Early in 1987, Dave had graduated and we moved back to the New York area. We were going through a huge transition that would change us forever. At this point I had become legally blind. My in-laws, Forrest and Marianne, had just found an amazing church that routinely changed lives that were so drastically lost, that those changes were nothing short of miraculous. Forrest and Marianne were on fire. They had rekindled that old passion to turn the world upside down for God that was now burning brighter than ever, and now they hand handed over their church to this pastor from Brazil, Bishop Macedo. I was excited to learn so many new things about miracles, about healing and casting out of demons. I was hoping that this would be my answer to the eye disease I had.
But there was so much about my life at that time that was disorienting and strange. For one, I could see only colors and shadows, and barely any shapes with the help of straining and squinting. No lenses of any sort could help. I also had just moved with Dave back to the east coast after three and a half years in Iowa on our own. Those were the first three and a half years of our marriage, and much of who we were as a couple until then was shaped by those years. Not only did we move, but into his parent's home. The plan was for me to find a job, just as I had worked in Iowa as Dave studied, and Dave was to prepare for his final exam to be licensed as a chiropractor in the state of New Jersey. Then he'd start working and we could start saving up for a house and move out on our own. But that didn't happen.
I felt like I was being thrown into a giant blender. I was up for some excitement, for God to do great things, and for miracles to happen. I wanted to learn and to be used by God, but it was all so confusing. There were so many new things happening and a lot of the old ideas of what serving God meant were being bumped up to a much higher level. Bishop Macedo and his family were in the process of learning English and all my questions just had to wait.
I remember Sunday afternoon meetings on the second floor of the church in lower Manhattan, with the Bishop singing and praising God, encouraging us to seek the Holy Spirit. He would tell everyone to feel free to stand or sit or raise their hands or whatever they wanted to do. It was strange but wonderful to me that people could be so free to worship in this way. I had grown up in churches where no one dared do anything that demonstrated feelings or individual worship, and as I looked around at others who were raising their hands and praying out loud, I admired them. What a nice church that can allow people to feel so free to worship as they chose, I thought.
But as for me, my choice was to remain in my chair and bow my head and pray silently. My prayers were sincere, my desire for God was deep, but it just wasn't "ME" to be so demonstrative.
One Sunday afternoon, it was the time for worship and as usual I was seated with my head in my hands, praying and wishing I could be as free as the other people in the room who were standing with their arms raised to heaven. But I had to be myself, and myself was just to talk to God quietly in my corner. The more I prayed, the more awkward I felt and distant from everyone else there. But I had to be me. I spoke to God sincerely and told Him that I wanted to be used by Him, to do whatever it was He wanted from me. And then I felt a strong grip of hands on my shoulders. It was Marianne, my mother-in-law. She leaned up to speak into my ear, quietly enough so no one could hear her, but firmly enough to let me know that she meant business!
"Evelyn, stand up! Stand up and lift your hands up to God right now! God needs you to praise Him!" She squeezed and shook my shoulders as only a mother would, and then briskly walked back to her chair. I was so shocked by what she had done, I jumped to my feet, stuck my hands in the air and started praying - loudly. I think I was terrified of what she'd do if I resisted, but I believe it was more than that. I had been suppressing a yearning that I had had for a long time to just worship God with all my heart soul mind and strength, but hadn't out of embarrassment for how I might look to others. I needed a shake-up by a woman who was bold enough to give me a push. I am grateful that she did, because from that moment on, I learned the joy of throwing off my fears and focusing 100% on God in my worship. And the funny thing was that no one even noticed since everyone else was busy worshipping too.
I never mentioned this to her, but I know that she saw the change that came over me. My prayers have not been the same - a simple change of posture awakened a boldness in my faith and an assurance that God is right there receiving my worship and requests. Two and a half years later, this boldness built a faith in me that led to my healing.
I know many people who are just like I was. They come to church with open hearts to learn, to give thanks to God and to fight against the evil in their lives, but worshipping Him in boldness is one of those things that is hard to take a hold of. But when people are in suffering, in the anguish of depression, addictions and broken homes, they need to cry out freely to God and connect with Him on a deep and honest level, and where else better to do that than in His house? Forget that we're taught to be polite and quiet in church, forget that we equate silence with respect. There is a time to cry out, loudly, just as there is a time to worship quietly. But if shame blocks us, none of it can honor God.
Well as most of you know, Dave never did take those state exams. He had been called to become a pastor and leave behind his career goals, and there were many more bold acts of faith that God would require of us in the months and years to come. Thank goodness we both learned to throw away our inhibitions and go for it, no small thanks to a great woman of God, Marianne Higginbotham!