Streams of mercy, never ceasing.

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Within every subculture, there are things that probably seem meaningless to an outsider, but are important indicators of hierarchy to those within. You see this with school uniforms, when students do whatever they can to indicate their status and individuality. A hairbow, the right kind of shoes, a certain style of hair. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, try watching the first couple of seasons of Gilmore Girls.) There are always actions, too, that indicate where you stand. Where you sit at the lunch table, who you talk to. The things that make all of us glad we aren’t in middle or high school anymore.

When I was in middle and high school, I was heavily involved in my church’s youth group. The culture included things like purity rings (didn’t have one), homeschooling and Christian school (I went to public school), and a particularly charismatic form of worship (I always felt awkward raising my hands and never did that whole “speaking in tongues” thing). Those are things that probably seem unimportant to you, but what I am telling you is that I didn’t fit in.

We started going to that church when I was ten or eleven. Before that, we’d gone to a church that tended to baptize people after commitments of faith when they were teens/preteens. This church, though, tended to baptize after earlier commitments of faith. I am not making a judgment of one over the other, but I am saying that I fell into a bit of a gap – no one my age at my old church had been baptized, but everyone at my new church my age had already been baptized.

One of my greatest faults is that I worry too much about what people think. As bad as it is now, think how much worse it was when combined with teenage narcissism. When I hear people recount stories of childhood or teenagedom, I am always amazed to hear the details they remember. A lot of what I remember is . . . me. Worrying about fitting in, worrying about other people being happy with me, worrying about where I stood. And the church subculture combined with my already questionable status (read: public schooling) necessitated that the other girls my age made sure I knew that they couldn’t believe that I hadn’t been baptized yet, that they were so glad that they had already been baptized.

I stood my ground and waited until I was 16 to be baptized. But by that point, I had completely bought into the idea that there was something wrong with me for not having been baptized earlier. Rather than my baptism being a joyful outward expression of my faith, I was mortified to be standing in the swimming pool (it was a non-denominational church) with people who were much younger than me. I worried that everyone was judging me and that I had let my parents down by waiting too long. And I was sad that my grandparents got lost on the way to the pool and missed it by about ten minutes. (This was, of course, pre-cell phone.) Rather than focusing on the commitment I was making, I was completely absorbed with myself. I just wanted it to be over so that I could say that it was done. I have no idea if there are any pictures from that day, but I can’t imagine that I looked very happy at all.

Oh, how I wish I could have a do-over. I wish I could stand in a baptistry in a white robe and make promises about what I, with Christ’s help, want for my life. I wish I had the opportunity to proclaim my faith without the shame and fear that I felt on that day. I did it all wrong.

But here is the good news of baptism: I did it all wrong, and it still counts. My motives were mixed, and yet, I, too, have been raised from death into life, and I, too can experience freedom from sin and shame. Part of my story, then, is about moving away from self-absorption and beginning to see the bigger picture. Being confident enough to write my own faith journey in my own time frame, to know what I am ready for. I still wish I could have that do-over. But I am thankful that, even then, God knew that this would be part of my story.

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