When I was 19 I married my Christian boyfriend—the one I shocked into saying the sinner’s prayer by asking him if he knew where he was going when he died. Remember? He didn’t know, so he decided to get Jesus into his heart so he would go to heaven. We got married over Thanksgiving break. He was a Junior at Washington State University in Pullman and I was finishing up Beauty School in Moscow, Idaho. We lived in a 26 foot travel trailer, with no slide outs, and twin beds. The tiny TV was on a swiveling shelf in the middle and could be watched from opposite ends, either while eating dinner in the dining/living area, or using the toilet in the bathroom. It had a gas oven that terrified me. In the winter we would light it and leave the door open to keep ourselves from freezing. I was sure that was against the rules…not what ovens are for and most definitely dangerous. My husband was a rule breaker. I was a rule keeper, because if you break rules you feel guilty. This difference between us caused some tension. But that is not the point of this chapter.
The year we got married was my first time living away from home. It was 1972-1973, the tail end of the Jesus Movement in America, when pot smoking, acid dropping, communal living hippies became Jesus loving people full of the Holy Spirit— by the droves! But it was also happening to my parents and their friends (and their friend’s children) who lived back in my home town. They called it “getting zapped” by the Holy Spirit. Needless to say, they were all kicked out of the Baptist Church because, well, they were speaking in tongues and the Baptist’s didn’t believe in that. Everybody back home was so excited about God! They started meeting in each other’s homes and they would just pray and sing and talk about this crazy new experience that was miraculously changing people drastically….for the better. They were all so full of joy! But I was 350 miles away and, sadly, missing it all.
I was desperate for whatever it was that the Jesus People were experiencing. I knew it was God…specifically the Holy Spirit, but I didn’t know how to get it. We lived in a College town, so you would think that I could find some converted hippies to hang out with, but I couldn’t. So I looked in the phone book (no google back then) for churches that might be into the Holy Spirit. I found one that looked promising. It was a Full Gospel church. I’m still not sure what that means, but they believed that the Holy Spirit was active in today’s world, not just in the book of Acts in the Bible. So I talked my husband into going there. The only thing I remember about that experience is that it was sparsely populated by a bunch of old people, and I didn’t get a good feeling about it. It felt gloomy. My husband really didn’t like it.
So, we gave up on church that quickly and I lived devoid of the Holy Spirit (not for lack of trying over and over again) until we moved back to our home town, had a couple of kids, and were visited by a “Spirit Filled” couple we were vaguely acquainted with. I’m not sure what they said to us, or why they showed up on our doorstep, but after they left, I decided to take a shower. And in the shower, suddenly I just believed; if I asked God to fill my being up with his very spirit, he would do it. And he did. There was no speaking in tongues like I was led to believe (previously) that there should be, but I felt that same smile rising from deep within that I had felt when I had my first encounter with God at age fifteen. But this was a deeper joy that was actually God himself, and I knew he would never leave me. Whew. I still struggled with guilt/shame, but at least God was in there for sure now.
This is hard to explain, because it is a mysterious, mystical thing that happens deep in our souls but, now I wonder if maybe what happened that day in the shower was, that instead of the Holy Spirit entering me, I was just made aware that God was already in me and had never left in the first place. Wasn’t God present at my conception? Is there life without God in it? Surely God, who is love, loved me as a newborn. How could that love possibly ever leave me or anyone? Real love doesn’t abandon the loved. When did I start believing that God had turned his back on me…that he could not even look at me because of my sin… that we were separated because I’m so horrible that his holiness couldn’t bear me any longer? God. Is. Love. Love/God would never, could never leave me, for any reason, any more than I could ever abandon my own children or grandchildren. Nothing can separate us from the love of God. Nothing. And God is never anything other than love.
To go deeper on this topic check out this podcast.