the dock at the lakehouse. this and all photos courtesy of Jen Johnson Photography
This is the story of how I came to be baptized again, thirty years after my tender child heart decided to follow Jesus.
I've always been a sucker for a sunset. I'm one of those worship-through-nature types, just like my Mama. For as long as I can remember, God has made Himself known to me through stunning sunrises and blazing sunsets, through playful breezes and squirrels gathering acorns. Consider the lilies of the field. Even Solomon in all his royal robes has not the worth of them. When the sun began to set over a quiet lake out on a coast I've never before visited, I was compelled to go down and meet with God on the dock.
I slipped my legs into the water and it was exactly how lake water always feels to me, has felt since I was a child growing up in a state where going to the lake is the official weekend pastime. I could feel currents of warm and cool swirl around my legs. I hadn't brought a swimsuit to our weekend camp and with my legs there in the water like that, I swallowed down regret.
Arianne sat next to me, and Sarah was on the other side of her. I said, "I keep thinking, what if I just jumped in? Just jumped in right now?" We laughed a little bit, and before I knew what was happening, y'all, Sarah Bessey dove right into that lake, fully clothed. She came up laughing and sputtering and the rest of us on the dock were wide-eyed with shock and delight.
"Well?" she asked. "Are we doing this or not?" I was wavering, but Ari grabbed my hand and said, "Come on. I'll jump if you do."
And so we did. One minute on the dock, phones and wine glasses in hand, the next minute into that lake water, shrieking and treading water and laughing until we could barely breathe. Emily and Amber and Abby and Joy and Allison and Sarah and Ari and me. And we bobbed on the gentle lake waves and all of God's creation serenaded us as the sun sank lower in the sky.
Later in the shower, warm water washing away the lake, I cried. God always, always meets me there, in the shower. Which, I realize sounds a little strange, but doesn't it make sense? Naked and vulnerable and nothing between us, He meets me there often. And I stood there in the shower of a house that belongs to one of my oldest and dearest friends, and I just sobbed as God spoke into my heart:
Aren't you so tired of sitting on the dock? Aren't you so tired of standing back while others speak boldly and bravely and dangerously? Where did your courage go? What made you think your place was there on the dock, making do with legs in the water when you long so much to dive in?
I cried because I knew it was true, and I explained it through choking sobs and wracked breaths to everyone as we gathered around later that evening:
Something happened inside me when our book was released. For months, I have chalked it up to how intense the writing process was, how I felt like I'd used up all of my words. And on a very surface level, that is true.
But something far deeper than that was going on, and it took me leaping into a lake to bring this truth to the surface. Since our book came out, I've been been bound up in chains of fear and cowardice. I still can't believe that God allowed us to bring that book to publication, that He would give us this incredible gift of sharing our message of the freedom of Spirit-Led Parenting. And I've been terrified that I'll do or say something to mess it up. I've held everything close to my chest and I've been holding my breath and it has been this way for months.
I followed this fear down to its roots, and I realized that I'm terrified to reveal anything more about myself - my thoughts, my opinions, my principles - because I can't bear the idea that someone would read something I've written and that they would be offended to the point of denouncing our book and our message. Christians can be terribly critical of Christian authors, particularly Christian authors who have written about parenting. And I know this is true because I've been so critical myself.
And this is what I finally said (sobbed) out loud, the truth I've been pushing down for months: I'm afraid that if anyone knew the real me, they would never read our book. And so I chained up my wrists and I kept my thoughts to myself and I sat myself down on the dock. For the book, I told myself. I'll be quiet and sit back and I'll sacrifice voice and passion and principle for the book.
Once I gave words to this confession, my precious, precious friends filled me up with truth. They spoke back to me my own words about freedom, about trusting readers with the fullness of who I am as a parent and as a person, about acknowledging that yes, those with a critical spirit may be turned off, but they don't have power to keep me sitting on the dock.
Snuggled right up next to me was Ari who said, "I feel like you are saying, 'Oh, I can't do anything because of these chains,' but look down at your wrists. There's nothing there." As she ministered to me that truth, I saw it all with clarity and focus and she was right.
I went to bed that night knowing there were big cracks and large chunks gone from the walls I'd been building around myself for months. What I didn't know yet was that this was only the beginning of the freedom to which God was calling me.
The next morning, a few of us gathered early on that same dock to pray. After we prayed, Sarah said and Ari confirmed, "I feel like last night was a baptism for you." And I had already gone there in my heart, and I believe with every fiber of my being that is truth.
There are two main practices of the Means of Grace in the Christian church - baptism and communion. Both are dear to me beyond words. Though I've long struggled against elements of the Southern Baptist theology and culture in which I grew up, the gift of baptism by immersion is one thing I will never be jaded against.
In our tradition, the minister speaks personal words of truth and confirmation over the person being baptized and finishes with
"buried with Christ in baptism"
"raised to walk in newness of life"
I'll tell you this - it brings me to tears every time. This powerful act portraying death and resurrection, old giving way to new, washed in the water and made clean.
And so, yes. Though I came to salvation decades ago and experienced true conversion in my twenties, diving into that lake became a new marker, a watery Ebenezer, a leaving behind of the lies I had been believing and a commissioning to walk forward, hair dripping with lake water and new breath in my lungs, free to be exactly who God created me to be.
There is this first in a series of stories of God calling me to genuine freedom. I'll share more this week.