A week ago, I was baptized in a Christian church.
I spent nearly 15 years mocking the very faith I was brought up in. I have 15 years worth of friends who have never known me to be a Christian. I spent 15 years opining on the absurdity of a religion that denies our humanity. (There were definitely some things I misunderstood.)
Yet, a week ago, I was baptized in a tin tub in the parking lot of a Christian church.
It surprised some people.
A lot of people, actually.
Change is an interesting concept. Unavoidable, rarely welcomed and usually hard to swallow. Insecurity is one of the many banes of human existence. It stems from various places, one of which is change. Author, teacher and Bible study writer, Beth Moore, writes in her book So Long, Insecurity: “Most women find a tremendous amount of security in sameness. Sometimes we’ll stay in a destructive situation because we reason that what we know is better than what we don’t know…” Resistance to change is human. But, no matter how much we resist, something will always give.
In the last 18 months of my life, everything has given. Life has changed — a lot.
I grew up in the church. My grandfather was a Baptist preacher. My grandmother was the church pianist. My mother directed the choir. Rumor has it I was born on a back pew on some idle Wednesday night in June. I spent my entire childhood and most of my teenage years reading the book and memorizing the verses and I really wanted to believe, but it was hard.
I could not have been much older than eight when I started writing in my journal that I wished I could have faith like everyone else. I wished my inherent desire was to do good and be good.
But it wasn’t.
I was a kid and I was curious — mostly curious about everything that was forbidden. While I know now those thoughts and explorations were healthy and normal, I didn’t know it then. I spent most of my childhood and all of my teenage years at a never-ending school dance, where I was the only one who didn’t get the memo about it being a black tie affair.
At 14, I started high school in a foreign country where I was too American for the Spanish kids.
At 16, I started a new high school in rural New Hampshire where I was too Spanish for the American kids.
I didn’t care about God or faith. I cared about fitting in and that wasn’t happening at the church so I gave up on it. And as soon as I did the world — full of pleasures — opened up to me. Those pleasures contradicted everything I was brought up to believe, so I decided to not even try to believe anymore. If I didn’t believe in “the rules,” they ceased to exist.
I went on to live like a completely normal human being—perpetually striving for the next thing: the degree, the career, the husband. I thought, if I could just get this one next thing I will be happy. While in pursuit of all the things, I made a string of unfortunate compromises that I thought would get me what I wanted. And for years I had the great pleasure of carrying around the guilt and shame of all those compromises. (Please note: sarcasm.)
I eventually got all the things — the degree, the career, the husband. I started a successful business. I weighed 102 pounds. Despite all of this, I was more miserable than I had ever been. (And that includes high school, which is saying a lot.)
Misery makes things fall apart. And fall apart they did. My marriage. My business. My body. I was too tired to pick up the pieces, so I just walked away. I left my entire life — my belongings, my dog, my responsibilities — and tried really hard not to think about just how insecure all that change would make me feel.
I was living in my best friend’s guest room — which I knew could not go on forever. I hadn’t eaten a full meal in two months, partly because I was in such emotional distress and partly because I was scared that I was never going to make money again and figured I shouldn’t be spending my savings on food. (My sanity was definitely in question.) Much of my identity up to that point had been wrapped up in a man loving — or at the very least wanting — me and no matter how many times I swiped right or made small talk with men in bars, they weren’t going to love me.
I was a train wreck of a human being. The whole world could see it and, as far as I could tell, they did not love it.
Feeling unloved and malnourished and lying face-down on the floor of a room that was not mine, I prayed for the first time in a decade. It wasn’t poetic. And you’ll never hear them pray like this in church, but I’ll never forget that prayer: Dear God, please show me you are real. If you’re not real, I’m screwed. The interesting thing about God is that you only hear him if you’re listening. And as soon as I was listening, he was so loud.
I’m not going to pretend that I prayed and magically all faith was restored. But it was a good start.
I prayed and God provided. I made money. My living situation got sorted out. The right people came into my life to nudge me in God’s intended direction. After a few months of answered prayers, I thought maybe I should show this God of mine some respect. So I went to church. I went back the following week and the week after that. And six months later I was still there and for the first time in a very long time, I was comforted. There were all kinds of people, wearing all kinds of outfits from all walks of life. I wasn’t the only one wearing holy jeans at the black tie affair anymore.
And I wasn’t the lone train wreck either. It was the first time in my life that I realized none of us have it together. Some people are very good at pretending. Those people aren’t necessarily doing humanity any favors.
There was one big, unaddressed issue with my return to faith, though. It’s pretty easy to believe in God. But Jesus? That’s harder and far less popular.
Without Jesus, though, our train wrecks aren’t redeemed. And redemption was what I needed to have an identity that didn’t rely on validation from other human beings. It’s what I needed to have an identity that didn’t rely on my professional accomplishments or the number on the scale.
So I chose faith — not just in God, but in the Savior He sent. We all need a Savior. Some of us are just better at pretending we don’t. Those people aren’t necessarily doing humanity any favors either.
I made a decision to be baptized, a public declaration that I am a disaster of a human being and it has no bearing on who I am, because my God sent his son to die for my messes. My God also has a sense of humor and a real big plan, so rather than just getting dunked and moving on with my life, he thought my church should make a video about it and they should ask to feature me.
Are you all in? He asked. (Again, when you’re listening, he is so loud.)
I agreed to put my big hair and my too-chubby-for-tv-cheeks on camera for all the church to see. There I was in front of thousands of people saying something raw and unrefined like, “Jesus came for people who can’t even pretend to get it together.” (I am never as poetic as I would like to be.)
I knew my baptism was public within the church — which was safe. But I didn’t think about it being social media public. When I got out of church to find I had been tagged in the baptism video for all of my Facebook friends to see, I was insecure.
This is a big change from the woman people have known me to be for the last fifteen years.
I was planning on letting the news of my return to Jesus travel slowly. Turns out, I’m not in control. My public declaration of faith is on the internet for the world to watch and make decisions about whether or not their own experiences with faith and the church will change their opinions of me.
Do I feel insecure about it? Definitely.
Do I feel ashamed of who I am? Sometimes. But I don’t have to carry that around anymore.
So here I am…