I found out yesterday that I am being baptized at my church on Sunday. I am having a lot of feelings as I start to prepare for it. I've had a really turbulent ride when it comes to faith, and, in a lot of ways, I am nervous about taking the step.
I grew up in a Christian home, as some of you know from other times I have posted on the subject. My Mom was Catholic when she was young and my entire family flip flopped between Catholic churches and Protestant churches often, depending on the season of life my Mom was in. Despite the inability to decide which side of the Catholic/Protestant divide she landed on, my Mom never wavered in her belief in Jesus. It was only her belief in a church system she struggled with. She was always very true to teaching us kids about God. In fact, I still vividly remember the day I found out that some people don't believe in Jesus (I was like 4 or 5 at the time), because she had made Him such a part of my daily vocabulary and life that it never occurred to me to question His existence.
However, she did instill in me a distrust for the church. It seemed every time that I got used to a church family or started to get involved, she would find some reason why we couldn't continue on there and we'd uproot and flounder once more. It was hard to get to know other kids and leaders at church because I was always afraid to invest much time in trying - we would just be leaving anyway, so why bother?
This was really unfortunate, too, because the Sunday School and Summer Bible Camps I attended were some of the only interaction I had with other kids. I'd been bullied in school very severely in the third grade, which lead to my Mom withdrawing me to be homeschooled. Compounding my problem further is that the kids that bullied me in school were our neighbors, the kids that should've been my playmates.
I always felt like an outcast.
I even felt like an outcast to God. I'd go to church and see other people raising their hands and dancing to the music, some would even be crying as they raised their arms to the sky. I wanted to have that, too. I imagined them being filled with the Holy Spirit in a tangible, overflowing way, a way that I never felt. I would stand there with my eyes squeezed closed, begging God in my heart to please, please let me feel Him like that. I was scared that I wasn't really saved, and I'd answer every call to the pulpit in my heart, and I'd pray the Sinner's Prayer over and over - both a formally written version and just my own chatter to Him. But it seemed like I was a little kid reaching for their parent to pick them up, arms outstretched and crying for attention, but never receiving the so desired acknowledgement.
Then my Mom got sick.
Even through a seven month battle with Leukemia, she never once wavered in her faith in Jesus. Even as she lay dying before my eyes, I prayed for a miracle. I thought for sure that Jesus would heal her. I didn't believe God could be so cruel as to take her.
When she died, I fell apart. I remember walking down the long corridor between the room where she had been, and the world where I would live without her, and I fell to my knees against the wall. I had my Martha moment there. I screamed at God; "If You had been there, she wouldn't have died! You loved her, and she trusted You! Why did you let her down?"
The separation started there. I drifted into this place where I was resentful toward God for being absent in her struggle through Leukemia, and for never accepting me all the times I cried out to him over the years. If He didn't want me, then I decided I didn't want Him, either.
The thing about stories is that they have this way of breaking the lead characters. Until we are broken and look back on the full picture, sometimes we cannot see the way God is moving through us.
My escape through mourning was to write. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote some more. So many stories and poems, long journal ramblings, and more. I felt like I had a million words inside that were jostling to get out. I wrote a lot of fan fiction - especially Harry Potter fan fiction.
The amazing thing was that as I wrote from the broken places, in my own shattered state, my words reached out to others and slipped into the cracks of their own wounds. I found I was getting messages and comments from people all over the world who identified with my stories. I found this whole beautiful community of people who were just as broken as I was, who needed love. My heart went out to these people as I heard from so many readers who had terrible experiences that had left them feeling alone, rejected, afraid, judged, outcast, and, worst of all, unloved.
Looking back now, I know that before my Mom died, I never would have been able to identify as truly as these kids needed me to. I was such a judgey, self-centered, self-righteous person before that I never would have given any of these people my time. Or else, I wouldn't have given them my love. Sometimes, I started to realize, that which the evil one intends for bad actually is used by God for good.
I started on a spiritual journey a couple years ago, which led me through many religions. I had decided to give everything a fair chance. After all, I knew all about Christianity, but I knew nothing of other religions. Honestly, I was still convinced God didn't want me. My exploration took me through so much, and I learned about so many different religions and spirituality paths. I was no bars held, I was willing to try just about anything. But none of it felt right. Some of it was downright scary. Others were sort of empty or just so far fetched it felt like mythology more than a belief system.
This summer, though, something happened.
I was reading a book and in the book was a character who altered everything for me (Sturmhond for those who know the Grishaverse). Sturmhond was a rebellious young ship captain whose legendary presence on the seas was unparalleled. He had a sassy attitude and spoke with riddles and smiles, never straight answering the question of who he was. He protected the people of his country and there were times when he saved their lives and then through a series of events it turned out that this was the Prince, and then the King, and it was incredible because he was no more than a man...
It was the end of September when I read the part of the book that holds the big reveal. I remember my jaw dropping and my heart beating fast with the sheer joy of knowing this beloved character was royalty! How I longed to have a real life King like that, a King who rebelled against the established darkness overcoming the world and stood up for the people who he loved with an undying passion... willing to do whatever it would take to save them...
"I am," I felt the words so deeply that it was as though God had spoken directly in my ear.
My heart exploded with the realization. I did have such a king. Jesus. Jesus, the Great I AM, the son of God who did not judge as the world judges, who loved everyone on earth so much that He came and He died for us, regardless of who we are or what we had done.
Since that moment, my life has changed so much. I can feel God just as I'd wanted to all those times before. Suddenly scripture that didn't make sense before started to arrange itself in my mind, I figured things out, small miracles began to occur. My depression began to melt away, my anxiety began to calm. My confidence has been slowly building. I feel like an entirely different person than I was in August. In the best way.
I am finally seeing I am not an outcast, and I am not unloved or unlovable. I am so loved That I cannot comprehend, and my story is not over. My story is not a tragedy. My story is on the up and up and I need to trust the Author will bring me through.
So this Sunday, 14 years to the day after the last day I spent with my Mom, I will be baptized into my new church family. The church mission is to "Love God. Love People. Make Jesus Known." It's a church of giving and taking care of the community - a church of people who do love as an action and not just a word.
Which is how it should be.
That's how Jesus was.
Jesus didn't walk around posting thoughts and prayers on facebook or screaming at the unrighteous from the street corners. He didn't condemn anyone except the people who did do that, even in His own time. He wasn't at all like the culture of today makes Him out to be, so few represent the true Jesus, and that's a shame because this world could sure use more love, and less hate.
So I'm excited to be baptized, I'm excited to be drawn closer to my King through this tradition and as I study and grow more. But I'm also afraid because I know what the world expects when they hear the term Christian and how that will paint me in the eyes of others. I fear being a poor example for Jesus to others looking on.
The real Jesus is all about love.
Finally, I can feel Him as He takes my hand, and our journey together begins.