The first encounter with God that I can remember was in the side yard of our house. I was two years old. I remember all the details of the afternoon, and not just the way that I saw it in pictures years later, because there were no pictures to see to tell me what happened that fateful day. I recall it all from the two-foot-tall height of a two-year-old.
My family always had a golden retriever, and at this point in my life we had a dog named “Wella.” My parents named her “Wella” because they thought they were clever; they actually named her “Well-enough” so they could tell the neighbor kids to “leave ‘Well-enough’ alone.” (I know… hilarious…) Wella and I were in the backyard playing and running around in the grass, doing what kids and dogs do, bumping into each other and falling over. I decided I wanted to draw or paint or something on the ground, and Wella followed me over. I couldn’t get anything done with Wella all up in my little kid grill, so I thought I would bring her over to the side yard where my parents typically put her away when guests came over.
The gate to this side yard was no ordinary gate. It was made of wrought iron, and felt about 20 feet tall (though I am positive it was nearly 8), and spanned quite a large area with grass and Wella’s water dish. I grabbed Wella by the collar, pulled her toward the gate, and pushed her inside. If you have a dog, and especially if you know the temperament of a golden retriever, they only ever want to be with you, and if you leave them they will follow you because they love you (think “Doug” from Disney’s Up). As I backed away from Wella to shut the gate, she followed me out. Frustrated, I walked her all the way to the middle of the yard, told her to sit (which she did), and told her to stay (which she didn’t). Again, I pulled her into the side yard, only this time, I made sure to shut the gate behind me so that she could not get out.
As soon as I pulled the gate closed, I turned around and stared at the wrought iron giant, looking up to the sky to see the top of the gate where the lock was located. Immediately I realized what had happened, and just like any movie I had seen up until this point, I realized that this was the end of it all. This was how I go.
I yelled for my mom; she was working on something in the study (I promise you she’s the greatest mom ever… no child neglect is going on here). I yelled and yelled for her, so terribly heartbroken that she didn’t come running to my aid. I looked longingly at Wella and told her how much I loved her, and that I was so sorry that I had gotten us into this mess. I cried and cried, and after what felt like hours (I am positive this was only five minutes), I knelt to my knees to pray.
It was in this moment that I remember God’s sweet Presence meeting me in a time of desperate need. If anyone tells you that the Holy Spirit is something to be studied by theologians or to experienced by those with “mature” faiths, stop them in their tracks and let them know that God speaks to the little ones. After all, the Kingdom is best received with their faith. If you have children, look at them right where they are and begin to pray that they know they can call on the name of the Lord at any moment in any circumstance. He does speak and is speaking to the little ones; please take a moment to listen.
On my knees, with Wella by my side smiling and drooling like dogs do, I prayed that God would show up and please help me—I needed Him so badly right at that moment. Through my tears I remember feeling the grass under my calves and the dirt scratching my little kid knees, and I am not sure if it was technically “magic hour” at that moment but I am pretty sure the sun touched everything in such a way that made it truly golden. I cried and prayed, and He heard me. He was right there; I could sense His presence with me, teaching me and taking care of me.
Immediately, I knew exactly what to do. I sat back on my little kid bum and balanced there as I un-Velcroed one shoe, then the other, then peeled off one sock, and then the other. I walked straight up to the gate, placed my big toe and other toes in between the bars of the fence, gripped the fence with my chubby kid hands, and with all the determination my two-year-old self could muster, I climbed.
While I am sure that Heaven was singing along, I think that the earthly soundtrack would have been either the song from 1995’s Space Jam movie, “Space Jam” or Amy Grant’s “Angels Watching Over Me.” I scaled the bars of the gate (sweaty feet make for a mega-grip on wrought iron fences, if you’re wondering), made it to the top, lifted the lock, and swung the gate open. Freedom! I relished in God’s provision of an open gate. The problem here was, however, that I was still at the top of the gate as the door swung wide open, and I stayed at the top of the gate until the door slammed shut with me on it. Annoyed yet thrilled, I jumped off, recentered myself, climbed again (cue DJ), and opened the gate, swinging open and then jumping down to freedom. Wella ran out of the side yard with me and we straight into the house, where I found my mom immediately and told her how I thought I had seen the end of my life… but that God showed up and helped me out of the side yard.
This was the first encounter that I can remember with God, but I am convinced that He was showing up in my life long before I was aware. He knit me together in the womb, He knows a word before it is on my tongue, He perceives my thoughts from afar. He knows me; He knows you.
When was the first time you really remember being aware of God’s presence?
Aware of His love?
How old were you?
Where were you?
How did it change you?
He is moving, whether or not we are aware of it. Look for it today. Lean into His Spirit. There is always more of Him to pour out, and all we have to do is ask.