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Authors: Neta Jackson

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BOOK: 2-in-1 Yada Yada
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I soaped up, lathered my hair with the hotel's silky shampoo, then just stood under the stinging hot water letting my mind and body relax. The afternoon main session had been again a boisterous burst of praise, but by now some of the songs had begun to feel familiar. After a verse or two of “Lift Him Up!” the cream-suited worship leader had stopped the musicians (except for the key-boardist, who kept up a running background) and talked about a verse in Hebrews 13, about offering a “sacrifice of praise” to God.

“Have you ever stopped to think what a
sacrifice
of praise is?” she'd asked, striding across the portable platform and back again. “If it comes easy, if it doesn't cost you anything . . . it's not a
sacrifice!
Now I know some of you would rather be upstairs on those king-size beds, taking a nap.” General laughter. “Good for you. At least you're here. That's a
sacrifice.
Some of you other folks see women dancing and shouting and weeping, and you're thinking,
Uh-uh. No
way am I going to make a fool of myself.”

I squirmed a little. Now she was stepping on
my
toes.

The worship leader stopped at the podium, leaned across it, and lowered her voice—but it still carried loud and clear. “I want you to close your eyes and start thinking about
what Jesus has done
for YOU.
Some of you were on drugs, your mind so muddled you had no idea what day it was, much less how many kids you had.”

Shouts of “Glory!” and “Thank You, Jesus!” erupted from the crowd.

“Some of you have thought of suicide . . . maybe even tried it, but God stopped you. Some of you have been so broke you were digging through dumpsters, just to find something to eat.”

The place was losing it now. But the worship leader just lifted the mike and raised her voice over it. “And
some
of you thought you were pretty good. You kept all the major commandments and managed to avoid the big mistakes. But let me tell you—you were
still
going to hell until Jesus saved you!”

I felt like she was talking right at me. But so must all five hundred other women, because all I could hear now were thunderous shouts of
“Thank
You! Thank You,
Jesus!”
On one side of me, Florida was jumping up and down and clapping her hands; on the other, Avis's eyes were closed and tears were flowing down her cheeks. I closed my own eyes and tried to focus on what I'd been saved from. It was hard, because by most anyone's standards, including my own, I'd had a good life. Intact family, not rich but not poor either, no major tragedies. Theologically, I knew I'd been “saved,” but it wasn't something I
felt
very much.

The worship leader was hollering now. “Maybe you don't feel like praising today. Praise anyway. Give God a
sacrifice!
Maybe you don't feel like dancing. Dance anyway! Give God a
sacrifice!”

That must have been a cue, because the worship band and singers lit into the perfect song: “When I think about Jesus, and what He's done for me . . . I could dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, dance all night!”Women exploded into the aisles in every version of “sanctified dancing” one could imagine. I couldn't help but grin. Josh and Amanda would be horrified at all the middle-aged mamas, some seriously overweight, “gettin' their groove on.” But why should they? Teenagers had Cornerstone; the “middle-aged mamas” had the Chicago Women's Conference.

Later, during the message, I looked up the passage in Hebrews 13 that the worship leader had mentioned. Sure enough, verse 15 talked about offering God a “sacrifice of praise.” But the next verse went right on to say, “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” That was a version of Christianity I was more comfortable with—doing good and sharing with others. But the writer called both praise
and
doing good a sacrifice—

“Jodi?” A muffled voice on the other side of the bathroom door broke into my thoughts. “You going to be long?”

Oh, help. How long had I been hogging the bathroom? “Be right out, Avis!” I yelled back, shutting off the shower and grabbing a fresh towel so big and thick it felt like a bathrobe. Darn. I'd intended to shave my legs and pits, but . . . oh, well. Pantyhose and sleeves would cover the damage.

I came out toweled like a toga and grinned sheepishly at Avis, who had shed her clothes and thrown on her caftan. “Sorry I steamed it up in there,” I said sheepishly. “I'm a sucker for a hot shower.”

“Don't worry.” She breezed past with mock unconcern. “I'll just get you later if I get a cold shower.”

The hot water must have held out because the shower started up again. By the time Avis came out, I had dried my hair and was trying not to mess it up as I slid into my borrowed dress—a black slinky thing that would have made Denny's eyes bug out. “Mm, nice,” she commented, moving into the sitting room to dress. “What did you think of the prayer meeting?” she called back.

“Great. I'm kind of surprised everyone has hung in there. Even Yo-Yo.” I took a slim tube of mascara out my makeup kit and unscrewed the lid. “Can you believe she's taking care of her teenage stepbrothers all by herself?”

“Not that strange. Grandparents raise their grandkids, siblings raise siblings—happens all the time.”

“Oh. Well, it kinda amazed me.” I dabbed at my eyelashes with the mascara, trying to make them look thicker and longer.

“What's amazing,” said Avis from the other room, “is that she asked us to pray for them. Kind of a breakthrough, don't you think? Considering what she said last night about not being into the ‘Jesus thing.' ”

“Uh-huh. Great.” I started in on blush and lipstick. “Nony is kind of a mystery. She asked for prayer about whether to go back to South Africa, whether that's her destiny to help her people there. But it sounded like her husband—Mark, isn't it?—is American and wants to raise their kids here.”

“Yes, well . . . that's a huge decision. Don't know that I'd want to raise my kids there.”

“Mm-mm.” I mashed my lips together to blot the lipstick. Kids? Probably grown though, since she had grandkids. “Let's see, who else shared . . . oh, Stu.” I rolled my eyes at the closet door mirror. “She's a case.”

Avis chuckled on the other side of the French doors. “Is that a pun?”

“Pun? . . . Oh.” I laughed. “You mean 'cause she wants to quit real estate and get back into social work? Guess she was a caseworker for DCFS right out of college.” The caseload for the Department of Child and Family Services was so huge, a lot of young idealistic social workers crashed and burned.

“Sounded like it from her prayer request—that newspaper story about the little girl who'd been left alone in her apartment for two days? Lord, have mercy!”

The French doors opened, and Avis came into the bedroom. “Wow!” I said. “You look stunning.” She did, too. For someone her age—I guessed fifty-four, maybe fifty-five—the principal of Bethune Elementary always looked so elegant and smart. Tonight she was wearing black silky harem pants and a loose silky tunic with wide rag sleeves in a bright rose color, belted with a sequined belt.

She looked me up and down. “You look pretty good yourself, girl. Don't show up at church in that outfit, or Pastor Clark might preach a sermon on being a temptation and a snare.”

I gawked at her, then giggled and checked myself in the mirror once more. I did look nice . . . even kind of sexy—which I considered a big waste at a women's convention. Still, it felt good to go toe to toe with the fancy dressers I'd seen. Hair tucked behind my ears, silver earrings, silver necklace, slinky black dress . . . mmm, I felt luscious.

“Mm-hm. You two all that an' a bag o' chips.”

Neither Avis nor I had heard Florida come in.

“But, um . . . something has come up. The rest of the group thought it was a good plan, and I was sure you two would be will-in' to make the sacrifice—”

I broke in. “Florida! What are you talking about?”

“Yo-Yo. She doesn't have a dress. Only those bib overall thangs she wears. She didn't realize there was a dress-up dinner—don't think she has a dress, even if she did. So she wasn't goin' to go tonight. But we thought—”

“We who, Florida?” Avis asked suspiciously.

“You know, Ruth and Stu and Delores and Edesa—the prayer group!”

“Thought what?”

“That we could
all
wear our jeans or slacks or sweats to the banquet tonight to support our sister. You know, all for one and one for all.”

I could not believe my ears. I'd just spent an hour getting myself ready for the banquet. I might even be able to hold my head up among the “glitterati” I was sure would appear tonight. Now Florida was asking us—me—to wear my
jeans?

I almost couldn't trust myself to speak. But I managed a weak “I need a little time to think about this.”

“Sure. Banquet doesn't start for another half-hour. Besides, I gotta go check with a couple more folks in the group.” And as quickly as she had come, Florida bopped back out the door, leaving Avis and me staring at each other.

7

T
hink about it? I was mad! What I really needed was time to cool down before I said something I regretted. Excusing myself from Avis, I shut myself in the bathroom and plopped on the stool. The
nerve
of Florida . . . or whoever thought of this crazy idea. Committing the whole prayer group—still practically a group of strangers—to something so outrageous as showing up at a fancy banquet in our jeans and sweats. The very thought was ludicrous. Or embarrassing.

That's it, isn't it, Jodi? You don't want to look like a fool.

I wanted to hit something or scream. But given the fact that Avis was just outside the door somewhere, I stuck a washcloth in my mouth and shook it with clenched teeth, like Willie Wonka, our chocolate Lab, playing with one of Denny's socks. Then I caught sight of myself in the big bathroom vanity mirror. I looked so silly I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

Taking the washcloth out of my mouth, I let out a big sigh. I felt trapped. Damned if I did, damned if I didn't. I could either go with Florida's bright idea and look like a fool in a context where I didn't feel on solid ground to begin with, or I could stay dressed up and be unsympathetic to Yo-Yo's plight.

Why didn't she just go in her overalls, and we'd all sit with her and show her we loved her anyway?

Would I do that if I were Yo-Yo?

No-o.

I sighed again.
You're a big hypocrite, Jodi Baxter. Not twenty-four
hours ago you were thinking the idea of five hundred women dressing
up like Oscar night was pretty silly. You were pining for the small,
casual women's retreats up at Camp Timberlee. Now you have a chance
to loosen up at this big women's conference—with a dozen other women
willing to be just as casual—and you're having a fit.

But I realized I didn't
want
to be casual tonight. I looked good. I looked as close to gorgeous as I've ever looked—recently, anyway.

Sacrifice.

The word popped into my head so strongly I looked around, thinking I'd heard a voice.
Sacrifice . . . a sacrifice of praise.
I frowned. What did that have to do with anything?
A sacrifice for
Yo-Yo. She's not sure about “this Jesus thing,” but she's here. She's in your
prayer group. What a little thing to sacrifice to show you care about her.

The tension slowly drained out of my body. But tears welled up in my eyes, and I swiped at them with the washcloth. The washcloth now had black streaks.
Oh, great, there goes my mascara.
But as I thought about what Florida wanted to do, I began to feel amazed . . . and humbled. Here was a black woman, a former drug addict by her own admission, a Christian only five years . . . willing to put aside people's expectations and do something humbling to show the love of Jesus to a white ex-con who landed in her prayer group.

Sacrifice. Sisterhood.

I felt like someone pulled a cord and opened the blinds on my eyes. Why should I care about impressing or fitting in with four hundred and eighty-some women I didn't even know . . . when I had a chance to be “one in spirit” with a group of twelve women who had been thrown into my life, even if just for this one weekend? We were a drawer of mismatched socks if there ever was one—I wasn't sure we even
liked
each other. But we were Prayer Group Twenty-Six. And we had the chance—I, Jodi Baxter, had the chance—to give God a sacrifice of praise and love a young woman who was fresh out of prison.

What was that scripture in Hebrews? “With such sacrifices God is pleased.”

I stood up, glancing in the mirror at the black smudges under my eyes. So much for “all decked out.”

I'd almost traded a chance to please God for a black silky dress.

AS IT TURNED OUT, not everyone in the prayer group had brought a pair of jeans, but I did, so I teamed it with my cream-colored cotton sweater and a pair of clogs. Sure enough, Yo-Yo showed up at the banquet in her bib overalls and worn athletic shoes. She would have kept right on going when she saw half the prayer group wearing jeans, too—even Adele—but Florida snagged her, and we pushed amoeba-like through the double doors into the ballroom. Avis, who had no jeans, just wore the harem pants outfit she already had on, and Nony topped off
her
jeans with the African print tunic she'd been wearing all day, but added a matching headscarf wound turban-like around her head.

But to tell the truth, it was fall-down funny. Before Florida came up with her bright idea, I don't think anyone had planned to go to the banquet “as a group.” But there we were, all twelve of us squeezing into the ballroom-cum-conference room-cum-banquet hall, asking women to move so we could have one of the large tables. It was only set for ten, so we stole a couple of place settings from another table and crowded everybody in.

BOOK: 2-in-1 Yada Yada
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