Revelations: A trip down memory lane
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When I reflect on the woman I was 10 years ago, a vivid image of my pre-Jesus self comes to mind.
It's the image of a faithless and frightened woman - wearing too much makeup, a little black dress and suffocating pantyhose - walking into my cousin's church for the first time.
Sure, I'd been to church. My parents drug us kicking and screaming to the "holy place" about two Sundays a year, but it was always the most uncomfortable experience.
It was rigid and buttoned up. It meant wearing boring attire and those suffocating pantyhose. It was too quiet and full of angry, judgmental stares.
And my childhood church always confused me. There was so much organized standing up and sitting down, and standing up and sitting down, to the point where I convinced myself that the preacher was amused at his ability to get 1,000 people to stand and sit on command.
Every Sunday, there was unenthusiastic, out-of-key singing, which only made the standing up that much more intolerable.
There was so much pressure to "listen to the message," and an equal amount of pressure to exit the church pews as soon as possible a few minutes before service wrapped up, so my father wouldn't have sit in traffic.
Church, for me, wasn't something I looked forward to - ever.
But when I started hanging out with my cousin in college, Christianity looked different somehow.
Her God was patient and kind. Her faith was gentle and accepting. Her church stories seemed fun and interesting.
So, when she invited me to attend church with her, I thought it was at least worth an investigation.
But I knew I didn't belong there and had no intention of going back.
That Sunday morning, I remember walking to the door of her church - which was then a small startup meeting in the gymnasium of a local high school - fearing those churchy types would smell sin on me a mile away. In my head, a little voice told me, "You don't think they're going to know you don't belong here? Who are you kidding in these pantyhose?"
I took a deep breath and followed her toward the music.
"Welcome! Welcome! C'mon in, girls, go find you a seat," the greeter said.
In my stuffy church outfit, my mouth gaped open. Before me stood a tattooed and pierced greeter, who was so excited to give me a hug.
He was wearing jeans and a T-shirt, and his nails were painted. And the woman on his left, was wearing a cute sun dress with sandals.
I couldn't believe it. It was casual church.
When the service commenced, there were people dancing to the contemporary music, waving their hands in the air, and jumping up and down. The sermon was informative and well spoken, but it wasn't condemning. The whole place was weird, and I was waiting for snakes to rise out of some old lady's handbag.
But the more I absorbed my surroundings, I realized it wasn't weird. It was fun, and it made me smile.
I'd never seen a group of people display such freedom to live outside the religious rules of man and church, and praise God the way they were wired to worship.
I suppose it never occurred to me that some people really enjoy church, and enjoy worshiping the Lord. It never occurred to me that when you have a healthy relationship with Christ, spending time together wouldn't be uncomfortable.
I attended my cousin's church for about a year until I found another church body a little closer to college. But I'll never forget the impact that little gymnasium startup church made on my life. It's where I surrendered to Christ for the first time, and began my walk with the Lord. I know I wouldn't be in Victoria, following my journalism dreams, if I hadn't first been there.
I thought about that church the other day, and was reminded for a moment how far I've come in recent years.
On assignment at Covenant Life Center a week ago, I watched as people were dancing and laughing and praising God in such freedom. There was inexplicable joy, and unwavering enthusiasm to praise God.
There were no rules for worship, which has in many ways become my own personal Christian constitution.
At some point during the service, I glanced over at my photographer who was shooting the event from behind the crowd.
Her eyebrows were high; her body language was confused and tight. She was not comfortable.
But I smiled, and giggled softly to myself. Her expressions and surprise reminded me of myself, watching a bunch of crazy Christian folks praise God. It was the expression of someone who had never considered that Christianity can't be defined by Western church tradition, music, clothes or architecture.
It's defined by a changeless message that is forever in cultural transformation.
When I look back at myself 10 years ago, I can say with certainty that the faithless and frightened woman who entered my cousin's church all those years ago, doesn't exist anymore.
She's grown and matured in her faith; she's transformed into a better version of herself.
But I haven't reached the end yet.
I hope when I look back on myself 10 years from now, I'll have the same realization: That I'm not the same woman. I hope I'll realize another grand transformation that has moved further still from that pre-Jesus Jenny.
Jennifer Preyss is a reporter for the Victoria Advocate. You can reach her at 361-580-6535 or firstname.lastname@example.org.