This post comes with a host of disclaimers. The content is not my usual writing about bees, gardens and dogs. This post is definitely coming from my Out of Left Field collection. The story is true, but I changed the names. This post is not a commentary on any particular religious doctrine, and I am not criticizing anyone’s expression of faith. If you can handle all those disclaimers, then buckle up and get ready to read about my near miss with an exorcism.
One day I will write a memoir, and I will title it Falling off the Turnip Truck. If there is one overarching theme to my life, it is my propensity for throwing myself into ridiculous and difficult situations without a clue about what is happening around me.
In the fall of 1991, I was in Knoxville for the start of my freshman year at the University of Tennessee. You may wonder how a Kentucky girl winds up attending UT. I decided early in my college search that I wanted to go to an out of state school. That decision was foolish on several levels, but teenagers are rarely known for their wise decisions. On a campus with nearly 20,000 students, I knew no one. Remember that this was a time prior to cell phones. Communication home was done by letter or a call on the dorm phone I shared with three other girls, and I usually only called home on Sundays because that’s when the rates were the cheapest.
I wanted to make friends, so I was intrigued when notices start going up in my dorm about a Bible study. My Christian faith has always been important to me. I grew up attending a little country Presbyterian church. Some of my best friends were my friends from church, so I thought a dorm Bible study might be a good way to meet new people. The announcements were written on red construction paper cut into the shape of a drop of blood. That should have sent up a tiny red flag in my brain that this may not be the Bible study for me, but it didn’t. On an intellectual level, I understood that the drop of blood was symbolic of Christ’s sacrificial atonement for sin through his death on the cross. However, drops of blood don’t make for very welcoming invitations unless you are showing the movie Carrie or you are hosting a class on how to butcher a hog. I just assumed nobody in the group was a marketing major. I just rolled along in my metaphorical turnip truck.
The Bible study was held in one of the resident advisor’s dorm rooms. About 10 girls were crammed into this tiny room. In hindsight, I wonder why the study was held in a dorm room. Why not hold the study in one of the dorm’s common areas? Several of those in attendance were resident advisors. They could have reserved one of the common rooms. That should have sent up a second red flag in my brain, but it did not. The turnip truck kept rolling along.
The study was led by a girl I had never met before that we will call Jolene. The first thing I noticed about Jolene was that she was stunningly beautiful. She had dark, wavy brown hair that flowed past her shoulders. If Charlie’s Angels was set in East Tennessee, Jolene would have been perfect for the part. Jolene was in her early twenties. She was not a student, and she did not work at the university. Jolene had no religious training. She had no ties to any of the campus ministries or to any local church. Jolene spoke of having a conversion experience where she accepted Christ as her savior and repented from a life of heavy drinking and sexual sin. I recall that these past transgressions were frequently incorporated into the studies. Jolene should have been red flag number three that went up in my brain. Only after 30 years did I ever stop to think about why someone unaffiliated with the university and with no qualifications was allowed inside a dorm room to lead a student Bible study. The turnip truck kept rolling along with me in it.
Doralee was one of the resident advisors who also attended the Bible study. I liked Doralee. She was always kind and talked to me when she worked the front desk by the dorm entrance. Over time I came to learn that Doralee had been dealing with some health issues. She had been having headaches and would occasionally faint. Her doctors had been running tests but had not yet been able to pinpoint the cause of Doralee’s problems or how to treat them. During the third or fourth Bible study, Doralee had a fainting spell. She kind of went limp and couldn’t talk. It happened quickly. I didn’t initially realize what was transpiring. One of the other RAs immediately put her arm around Doralee to give her some support. Things were happening fast. Did anyone call 911? No. Did anyone offer to run downstairs and alert campus security that emergency services were needed? No. Did anyone offer to take Doralee to a medical center? Also no. Jolene jumped up and said, “I feel like the Lord is telling me that Doralee has an evil spirit inside of her. I am going to drive the spirit out of her. If any of you are not comfortable with that, you can leave now.” Then and only then did the red flag go up in my brain. I fell off the metaphorical turnip truck, and I got out of that dorm room. I was the only one who left.
Why did I leave? I realized that there were only two possible scenarios in that situation, and none of them were good for me. If Doralee was not possessed by an evil spirit, then she was being denied medical care while Jolene tried to cast out the fictitious spirit. That made Jolene irresponsible or delusional. I didn’t want to be in a Bible study with that leadership. The other scenario was that Jolene was correct and Doralee had an evil spirit inside of her. I knew enough scripture to know that when evil spirits are cast out, they have to find some other place to go. (See Matthew 8:28-34 and Matthew 12:43-45.) Nothing good was going to happen if I stayed in that dorm room.
Later Mona, who also attended the study, came to see me. Her face was pale and solemn. She looked traumatized. I asked, “How was it?” She said, “You made the right decision to leave.” She went on to say something about Jolene praying and Doralee mumbling, and the whole thing sounded pretty intense. Later in the week I saw Doralee at the front desk. She smiled brightly and told me she felt great ever since Jolene prayed over her. Good for Doralee. I was happy for her.
Jolene called me and said she wanted to meet with me one on one to discuss what happened. I agreed to meet with her mostly because I have a hard time telling people no especially when the person is being really polite. Jolene met me at the dorm because I didn’t have a car, which was a blessing. I might have been foolish enough to drive off campus alone to meet with her. I have a vague memory that we were outside on the roof. That also seems very strange to me in hindsight. Why did we always have to meet away from common areas? Why were we on the roof? Jolene kept telling me why she needed to drive out Doralee’s evil spirit. I just kept saying, “Thanks for taking the time to come and talk to me.” This started to frustrate Jolene because I think she wanted me to say something more affirming to her. She made a remark about how I kept thanking her so much it sounded like I was on an awards show. At this point, I was done with Jolene and the dorm Bible study. I never went back.
I never found another Christian student group to join while I was at UT. I really liked the university, but my educational career there was doomed before it started. Of all the people in that Bible study, I was the one who was possessed. The Kentucky girl going to Tennessee fell in love with a Kentucky boy two months before the start of the school year. Young love and not an evil spirit was what had sway over me. I transferred at the end of the year to the University of Kentucky. Now instead of riding on the turnip truck, I grow turnips in my garden. That Kentucky boy stuck around and after 27 years of marriage I am still possessed.
PS – Thanks for making it to the end of this post. Did you spot the Dolly Parton Easter Egg I left for you?