My Savior's Loving Embrace, Sister Alexis Hadley Dunlap, January 15th, 2023
Updated: Jan 18
Good Morning Family,
When I first sat down to start writing this talk, I woke up really early one morning and opened my laptop to work on an outline. I typed into google “best LDS talks on personal revelation,” and I don’t think the results had even loaded when I got a text message from my Mom with a link to a talk given by Elder David A. Bednar of the quorum of the 12 apostles to a group on freshly minted missionaries entitled “Quit Worrying About it! Is it the Holy Ghost or me?” While I certainly found some great talks from my search, most of my comments today will come from the framework of Elder Bednar’s talk. You’ll likely agree with me that this was no still small voice moment, and since I wasn’t told specifically who needs to hear this, everyone will simply have to listen because Heavenly Father really wants someone within the sound of my voice to hear this talk.
I’m sure a really good speaker would tell you to save the best story for last and build up to it but I’m going to start out with my big story because everything that follows is a direct result of this event. I have never shared as much of my personal story as I will today because prior to now, I couldn’t really talk about it, now everything is gonna be alright and I want everyone to know how to develop a relationship with your Savior. The story begins on the evening of January 5th, 2019 and I was curled up sobbing on my bathroom floor. It was the 34th birthday of my little brother Jeremy who died from too much alcohol and an undiagnosed heart defect five years prior. I had experienced my 5th or 6th miscarriage recently and the torment of infertility was consuming my hopes and desire to live. I lay on the floor for a good two hours, maybe longer. I completely lost track of time. I can’t tell you what got me off of that floor other than I remembered that the next day was my husband’s birthday and I needed to go make preparations. There was no knock on my bathroom from anyone listening to a prompting to come check on me, the miracle in this story didn’t happen until a few weeks later. And I had buried myself so deep in my own misery that I couldn’t feel my Savior’s loving arms or even his presence. I wasn’t mad at God. I didn’t think He had forgotten about me; I just felt that the one miracle I wanted more than anything else wasn’t in the cards for me and I didn’t care about anything else.
About 2 weeks later during my morning prayer was when the miracle occurred. There was nothing particularly special about this morning. I had nothing noteworthy on my calendar and my husband and I had actually gotten into an argument the night before about something stupid. I had woken up before my alarm and was laying in bed enjoying the warmth of my covers and dog cuddles and as my mother-in-law would say, 'contemplating the eternities'. I started saying a shallow prayer because I had stopped praying for what I wanted a long time before that morning, “I’m thankful for my dogs, for my job, for my family" ... oh yeah, it’s Girlie’s birthday today, I need to do something for her, oh wait I was praying, “I’m grateful for my friends, for my health...” I was still in the ‘grateful for’ section of my prayer when I felt the strongest warmth, light, PURE LOVE, I have ever felt completely envelope me. I felt my Savior wrap his arms around me in a warm embrace. I just started sobbing as I welcomed the Savior back into my life in an instance. I’ve heard of people saying they had conversations with God, but it has never happened for me before this morning. He told me that He never left me and that He missed me so much. He told me He was aware of me, that He loves me, that He had a very purpose for me and that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
Although I have gone through some incredibly difficult trials and just as many miscarriages as I had had prior to this conversation with God, I have been able to keep an eternal perspective and welcome the miracles and path that God has in store for me in this life because I can feel Him with me.
This was my real starting point. This is where I learned to recognize how the spirit talks to me. I absolutely loved the church’s theme from 2020 of How do you hear Him? I have asked myself that question with increasing frequency after this event and I believe it’s a lifelong process.
Going back to Elder’s Bednar talk, the question he asked in the beginning of his message was “How do I know if it is the Spirit telling me to do something or if it is just me? The answer: Quit worrying about it.” He said, “I promise you in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ that your steps will be guided, as you open your mouth, it will be filled, and in most instances you’ll have no idea why or how you got there, so quit worrying about it.” He gave some simple yet amazing experiences to illustrate his point including skipping a stake leadership meeting, and he was the stake president at the time, to go a basketball game and justified why it was the spirit that told him to do that. But you’ll have to listen to his talk on YouTube if you want to hear his stories, for today, you have to listen to mine.
The second story I want to share with you to tell you about my experiences with personal revelation is about my brother Justin. I lost a second brother to addiction in March of this year. My brother Justin took his life after a valiant battle with alcoholism and depression. I have been increasingly fascinated with near-death experiences as it helps me to picture where my brothers are. In every single near death experience when someone has come back to earth after visiting heaven that I have read about, and trust me, I have read and watched a lot of them, it is stated that we don’t talk with our voices in heaven. We communicate with each other through feelings, with our souls, and not with audible spoken words. And we know from the scriptures and our prophets that the Spirit speaks to us with a still small voice - a thought, an impression.
“I will tell you in your mind and in your heart,”18 or “I did enlighten thy mind,”19 or “Speak the thoughts that I shall put into your hearts.”20 There are dozens of scripture versus that teach us that the spirit speaks to us through our thoughts, not through a loud trumpet.
So my second story illustrates a still small voice that came to my mind. I received an impression seemingly out of nowhere in the middle of a workday in June 2020 that I needed to drive to Utah and try to convince Justin to go to rehab. I fought this impression somewhat aggressively because Justin had told everyone countless times that he could conquer his addiction by himself and he would never go to rehab or AA. The impression that got me into my car was the thought that if it didn’t work and something happened to Justin, at least I had tried and I did what God asked me to do to try to help him. So during the 9 hour car ride, I was on the phone most of the time talking to recovering addicts, interventionists, Justin’s son River, and other close friends of Justin’s trying to come up with the perfect words to say to convince him to go with me. I was still at a loss of words the last 30 minutes of the drive and I pulled over to say a prayer for guidance. You’d think I would’ve learned by now and just started with the prayer and left the rest to God, but I’m pretty stubborn. The answer came to me so clearly and the Savoir said to me, “It doesn’t matter what you say because I will be with you.” I don’t remember exactly what I said when I arrived. He was very surprised to see me. I know I gave him a long hug and immediately the tears just started flowing from both of us. I think he asked me what I was doing there and I think I said something like “I’m here to save your life.” About 30 minutes later he was in my car and we drove to Corona where I checked him into rehab. Whatever words I actually said to him were not my own, I was simply a vessel.
President Boyd K Packer also of the quorum of the 12 apostles said “We are told that “angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost.”8 We are even told that when we speak by the power of the Holy Ghost, we “speak with the tongue [or in the same language] of angels.”9
Sometimes we fall and feel God has left us so He Sends other people to say the exact right thing we needed to hear in the moment. There’s a really cool story that Dallas Jenkins, the producer of The Chosen told about loaves and fishes that testifies of this principle but you’ll have to go find it online and listen to him tell it if you want to hear it because he tells it much better than I ever could.
Elder Bednar said this – “The overwhelming majority of spiritual impressions you receive will come in the course of you being a good boy or a good girl, honoring your covenants, keeping the commandments and you will become an instrument in the hands of God and He will take you where you need to be, so you can do what He needs you to do, and most of the time, you’ll never know that it’s happening that way. Just get moving and have faith that God will lead you.”
Now if you have small children, you might want to cover their ears for this part, because Elder Bednar went on to say, and this is a direct quote: “If you’re sitting still, you are not under the influence of the spirit.” When I was listening to his talk, I looked over to my four year old little girls to make sure they weren’t listening and just to be sure, I giggled and said ‘he’s just teasing baby girls; when you’re sitting still, the spirit of the Lord is definitely with you the strongest!”
Now I’m not challenging Elder Bednar so if I get a phone call from him in a few days asking why I’m contradicting in sacrament meeting someone’s going to be in trouble, but I want to offer another possibility. Elder Bednar specifically directed his comments to people who get paralyzed at times and don’t know which way to go because they’re waiting for direction from the spirit. Well what about the people who are pushing through life so quickly in their own direction that they’ve blocked the spirit like I was in my opening story? So I’d like to offer the suggestion that some of us Type A personalities, you know who you are, need to slow down, sit still, and listen. Turn off the radio when you’re driving, turn off the tv, linger for a few minutes after you say your prayers and let God speak to you.
Are you listening? Are you open to feel the Savoir with you?
In all fairness to Elder Bednar, I’ll go back to the people who get paralyzed to make a decision. We’ve all been there right? You’re praying about whether or not to stay in your current job or take a new one and you don’t feel strongly either way. You’ve studied it out in your mind, check. You’ve taken the decision to the Lord, check. And you keep praying about it and you’re just not getting an answer. I guess it must be a stupor of thought so I guess I’m supposed to stay in my current job??? Perhaps it feels like the Lord is ignoring you because He wants you to just make a good confident choice and He will be there to guide you every step of the way. Press forward with a stead fastness in Christ and when you are moving righteously, you will be guided. Be anxiously engaged in a good cause and the Lord shall lead thy path. Perhaps the coined phrase of 'Go with your gut, should be changed to what it truly is: 'Go with the Spirit.'
Probably about a year ago, there was a question and answer session for the youth with Elder Henry B. Eyring and the million dollar question about receiving and understanding personal revelation from God was asked and Elder Eyring said, sorry I don’t have the exact quote, but basically, “I can count on one hand the number of times that I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God gave me clear and concise direction on a decision I needed to make." At first I thought, wow, I’ve had at least 6 of those experiences so I’m doing pretty good! But I obviously completely missed the point. Elder Eyring was saying the same thing that Elder Bednar was saying that every good thing we have in our lives, every righteous choice we make comes from God. I think we all get hung up sometimes that maybe we made a bad decision and we’re headed down some path that God did not want us to take but do we really think we have that much more power than God? Nope. He already knew what we were going to choose and he will continually put thoughts in heads and people in our paths to get us back on track.
The last story I’ll share with you aims to illustrate that regardless of how strong willed or obstinate you are, Jesus Christ will still jump in where He needs to in order to keep you on your eternal path, using whatever means necessary.
I can’t just leave the infertility story hanging even though most of you already know the miracles that found their way into my life since 2020. I will share a little more of the miracle of my 4 and 5 year old daughters Quinn and Paisley on Sunday, February 5th when we will be able to bless both of them in sacrament meeting after taking Quinn to the temple with us to have her sealed to our family for time and all eternity. Yep, sorry, this is just a little teaser. I digress. Many of you have already heard this story, but it’s definitely the best story I have to illustrate this point so I think it’s worth repeating. Tim and I became foster parents to sweet Paisley in June of 2020 and after having her for 14 months and thinking we might be able to adopt her, she was reunified with her birth father in August of 2021. On the night she drove away with her dad, I was obviously quite devasted and wanted to get away from the noise and the people and crawl back into my little black hole for a while. I didn’t think I would ever see her again. I waited until Tim left for work the next day, packed up my car and all 3 of my dogs and just started driving. The still small voice wasn’t very still or quiet at this moment and I could hear the spirit telling me not to go and that everything would be okay but I wasn’t doing anything wrong and I just needed to get away so I left anyway. I think my intention was to hole up in my condo in Park City for a while and just escape but I only got as far as Barstow when my car started overheating and the air conditioner of my brand new Volvo SUV started blowing hot air. Again, it was August, and the outside temperature was 110 degrees in Barstow, so I did what any irrational woman in my situation would do and I turned off the AC and rolled down the windows and kept going. I made it a couple more miles and my car started sputtering and all 3 of my dogs started to vomit on me because they were overheating. Now God knows I can handle quite a lot but I couldn’t be responsible for my dogs pain on top of everything else so I pulled over and cried and prayed and of course still thought of other ways to get to outta dodge but not wanting to leave my car in Barstow and needing to get my dogs cooled off quickly thwarted more scheming. I rented a very seedy motel room in Barstow for a few hours with air conditioning, got my dogs cooled off, waited until midnight when the air was a cool 80 degrees and drove back home completely defeated. The very next morning I got a phone call from my sister-in-law telling me that a little girl just got dropped off at her house and she needed a forever family and that if Tim and I wanted her, we needed to come to Utah and go pick her up. Tim looked at the Volvo and said that everything seemed fine and we drove to Utah with perfectly operating air conditioning and brought home our new daughter a week later. God broke my car and then made my dogs vomit all over me because I needed to take my husband with me to Utah and not go by myself to wallow in misery alone. I’m running out of time so you’ll have to come back on February 5th if you want to hear how I got Paisley back too.
I hear you saying “Alex, you’re making this personal revelation stuff sound really easy but it just doesn’t work that way for me.” Oh yeah? Try it! If you want to feel the Lord’s spirit, make the decision right in this moment to simply open your heart and let Him in. It is that easy. He is right next to you. You are not alone. He is wrapping his arms around you. He is holding you up. He will never leave you. He will not fail you.