Christmas was the only "religious" thing we did as a family, if you could call what we did religious. Somehow, a six-pack of beer and a stolen Atari system under the tree seemed to detract from the sacred nature of the celebration.How did I know it was sacred? They cancelled school for it. We also got out for Thanksgiving and Good Friday, but those two never quite caught on in my family.
So, years later, when my roommate Stephanie printed off a vacancy announcement from a local church which stated one of the requirements for employment was Applicants must have accepted Christ as personal Savior and be committed to continuous spiritual growth I yelled at her, "Did you read this part?"
"What part?" Stephanie asked, plopping herself down on my bed. Snatching the paper back from me, she pushed her jet-black hair behind both ears and took a second look at the post.
"This part right here," I punched the paper to point out criteria number six, "about being a Christian."
She grabbed my hand and inspected my fingers instead of the job description. "You need a manicure."
In protest, I folded my hands beneath my armpits. "Get serious. I've got less than a year to get a job and get myself established."
"What kind of job do you expect to get with nails like these?" She smirked. "Gardener, maybe? Ditch-digger?"
I returned her smirk with what I thought was one of my own, but I'm sure it looked more like a smile. Stephanie, ever-cheerful, had jokes for everything. She also had good looks and a rich, functional family-attributes that totally escaped me. No wonder people like her were in love and engaged. The only wonder was how we ended up best friends and how she'd all but supported me since we graduated from junior college. Now that she was getting married to Ricardo, I had to be a grown-up. We'd both have to be grown-ups, we gathered. For her: no more running to Daddy. For me: no more running to Stephanie. Hence, my dire need for steady employment.
Stephanie re-read the requirements and then announced, "Kerri, you can so be a Christian. It's not that big a deal from what I can tell. You believe in God, right?"
"Yeah, me and every other heathen," I joked.
Stephanie smacked the papers on the bed, straightened her back, and walked me through her rationale. "Didn't you, like, go to church when you were little?"
"Nnnnnope," the word slid out of me.
"Okay," she said with a clap of her hands, "Did you ever say bedtime prayers?"
"Strike three, Stephanie, I'm out. You can't just be a Christian. You gotta, like, take all these classes and stuff. You remember Danny?" I referenced an ex-boyfriend of mine who wasn't necessarily spiritual but was definitely a repository of useless information. "He said you have to get this kit and memorize volumes of prose and drink wine before you can become a confirmed Christian."
Stephanie's perfectly shaped eyebrows shot up an inch. "You've had wine! And remember that Catholic wedding we went to? We drank wine there."
"I am not a Christian, and I am not going to fake like one just so I can get a job. I might as well be…a politician or something," I said.
Fourteen days and six job rejection notifications later, I found myself running for the office of "Writer/Editor" at one of the largest churches in the Dallas area. Sure, my conscious bothered me. Actually, it did more than bother me, it harassed me. So much that I'd added "Become a Christian" to the top of my list of "Things to Do Today" every day for the last week. I never quite got around to it though, since I couldn't get in touch with Danny for the books or the wine to get the job done.
When the lady from the church called to confirm the interview, all I could do was hope like crazy I wouldn't have to take some kind of Christian-test as part of the screening process.
As I waited for my potential boss to call me beyond the reception area, I browsed the church's magazine rack. Each issue boasted the picture of a distinguished, deeply brown-skinned man with the salt-and-pepper hair one only gets with years of wisdom. His wife, clad in an elegant dress suit, was equally impressive. Stephanie would say she was quietly wealthy.
They were, upon further inspection, pastor and wife of Wesley Street Bible Fellowship; Pastor and Mrs. Scott. I had done some research about the church online, but the picture on the webpage didn't do them justice.
I flipped through one of the magazines, still awaiting my interview, and came across a brief clip entitled, "How to Accept Christ as your Personal Savior." My heart screeched to a halt. Yes! I'd found it! I breezed to the bottom of the article to find the kit-ordering information. There was no time to lose. If I could order the kit before the interview, I would only have to tell a partial lie about this whole "being a Christian" thing. As long as my Christian kit was on the way, I was half-way home.
I jumped from the cushy chair and approached the office secretary. She slung her floppy bangs away from her eyes and asked, "Yes?"
"Sorry to bother you, but where's the ladies' room?"
She pointed to the left. "Around this corner - two doors down."
With the magazine still in hand, I entered the bathroom and rushed into the first stall, determined to break this secret code and find out how I could get my hands on the information. There had to be an 800-number or something! I re-read the clip in its entirety, slowly this time. Was it really that simple? Say this prayer and then - POOF! -bad stuff be gone, you're a Christian?
It cannot be this simple.
Whatever. If this is what they wanted, this is what they would get. I searched the bathroom with my ears, and when I determined there was no one else around, I whispered the printed prayer:
Jesus, I come to you as a sinner, confessing my sins, and asking for your forgiveness. I believe you died on the cross for my sins, you rose again, and you are now seated at the right hand of God. I invite you to come into my heart and be my personal savior. Amen.
Then I waited. I don't really know why or what for, I just waited. After a few minutes, I realized I was probably waiting to be struck by lightning for doing such a bad deed. I didn't know much about God, but I figured it was pretty safe to say that He didn't like phonies. Who was I kidding? I couldn't take this job. Not like this. Not if I didn't really mean what I'd said.
I guess that was the part that got me - how could I believe in something I didn't really understand? Who exactly was this Jesus dude? If he died and then got back up again, did that make him an angel like Grandpa Skeeter? When Grandpa Skeeter died, everyone said he turned into a guardian angel. In life, he always carried a .45, which, I supposed, made him a prime candidate to be guardian of something or another.
Who said I was a sinner, anyway? Okay, I had bad credit, but that was all thanks to a former boyfriend who convinced me to add him to my cell phone plan and co-sign for a Nissan. Never mind that I couldn't even drive it because it had manual transmission. No, I wouldn't classify my credit score as sin. I'd just been plain old stupid.
I heard the bathroom door swing open and listened as a pair of pumps stomped two steps inside. "Miss Dalee?"
"Yes," I answered.
"Are you okay?"
My mind scrambled back to reality. "Yes, I'm okay. I'm just…finishing up." I reached behind myself and flushed the toilet for effect. Not quite sure what effect I was going for.
"Mrs. Trenton will see you now."
"I'll be right out."
Time to lie? Or not? I stepped out of the stall and into a forced meeting with myself because the wall-length mirror was now directly across from me. My deep brown hair swung low at my cheekbones, accenting a sharp V-chin and nearly overpowering my face.
Stephanie always said my hair was too big for me, as were my feet. Everything in between the two hadn't changed much since the seventh grade. Makeup helped to bring out my hazel eyes a little, but Maybelline and Max Factor can only do so much. My only "interview" suit swallowed me and probably would have overcome me if I hadn't pinned the skirt at the waist.
The woman staring back at me was…well, I didn't really think of myself as a woman. A woman has confidence. Wisdom. Girth. This girl in the mirror felt as insecure and silly and painstakingly skinny as I had ever been, only now I could safely add dishonest to my list descriptors.
"No," I said out loud to myself. This was as good a time as any for a pep talk. I stepped up to the glass and gave myself a what-would-Stephanie-say? lecture. "You prayed the prayer, you wanted to mean it…you just don't know what it means. They can't count off for that. You'll find out what it means later. Now, build a bridge and get over it 'cause you need this job, girlie."
I didn't know what to say next, so I quoted my favorite line from The Lion King. "It is time."