Knowing God: The First Vision

Knowing God: The First Vision

Once as a young teenager my uncle and his family traveled from Utah to my home in California to give a spiritual message from the history of my church. My uncle is Steven Harper, a college professor and historian of the early Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He came and spoke to our church’s youth group about the First Vision and the events leading up to it. Overall it was a compelling lecture-sermon, but there was one particular point that struck me with powerful force.

Steven began by recounting Joseph Smith’s family history with religion and the divine breadcrumbs that guided them to the restoration of the gospel. He went on to set the scene of the Sacred Grove, starting with Joseph’s prayer and then of Satan’s dreadful, reciprocal influence. He recalled that in the pivotal moment of climax, Joseph made an active choice—a choice that ultimately encapsulates his character: he called out for God. And then miraculously, Joseph’s God appeared to him and called him by name. Then for a moment, my uncle paused to make this statement:

“God knows your name.”

I doubt that was the first time someone had ever said that to me. It’s already implied whenever your Sunday-School teacher mechanically rings out the Christian mantra: “Jesus loves you!” But it’s said so often and so ubiquitously that it can sometimes seem trite or impersonal. When my uncle declared that idea, it impacted me deeply. God knew me. In a time of my life when I felt so small and inherently wrong, God knew my name and knew my story and loved me.

That’s all I have ever really wanted: to know God and to have him know me.

I want to be with him and I want him to want to be with me. This is why I’m a member of this church. I’m convinced that my membership will help me know/remember him better and thus be more like him.

The First Vision encapsulates what I love most about the gospel: revelation, the God-to-child relationship, opportunity for growth and change, hope, progression, being a part of something bigger than yourself, being with God, knowing him, and him knowing me.

The First Vision is the most intimately documented record we have of God the Father making direct contact with a human. Some of the biggest secular criticisms of God the Father from his own children are that he is distant, inaccessible, and unfeeling. The First Vision breaks down those walls. We’re blessed to have countless examples of the Son of Man reaching out to bless, succor, heal, teach, and sacrifice everything for the welfare of mankind. The First Vision shows us that God the Father is, of course, equally interested in our ragged humanity. He traversed space and time to personally answer a farm-boy, his young son.

His Only Begotten Son had already come to the earth and performed the unthinkable, incredible sacrifice and established the path leading us back home. But then that path gradually faded away in the deaths of those who had sustained it. All that was left was darkness and confusion, just fragments of truth with the occasional spark of light. Apostasy, the governing entity of that phase in human history, is hell in a mortal timeline. How many tears had led to this Restoration? How many of the enslaved, beaten, or abused had cried out “Where is God?” How many had suffered under tyrants both political and religious? How much affliction had seemingly passed without notice?

This was his answer: his soul-saving gospel first executed, and now restored by the Son he was willing to sacrifice for our benefit. After millennia of waiting, the time had finally come.

Now in addition to being accessible, he was tangible. An exalted God, beyond description, yet in a human form—His form. A being who is not dead, but alive, active, involved, glorified, and communicative. His first action was to lovingly call out his son’s name, and introduce him to his Heavenly Brother-God, the only one who can bridge the gulf that separates them:

“Joseph, this is my beloved son. Hear him.” JSH version

To which the Son answers:

“Joseph my son, thy sins are forgiven thee.” 1832 version

How like the Son of God to have his first expression be that of mercy. It suggests that beyond answers, Joseph was quietly seeking forgiveness. And the Christ, astutely and lovingly perceptive of his sibling’s needs, initiated the conversation by tearing down the only breach between them, because that is the nature of both God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. The Father wanted his children back, and so he acted in perfect unity with and through his Son.

The Atonement is mind-boggling and difficult to grasp and universal and intimate and lonely. It’s staggering to think that God the Son could suffer intimately and infinitely for all human beings ever created. In this particular moment, God is reaching out to Joseph, the one child. A scene like this is a little easier for my mind to comprehend. Even though the Restoration had implications for all creation, the discussion began with a very intimate affirmation of Joseph’s personal, honest desires. Jesus then went on to answer the other question of Joseph’s heart: where could he consistently go to know God?

The First Vision teaches me that God knows me and will go to extraordinary lengths to connect with me. When I go to him, he doesn’t just hear my fumbled words. He reads my neurons like a map and anticipates everything I could ever do or say, but still loves to see the sparkle of my eye as I say it. The First Vision teaches me that God won’t answer a question like a crystal ball. He will teach me about him and about myself, and then endow me with a challenge of purpose: “can you be what I created you to be?”

To conclude, I’ll share my all-time favorite quote on prayer below:

“Throughout his life, Joseph Smith would turn to God in prayer to seek the help and guidance he needed. A Church member recalled hearing him pray in Kirtland, Ohio, at a time of great personal difficulty: ‘Never until then had I heard a man address his Maker as though He was present listening as a kind father would listen to the sorrows of a dutiful child. … There was no ostentation, no raising of the voice as by enthusiasm, but a plain conversational tone, as a man would address a present friend. It appeared to me as though, in case the veil were taken away, I could see the Lord standing facing His humblest of all servants I had ever seen.’”

The purpose of life is to know God. The miracle is that we can. 



Human Connection

Human Connection

There is no substitute for human connection.

I could pray, I could read, I could prophesy. But no measure of solitary piety can piece back another’s fragmented mind unless they join hands.

I have walked uphill for so long and martyred myself against reaching hands. My independence became my isolation. Then I would ask God why I was abandoned. He answered me with human connection.

No one can be fixed but they can be loved, and then they are mended by the only true Healer.

Religion is fought in the mind but won with external embrace, and that is what humans were built to do.

The arms bend—every crook and corner folds symmetrically across the complementary human form. Palms press. Fingers imprint, their nerve endings calculating every sensation.

Lungs quiver in hesitation, then rest in synchronized waves. Hearts beat in bursting speech, coming home to the other vessel. Both lungs and hearts swell together. This is active. This is life.

This is best handled with tightness, after long absences, every muscle strained and yet relaxed in the peace of the other. The neck curves the head that it may repose on the other’s ready shoulder.

There is no selfishness in this, only the purest longing for home to be satisfied in the most heavenly terms.

Inherent in their composition: bone, muscle, fiber, and vessel are anxious to connect, to come home. This was their true purpose. Together they comprise the most magnificent creation established: the house of a Child of God. And there is nothing more godly than loving.

The two humans form the shape of an answer. If God stood here right now, he would embrace you. Until then, love his children.




Photo Credit: Mark Mabry,

Why is America Obsessed with Chip and Joanna Gaines?

Why is America Obsessed with Chip and Joanna Gaines?

I’m on the phone with my mom, self-proclaimed HGTV enthusiast, about home decor and she asks “have you seen Fixer Upper?” No I have not. “It’s this husband and wife renovating houses; I think you would like their style”, she offers. Who is this couple? I hear about them all the time. I see people referencing their greatness on Instagram. Magnolia this. Magnolia that. During the 2016 election my cousin says “I just wrote Chip and Joanna Gaines in the write-in for President” and he says it with a completely straight face. What is the big deal? What the heck is shiplap?

I don’t own a TV and haven’t watched cable for years. I’m not a huge fan of reality TV in general. Then in late 2017 I bought a home—a process that certainly raises one’s awareness of the real estate business. I can’t remember how the Gaines entered my world but when the time finally came, they paraded in with a vengeance. Basically what I’m saying is, I have now purchased-several-items-of-the-Magnolia-brand-from-Target-bought-all-issues-of-the-Magnolia-Journal-past-and present-watched-various-clips-of-fixer-upper-and-interviews-and-I’m-seriously-considering-starting-a-farm-but-wait-I-live-in-a-townhouse-and——-I’m-hooked. How did this happen?

Chip and Joanna Gaines are arguably some of the greatest phenoms to come from reality TV. I’d like to deconstruct why America loves them, or at least why I like them.

I believe they represent the American dream. These are two people who are young and smart and ambitious and attractive. They began as plucky entrepreneurs, survived considerable obstacles (specifically the historically volatile housing market), and have never stopped dreaming. They are simultaneously humble and ambitious. They are decent people living on faith and hard work. They’ve triggered massive  economic momentum for their beloved hometown. They exercise their unique skills and derive immense satisfaction in the fruit of their labors. They make great money doing what they love. They utilize opportunities to serve others. They’ve achieved all this while raising a happy, healthy family.

Isn’t that literally what every decent American wants? People inhale this Magnolia brand to borrow that addictive creativity for their living spaces. They soak up details of C+J’s lives searching for some secret recipe of happiness and success. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. We need examples. We need true stories of imperfect people who have “made it”.

The problem is to think that you can somehow mimic their happiness by buying Joanna’s favorite lipstick. One can’t cheat the pathway to success through a brand. I’m not saying people shouldn’t purchase their product (I certainly won’t be stopping), just to pay attention to why they’re doing so. Maybe I should try believing in the untapped potential within myself. My inner creativity. My dreams.

The question is, can I get off my butt and do something great with my own life?



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