Getting five children ready always drained me. That Wednesday evening I hustled my brood inside the tiny church and deposited them in classes and the nursery. For a frazzled young mother, church service was a like a mini-vacation, a brief respite free from children and the cares of life.
Entering the main sanctuary, I was greeted with a warm handshake and smile from Pastor Owens. My smile froze when he asked, “Would you be willing to lead in a few hymns tonight? Brother Williams just called and he’s sick and won’t be here.”
I almost fainted. I could barely give a spoken prayer request, I was that shy. I couldn’t believe he thought I could do this. If my head had been screwed on, it would’ve come unscrewed from the vigorous shaking I gave it while mumbling, “Sorry, I can’t!”
Rattled, I rushed past Pastor Owens and found an empty pew. I shoved my nose in my Bible as if my life depended on finding a particular scripture. I hoped I exuded vibes of “Do Not Disturb – Shy Woman Studying God’s Word.”
The tension left my body when Pastor Owens took his place behind the pulpit and opened in prayer. Then he called Rena to the platform.
Sweet, young Rena, leader of our youth group, was definitely a better pick to lead in hymns. Her gentle voice carried the congregation through the first hymn. She had just started a second selection when her right leg began to jerk and twitch.
Being a Pentecostal church in the early 70’s, it wasn’t unusual for people to express their praise through a variety of body movements and boisterous noise. Rena, however, was more reserved with her worship, so this caught my immediate attention – that and the look on her face. It was a cross between terror and determination.
The next thing I knew, Pastor Owens, seated on the platform behind Rena, leaned forward and swished his arm. Intrigued, I peered closer, careful not to miss a word from the hymn. It was the least I could do since Rena was up there instead of me.
Rena’s leg continued to shake, so Pastor Owens leaned forward and swished both arms this time. Then I saw it, a tiny lizard clinging to Rena’s right calf. Lizards, caterpillars, garden snakes, and all manner of critters found their way into our church since the surrounding area was mostly farm fields.
Pondering this dilemma, I practically jumped out of my skin when Sister Hawkins, seated behind me, gave a whoop, and hollered, “Hallelujah!” She must’ve thought Pastor Owens was doing a victory wave to go along with the Spirit moving Rena’s leg. A few other dear saints, sure the Spirit was moving, echoed Sister Hawkins' exuberance.
Unless God was inside that lizard, it wasn’t His Spirit responsible for what Rena and Pastor Owens were doing. Perhaps if I hadn’t felt so rattled earlier, I would’ve been immersed in worship and not noticed either. I didn’t know whether to burst into laughter, or rush onto the platform and help poor Rena. I would definitely hope to be rescued if it were me.
Rena’s leg continued to shake, and Pastor Owens kept swatting. Not to be left out of the Spirit moving, other people began to shout, cry, jump, and dance. I loved feeling the presence of the Lord, and was usually very demonstrative myself, but now I was caught in a quandary. Should I join in?
Our pastor’s wife, Betty, remained seated on the front pew. Usually observant, I was sure she’d notice and do something. Either she wasn’t aware, or thought her husband could handle it.
I kept singing, wondering how all this would play out, when dear Sister Tharp jumped up and started a Jericho march around the church. I did what any respectable Pentecostal girl would do – I joined them. To remain seated meant I was impolite or backslidden, and since I was neither, I did the only thing I could do.
Then I started to feel something. Joy and gratitude flooded my senses because months prior, God had drawn me to this church. It had been a divine occurrence, one of those altering events that set a course where my life would never be the same.
I wanted to utter gut-wrenching sobs of thankfulness, yet had an overwhelming urge to giggle uncontrollably. “Thank you, Jesus,” seemed inadequate. Thanking the lizard was, of course, ludicrous.
I understood His Spirit isn’t in the externals. It’s within.
** True story. The lizard and key characters involved happened as stated. Reactions embellished and exaggerated somewhat.
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