The First Shame

We had only recently begun going to church when a Revival arrived. I don’t remember his name, but a guest speaker was invited to help spread the fire of God through little Kansas towns.

When Mom & Dad separated, Krystal, brand new baby Hope, & I went with mom to stay with her sister in Kansas. Aunt Sherrie had been going to Victory Faith Christian Center (VFCC) regularly for quite a while. She & Mom were raised in churches; though in my seven years we never went except when visiting Grandma & Grandpa. She was constantly nagging mom about going with her, hoping it would help her turn her life to a more positive direction. One Sunday, we did. I doubt Mom realized at the time that this choice would change the course of our lives forever.

The Revival brought more people to church than could possibly fit in the little VFCC; so we had to move to a larger location for the night. The building was just as plain on the inside as it was on the out. There was a makeshift stage at the front of the room, rough blue carpet, and rows & rows of folding chairs. Mom found us a spot next to some of her new friends from our new church. She set me up in the far left corner of the room with my baby sister & her pastel diaper bag. I kept Hope quiet while the praise & worship portion of the evening began.

I had never witnessed anything quite like it. While a band played, people were jumping up and down, shouting, waving their arms frantically about, dancing and singing along via the words on a giant projector screen. Mom joined them as if she had done it a hundred times before. Krystal stood next to her clapping quietly along, carefully observing the other kids in the room.

Although I don’t remember much of the sermon, I do remember the speaker raising his voice a lot, pacing back and forth. He spoke what, to me, was gibberish. He called it “speaking in tongues,” which one can only do if “filled with the Holy Ghost.” The hot air from his lungs circulated through the crowd. The energy he unleashed created a sensational experience for all who looked on.  He solicited an excessive amount of “Amens” from the audience.

When he had nearly finished, soft music magically began playing on cue in the background. He invited everyone to come to the front of the room, to ask Jesus into their hearts, to have hands lain on them to be filled with the Holy Ghost. Mom came to the back and collected little Hope from me. She encouraged me to step forward with Krystal who had already gone up with a wave of other kids from our church.

Uncertain, I stayed close to my big sister. The speaker & several people who traveled with him were placing their hands on peoples’ heads, speaking in tongues loudly until the room was roaring with foreign sounds. The ones receiving prayer began shaking, from slight tremors to violent wailing. As they fell to the ground, the ushers continued moving along laying hands on people one by one, careful not to miss anyone awaiting a divine experience. Many of them would just stay there, lying still & inanimate. I was nervous as I was approached. A sweaty hand was put on my head. I looked up to see a strange woman smiling at me. She smelled strongly of a soft powdery perfume & her hair was pulled back tightly with a barrette. She pushed my head while she prayed. In exactly the kind of gentle but firm tone one uses to get children to be obedient, she commanded evil spirits to leave & welcomed the Holy Ghost to fill me up.

I peaked out from under my closed eyelids to watch the kids around me as they started to fall one by one. Many of them were crying as they too began uttering strange syllables. I watched while Krystal received the Holy Spirit, tears pouring down her face. I couldn’t tell if she was happy or sad or hurt. She ran to hug mom and they cried together.

Some of us, however, were unmoved. We were unable to perform the new language. We stayed for hours and hours, receiving prayer even while the rest of the crowd dwindled. They told me I needed to stop resisting and just let him in. I didn’t know what I was doing wrong, though. I tried to open up my chest by puffing it up like a peacock opens its feathers. I tried lying on the ground with all my extremities spread wide. Nothing worked. I was uninhabitable. Eventually Hope grew too fussy and mom came up front to get me, whispering in my ear it was time to go home. I felt ashamed as I left that night one of only a few who would not receive the Holy Ghost. I let God down. I let the church down. I let Mom down.

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