Friday, January 26, 2018


It was a day that really could have been any day, the kind of midweek day where everything is in full swing, and I was seeking a little respite just to read for a bit. That's when a young couple walked into the church and turned down toward the pastor's office. As their voices carried in spurts down the hall, I learned that the young woman was looking to be baptized. Now, if possible.

The senior pastor was buried in his sermon prep and passed the request off to me. "Hey, you want to baptize her?" Sure, I said. I can do that. And together, we headed down toward the auditorium, toward the baptistery, which would be cold for an unexpected visitor. 

As we stepped into the water, we spoke in quiet whispers - her young groom-to-be right by her side. I asked, "Are you doing this, too, or just her?" He hesitated a moment and then said, "Just her." We stood there just catching our breath, just taking in the moment, and all of a sudden, I heard someone shout, "You got this Toni!" I turned and saw that, out of nowhere, some of her family - her family and his family - had gathered quietly in the corner. 

I asked her, "You go by Toni?" She shrugged. She had been introduced to me as "Christina," and her beau had once or twice called her, I thought, "Teena." So I asked her, as I prepared to speak the ceremony, what should I call you? I listed off four or five names that I thought I had heard or that seemed reasonable, but she smiled a shy smile and said, "Lucy." 

I questioned her response. Lucy? Why Lucy? She shrugged her shoulders and said it didn't much matter anyway. I knew right away it was a sign of her insecurity, perhaps of her uncertainty, and I wanted to give this moment back to her. This was her beautiful day, after all. I told her this was her day and that I would call her whatever she wanted, whatever made this day all that she wanted it to be. She looked at me for a moment and, when she realized I was serious, she said, "Call me Chris-team."

"Because I love the Chicago bears."

I looked out again at her gathering family and noticed something even more beautiful out of the corner of my eye. The whole auditorium was filling up. Not with her family or her family-to-be by the groom's side, but by the saints. I recognized them, every one of them - the men and women of Christ, the community, those who were going to come alongside this young woman and love her. I caught her eye as she caught them, too, and there was that insecurity again, that feeling of unloveliness, that lingering question of whether or not she deserved this. 

And then her brother and her brother-in-law-to-be stepped up behind her. One said, "What are you trying to do here?" She said, "I want you to know that I'm different. I want you to know that I'm making a commitment, that I'm going to be here for him." And she held on tighter to her fiancee's arm. The one who'd asked the question rolled his eyes and walked away; the other stood there and said, "Good for you" and almost...almost...smiled. Then, he, too, stepped down. 

I moved and stood between Christeam and her beau, my back to him and said, "Everyone back off. ...even you. Give us a minute." 

There, even though the saints stood watching, even though the family gathered, even though she'd already told me she wanted to be baptized - now, if possible - I took Christeam in my arms and pulled her close. I asked, "Christeam..." and she looked away a little bit, as though filled with shame. "Christeam, are you doing this because you love God or are you doing this because you're trying to prove something to someone else?" 

I continued, "Because if you love God, let's do this. If you love God and want Him to be a part of your life and are ready to step into this, let's do it. But if you're doing this to prove something to someone, it's a lie. And you know it's a lie, and all it's going to do is make you feel like a liar. I know because I lived like a liar for far too long,'s a heavy weight to bear." 

She wasn't looking at me any longer, but her form was slumping deeper and deeper into my arms. Tears were starting to roll down her cheek. 

"Christeam, I know you see all those people out there. I know you don't know them, but they are here for you. Every one of them. They are here to celebrate you, to welcome you, to rejoice with you. And I am here to hold you, whatever you decide. If you don't love God, don't do this. Don't do this because someone else told you it would mean something to them. This is for you. If you decide today is not your day, if this is not your decision, then I'm still going to be here to hold you. These people, they're still going to be here to hold you. To celebrate you. To welcome you."

"Because even if you don't love God today, He loves you. I love you. And you don't have to do this."

It was a tender moment between the two of us, developing right there in the sight of all. Her tear-stained face turned slowly toward me, trying to gauge whether or not I was serious. I don't know what she'd heard, how much had been fed into her, but she couldn't, it seems, believe that anyone would love her if she didn't do this. She saw in my eyes that I was for real. I was being honest with her. This was her moment, and if it wasn't the moment she wanted...

Almost with a start, she jumped her weary, near-lifeless body out of my arms and exclaimed, "Let's not do it!" before running off down the stairs and around the corner. There was an audible gasp from the saints, then an equally audible heart-breaking. Not for a "number" lost, but for a young girl who didn't even know what to call herself any more. 

I took her gingerly by the arm and led her back to the dressing room, saying, "Then let's get you out of that robe." She nodded. One by one, her family shook their heads in disgust and walked away. Her fiancee, clearly upset, stood silent by her, his disappointment painted all over his face. 

Some may ask what I've done, why I talked Christeam out of this decision that she seemed to have made, that everyone should make, that would bring one more person, one more family into our community, that would make one more saint. They may look at her insecurities, her uncertainties, her desperate need for real love and say that I made a mistake, that I should have baptized her and then given her to the community that would love her. Oh, how much difference the love of the church would have made in her life if I would have just gotten her into it in that moment. 

But I say this - in that moment, lying exhausted and heavy in my arms with tear-stained cheeks, breathing deeply at rest with a little bit of a shield from the world, hearing her life being given back to her, her own choices and values honored, her own name - the name she had chosen - called, being held there with sure that moment, Christeam was loved with the love of God. And for the first time in a long time, maybe even in her whole life, she knew it. 

And if she never walks through our doors again, if she never comes into our community, if she never shows up at a single fellowship meal or small group or Sunday service, if she never makes for herself the decision that everyone else had made for her that day, then for one moment, she was truly, authentically, deeply loved. 

I think that was the better thing. 

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