May 5th, 2013 I found myself inside a church basement locker room changing into a white robe in preparation for baptism. I was alone and staring at myself in the full mirror, wondering if my underwear would show through the gown. I had been waiting for this day with a kind of unexplained anticipatory excitement for weeks.
I had no knowledge of the church’s denomination. I didn’t know where I was and I didn’t care. “I’m coming to Christ, not a church.” was my position. A friend had taken me to this church a few weeks before and I been informed baptisms were three weeks away. The sermon I had heard on that visit had been non-offensive and even inspiring in some places. I didn’t have the sense that I was somewhere dangerous or extreme. That was all I needed. Baptism was the objective and there I stood, looking in the mirror, and wondering whether my life was truly about to change.
“Do you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?” had been asked of the guy sitting next to me in the pre-baptismal council session earlier that morning. “What? Aghh! They’re going to ask me that next!” None of what I was doing had sounded so…Christian until that moment. I felt a small panic. What was happening? Submitting to Christ meant becoming someone who might use words like ‘Lord’ and ‘Savior’! That wasn’t me! ‘Do you accept Jesus Christ as one of many great leaders, but who is special for some unidentified reason and are you interested in learning more about what he had to say?’ probably would have felt much more comfortable. Yet, here I was with the ‘Lord and Savior’ question coming at me. Would they still baptize me if I didn’t say yes?
“Jennifer, do you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?” Here it was, my turn, the moment of truth. I felt the briefest moment of dizziness before my mouth opened and shaped the word, “Yes.” (A shaky, speculative, hesitant kind of yes, but a yes nonetheless). As feeble as that ‘yes’ was, it was undeniably more powerful than the alternative. I needed a change in my life and apparently this was it. Yes was the answer that contained hope.
Still, I had my misgivings. Historically I’d never been much of a church goer. I’d been a seeker for a number of years and explored many faiths, philosophies and doctrines, but I had no real Christian context or education. Truthfully I’d made it a point to avoid Christians for much of my life. I was part of the crowd that wore ‘Christianity is Stupid’ t-shirts and joked about Jesus in younger years. Maturation had brought me to ‘spirituality’, but I was unable to accept the dogma and hypocrisy I associated with religion (especially Christian religion).
Yet, Christ was calling me to him. He had begun, in various ways, to become present in my life. His image was showing up on billboards, his name spray painted on walls, he was speaking out of the mouths of people I respected and listened to, he was writing me love letters in books and magazines. Prevalently, powerfully, Jesus Christ was the answer I was receiving after two years of earnest, vigilant prayer asking a much less defined and distinctive God to teach me how to live a faith based life.
‘I’m about to accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.’ I took one last look into the eyes of my reflection and, full of dreamlike wonder and subtle astonishment, I walked up the stairs to the stage where the baptismal pool had been uncovered. There were fifteen or twenty people who had stayed after the Sunday service to watch me and one other guy take the plunge. As the Pastor prayed and announced our names I felt shy, nervous, humbled, like a child. My heart was fluttering.
The water was bracing as I descended into the pool, the gown beginning to float and cling around my legs. “Are you ready?” asked the Pastor. “Yes” the answer again. “Jennifer, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” A deep breath, a push back, a short submergence, and it was done. Smiling faces beamed as I stood there feeling holistically refreshed.
Leaving the church the simple pleasure of the sun was sublime. Birds were singing. The grass was green. I felt slower, present, quiet, at peace. I felt connection. I felt reverence. I felt gratitude. I had just experienced one of my life’s most important events.
Later I ventured out into nature. Standing alone in a field and surrounded by God’s creation I knew I had been changed irrevocably. Being in that moment felt akin to awaking from a dream. What Just Happened? was the question I asked myself. Finding the answer is proving to be the greatest and most meaningful adventure of my life.