Fingernail Droppings: 30 Years ago, August 1984

I knew I had to get out of Okeechobee and away from my ex, Jimmy. I couldn't get over him or move on unless I did. I was about to turn 17 years old and enter my junior year of high school.  My heart wasn't just broken by Jimmy, it had been shattered into a million tiny pieces. I felt so lost and empty. I knew I had to change my life.
It was the summer of 1984. Ghostbusters and The Karate Kid, Michael Jackson's Victory Tour, MTV, Reganomics and it was the age of the Televangelist. 
 So one day I just deceived to go live with my dad in Baton Rouge Louisiana. My mom thought it was a good idea too.
My dad had recently been born again, again. After my step mother Marie had killed herself he started to reevaluate his life. He felt a lot of guilt. My dad had left my mom when I was only one, and at the time, mom was 19 and dad was 20 years old. He had left my mom for Marie. Marie was 20 years older than my dad, Then after 15 years together, he left Marie for Rhonda who was 14 years younger than him. Now him and Rhonda were married and attending TV Evangelist Jimmy Swaggart's church. I had never watched church on TV so I didn't know who he was. The only "famous" preacher I knew was Billy Graham but my dad assured me, Jimmy Swaggart was a big deal.
The first Sunday I went to church with my dad we arrived late so we sat in the back. I remember staring at the stage with my mouth open watching Jimmy Swaggart's wife, Francis, speak in tongues. She was very emotional when she finished. I thought it sounded so real. I had been raised Baptist so this entire service was a trip to me. The raising hands, talking back to the preacher, speaking in tongues, was not something we saw in the Baptist church.
After service I asked my dad what Francis was saying and why she was talking in a different language. He explained to me that speaking in tongues was a gift from God. We didn't need to understand what we were saying, it was the Holy Spirit speaking directly to God through us. That was called being baptized in the Holy Spirit. I was definitely interested.
We went back to church the following Wednesday night and as we were picking up my step sister Cindy from her class upstairs, I saw a youth group meeting in one of the other rooms. I peeked in to see what was going on and noticed that even the teens were doing the raised hands and speaking in tongues stuff.
"Dad, can I go to the youth group next Wednesday?" I asked.
"Sure" he said and smiled. I could tell he was happy I was interested.
When I was twelve I had walked the isle at our Baptist church and made my profession of faith and from that day on I had prayed nightly. After a big drunk Indian tried to rape me, I prayed, after the first time I smoked pot, I prayed, and after I lost my virginity to Jimmy, I prayed. No matter if I was in bed at 9pm on a school night or at 4am after sneaking back in through my window from a night of partying, I would pray before I went to sleep. I always asked for forgiveness, thanked him for the good things. and told him I wanted to be a better person. Every night.
But my broken heart had made me pray even more. I had to pray just to be awake. I had to pray so the hole in my heart wouldn't suck me into it and kill me. Many nights I cried myself to sleep, begging God to take away the pain.
Now that I was away from Okeechobee and Jimmy, I was feeling better about life and because I was going to church, I was feeling closer to God. He was softening my heart and filling that hole with peace that I didn't understand.
I walked into the youth group that next Wednesday night by myself. I saw a lady sitting at a table near the door, "Hi, I'm Sandy." She said as I approached. "I'm Carole. This is my first time here. I just moved to Baton Rouge." I blurted out. "Nice to meet you." She said as she walked from behind the table and touched my arm in a leading kind of way, "Let me take you to meet some people since this is your first time here." and with that she guided me over to a group of guys who were standing nearby. I loved that she was as forward as I was. She didn't seem put off at all by me walking into a youth group by myself.  
"Guys this is Carole, she's new in town and this is her first time at youth group too."  
"Hey! Nice to meet you, I'm Kevin."
"Hi, I'm Jeff."
"I'm Wade."
"I'm Andy."
Kevin Gibson, Jeff Richard, Wade Hinton and Andy Neal. All guys and all my first friends at "Crossfire" which was the name of the youth group. 30 years later, I'm still friends with Kevin, Jeff and Wade.
In the month of August, 1984, I started over. I felt God at church, especially at youth group. I felt God when Sandy took the time to take me by the arm and introduce me to people.  I felt God when I was with my new friends watching Blazing Saddles and rewinding the fart scene over and over. I felt God at home with my dad and step mom. Sure, I didn't know what was going on at the time, I was just going with the beautiful flow. But now I know it was a time of transformation. Of salvation. And I welcomed that salvation. I can't tell you the day or the time, I just know the month and the year that I made a real connection with Jesus and decided He was who I wanted to live for, however that looked, and it certainly has looked a lot of different ways since that time. 
I attended Swaggart's church for four years, worked at his ministry for three years and that was where my spiritual formation took place. I became a product of my environment. Rock music sent you to hell, so did rated R movies, cleavage, miniskirts and the Democratic party. Women were meant only to serve men, be wives, have babies, "Submit woman" was a favorite term for the bible college guys. I fell for everything I was fed as I was trying to learn and grow spiritually. I trusted, I believed, I wanted more and eventually, I fell under the weight of fear theology, guilt and condemnation. The damage from that time took years to undo but how wonderful is God's grace that even in the midst of all the bad, He was working. His grace made a way and I survived. 
I made lifelong friends while at Swaggart's; Kevin, Jeff, Wade, Jimmy Clyde, Karen, Ammye.  When I left there I started looking into what I believed, really believed. I found the value in looking outside of my immediate bubble and considering how others felt and believed about things that I felt so right about. I had open eyes that I could only appreciate because they had once been closed. 
 In the words of Charles Dickens, "It was the best of times, It was the worst of times."
It all started thirty years ago,  August 1984.
Jeff Richard, Wade Hinton, Me, and Jimmy Clyde, Fall 2013


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