Things Church Girls Don't Talk About
Things Church Girls Don’t Talk About is a comical, yet poignant story of a young church girl and her mother in search of true faith amidst a sea of toxic religion and eccentric Southern characters. Meet Mama Clarisse, whose sass gets her into trouble when she announces her husband’s adultery at his surprise birthday party. Enjoy the antics of her sister, Justine, who gets tipsy and does a “tell off” to her brother-in-law’s bow-legged mistress at his funeral. Sympathize with Maggie as she tries to win the love of her cold, Irish father before he dies. Scoff at the narcissism of Jimmy Ray, a quirky preacher with a PH.D—Pentecostal hairdo. If you have a bone to pick with religion, or even if you don’t, you will be wooed by this charming and powerful tale of how mercy triumphs over judgment.
A Budding Church Girl
I became a church girl in nineteen-sixty something when I walked the aisle in a little Southern Baptist church to the umpteenth verse of the hymn, “Just as I Am.” It’s a fine song with a catchy tune, but after the third time through—even Mother Theresa would get testy.
Walking the aisle is what you do when you want to get saved. “Saved from what,” you might be thinking. Saved from Hell. H-E-Double-L. I will never forget that day—how could I? The memory’s etched in my brain like a poison pitchfork. It happened on a serious Sunday morning in a little church called, Grace and Truth. There we were. Mama and I in our Sunday best—the perfect back row Baptists. Our dainty legs crossed at the knee. Our patent leather shoes shinning like new money. And even though the pastor had been speaking for well over an hour, still we were all ears, listening attentively to his passionate preaching.
The man was excitable. High strung as a mad dog caged at the pound. He paced up and down behind the podium so fast it was making my head swim. And then, in the midst of his frenzy, he pointed his shaming paw in our faces and told every last one of us that we’d better turn or burn.
Remembering my feelings that day, a predominant one stands out in my mind.
Lordy Mercy! This red headed, freckled faced child was scared out of my wits. And for a darn good reason. The minister was—can a church girl even say it?
Mean as hell.
Cold chills crawled up and down my spine as he threatened us with gory stories about people who died and went to their eternal punishment because they refused to get saved. The preacher’s descriptions of hellfire and damnation were vivid. Wailing and gnashing of teeth. Rolling waves of molten lava. Demons spewing fire from their nostrils like angry medieval dragons. . . .
I tell you the truth—after hearing these tales of horror, my poor heart started beating like a humming bird. Ninety miles an hour. I thought it was going to jump out of my chest. I felt dizzy. Sick to my stomach. Sweat was popping out on my forehead. Meanwhile, the choir (oblivious to my panic attack), just kept on crooning that haunting tune. . . .
Just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me, and that thou bids me come to thee
O Lamb of God I come…..
“Blood? Lambs? Dear God,” I thought to myself, “this is getting more tragic by the minute.” And then, before I could gain composure, the religious terrorist started in on us again by quoting frightening excerpts from Jonathan Edward’s sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
"He is not only able to cast wicked men into hell, but he can most easily, do it… The old serpent is gasping for them; hell opens its mouth wide to receive them; and, if God should permit it, they would be hastily swallowed up and lost. . ."
“Swallowed? Lost? Stop!” I screamed in the confines of my mind. “I’ll believe anything you want me to believe. You are right. I’m a sinner. A horrible, terrible, wicked sinner!”
And then, to be on the safe side, I started confessing my sins up to date. The time I changed the grade on my quiz from an “F” to a “B”. The time I stole a hot ball from the corner grocery store. The time I played “show me yours, I’ll show you mine” with the boys down the block. As the preacher worked the congregation, all of my wrongs passed before my eyes. I could not escape the conviction. There was nowhere to hide.
"There is not a created thing not manifest before Him, but all things are naked and open to His eyes—with whom is our reckoning."
The minister was right. I was e-ville. Ready to split hell wide open.
But as wicked as I was, as guilty as I felt at that moment, there was a part of me that secretly wondered if God was really as mean as that man made Him sound. Perhaps the preacher had exaggerated? Was there a remote possibility that God was just a wee bit nicer? But what if He wasn’t? What if that preacher was right? What was this little church girl going to do with a mean God like that after salvation?
While everything in me was hoping that he would stop, the mad man continued.
If you died in your sleep tonight, do you know for sure that you would not wake up in that fiery place reserved for the devil and his fallen angels? While the choir sings, just slip out of the pew, come down front and escape the pit of darkness—the judgment by fire!
And this he shouted while strapping on his Martin guitar so that he could strum along with the choir. Figuring I’d better be safe than sorry, I decided to give him what he wanted and get my Hell insurance. Yep. I was going to do it. I was going to mind that preacher and escape eternal damnation at the same time. And so, with all the courage I had left in my frail, trembling body, I opened my eyes, took a deep breath, bolted out of the pew, ran down the aisle, and got saved.
And there you have it—my sad salvation story.
On that fearful day, I was saved from hell and became a church girl. From the mentorship of my mama, I learned the churchy protocol—how to stand, how to sit, and how to cry without even smudging my make-up. I also learned how to tell little white lies to cover how I was really feeling if anyone should ask me how I was doing in church.
Additionally, I learned the friendly phrase the congregation used to give the impression of super spirituality—“I’m blessed and highly favored.” Have you heard it?
“How are you? Sister Sue?”
“Blessed and highly favored.”
“But I heard that your son’s Jim Bob’s in jail and your Mama’s in a diabetic coma.”
“Doesn’t matter. I’m blessed and highly favored.”
“How about you, Maybelle? Are you crying because your granny died?”
“Nope. I’m too spiritual to cry, you idiot. I’m too blessed and highly favored!”
But even in this blessed and highly favored state, I had a million unanswered questions; questions about God, the Bible, anything that pertained to spirituality. I had always been an inquiring girl when it came to matters of the heart, and I took that curious mind and personality into that little Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama.
There was only one problem. The church didn’t like my curious mind. They didn’t want to know what was swirling around in my head. They were not the least bit interested in my questions. Particularly the one I asked one memorable Sunday about Thelma Lou Cratchett.
Thelma was a tall lanky woman, country as a turnip, with short black hair and an intensely guilty look about her. She sat at the back of the church in the last pew and every Sunday she rededicated her life to God. I lie not. Every sanctified Sunday. I was no math wiz, but figured it took Thelma only three days after her rededication before she was sinning again and again and again.
At the tender age of nine, I wondered what in the world the poor woman was doing that made her feel bad enough to run down the aisle, and collapse weeping on the shoulder of the preacher every blessed Sunday. In my childish mind, I imagined all sort of terrible things—cheating on her husband, stealing quarters from the offering plate. . . God only knows what this woman was doing!
As I sat quietly in the pew alongside my dear mama, I could count the verses of a hymn and predict when Thelma would be rededicating. After about six months of this same ole, same ole, when I was about to die from curiosity, I finally got up the nerve to ask about Thelma Lou in children’s Sunday school class. The lesson that day was about repentance. Miss Linda, the pious preacher’s wife, opened up the class with a question.
“Does anyone know what repentance is?”
I stuck my hand up in the air and waved it wildly. “I do, Miss Linda, I do! I do!”
“Yes, Maggie, what is it?”
“It’s what Thelma Lou does when she runs down the aisle every Sunday. It’s her way of saying she’s sorry for her sins,” I said, confident that I had gotten the correct answer. But then, (instead of being content to just to see the approving look on Miss Linda’s’ face), I had to push the envelope—take it to the limit. Instead of controlling myself, I’ll be darned if my unruly tongue didn’t set on fire the course of hell by asking one of my nosey questions.
“But what are her sins, Miss Linda? Do you think that she has a cheating heart? Mama and I were thinking that she might be fooling around on her husband like those wicked women on the soap operas by doing it with Bubba in the choir room. Could that be her sin?”
As you can imagine, Miss Linda, the quintessential church girl, went off on me in front of God and everybody with that shrill, brutal voice of hers saying how unbecoming it was for me to be talking like that in front of Christian children.
“Well, I never! Didn’t your Mama raise you better than that?” Miss Linda huffed. And then standing herself up saintly straight while cocking her skinny hand on her waist like a teapot she continued her tirade. “How unbecoming . . .how very unbecoming it is for you to be talking like that in front of Christian children, you rude and brazen little girl! There’s no excuse for this. You need to mind your manners!”
And after her arrogant tell off she had the nerve to point her boney finger in my face, and howl at the top of her lungs, “I’m telling you for the very last time…
these are things church girls just don’t talk about!”