet? Did he have a message for me, or perhaps a request? Dare I imagine I hold some importance to him somehow? Or was he merely resting, before continuing his journey?

I do know, as anyone would, that he was not of this world—at that moment at least. Perhaps he was an ancestor returning to stir my heart toward spiritual matters, or an angel of God, whose purpose remains unknown for a while longer?

Whatever the purpose, this undeniable fact remains—there is more to life than meets the mortal eye. I bear firm witness of that.

We moved from our farmhouse into town and switched from the Charleston Baptist Church to one in Dover-Foxcroft. I continued to search for truth and answers to my many questions. I was more confused than ever as this new church we began attending had conflicting doctrine with the old church not fifteen miles away. I met with Reverend Miller weekly, and he told me that he hadn’t discussed religion as deeply with other ministers as he had with me. One day, while baking cookies with my mother, my hand slipped off the oven mitt and onto the hot pan. It was a searing pain that throbbed all through the night. I agonized over more than just the physical pain. I had been taught that if a baby died without baptism, that it was damned to hell, but how could a loving God cast a baby into a fiery hell just because it’s parents did not have it baptized—let alone even the most vile human being! To burn forever and never be consumed is beyond comprehension. So, at a multi-church revival held up at the high school, I approached several of the town’s ministers that I knew on a first name basis, because I had attended their churches and had even taught in the Methodist Church for a couple years. I had seriously pondered and prayed and come to a decision. I told them that if God was a God that could cast anybody into a fire to burn forever and never be consumed, that I did not want to have anything to do with him. They led me into a small room and laid their hands on my head to ‘cast out the evil’ that was in me. I allowed them to do that for their own peace of mind, but I knew they were wrong, and I continued to search for truth. Once, I even stopped a young JW on the streets of Dover to ask him why he went to his church. After he told me, I asked him if there was no fear of burning in a fiery hell—would he still go to his church?—and he said no. I remember thinking that I did not want to go to a church that used fear tactics and continued to search.

I was very blessed to be born in a town in Maine that actually had an LDS Church, but only recall about seven or eight Mormons in my entire high school, though there were probably a few more than that. My friend, Mari Lou Alexa gave me a Book of Mormon, and a missionary named Elder Brown did also. I put the two Books of Mormon on a shelf in my bedroom and never touched them all through high school.

After graduation, I reached a point in my life where I wanted to become the best adult that I could be. I had been dating an excommunicated Mormon who still had an unwavering testimony of the Church—and that amazed me. I began reading the Book of Mormon two weeks before I went to USC in LA and was astounded with what I read. All of my life, I had spent countless hours searching for words of truth in my hometown public library pulling various books off the shelf and finding passages that brought meaning to me. I’d copy them down by hand and tack them up on the wall by my bed. When I began to read the Book of Mormon, I was breathless with the truths I had discovered within those pages.

When I got to USC, one of the first things they had me do was fill out an information card on my religious preference—well, I preferred the LDS Church, but was not a member—I hoped I wouldn’t discover that it had conflicting doctrine from Maine to California. They thought I was Mormon and invited me to institute. I showed up and sat in the middle of the room. The missionaries sat directly in front of me. They went around the room introducing themselves, and when they came to me, I said, “Hi! My name’s Theresa Small and I am not a Mormon, but I want to learn more.” Elder Bishop and Elder Brandley called me golden. I didn’t know what that meant then, but I do now. I felt like I was coming out of the darkness.

I eagerly consumed the missionary discussions, and I was a bit impatient to get baptized. I thought I had to go through all the discussions first in a timely order, and I did, but the desire of my heart was to get baptized immediately. I already knew and believed everything they said. They told me about an angel bringing a message to a modern day prophet? That was so not a problem for me to believe. They told me that Christ’s church had been restored and was led by a prophet and apostles. That was great news! They told me about modern-day scriptures that complimented the Bible? It made total sense that God spoke to a living prophet on the earth, and that the Book of Mormon was a history of another people who originated from Jerusalem. But the one thing that I had never heard of and was completely taken by surprise with was the premortal existence. I had always been taught that our spirit and body were created at the same time. It only took a second to absorb, and I was like, really? Wow! That is so cool! That’s why I write about angels and the premortal existence, because I know there are hundreds of thousands of people who don’t know that simple and beautiful truth—that we came from heaven before we were born on earth!

I finished that semester and transferred to BYU Provo, because I couldn’t get enough—I was like a sponge absorbing literally—every single thing anyone said at the pulpit. In fact, when I went to BYU, I took most of my classes in institute—and no one stopped me! It was while I was a freshman at BYU that I had another spiritual experience with the spirit world.

I felt so alone at BYU. I had joined the church at USC, transferred to BYU, and knew very few people. Because I worked the graveyard shift full-time, from 11:00 p.m. to 7 a.m., I didn’t get to socialize at all. The two students Martha, and Mary, who transferred from USC to BYU with me, had become great friends with each other, and I felt more like a bother to them than a friend. Martha had a car, and a bank account her father kept up for her, and Martha really liked Mary, and took her everywhere. They never asked me to go with them. I didn’t have a car and from January to April walked two to three miles each wintery night to work then walked home in the morning. I barely made enough money to pay for my rent at the Riviera Apartments and for my own food. I had classes at 10:00 in the morning, and because I played in the BYU Symphony Orchestra, I sometimes had concerts in the evening. I remember a couple of times not going to bed at all, but going from work to school to concert to work …

I guess I had had enough, and one evening deep in thought, I unwittingly willed myself to go home. It wasn’t anything I was attempting to do, it just happened. I lay on my bed at the apartment, and simply asked to come home, back to my Father in heaven, exercising the faith that I had. My faith and will were in conjunction with the spirit. I felt very close to the Lord. I felt a swirling sensation that started from my feet and moved up through my body. It felt like my spirit was leaving my body, and it frightened me, so I stopped it.

After I finished that year at BYU, I returned to Maine and then shortly thereafter went to Ohio and met my husband. We were married in the Washington DC Temple, after I had only being a member for 1 ½ years, and the spiritual experiences with the spirit world continued.

I was about three months pregnant with our oldest son, Jason, when I pulled a string of muscles in my back lifting a small TV. The doctor told me to stay in bed for two weeks while it healed. We left our small apartment in Batavia and stayed at Bill’s parent’s home on the other side of town. We stayed in Bill’s brother’s room. It was a small bedroom, but we managed to put a TV in the corner, and our three year old daughter Mandee’s sleeping bag on the floor beside us. There was a window across from the bed and a dresser against the same wall as the headboard. The bed was alongside the wall opposite the window. I slept on the outside of the bed for easier access in and out of bed.

I awoke one night to find two men dressed in white standing by my bed. They were not frightening in the least; in fact, it seemed quite natural and not out of the ordinary at all to see them. The one on the left reached his hand out to me, and said, “It’s time to go.” I began to sit up and reach my hand to his, but looked back at Bill, and said, “No. I want to stay with Bill.” I do not remember anything past that. I must have simply cuddled next to Bill, and gone back to sleep.

Was it a dream? If anything had been out of place in that room, I may have wondered so, but there wasn’t. The room was exactly the way it was when I went to sleep that night. I noted that the TV was in the corner, the dresser to my right, Bill on the other side of me, and Mandee sleeping soundly on the floor. There just happened to be two men, dressed in white, standing there, too.

Was it my time to go?—apparently not, but maybe so. Did I have a choice?—perhaps. Was it the same choice that I had at BYU? I think so.

I have had several experiences with the spirit world. In fact, one of the most poignant experiences that I have ever had with the spirit world happened in Gilbert, Arizona.

In the middle of the night I awoke and found my deceased father standing across from me at the foot of my bed. Bill was sleeping in between us. My dad called me by my nickname, Terri. It was wonderful to hear his voice! The voices of the deceased ones that I love are the hardest part for me to recall, but I recognize them immediately. Daddy didn’t say anything else, but I knew what he wanted. He wanted me to return with him.

I said, “I will be obedient,” but then began to cry as my eyes rested on Bill. I said, “I love you,” to Bill three times then lay back down. I heard a soft rumbling sound and felt a gentle swirling sensation growing in intensity surrounding my body. I knew that if I did nothing, my spirit would leave my body, so, I stopped it.

Instantly, Daddy was gone, and I was not asleep. I had nothing to wake up from, no pulling out of any sort of dream state, nor dreamy awakening … I was not sleeping, so did not need to awake. I was simply there, alone with Bill sleeping by my side.

What does one do, when in an instant a pretty incredible experience ends, and you are left to ponder its meaning? Does one simply go back to sleep? Oh, no, no, no, no.

I immediately got out of bed and got on my knees. I told God that I would be obedient, if indeed he wanted me to come home that evening, then I would go, but if I could choose, then I wanted to stay with Bill.

Then I sat down and wrote the whole experience out and a message to each one of my children.

I am not afraid of death. It holds little mystery and all wonder to me. I imagine when I do leave this existence, it will be quite like the experiences and dreams I’ve had, but only better.

The veil between earth and the spirit world is very thin. The Lord has allowed me to witness some pretty amazing and marvelous things in preparation for my mission as an author here on earth—

The first time I saw this young spirit was in Dover-Foxcroft, Maine. She was wearing a knee length dress, and had long hair. She looked directly at me then turned back and passed through the upstairs hallway in front of me—not up or down the hallway, but through the walls on either side.

The second time I saw her was in Phoenix, AZ. It was the same thing—I stepped into the hallway, and saw her pass through the walls again.

The third time was rather interesting. Four of our closest friends, the Loves, and the Gentrys, and Bill and I, performed forty temple sealings in the Mesa Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It happened to fall on Valentine’s Day—which was kind of sweet. We were in a small sealing room that had a narrow stairwell leading up to it. It was hot that day. I can’t recall if there had been a problem with the air conditioning or not, but the room was stuffy. They told us they were going to leave the door open a bit to let the air circulate, as they had had a patron faint earlier.

We took turns in the various sealings, and when it wasn’t my turn, I sat and occasional found my gaze wandering to the partially opened door. I saw a group of women walk past the door, and only saw the hems of their long white dresses then I saw a young girl pass by. The curious thing is that she later passed by going back the way she came then passed by the door again. There was a young boy—a little taller than she was with her one of those times. I also saw temple workers talking to each other at the foot of the stairs, and noted that I could only see the top half of them, because I was sitting down.

After the sealings, I lingered for a while, pondering the eternal nature of a temple sealing, and when I went to leave the room, I was absolutely surprised to find that there was no hallway on the top of the stairwell where I had seen the hems of the group of women pass by and the young girl and boy. I totally expected to see a hallway cross the outside of the door where I had seen them pass, but there wasn't any, only the enclosed stairwell going down to the lower floor.

I immediately went to see the person in charge of sealings and inquired if there had been any children sealed to their parents that afternoon—live sealings. He said no, but earlier that morning they had had a Hispanic couple with children sealed. Because I could compare the women's hems and the full length view of the two children passing by the room with the temple workers at the bottom of the stairs that I could only view from the waist or so up, I concluded that these indeed had been spirits who had witnessed their own sealings and were most definitely family members of mine.

I have had other experiences with the spirit word—including hearing the voice of my deceased brother Donnie in the Chicago Temple, but unfortunately, some experiences that I have had with the spirit world were not of God. I am grateful to have a clear understanding of the opposing forces that are ever diligent in seeking the destruction of mankind—to ignore these influences would be a folly, as it would be to glorify these influences through any form of sensationalism.

These words come from an apostle of the Lord, Elder Jeffery R. Holland:
“We don’t talk about the adversary anymore than we have to, and I don’t like talking about him at all, but the experience of young Joseph [Smith] reminds us of what every man [and woman] … needs to remember.

Number one, Satan, or Lucifer, or the father of lies—call him what you will—is real, the very personification of evil. His motives are in every case malicious, and he convulses at the appearance of redeeming light, at the very thought of truth. Number two. He is eternally opposed to the love of God, the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and the work of peace and salvation. He will fight against these whenever and wherever he can. He knows he will be defeated and cast out in the end, but he is determined to take down with him as many others as he possibly can.”

I am humbled to have been entrusted with such incredible experiences. They have helped to develop and define me and have given me a deep yearning to search for truth, a firm testimony that the spirit world exists, and a strong desire to share what I’ve experienced in the best way that I know how—through speaking and writing.

To learn more about Theresa Sneed visit www.theresasneed.com.