My earliest memory of this was laying in my crib with my quilt tucked up so that only my eyes peeked out, looking through a gap in the bedroom curtains into the night sky.
I wasn’t hiding from fear or monsters under my bed, but because I was playing hide-N-seek.
I grinned as I looked up at the stars from under the covers in my bed in the Bali Hai Apartments in Morro Bay, and I said, “I know You’re there…!”
Our family wasn’t Christian. My parents wore love beads, and had various idols from around the world displayed around the house. One of our babysitters was a witch who dropped acid and painted eyeliner on me for a pagan wedding ceremony with my also four-year-old boyfriend. He was my first kiss. For family outings, our parents would drive us up Highway 1 to Nepenthe – named after the Egyptian goddess of hashish – and we would buy bamboo flutes and dance with the cast of The Mod Squad.
Soon afterwards, my parents bought a seafood restaurant in Fresno and we moved, and my hide-N-seek Friend came with me. After we arrived, we met a woman who told us about Jesus. I knew Him, but I just hadn’t known His name. It was simple for me.
We immediately had miracles happen. My Mom and I were both healed from epilepsy. Mine was caused by flashing lights, and was the kind that was supposed to kill me before I was 18. I wore dark glasses most of the time to keep from having seizures that ultimately would lead to brain damage. After the healing, I tossed the ugly glasses but the school district still wouldn’t believe that God exists. They weren’t going to let me enroll in kindergarten despite my advanced climbing ability that I anxiously demonstrated on the playground outside the room where officials were meeting to decide my fate. I had dreamed of going to school since watching my older sisters go, and I knew all of my alphabet already. I reasoned that if they also saw that I was strong and fearless, they would have to let me in. They did, but only after my parents signed a waiver releasing the school(s) from any liability until the end of time.
As a senior in high school, I would glance at the attendance roll sheet in a classroom. Beside my name was still listed an ‘E’. But I haven’t had any seizures since becoming a Christian at the age of 5.
We had other things happen. A fish in our aquarium got all of his fins eaten off in a fight. We wept and took turns stirring him so that water could flow through his gills and he could breathe, only a little striped soul shaped like a silver dollar now with no navigation ability. We prayed for him, and he grew new fins. So we named him Lazarus and put him back into the general population holding tank.
As new believers, we began to fellowship with a group of Jesus Freaks who called themselves the Brothers and the Sisters. After a time, they scared me. As a five-year-old woman(?), I was required with all others of my kind to have almost all my flesh hidden. We wore matching long dresses that my mom made that only left our hands and faces uncovered, plus we wore long boots in case a gust of wind would lift up our hems. Mom wasn’t allowed to wear makeup, and all the women in the commune – I mean, ‘intentional living arrangement’ – spent most days trying to make the men happy. Mounds of beef were shredded for tacos because that’s the way the Brothers liked them. And I think they beat the kids. The one time they threatened to do this with us was the last time that we saw them. They told Mom that she was risking hell if she left with us, but she was willing to do even that to keep us safe. Soon afterwards, the commune pulled up stakes and left town. But I remember the joy of singing “Happy Birthday to You” to Jesus with them at Christmas.
So we were now a family of frightened new Christians who knew Jesus but weren’t sure if we liked His family. Dressed like 19th century pioneers, we walked into a church near our new home in Fresno. We looked like the opposite of most who had found God in the Jesus Movement, looking and acting more ancient than even the retired apple-doll missionary from Africa. We were convinced that only the King James Bible was holy and all other translations were blasphemy. But we were ironically the result of those dirty hippies who had walked into traditional churches looking for Jesus and finding judgment. They had been cast out because they didn’t wear ties and dared to walk on the new carpet with dirty bare feet. Not knowing what to do, they walked back into the sunlight and tried to find God on their own.
But we weren’t cast out. We were enfolded. All of our strangeness was based on a desire to know God and come closer to Him, and this was loved. Eventually the pioneer burquas were left behind. And the apple-doll African missionary who had been a crusader against female circumcision joined forces with the white-haired farmer who had buried both her husband and child, becoming our grandmothers in the faith. Forty years later on the day that my pastor from those days died, I was sitting in church on a Wednesday in Los Alamitos, wondering if this should be my new church home. A man I didn’t know stepped up to the microphone with a guitar and played an old-timey hymn that my first church from forty years ago always used to close service on Wednesdays. I Surrender All…Never before and never since had this happened in this new place.
I had come home again.
Perhaps one of the reasons that we had a happy ending in our new church home was because of a man who died this week. Chuck Smith, founder of the Calvary Chapel network of churches, once heard the wisdom of God coming from the voice of his wife Kay. She said to let the dirty hippies in. And if their bare feet get the new carpet dirty, tear out the carpet. Our church in Fresno wasn’t a Calvary Chapel church, but they had a heart for a new generation who was seeking the face of God.
I never met Mr. Smith. But I am convinced that he now has met Emma Margaret Herron, called Mother of Africa, and white-haired Gladys Briscoe, who buried a husband and their baby, but who came to know a God who brought rain for her harvest in her latter days.
NEXT TIME: A different kind of harvest…
Picture of Chuck Smith conducting a water baptism, courtesy of David Bromley.