The journey to baptism has been a long one, and looking back on it now, I can see God’s hand all through it, quite gentle and always controlling.
I guess it all started with being little and avoiding it. I’m terribly shy and the idea of getting up in front of a bunch of people to be dunked in water that would make me holy and perfect or something sounded awful. I didn’t want to be watched. It seemed like a really important milestone, and I guess there’s always this primal fear inside me that goes, “But what if I screw it up?”
Anyway, I am grateful to my parents for making it clear to me at an early age that baptism was definitely an event that was between me and the Lord, not between me and them.
Today as I was writing to God (I do most of my praying through writing) I realized that it was today, that it was actually happening, and I wrote, ‘My whole life I’ve avoided this, always wanted it be something that was far away, safely far away. Baptism has always seemed like a very holy, mysterious ordeal, and I guess part of me has always thought that I’m not good enough for it, that it would be a lie to let people think that I was enough like them to be baptized.’
It still seems rather holy and mysterious to me, even after experiencing it today. I confided in my best friend around this time last year that I felt like it was something I needed to be thinking about, but that I was terrified of being up in front of a lot of people. She was the first person to ever make me feel okay about it. She told me that they weren’t going to be judging me, they were there to support me.
For some reason, this idea had never occurred to me.
Another person that helped me come closer to the idea of actually doing it is Anne Lamott, a writer and essayist that I greatly admire and enjoy. Her testimonies as a Christian are honest, uncut, R-rated, unapologetic, even. I’ve read her book Traveling Mercies twice now and each time felt like she was telling me her story personally, and that the things she was saying are relevant to me. She talks about how she first met Jesus right after an abortion when she was younger, how she could feel Him in the room, sitting in the corner. She tried her hardest to ignore Him, because she knew that if she let Him in, He would never go. She compared it to letting a hungry, stray cat in and giving it milk. They never go away after you let them in.
She did finally let him in, and the story that follows is messy and honest and beautiful. I can relate to her, and when I read her words about Christianity and baptism, I felt like someone finally understood that I needed to be talked to like a normal person.
“Because Christianity is about water. ‘Everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters.” It’s about baptism, for God’s sake. It’s about full immersion, about falling into something elemental and wet. Most of what we do in wordly life is geared toward our staying dry, looking good, not going under. But in baptism, in lakes and rain and tanks and fonts, you agree to do something that’s a little sloppy because at the same time it’s also holy, and absurd. It’s about surrender, giving in to all those things we can’t control. It’s a willingness to let go of balance and decorum and get drenched. There’s something so tender about this to me, about being willing to have your makeup wash off, your eyes tear up, your nose start to run. It’s tender partly because it harkens back to infancy, to your mother washing your face with love and lots of water, tending to you, making you clean all over again. And in the Christian experience of baptism, the hope is that when you go under and you come out, maybe a little disoriented, you haven’t dragged the old day along behind you. The hope, the belief, is that a new day is upon you now. A day when you are emboldened to take God at God’s word and cleanness and protection. ‘When though passeth through the water, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow the.’”
No one had ever talked to me about baptism like I was a normal person before, like I just didn’t understand Christianity, and I didn’t, really. I still don’t. I think I’d have to be Christ to understand Christianity. My mind is too small to hold that much beauty and truth inside it, let alone comprehend it all.
See what I mean, though? I realized that it wasn’t as strange as I thought, that it was something that was important but that I didn’t have to be holy before I did it or something - I’ll never be holy enough for the Lord. That’s not what it means to be a Christian, anyway.
I wasn’t even looking to be baptized, but God shoved me into it (very gently). It took a few months to get here, but I got here, and I’m so glad that I did.
Tonight was beautiful. I prayed in my notebook through church, wrote some notes on the opposite page from Dusty’s sermon, and then, after the first song started, me and my Aunt Tillery went to the back so I could change. Dusty prayed for me, put his hands on mine and Aunt Tillery’s shoulders. The whole time I felt so overwhelmed by these people that love me so much, these great people that were there to help me through this.
During the last song I sat on the steps, and Dusty sat on the steps on the other side of me. The water was warmer than I expected, so that was a nice surprise. It felt good, lapping against my feet. I’ve always liked water. Swimming, bubble baths, rain, you name it. Puddles. There’s something grand and exciting and… I don’t know, deeply child-like about enjoying water. I sat there, realizing how much peace I had. How much I didn’t care that a hundred people were going to be looking at me, wearing my camouflage shorts and Avengers t-shirt. I didn’t care that someone was going to read my awkwardly done testimony out loud to all these people, most of which I’ve never met before. I just felt peaceful, that I was finally doing this.
The last song they called was More Than Conquerors, and every few lines or so I would sing the words if I could remember them, or just sit there and listen.
In every thing we are more than conquerors, because of who You are and all You’ve done.
I think that’s how it goes.
Then it was time, and my testimony was read while I stood there looking at the water and Dusty stood beside me, probably not looking at the water.
I remember telling my parents that I loved God because I knew that was what they wanted to hear, but in reality God always seemed like someone you had to please and tiptoe around, like if you did too many things wrong you would make Him mad, and that was something you never wanted to do. I ignored God and Jesus for as long as I could, until I was sixteen years old and realized that I couldn’t do that anymore, that I needed to try harder to love Jesus. I’m nineteen now, and over the past three years God has been working in my heart very slowly and gently, pulling me towards Him and building my life in such beautiful ways that it sometimes breaks my heart in the best possible way.
I ignored baptism for as long as I could, but I feel convicted now that I should be willing to show my love for Him in this way and join His eternal family. I trust that I will continue to grow in Him and that He will always love me infinitely no matter how many mistakes I make or how many times I turn away from Him for something else, something that won’t satisfy the longing in my soul but somehow seems easier to reach. I love Him. I want to fall into a deeper love with Him and look forward to how He continues to care for me and shape my life.
I didn’t have nearly as much time to write my testimony as I would have liked - I think I had twenty minutes due to an unforeseen work schedule, but I think that God blessed it to get across the most important things. It’s probably better anyway, that I didn’t work too hard on it, and stress over it being perfect. I tend to do that when I write things.
And then, Dusty was saying, “That’s beautiful. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost I baptize you.” I think that’s what he said. It happened so fast and my mind was going a million miles an hour, so I missed a lot of the little things that I wish I could have slowed down for.
I’ve always liked the sound of water, but it was so much better tonight than it ever has been before. Rushing around my head and body, splashes inside my ears, coming up dripping and sloppy and almost blind because I got water in my contacts….
It was great. It was the best water sound I’ve ever heard, it was just… beautiful.
I also wrote this to God earlier, thinking about how my life could change after this and what that might look like: ‘Maybe this is like a song, like, the beginning is over, I mean the very beginning, the introduction, and now the singing starts, you know?’
I’m not sure now, just when the singing started, but I know that either way, this part of the song, this lyric of getting dunked and wet and loved, and the water rushing around my ears and becoming an official member of the eternal family of Christ…. this is a beautiful part of the song, and I trust that the theme will carry for the rest of the song, forever.
I remember thinking after, while I was hugging everyone, or while I was driving, that it felt so good to have wet in my hair, but it was special wet, even though it felt just the same as all the other kinds of wet. It was really special baptism wet.
And later, driving again, I realized that I’ve been dreading that for years and years, right up until I decided to do it (and then a little bit after that, honestly.) But there was so much peace today, so much more than I anticipated having. Jesus is so kind, and so good. I realized how much I loved it, how much I loved the water sound and the wet and the kind words spoken to me and doing something for Jesus, and I realized that it was over, and I almost wished it wasn’t.
It’s not really over though. That’s a comforting thought.
I am so grateful to all my friends and family. I can’t tell you how much you all mean to me, and how much your part in this tiny little chapter of life has meant, how much more beauty you add to it.
Thank you for being part of my song.
Jesus, thank you for writing the song.