Becky, with short, curly red hair, a smiling round face, and pink cheeks, reminisced with Joyce in front of us. “You remember when the gold dust showed up a few years ago? I remember when I opened my eyes during praise and worship, and there was gold dust on my hands. It was so wonderful!” her voice crescendoed in pitch. “Awwww…” she sighed, folded her hands together and held them next to her flushed cheek, “the Lord is so good.” Then she swooned a bit, and Joyce smiled knowingly and chuckled and… kind of made cooing sounds?
In my mind, I was rolling my eyes. These ladies were crazy. I stood and listened politely. But I doubted everything they said, and thought they were a bit fakey-flakey-flukey. Nonetheless, I knew better, and my concluding thought – that I did not express out loud – was that, well, I mean, if God is real, then he could do that… it could really happen.
I left the conversation at that, and didn’t think about it again.
How did I even get to this place, anyway? To this place of keeping company with some God-infatuated people? A year ago, I didn’t know anything about people like this. And now, I was kind of one of them.
But, I wasn’t that extreme.
I didn’t perceive myself to be, anyway. But, wasn’t I? Wasn’t I just as strange and crazy, with all of my belief in Jesus Christ and him living in my heart, and me “wasting” my time in my prayer closet and in prayer meetings? Wasn’t I just as crazy, acting on my imagination and belief, and asking God the Father to baptize me in the Holy Spirit?
I was. I would have especially thought so if I had met myself a year ago, just how I had thought Jenny was.
Jenny was one-of-three Jennys in my life in my late teens/early 20s. She had planted this idea in my mind that I could be filled with the Holy Spirit. I was offended. “I have the Holy Spirit.” I argued. I had asked Jesus Christ to live in my heart years ago.
The Man in My Heart
Mom sat in a chair pulled up at the kitchen table. She took my hand and pulled me in close. “God wants you to be a nice girl. He wants you to do good,” she said, quietly in my ear, with her arm around me and pressing me in a hug to her side. I squirmed a bit at her tickling, breathy voice. “He loves you so much that he gave his son to save you from sin. You have to pray, and ask Jesus Christ to live in your heart, so that you can be a good girl.”
She didn’t necessarily use proper theological language, but Mom gently and patiently talked with me using words that were just right to help my five-year-old mind make a decision for Christ for myself.
She sent me to my room for a time out – to give me time to think about what I had done, and what she had told me. I don’t even remember the wrong I had done. Christianity is not meant to be all about what we do wrong. It is meant to be about the wonder of Christ living in us. And that is what I did remember. I remembered what she told me about asking Christ to live in my heart, and that is what I did after I climbed up the stairs of our small Country View apartment.
In my room by myself, I looked out the window. It was such a vast window at five years old. The sky – quite visible in the flatter, South-central part of Indiana – grew gray and dark with the gloaming, with a touch of pink lingering just above the trees. I leaned my waist on the sill, prayed “Jesus, I want you to come live in my heart.”
My heart, the shape of
a pinched-wing butterfly, and bright red, filled
with a little man standing inside.
He stood, and he made his home in me.
For a solid five or six years, I imagined he lived there, but I wonder if he didn’t actually live there, with the way my heart led me at times throughout childhood. My heart led me most of the time to good things, and Christ will always lead us to good things. And so I think my imagining him living in my heart was not just an imagining, but a manifestation of him really being there.
Governance from Within
Christ said the kingdom of God is within us. When we ask Christ to live in our hearts, that means his spirit moves inside of us and he begins to govern us. That is what he meant by “the kingdom is within you”. And that is what happened when I asked Christ to live in my heart. He began to govern me, even at 5 years old. His governance at that time included protection, correction, and discretion.
Christ, living in my heart, protected me from evil. I can remember in the first grade I left a classmate’s sleepover party when the kids started watching a movie that made me feel
dazed and dizzy, weird images on screen
made head fizzle, swirl down,
drop to stomach and shake
me to pop
up off that couch, as shy as I was, and insist that my mom come pick me up. The movie was so bad that I could not be comforted and talked into staying. And my sensitivity drove me to stubbornly refuse to wait for my mom in the comfort of the living room with the rest of the kids. Instead, I waited on a hard, wooden bench in the cold, slate-floored hallway foyer. After that experience, all dreamy thoughts and hopes of friendship with that particular classmate exited my mind.
As an adult, I wondered if my reaction to that specific movie was warranted. Was I just naive and unexposed? But as I’ve researched that specific movie – because I, amazingly, do remember the title – and have read reviews about it, I’ve learned that it is full of explicit sexual content and substance abuse. Again, I believe that Christ living in me protected me and was governing me.
Christ, living in my heart, also stopped me from doing evil and corrected me. In the fifth grade, I was taken out of class and questioned about the signature on my report card that I had forged. Before anyone could say anything more, I was a mess of tears and shaking shoulders as I slunk down, up against the wall of the school hallway, to the floor. No one had to punish me or say anything else to me, as I already knew I had done wrongly and my “conscience” took care of it for them. That was the first and last time I committed academic fraud.
Besides governing my own behavior, Christ, living in me, also compelled me to govern others and call out evil. Probably to their dismay and annoyance, I can remember a time in childhood when I used my discretion to question my parents. The house that I grew up in was so small, that any movement from anywhere could be heard throughout the entire house. One night, from the living room, my parents heard me coming from my bed and pressed stop on a movie they were watching just before I walked in. They sat and waited for me to go back to bed. In the kitchen, I drank my glass of water, and as I walked through the living room to go back to bed, I sensed that they were watching something they didn’t want me to see, and I smartly said, “Well, if it’s not good for me to watch, then it’s probably not good for you to watch either.”
I can remember saying things like this more than once to my parents. The pastor had preached, during a church service once, against watching soap operas, and I nudged my mom and told her she had to stop watching them. I don’t remember her exact response to me, but I can remember that she took it well. And even though maybe my corrections didn’t stop them, my parents were pretty humble, were followers of Jesus Christ, and they didn’t shout or get angry at me for putting a check on them.
My Heroic Imagination
My childhood was mostly undramatic and untraumatizing. My parents protected, and provided for, me and my siblings – my dad worked full-time and my mom worked a childcare job that allowed her to be home before we got home from school. Our parents also took us to church and taught us to tithe, and steered us to find work and earn money. They didn’t over-protect, helicopter or smother us. (Though sometimes I wonder if they could have steered us better in certain areas. But, I suppose all of us are doing the best with our children with what we’ve been given.) And because of this, I was able to have good and hopeful imaginations.
As a child, I had a lot of opportunities to enter into imaginative free play. Sometimes my imaginative play was not good and I can think of a couple of instances when I was not allowing Christ to lead me. But for the most part, Christ living in me – or my imagining his presence in my heart – seemed to lead me on heroic adventures. Usually, I went on these adventures with my brother, or my friends, all around our little house and neighborhood. And most of the time we defeated bad guys and did other good and faithful deeds.
A signature and frequent adventure I dragged my big brother Julian into, was a good-guys, chasing after and getting the bad-guys game. I can remember the first time we passed through the portal into this adventure. Jules and I played on the downhill that flanked the right of our small house, where the grass was usually lush.
Surrounded in dense pine forest and thicket,
we launched forward up the mountain, sturdy
and valiant. With hands on hips, chin high,
and scrawny girl-child chest stuck out proud,
I pulled out my pistol from my holster and
“Bang, bang, bang! I got ‘em, bud! I got
the bad guys!” I announced wildly.
“Hey Jules, I know, let’s play this game… it’s called… uh… ‘Friend, Friend’. We’re buds, working together to get the bad guys. Let’s go! Come on, bud!” I shouted and ran along the side of the hill toward the backyard and stopped right before the boundary of the pear tree. Jules followed behind. He easily joined me in my imaginative world, as he tended, as a child, to live inside of his head, too. “Let’s pretend we’re in the city, and right as we jump past this tree, we’re jumping from behind a building into a dark alley where the bad guys are hiding.” We stood side-by-side with our hands folded in a gun-shape against our chests. On the count of three we leapt
and staggered into the dark alleyway. We
squinted our eyes, scanned back and forth
between the two old brick buildings, looking
for movement. “Pow! Pow!” Bullets whistled
past our heads. Jules ran forward, ducked behind
the dumpster, I followed. “What do we do, bud?”
I asked. “We stay low. Run and take cover.”
Jules jetted forward, bent and ran across the
alleyway into the shadows. I followed. “Pop! Pop!
Ahhh! Bud, they got my leg!” I screamed and
somersaulted to Jules and joined him in
the shadow of the other pear tree that stood, with two apple trees, along the back fence of the yard. It was the beginning of Summer, and the fruit trees had shed their flower petals and were now pushing forward toward production. Since, at that point, there was no rotting fruit on the ground, I laid in the grass, laughing. Jules stood above me and off to the side. He was relaxed, with hands still folded in the shape of a gun, looking away with a smirk on his face and shaking his head. He was probably speechless, as he is a man of few words, and I imagine, rolling his eyes. This is often his posture (not the gun-hands) when his two sisters, who sandwich him in age, are acting too giddy and giggly for his cool-headed ways. Even so, Jules and I often and continued entering into the world of “Friend, Friend” throughout childhood, and always chased and defeated the bad guys.
Christ, living inside of us, is determined to make us heroes and heroines, who chase and defeat the bad guys. He also pushes us, I think, to imagine ourselves as faithful domestic and career heroes.
In my family, in the Fall, we usually raked leaves in order to keep the yard clean. When I was with my brother and dad, we typically raked them into piles, and then Jules and I went a few rounds of running and jumping into them. We also built mazes, for running and playing tag through. When I raked leaves with my friend, Angie, who lived in the cul-de-sac across the street, we raked the leaves to resemble the boundaries of the walls of a house – it looked kind of like a floor plan. We started off by creating the boundaries of the exterior of the house. Then, we created all the walls and different rooms within. When we finished, we took on our respective domestic roles – since I was older, I was usually the mother and she was the child. No one else played with us, so we had to pretend there was a dad and some other siblings – and we practiced domestic life. We cooked, we cleaned, we fought, we went to work and did all the things we imagined – within our imaginative limits – adults did.
My friend Angie and I also often pretended we were secretaries or workers in offices. By day, we were full-time elementary school students, and afterwards we moonlighted in Angie’s bedroom at the desk that
sat, facing the door where clients, the boss, and colleagues
sometimes stood in the frame of, in order to ask
for reports, receipts, that we had just finished writing and
were presently working on stapling together and organizing
into mailboxes, trays, and filing cabinets. “Brrrrrrrring, brrrrrring! The
phone is ringing, Sara. Can you answer that, and if it’s for me, put
the call on hold while I finish this report.” Angie clicked on the
keyboard while I picked up the phone, held it with my shoulder
against my ear while I continued stapling. I yapped with a client
in a pretend conversation, and Angie and I continued in our play for a couple hours until Angie’s mom woke up from her usual after-work nap on the couch, and dinner-time rolled around and I was either sent or called home.
While my childhood and imagination weren’t perfect, and there certainly were some temptations, sins, and abuses to overcome, it was mostly happy and safe. And, I believe it was largely because Christ lived inside of me. Christ compelled me forward in life from within. He protected me, corrected me, gave me discretion, and helped me imagine heroic possibilites for myself.
Confirmation of My Imagination
In my late teens, when I had moved out of my parents’ house, and Jenny Hudson had suggested that I needed the baptism, or the filling, of the Holy Spirit in my life, I was offented because I had been raised up to believe that once you ask Christ into your life, then you have the Holy Spirit living in you to help you. And yes, while that was true, and it was clearly true in my life up to a point, it is also true that we have to ask God to baptize and fill us with the Holy Spirit if we want to live the best life, with God as our strength and leader and helper. And, we have to continue to ask Him to fill us in the same way we have to continue eating food and drinking water everyday.
Not deterred by my argumentative attitude, Jenny came back with a list of Bible verses that showed throughout scriptures – in both the Old and the New Testaments – how the Holy Spirit had filled people. I understood the verses and I understood what she was saying, but this was something I had never really thought about before. My imagination was good, but limited, and I couldn’t imagine that anything like that could ever happen in real life, and it seemed the stuff of Bible stories of long ago and fairy tales. It seemed to be the stuff that only remained in the imagination, in the head, in the children’s books and fairy tales, and never manifested objectively for observation. Nevertheless, Jenny patiently persisted in helping me to understand and she began to take me to charismatic, Holy Spirit-filled churches where people prayed like I had never seen before.
On a weekend at the end of February/beginning of March 2000, Jenny took me down to southern Indiana to a church that her pastor-dad had a connection to. We spent time in fellowship with the people of the church in their houses. We prayed, sang praise and worship songs, and had conversations around tables. On the last night of our time there, the pastor of the church talked with me about praying for the baptism of the Holy Spirit. As he talked with me, he said things to me that only God would know about my life. He used this in order to encourage me so that I would want to have this same power of the Holy Spirit to be able to minister to others. He asked me if I would want to pray to receive the baptism and the power of the Holy Spirit, and naturally, because of what I had just heard, I diffidently said yes. What happened after that, the details of it all, is another story for another time. But in short, I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and my imagination and all that was within me and my subsequent decisions and behaviors in life shifted back to that focus of Christ living within me.
In Defense of My Imagination
Christ lived in me as a child. I imagined it – and imagination is a reality. Imagination is something that is a tangible part of being human. It sets us in motion, and consequently sets things and other people in motion. With our imagination, we build worlds and cities and businesses. Thus, my imagining that Christ came to live in my heart was a reality that set me in motion, and so it cannot be discounted and disregarded as some kind of mystical, personal or subjective, childish, insignificant experience that has no bearing in the world. Imagination is the tool that God uses in order to help us to discern his reality within us. We ought not to be so dismissive of our imagination, especially in those moments when it is leading us to see God.
With our imagination, we can view God as he is presented in the words of the Bible. As we read the Gospels, we can see Christ among people, healing, teaching, and leading. When we read 1 Corinthians 13 and Galatians 5:22, we can imagine what God’s character, and love for us, is like. And when we read Numbers 6:25, we can imagine God’s face shining, with a smile and joy, on us. He uses our imagination to help us to view him beyond our earthly understanding, so that we see that “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9)
When we hear testimonies of God from others, he uses these testimonies in order to help us to imagine how he could break into our reality. When the former drug addict testifies how, one day, he committed his life to Jesus Christ and the next day his desire for drugs was completely gone, we begin to imagine, perhaps, how we could be delivered from our own peculiar bad habits.
When I heard the testimonies from what seemed like some crazy women, about gold dust mysteriously appearing on their hands during a worship service, I could begin to imagine that God really could do that if He wanted to, because He is God.
When the gold “dust’… actually, it was more like flecks… appeared, I was hanging out with Shanna on the porch of the little blue, shotgun style house down in southern Indiana. We had been sitting there talking with each other for a couple hours.
“I wish I were like you.” she confessed to me. “I wish I had a clean life… a sincere passion for God”
And I confessed to her, “I wish I were like you. At least you’re sincere, honest, genuine.” Deep down, I felt fake, and I wasn’t really confident about God at all. I mean, I had the sense that He was living in me and that He was there with us in that moment, but I still felt like a fraud.
Shanna was trying to escape into the night with some friends. She wanted to go with them in order to get high, drunk, and to satisfy her flesh. Her car was broken down at the time, and so she was depending on others for transportation. She used her cell phone and pager to incessantly try to reach her friends to come get her. For whatever reason, it wasn’t happening. I sensed, too, that God was not going to allow her to go.
She and I settled down next to each other on the bench. As we talked more, suddenly out of nowhere, gold flecks appeared on Shanna’s clothing. I saw it first.
“Hey, what’s that?” I pointed at her Taco Bell hat and then noticed it glittering on her dirty work clothes, too.
“Huh?!” she took off her hat, looked at it with wide eyes, and began to swipe at it, and then tried to wipe it off her clothes.
“Did something fall on you while you were at work?” I questioned her, skeptically.
“No.” She was speechless and surprised, and suddenly wanted me to take her to the hospital.
We went inside the house where my housemates were, and some other friends from our church. Shanna went to the kitchen to get some water and I went upstairs to get my purse and keys. When we passed by a friend through the kitchen, we asked him if he could see the gold flecks. “No.” He looked at us like we weren’t serious. I was in shock that he couldn’t see anything. Shanna picked up pace and jetted out of the house quickly. I drove her to the hospital in the dead of the night and didn’t really understand what was going on. It wasn’t until later that week, when she asked me to accompany her for some group therapy sessions, that I realized she had checked herself into a mental health hospital.
When we are seeking after God, when we ask Him to live inside of us, He will manifest Himself to us in one way or another so that we have no doubt about His reality. And His reality in our lives will always lead us out of sin, and to healing, progress, and wholeness.