I said let's do it, but the truth is there wasn't possibly anything more contrary to the life I knew than this baptism. In my case, it wasn't just a kid coming to Christ; this was a radical shift in everything. Not even a shift. A turning-upside-down.
I was a loner was about to stand in front of hundreds of strangers and make a bold statement. When I say loner, I mean that I didn't go to parties, wasn't even invited, ate lunch by myself in high school (though I had an open invitation with the aforementioned boy's group of friends and sometimes indulged). I was wrestling with a lot that I couldn't tell anyone about and to that point, hadn't. Some of which I mentioned in my last post - the feelings of unworthiness, of dirtiness, of self-contempt, confusion, darkness. Among many others. It embarrassed me (and not in that cool, chic, humble way) to be the center of attention, particularly for anything good (as was, ironically, often the case because I was kind of a smart cookie and a bit of a smartass and a standout in things like band), because it clashed so radically with everything I thought of myself. That Saturday night, though, I was standing there for the greatest 'good' thing I could ever do.
Yeah, it was a reality shift.
And not as much. Because part of me was aware that I'd managed to find a way to make myself the center of attention and felt guilty about doing so. Like I was trying to be more important than I was or trying to sucker people into my story by doing this big dramatic thing. I desperately longed for this not to be a cosmically manipulative moment...and though it felt like that, too, it also didn't feel like that at all.
My head was spinning.
Then these youth ministers (husband and wife) said we would go and get ready. The wife was going to help me get ready, whatever that meant, and the husband was going to prepare on the other side. Wait...there was going to be physical contact? It grated against my story. I didn't want anyone touching me. There'd been too many people over my life touching me and I panicked at the sheer thought of not only being touched by, but inviting this stranger to lay hands on me. That alone almost made me back out. When I say almost, I mean...I said no. Right away. Then I kept begging for the wife to do it. I still wanted the baptism thing, I thought, but it would maybe be less offensive with a woman on the other side. Still a measure of the undesired, but I thought maybe an unspoken woman's heart to an unspoken girl's, she might be more delicate with my disgustingness. I was prepared to be taken advantage of by touch, even if either one had only grabbed my hand - it made me panic.
I was not prepared to surrender myself to it. And I was not prepared for what it really was.
Then we're backstage, behind the baptistry, behind the commotion, and I've talked the wife into doing it. By sheer panic, I'm sure, though my emotional state is this messy blur of both thirsting for what was about to happen, questioning my deservingness to do this, and feeling the weight of my story crash down on me. (What I was not aware of until later was the discussion going on out front, for I was unaware I was in a traditional Church of Christ where women were not allowed to do...anything...and so someone later told me there was a discussion about whether or not the baptism would be valid, whether they could let this go on inside their doors, etc. I am pleased to say we have come a long way since then. A long way.)
So I'm standing backstage, and the woman hands me this stiff, dark-blue, unidentifiable-materialed robe and says, "Just take everything off and put this on."
Now I have to be naked? My doctor didn't even have permission to see me naked.
"Well, unless you want wet underwear for the rest of the night."
All I could think about for those next few minutes was that I was actually doing this. I was actually stripping down to my birthday suit, about to don a certainly-used piece of material that almost came to my knees, step out in front of a crowd of a few acquaintances and hundreds of strangers who I was certain would only be talking about the fact that underneath this flimsy robe thing, I was naked, make a statement that I still didn't fully understand the repercussions of, and allow someone to lay their hands on me and shove me under the water, where I'd have to hold my nose like an idiot because I never learned to breathe any other way despite the number of times my own dad had thrown me into our backyard pool for a laugh.
I climbed those few stairs and saw the woman climbing on the other side, a smile on her face and tenderness somewhere in there. I don't think we said a word to each other. Then we stepped out into the baptistry in front of those hundreds of onlookers...and you know what?
My story didn't matter. For those few minutes, it didn't matter at all. There were hundreds of faces staring back at me, smiling, waiting for my true story to begin. They hadn't been in the lobby. They didn't know it had taken me all day. They didn't know the battle I was fighting in every inch of my being just a few seconds before reaching that last stair. They were just joyed at what was about to happen - something they all understood so much better than I did. They were all smiles, and they were all ready.
The woman asked if I believed that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and that He had died for my sins and so forth. At that very question, my whole body tensed and seemed to lock up on me as it was this culmination of the moment, the last bit of fight between all that was and all that was about to be, and I sort of mumbled a response, a yes. Yes. Even though I had only had one of those dramatically personal encounters with Jesus running head-first into Him against the grain of my story and didn't know much about Him or really any of how He'd done what He did with the cross but knew only that I was looking around that weekend, that I was looking around that moment, that I had been looking around all day and I wanted that.
That was enough for me to make that decision. When I came up out of the baptismal pool, I was a little dizzy from all that had released in my body in half-a-second of holy water. I forgot I was naked. I forgot that I'd given myself willingly to something like this. I forgot that this woman had touched me...and was thankful when she reached out again to keep me from falling back into the water. I was just dizzy and all the cares of the few minutes prior and the few hours before that and the whole evening in the lobby washed away in that water.
My story was still there, but it was taking a new twist. It wasn't instantaneous as I had hoped, but for awhile, it was. For awhile, I forgot everything and lived in the euphoria of what it is to be saved. To have this guy named Jesus standing there next to you and being ok with that. For the first time in my life, not feeling alone. It took awhile for my questions to sink back in, for my heart to re-embrace the struggle against my story, but when it finally happened, I had a whole new family at my side to fight with me.
And a Man who wouldn't let me go.