Saturday, July 14, 2012

Baptism, a Personal Story

Since I won't be using my computer tomorrow (I don't even turn it on on Sundays; haven't in two years), I thought I'd take this evening to tell you a story.  You know, in anticipation of tomorrow rather than waiting for the passed moment of Monday.

Tomorrow is the twelve-year anniversary of my baptism.  And yes, there is cake.  And the house smells like butter pecan goodness.

Some people think it's weird that I remember the date; a lot more think it's more than a little odd that I mark it.  But why wouldn't I?

It's a day, a moment, I will never forget.

For some people, baptism is planned-out and worked-toward.  I know parents who sit down with their children and talk about what it means.  Pastors who sit down with their congregants and hash out exactly what they're getting into giving their life to Jesus.  Friends and family who receive invitations, services orchestrated to a T, dress clothes pressed, extra underwear crammed in a bag, infants dressed in bright white, baptismal heaters kicked on a few hours prior (supposedly - does this ever actually work out?).  I get it.  It is a big moment, and I take great joy in seeing how someone has studied, prayed, counseled, and come to this decision that this is right and this is right now.

But I really like my baptismal story, too.

I didn't grow up in the church.  I grew up across the street from the church (not my church, but a church nonetheless) and was asked to leave both Sundays I convinced my dad to take his curious daughter.  Two Palm Sundays in a row, and dad couldn't keep his palm frond to himself.  He kept poking little old ladies with it.  So we left.  And then I had a great-aunt who took me to her church fairly regularly for a couple of years, a rinky-dink little country church with a total membership of 7 (after I got there).  It was a great place for Bible thumping, but not a whole lot of Jesus.

Then there was this boy.  This one lone boy in middle school who ventured to talk to a girl like me.  (Trust me, I was not worth talking to for awhile.)  He invited me to his church, and I'd been once - some bizarre night when the youth group put paper bags over their heads and made animal noises while trying to find friends of the same species somewhere in this fairly large room.  That's what I remember.  And he and I always teamed up on school projects that we'd then craft in his church's large artsy supply room/area.  He never really talked about God or anything, but I was getting comfortable with the church red carpet (the fad of the late 90s, if you'll all remember).  And I met what he called his 'youth ministers' once when they came to have lunch at school.  They were nice, but I had no idea what youth minister meant.  

This boy talked me into a weekend thing his church was hosting.  Youth groups from all across everywhere were coming in for this big thing called "Encounter."  Speakers, dramas, a sanctuary (which I later learned we call an 'auditorium') packed with kids from all over, singing and smiling and laughing.  It was such a far cry from anything I had ever known, in my limited experience in church and in my life in general.

Everybody there was full of something.  The cynic in me thought it might be the kool-aid, but this was something so powerful and so authentic and so real.  I was suckered in instantly.  The Friday night was a nice introduction, kind of a feeling-out and getting to know what was going on.  Saturday...that place hit me.

I remember spending some time in the lobby, by myself, off and thinking.  A little crying.  I was completely overwhelmed by whatever this was.  The boy who had invited me came out and spent some time kneeling there, talking with me, tears streaming down my face that I couldn't explain and honestly still can't.  It was so powerfully something invading my complete sense of nothingness.  I kept telling him to go back in and sing, to be with everybody else, that he didn't have to stay out here with me.  He stayed anyway.  His youth ministers (which I still didn't get) also broke off and came over.  Now three people kneeling around me, volunteers taking over and running other things.  I felt so bad drawing all this attention away from the awesomeness in the other end of the building and just kept apologizing.  

I had no idea what this moment was.

I'm not sure how baptism came up, but I remember them explaining it very quickly and what it meant and what it was.  I didn't get it; the only thing I understood out of that whole conversation was that this was the way to get what they all had, what I was witnessing before me and longed for so bad...even though there wasn't a shred of me convinced I deserved any of it.  I felt guilty wanting it.  Undeserving.  Insecure.  Like I would finally decide to go with this thing they were trying in vain to explain to me only to have the heavens open up and God wag His finger, declaring such good things were not for me.  Then have the anger of Hell on my back.

It was an agonizing decision, and I think the four of us knelt there (well, they knelt; i was sitting with my face buried in my hands, too ashamed even to look up at them) for well over an hour.  My heart teetering back and forth between taking the plunge and knowing I was too disgusting for it.  It was racking everything in me and I could feel myself starting to shake and just cry harder.  The boy finally left and went back to the Encounter, but the youth ministers stayed.  

There was no pressure.  No condemnation.  No frustration.  No impatience.  Nothing.  Just the simple presence of two people who somehow knew what my heart was wrestling with and were there until it worked itself out.  Explaining, as many times as I needed to hear, what was going on.  Listening, as I tried in vain to put words to what it was without demonizing myself...because so far, these people didn't know me and I didn't want to base their knowledge on me with the secrets I guess the rest of the world knew, about how bad and terrible and nasty and bruised I was.  They were just there.

When I said the words, when I found it within me to push fear aside and say the words - "Ok.  Let's do it.  Whatever that baptism thing is" (which I still didn't fully get) - they didn't question me.  They didn't try to talk me out of it.  They didn't lay out a whole bunch of conditions or a set of rules.  They looked down at their watches, across the hall to the auditorium, and back to me.  Did I want to do it in front of everyone?  Or wait a bit until it was more private with just the few of us?

Now.  My answer was now.  Before I lose my guts.

Ok, but you need to call your parents, they said, and get the ok.  They may want to know or even be here.  (I was 15.)  

No, I said.  No parents.  For a lot of reasons in my messed-up, wounded teenage heart, for the sake of all that this is, do not call my parents.  This is me.  And nobody's going to mess this up.

They finally agreed, a bit reluctantly, no parents.  This was my heart; they got that.  They didn't know my story yet, but they heard in my voice I suppose that this was how it had to be.  So my time was now.  After just a few hours of wrestling with a man named Jesus who had my heart in a half-nelson since I'd actually met Him the previous night.  Amidst the back-and-forth of my wavering heart that so longed for what it was seeing in these other kids and yet knew its own history, its own story.  Among the doubts and the fears and the brokenness inside me that never felt so heavy in all my life.  Screw it all - let's do it.  Now.

So we did.  Twelve years ago tomorrow, and that is why there is cake.

There's a bit more to this story, but the post is running a bit long, so perhaps I will continue that on Monday.

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