On this sunny, snowy, cold morning I am remembering a child that was born in (if I remember right) October of 1992. Her mother had been quite ill throughout the pregnancy, and the little girl was extremely premature. She suffered from numerous medical problems, nearly all of which were likely to be fatal. And yet that December, after a long stay in The Mayo Clinic’s Neonatal ICU and numerous surgeries, she was finally able to go home.
Although many of her immediate health challenges had been overcome, her microcephalic brain was not so easily repaired: it was 1/3rd the volume it should have been. Her parents were told she would be a “vegetable for the rest of her life.”
The Sunday after she came home her family brought her to her parent’s church, a Charismatic church that I also attended at the time, mainly out of respect for my then-wife’s beliefs. It was a great church: filled with really wonderful, earnest, godly, loving, and wise people.
The Pastor called for members of the congregation to come forward and pray for the family and for the child’s healing. Having been friends with the family for several years, I was one of those who did so.
She was such a frail little thing. Her head was proportioned to her body as an adult’s would be, not the oversized head you expect to see in an infant. She lay quietly as about a dozen of us crowded around, laid our hands on her and her family. We prayed for several minutes. All of a sudden I felt a dizzyingly huge rush of energy pouring into and through me, and then found myself “speaking in tongues.”
Even though attending a church that embraced the reality of what they called “The Gifts of the Holy Spirit” I’d always felt that such manifestations were more likely a sign of self-delusion than a true miraculous event: I was shocked, to say the least, to find it happening to me!
I returned to my pew, sweating and shaking; and had to completely rethink what had been a lifelong thoroughly intellectual and theologically liberal Protestant faith. I realized that relationships, especially my relationship with God, were much more than just logic. Relationships require emotion, passion, and love.
Was this a true manifestation of the Holy Spirit? Or, was it born out of my deep concern for this family and their child, and out of a deep and strong desire to see her live a happy, healthy and productive life? I really don’t know.
Even though to this day I am still a [very] liberal Protestant Christian, I view this episode in my life was transformative. It made me realize that when it comes to faith no one has all the answers. None of us will ever have all the answers: God can, and will, always surprise us with something new and powerful when we least expect it.
Through my years-long sojourn in the more “Conservative” Christian world, I developed a profound and deep respect for a faith that is very much “Other” to my own. I learned that no matter where someone is “coming from,” their faith has value not just for them, but also for us (and others) – if we are open to it. Their Faith – and pretty much any Faith we encounter – can teach all of us valuable things about our own Faith, and about the nature of God.
What happened to that little girl? We left that church soon after when we moved out of state and lost contact with the family for several years. Then, when we visited the town again, we made a point of stopping by one afternoon to see the family. This little girl with a disproportionately small head was now walking, talking, and in school. She came up to me when asked by her parents to say hello to this red headed stranger that she did not remember, then laughed and ran back to play with her sisters.
I still get tears in my eyes thinking of that moment.
– Pastor Allen
Copyright 2021, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.
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