It was a persistent preacher that brought me to church but it was a bad girl that brought me to Jesus.
My mom would go through small windows of time when we would visit other churches, but for the most part I grew up attending the First Baptist Church of San Angelo. It was the cadillac of churches. It took up an entire square block in the middle of down town and it was built to impress. Massive stained glass windows poured in colored light to frame the glory that was the chapel, the pastor there during my childhood was broadcasted over TV and radio and people drove in from all over to hear him preach and to shake his hand. On Sunday mornings, it took a long time to find a parking spot and you had to wait in line with the well dressed masses to get in the door.
I actually enjoyed sitting with my mom on a pew in the sanctuary during what I called, “Big Church” because I would sit and stare at the light moving in waves on the stained glass as the clouds passed. When I got bored with that I would take my time inspecting any of the 1,500 members in the pews all around me.
I didn’t have as much success during “Little Church”. To say I didn’t fit in with my peers during Sunday school was an understatement. My favorite dress to wear to church was purchased at a garage sale and looked like a yellow and black blood clot topped with very thick shoulder pads. The dress was not intended for a 14 year old, it was intended for a grown woman. It would have fit better had I taken those pillow pads off my shoulders and stuffed my bra with them. But I loved my yellow, blood clot dress as it would swish around my calves. I would wear my moms heels that were too big and I would stumble along the labyrinth of hallways it would take to get to my class.
GiveYouIn retrospect, those kids showed restraint and a lot of class by not treating me with derision or scorn when I showed up. No one was ever mean, we simply had nothing to say to each other. Before the lesson started, I would sit along the fringe of the tables while they discussed things like horseback riding, tennis, vacations to interesting places, ski trips, and funny things they overheard at the dinner parties their very wealthy parents hosted. The kids in that Sunday school class were very privileged, very well behaved, well dressed, overachievers and they followed every single rule and every single guideline set before them. No one ever disrupted the lesson and they all seemed to know the answers to all the questions. Of course, they would raise their hand politely before they answered.
It was absolutely perfect and soul-sucking boring all at the same time.
During my yellow blood clot, swishy dress stage at church I was also in the midst of basketball season at school. We had a big tournament coming up that weekend in Odessa. Coach’s rule was that if you missed a practice that week, you didn’t play that weekend during the game. No exceptions. Unfortunately, that was the week a large portion of our team was struck with the stomach flu. It was nasty and we were dropping like flies. Some of us handled it better than others and I just couldn’t shake it.
bruisesI spent the week sleeping in most of the day and just dragging myself out of bed to attend my last class and then athletics after school so I didn’t miss practice. Every bump and turn while I sat on that 2 hour bus ride to Odessa was pure torture. During the tournament, I would be clutching my stomach every moment I wasn’t running up and down the court. It was actually one of the best performances I had displayed so far as my goal was to not enjoy the games, it was to keep the ball away from the other teams so I didn’t have to keep running up and down that damn court. I was vicious in a way I hadn’t been in any previous game.
We won that entire event.
By Sunday I didn’t hurt anymore, I was just pale and worn out. I must have looked bad as my mom took me to a walk in clinic after church so I could get a shot or a prescription.
I didn’t have a virus. I didn’t have the stomach flu that my teammates had battled that week.
I had a ruptured appendix.
My appendix had ruptured 7 days prior. I had spent the week and the basketball tournament slowly dying from the poison turning my body septic.
I wouldn’t have thought a doctor could have a panic attack but the doctor at the walk in clinic gave it his best impression. I think that was what convinced my mom we were in the midst of a bona fide emergency. I was swiftly taken to the actual hospital and while they were scanning, poking, prodding, planning and preparing me for surgery they were telling my mom to call in family members.
do our best
The hospital called in a hot-shot, big deal surgeon. He was going to give it his best attempt, but the doctor told my mom my chances weren’t good and they should say their goodbyes to me before I went into surgery. I was probably going to die. It was going to be the Hail Mary of surgeries.
We won that event as well.
My appendix had walled itself off around my colin. It was bad, I still had a battle ahead, but that is the main reason I didn’t die. It was a medical anomaly and I was told my case was going to be published in some medical journal. The hot shot surgeon was going to be even hotter in his field.
I’m a little fuzzy on everything they told me once I woke up but I’m pretty sure someone told me they had to lift up my intestines out of my stomach cavity to wash them off. I’m going to go with that as a fact as the scar I have on my belly is massive.
I spent a very long time in the hospital attached to a lot of tubes and beeping machines. I didn’t get to eat actual food for a long time. I now know that morphine gives me nightmares on a scale that makes the pain preferable and that I cannot stand the smell of coconut. One particular night nurse wore such intensely perfumed coconut smelling lotion that I’m forever ruined on that particular smell. No Pina Coladas for me. Ever.
You have a lot of alone time when you are very sick and strapped to a hospital bed for weeks on end. Your family members still have to continue on with their daily lives and it’s not the nurses job to entertain you. Or so I was informed several times. Quite a few times. Okay, fine. I was told that fact daily by every single nurse on staff, several times a day, the entire time I was in the hospital. Give me a break, I was a teenager before the age of internet, smart phones, kindles, or any teen friendly television.
PastorsI’m laying in my hospital bed, rebuffed yet again by an annoyed nurse, when Brother James walks into my room. He was the pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church and he came to visit me. He brought me tootsie rolls, his deep rolling voice, a sense of humor, and a willingness to stay and talk until I fell asleep again. He came to visit me quite a bit until I was well enough to go home. He brought me tootsie rolls I was absolutely not supposed to eat every single time he visited.
Once I was healthy I had to choose between a church that was perfect but held no connection for me and a church with a pastor that knew my name and smuggled tootsie rolls in for me.
We changed churches.
The sanctuary at Immanuel Baptist church did not hold 1500 people but it did have amazing stained glass windows. I didn’t have to stare at the reflections of light caused by passing clouds overhead because Brother James was relatable. His sermons were feisty and to the point.
I did enjoy those sermons, but that’s not what actually ended up bringing me that final step to a real relationship with Jesus.
I had been baptized years before in my perfect church on an Easter Sunday. I was very young and although I certainly had the faith of a child, my baptism on that day was more from knowing they wanted the correct answer to a question than from a feeling bursting from my heart.
“Little church” at Immanuel Baptist church was not a compilation of perfect, well behaved children. It was a group of loud-mouthed, opinionated, can’t sit still hellions. It was excitable chaos and I loved it.
It took me exactly 10 minutes into my first visit to see that Clarissa Rene was one of the worst hellions in the group. She wasn’t bad, she wasn’t mean, she wasn’t evil. She was a wild heathen that didn’t even make a mild attempt to follow social norms and she was very open about her flaws. All her flaws. She wasn’t overly nice or gentle. She was not soft spoken. She was brass. She was bold. She was outrageous. She. Was. Fun. I didn’t know you could have fun at church.
best giftShe was a wild heathen that didn’t get into trouble (much) because she had the charisma to get away with breaking all the rules and when she spoke I swear her love for Jesus rolled out like a thick red carpet drawing you in.
I was never her friend. She was older than me and frankly she was a bit intimidating with the extent she was willing to break rules. She and her siblings were such a unique mix of Jesus and bad behavior that I was willing to just watch from afar. But she is the reason I would sign up to attend church camps, ski trips and whatever else I had time to attend. I knew if she was there, it wouldn’t be perfect and boring. It would be fun and somehow she would cause highly amusing and inappropriate shenanigans. Shenanigans and Jesus.
That bad girl is the reason I have a relationship with Jesus. Her imperfections, her flaws, her brokenness, and yet her ability to have an immense amount of fun and joy while worshipping Jesus at church and in her daily life influenced me and opened doors for me in a way that perfection never would. A way to forgive myself and others for stumbling along the way. Loving Jesus wasn’t about perfection. It was about the relationship.
I was never going to get to heaven in the cadillac of churches. I’m more of a gently used, beaten and battered, scarred and dented, lift kit, big bald tires, yet well loved and faithful Ford tough truck kind of church girl. Maybe Earl Dibbles Jr said it best when he said, “The higher the truck, the closer to God.”
All I know is that persistent preachers and bad girls can get you to Jesus.