In my last installment of church...experiences (for lack of a better word!), I left off at moving.
My family actually didn't go to church regularly for a long time. My parents had a lot of trouble finding something that they liked. We attended many many churches. Finally after 2 years, my mom and I started attending one just up the road. They still weren't 100% happy and it never felt like "home", but we continued to go there so we had a place to CALL home. At that point, we had been to so many churches that it felt like that was as good as it was going to get.
The church was a pretty small. The youth group was tiny. But for the few years we attended there, it was home. My senior year of high school, I had become a leader in our tiny group. There were only 3 other kids who attended regularly. One of the other kids was the son of the pastor, Russ. Interestingly, the pastor's daughter did not attend. She was my age too, so it was a bummer.
I often brought friends on outings. Really, it was the only way for me to enjoy any of it. While there were 3 other kids, they were much younger than I was. Over time I became friends with all the members of the group, despite the age difference.
The pastor's son was a troubled kid and frequently got into trouble. His grades were awful. He just plain had a lot of problems. But then things started lining up for him. He stayed out of trouble. His grades improved. He was more involved with our little youth group. It was as if a light bulb had come on.
The summer after I graduated high school we took a trip to Six Flags in Dallas, TX. It always seemed for all our trips, kids came out of the wood works and our group doubled and sometimes tripled. This particular trip was no different. I drove one of the vehicles down there. It was a smaller car. Russ and a friend of mine all rode in it. I honestly don't recall if there was a fourth person in the car.
The trip was fun! My friend and I had a blast. Russ hung around with us a lot of the time because several of the other teeny boppers were following him around and driving him nuts. We were older and pretty well didn't care about him, so we were "safe". It was one of the best trips ever.
At one point during the day Russ and I walked out to the car. He was hot and wanted to change and I don't recall what I needed. As we walked out we bantered back and forth. Russ said "You probably think I'm a jack ass!" I replied "Nope, just an ass!" He smiled and laughed. I let Russ know I was proud of the changes he was making in his life.
On the drive home I got pretty tired and Russ took over. I don't think technically he was supposed to drive...but seeing as it was a stick he was the only other person qualified to drive the car. (I was very tired.) I remember sitting in the back, drifting off to sleep trying to picture Russ as an adult. I wondered how if he'd go to college, if he would get married, if he'd have kids. I wondered what the adult Russ would end up like.
That Sunday Russ showed up and had shaved his head. It was for a team sport (football maybe?) initiation thing. We all teased him because his head was white. :-P It was weird because I had seen him just the day before. And on our trip he hadn't mentioned it. It was a complete shock.
That Sunday evening my friend and I were going to go watch Independence Day. It was opening weekend. The first showing we attempted to go too the theater was entirely too full and we decided to go to a different showing. During the gap we decided to see if our friend wanted to go. So we went over to her house to drag her along. (The 3 of us hung out frequently in high school!) From there, I called my dad to let him know I would be later than I had originally said. I never really had a curfew...I just had to tell my parents where I was and what time I'd be home. Not to shabby of a deal really.
On the phone, my dad told me to sit down and that he had some news. I laughed and said "Sounds like someone died!" My dad was silent on the phone. He then went on to inform me that Russ had been in a serious car accident that afternoon and was in the hospital. He said it didn't look good.
So my friends and I packed up and went to the hospital.
That afternoon Russ had gone out with a friend. He was driving entirely too fast on a dirt road and lost control, causing the car to flip. His passenger walked away with minor scratches. Russ was not so lucky. When we arrived at the hospital we were told that he was brain dead. A short time later his family chose to remove life support.
I struggled, as we all did with Russ' death. I couldn't understand why God allowed his promising life to go. And I spent the entire rest of the summer (and longer) trying to understand.
This may not seem like a bad church experience, and by itself it isn't. It is life. Tragic events occur. What happened next however, is where things get hairy. But, for today this is all I have time for so I will have to continue with this story later. Russ' death is very important to the dynamics of it all. It was the domino that set into motion many horrible events at this church. All of which, I will share in good time. :-)