I met Candice on a Florida sidewalk while walking to the beach. She was a young, blonde, attractive woman, and she was hovering close behind me as if she had something to say. She had something to say alright —I haven’t been the same since hearing her story.
My Florida congregation, where I once lived, was having a beach baptismal service, something fairly common along the coastline on Sunday mornings. A dozen people were stepping into the water that morning, and at the last minute, Candice wanted to be one of them; thus her lurking presence behind me.
Turning to her, I asked, “Can I help you?” She answered, “I think so — if you think I’m not crazy.” Admittedly, such an introduction did not instill confidence. I’ve met more than one spiritual loony-bird in my life, and I have a pretty good instinct for when one is close by. Candice didn’t seem “crazy.” She appeared timid – wounded – but not crazy.
She said: “Today is my first visit to your church, and I can’t say why I showed up except that God wanted me here. See, this is the first time I’ve been to any church in a long time. When I was a fifteen I had my long hair cut and donated it to Locks for Love, so a young girl who was having radiation treatments could have a beautiful blonde wig.
I went to church the next Sunday so happy about what I had done, sporting my new pixie haircut. But the leadership of the church – because of their beliefs – was not very happy. They told me I had forfeited my ‘woman’s glory’ and that I had disgraced myself because of a haircut.” Candice then described what was essentially an exorcism, as the church leaders gathered around her to cast out the devil that prompted her to put the clippers to her head. She resisted and protested, but was told that she would go to hell if she did not submit.
Her response was, “Well, if I’m going to hell, I might as well get started.” She left the church, many of its members being her immediate and extended family, and never returned until ten stormy, pain-ridden years later, standing on that Florida sidewalk.
Candice then made one of the greatest professions of faith I have ever heard. She said, “I understand today that I can let all that past go. I don’t need that church or all their rules, I just need Jesus. I have my swimsuit in the car, and if you still don’t think I’m crazy, and if you will wait for me to change, I want to get baptized and start over.” I would have waited for her to have driven all the way to New Orleans and back if it had been required.
When she did get to the water I took her by the hand and asked, “Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ; and do you choose to follow him today into the kingdom of God.” By the time she answered with an emphatic “Yes,” tears were rolling down both our faces.
I could spend the next decade of my life railing against that backward church that committed such a spiritual crime against Candice, a child with divine intentions. But I’ll not do that. They can’t hear such words, being so much smarter than God as they are, and besides that, Candice has moved on. She has found peace; a vibrant, healthy faith; spiritual and emotional healing; and a very happy marriage.
These joyful things did not magically attach themselves to Candice as she stepped from the water, dripping, smiling, and shivering onto a Florida beach, any more than salt water can rinse our souls or wash painful memories away. But there is something powerful —glorious and cleansing — in letting go of all that has harmed us to take hold of the One who simply said, “Come to me and recover your life.” You aren’t crazy, Candice. You have recovered your life. Now go live it.