Friday, June 18, 2010

June 28, 1998

I swayed to the music, my hands raised skyward, singing and crying out to God, with tears streaming down my face. Hallelujah, hallelujah. Oh, I needed to turn back to him. My chest ached and I felt the weight of my betrayal.

I was doing things a good Christian girl shouldn't. I was skipping school, smoking pot and cigarettes, and worst of all, flirting with witchcraft. But not right here in this moment, in a wood frame room with hundreds of other convicted and crying teens at a Vineyard Christian Fellowship teen Bible camp in Georgia. Here, it was just me and Jesus - a time to get right with God.

At the far end of the open room, the band played and sang out prayers into the warm June night, as fireflies lit up past the four corners or the open-walled building frame. I could feel the Holy Spirit moving through the crowd, and I was overcome with emotion. Outside, rain began to pour.

"Oh, please Jesus, forgive me," I begged. "You are holy, holy, holy," I said aloud. It didn't seem strange at all to speak out loud to God; everyone around me was doing the same.

I focused on all the ways I wasn't pleasing God. My mind ran over a litany of my sins and transgressions, and I felt polluted by my sinful nature. I considered my recent interest in the occult. I believed witchcraft was real, even if most people who dabbled in it were total amateurs. That didn't mean Satan couldn't use the occasion, that open door, to infest them with demons. Yet, I sometimes read my horoscope, which I knew was wrong.

I looked down at my left hand. On my middle finger I wore a wrong that I thought God might not like. It was a silver band with a raised moon and stars, and a clear blue lacquer slapped over the top. It came from Claire's and probably sold for about $8. I can't remember if I bought it or stole it. I did quite a bit of that at 15.

I confessed my treachery to Jesus, sobbing anew. I found myself face down on the pine floor, prostrate before my God and my youth group. Compelled, I rose up and walked to one side of the open air room, toward the benches that lined the edges between the thick wood beams keeping up the roof. Leaning out into the wind and the rain, I chucked the ring with all my might, and as it arced into the air, a stroke of lightning lit the sky. He forgave me.

Over the course of that opening night worship service, kicking off a week's long Christian summer camp program, I tried desperately to get back to the comfortable feeling of closeness with Jesus I'd once known. Kids from my youth group, and from a group in Greensboro, North Carolina laid hands on me and prayed for me. Prayed that God would be the father I'd never known, prayed that I would follow His will, prayed that he would shower me with His love and His grace.

I spent three solid hours crying on the hard wood floor that night.

I think this is the kind of experience most Christians don't realize I've had, when I say I don't believe in their god. I did believe. Every element of a "relationship" you believe you have with Jesus, I thought I had. And it's not because I really was overcome with some holy ghost. I just believed it. I believed in Jesus and in repentance and in conviction and in the Rules. I believed in the holy ghost and that God tried to talk to me through both music and the weather. I believed the things I needed to believe to create an emotional experience like the one I had "with Jesus" that summer night in Georgia. Without those beliefs though, there's really no chance of a holy spirit "moving" through any crowd. You never see Christians "slain in the spirit" at the checkout, or else overcome by the Holy Spirit in their cubicle. No. Experiences like this are almost always confined to highly stressful or highly religious situations. Because the ghost isn't real, but the memory of it is.