Saturday, January 12, 2008

Wade in the Water

So at the beginning of every year, I set at least one goal for myself that I vow to accomplish by year’s end. Last year, I set my sights relatively low and really only wanted to “surprise myself in some way". By the time I finished 7 days on the Master Cleanser, I felt I had surprised myself enough and pretty much coasted for the rest of the year. In an effort to avoid coasting through 2008, I set multiple goals for myself this year. The first is that I will read the Bible from cover-to-cover by December 31, 2008. I began reading the Bible (I am reading the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs simultaneously by reading a small portion of each section each night) on January 1 and haven’t missed a day in 11 days! I am a person who suffers from a lack of discipline and I am terrible at following-thru on goals that I set, so this will be a challenge for me. Like, right now, it’s Friday night, so I just got home from a party and it is late. But, the Bible was waiting for me on my bed and I read my excerpt, which – in turn – motivated me to write this post. So, even if I get in at 5am, I will set aside 15 mins of reading/study, which really isn't even that much of a sacrifice.

Then, I started thinking about WHY reading the Bible is important and I recognized that I am motivated to study the Bible because it is the cornerstone of Christian faith. And, despite the fact that – at times – I can drink like a fish, cuss like a sailor, and engage in premarital sex, I do, in fact, consider myself to be a Christian woman. So, I thought it might be interesting to tell the story of HOW I became a Christian. Everyone’s story is different. Mine isn’t stunning… I didn’t have some miraculous conversion, I just knew that a Christian is what I was meant to be. Let me explain…

My dad was a Catholic when I was a kid. We went to mass a few times (that I can remember), but it didn’t really stick. My mom and her parents are Baptist. And, I frequently went to church with my grandparents and my mother and observed what was going on in the service. My parents taught me to pray at a very early age. I can remember being afraid to sleep in the bed by myself – and I had to be in nursery school at the time – and my dad making me go into my room and pray for God to protect me through the night. I also remember my dad reading the Bible to me as a bedtime story a couple times as a kid. He had this HUGE, old illustrated Bible that featured pictures of white people on every page. I just saw that Bible the other day and, now that I look at it, the pictures are reminiscent of the paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. They're beautiful, but incredibly skewed toward a European view of the world. But, I digress.

The Pastor at my grandparents’ church was a powerful orator. Even today, in his late 80s, he can preach a sermon and weave words together that invoke such vivid imagery that you can’t help but to be entranced. I saw the respect he got from the church members and the community at-large, and I started telling my folks that I wanted to be a minister when I grew up. I don’t think I realized the implications of the profession, but my parents were thrilled and loved to tell visiting relatives and family friends that their daughter aspired to be a preacher.

I had seen people get Baptized in church before. (One of the many things that I like about my religion – or, at least my church, because I have no idea how other Baptist churches handle this – is that you come to Christ of your own accord. That means that you are not Baptized as a baby. You make a conscious choice to accept Christ and are Baptized at a much older age.) When I asked my parents what the whole Baptizing/being submerged in water thing was about, they informed me that when people accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior, they get submerged in water and their sins are washed away. At this point I was about 5 years old and I knew what sin was. And I knew that getting sins washed away was a pretty good deal, so I was all for it. It was at that point that I asked to be Baptized. So, about a month before I turned 6, my parents and I walked to the front of the sanctuary and joined my grandparents’ church as a family. My mom and dad had both been Baptized, but I had not and I was scheduled for Batism on June 6, 1985. Two days before my 6th birthday.

Because I was so young – though, I don’t think I am the youngest person to be Baptized in my church – the Pastor wanted to have a meeting with me to be sure that I knew what I was getting into. So, my mom dressed me in a cute outfit, took me to the church one evening and walked me into the Pastor’s office. He came around to the other side of his massive desk (or at least it was massive in my 5 year old eyes) and got down to eye level with me.

“Do you know what it means to be Baptized?” he asked.

“It means that Jesus is my Lord and Savior,” 5 year old me said.

“Yes, that’s right. So you understand what will happen on Sunday?” he said.

“I am going to get dunked under water,” I responded.

“That’s right.”

“And, what’s going to happen to my hair?” (even at 5 I was a little image-conscious)

“You’ll wear a swimcap to protect it.”

I panicked, “But, I don’t know how to swim!”

“I’ll be right there. You’ll be safe.”

We talked a bit more about what was to happen at my Baptism, but at that point, I was ready. The Sunday following the meeting with my Pastor, my mom dressed me in a white dress, white tights and white patent leather shoes (it was the 80s people!) and we were on our way. I remember getting changed into a white robe and a deaconess helping me stuff my fluffy hair into a swimcap and, then, it was just me and the Pastor in the Baptismal pool. I remember thinking the water was warmer than I thought it would be. And I was a little afraid.

I stood in the Baptismal pool with my arms crossed over my chest and the Pastor stood on my left side and said a few words and then he said, “And now, [Brown Girl], I baptize you, my sister, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

And then he dunked me under water.

Only thing was, he didn’t tell me to hold my nose and he didn’t hold it for me. I came up out of the water coughing and sputtering and shivering. It wasn’t so pretty. My aunt cried when the Pastor dunked me and my younger cousin asked her, “Mama, did [Brown Girl] die?” I guess cause we were at church and her mom was crying, she thought maybe it was a funeral instead of a Baptism (?). Who knows what really goes on in the mind of a child! At any rate, I was especially upset that my hair had gotten a little damp under the swimcap (typical ME)... But, afterward, my family was so proud. My mom and dad gave me a small gold crucifix on a delicate chain and we took lots of pictures. That was also when I received my first Bible. My Baptism was a very significant moment that I remember clearly to this day.

That was my first step on the road to becoming a Christian. I still have to fight daily to be a “good” Christian. It’s hard. You guys have read the other posts. Even though I live a pretty tame life by most standards, I do manage to get into some things that aren't so angelic... But I hope that you’re not too surprised that I profess to be a Christian. If you are, I’m not doing something right and I need to try a little harder!

Coming full-circle, my reading and studying of the Bible in ’08 is an attempt to help me figure out just what my responsibilities are as a Christian. It is also a way for me to reaffirm that choice that I made some 23 years ago. I wanted to be a Christian then and I want to be one now. In a lot of ways, I’m still like that little 5 year old girl that asked to get Baptized way back when. Not much about me has changed. But I’d like to think I have a better understanding of what being a Christian actually means, and I hope that 23 years from now, I’ll have grown even more in Christ.

1 comment:

Lovely Christian Girl said...

This was a beautiful post and reminded me of my Baptism at age 22, after college before grad school. I felt it was a good time in my life to make the adult decision that I had already made privately in my heart. I wanted it to be a turning point in my life. I wanted to try harder and walk closer with Jesus. Thank you for sharing your experience with me. The life of a Christian is not an easy one. It is difficult and we are tested daily. But I know you, Lovely Brown Girl, and part of what I love about you and value about our friendship is your heart and character. You are who you are b/c you are a child of His and I can see that in you. I think it's a Blessing to be a Christian, to know and love Christ. My life may be 'tough' b/c of the choices I make on a daily basis, but it is SO much better and fulfilled. I think I have a joy and peace that others don't. And that's b/c of my faith. God Bless you Lovely Brown Girl!