I went under that warm sacred water at 7 years old, held strong by my daddy on Father's Day. I knew what I was professing to believe, but I also didn't know a single person who believed differently. I certainly understood nothing of other world religions and was incapable of reasoning through faith choices. Years later I would have my own children baptized before the age of reason, a path that veered from my family tradition but not one I saw to be much different than my own. Parents shepherd their children, inviting them into Christ's family because of the joy and the hope they themselves have found there. The baptism of belonging is an extension of parental love: a sacrament, certainly, but one a child rarely chooses independently. No doubt there are many who see it differently. These are merely my eyes.
I am now 32 years old and have never once truly doubted the existence of God or the validity of the Sonship of Jesus. Such has been the thick shield of grace that has covered me since infancy. Yet for years there was a breakdown between believing that He was real and believing that He felt deeply about me personally. In my life, that discrepancy has proven an unyielding antagonist.
I don't know how exactly it came about, or any specific event that initiated such a demise, but somewhere along the time of early adolescence the snake began whispering louder in my ear. Jesus loves you... but so what? You aren't special, He loves everyone. He has to. He forgives you no matter what, right? So live what seems best to you and if it turns out to be wrong, He'll forgive you. No one can follow all of these rules and still be happy, still be wanted by others. You will be alone...
There were holes in my heart that I had no idea what to do with. My sister had 15 minute devotional times every day, but her books and pastel-inked pens held no allure for me. I had an insatiable need to be desired, but found that point to be very separate from any relationship I had with God.
(The needs of my heart were only exacerbated by the fact that after a gymnastics injury I spent half of 9th grade in a neck brace. I was 14 years old with frizzy bangs, braces, and a neck brace. So if you thought puberty was hard on you, you can now just be glad that you weren’t me.)
As I got older, I came to realize that the power to fill those holes lay within my own body. And with no theology of sexuality, other than intercourse being very bad until marriage, I became fascinated with my own ability to make myself desirable and create an allusion of power. I could dress myself in the morning, and the lycra skin-tight against my curves might as well have been a suit of armor. I could spend an hour before school straightening my hair and perfecting my makeup, and banish my fears behind a mask of confidence.
I could flirt, I could date, I could fool around and I could make it stop. I had power, and so no one need know that the mantra in my head repeated you are not enough / you are not wanted / you are nobody as I walked through the halls.
The snake hissed in delight.
I sat across from the psychiatrist in a midriff-bearing top and baggy jeans.
I lost my virginity in one of the worst clichés imaginable: immediately after the school sponsored post-graduation party after all 400 of us walked that stage. My star-crossed lover was in and out of jail and (do I even need to say it?) had serious commitment issues. I expected nothing from him that I knew he couldn’t give but I needed to believe I was irreplaceable to him somehow, practically begging him to prove that the whispers in my ear weren't true. And if I really was beautiful and special and desirable, then maybe one day I would save the bad boy the way Mandy Moore did in that one movie I saw.
There was no blood. That had been taken care of years before, in an encounter I can now identify as non-consensual that left me sore on the outside for days and numb on the inside for years. I can still vividly remember the red sweater I wore and how it hurt to pull my tight Levi’s back up over my hips.
The irony of believing that power is protection. Now I think maybe the closest we come to protection is honesty. Or maybe more honesty just means less need for protection.
The Sunday morning after high school graduation I went to church. I rarely didn’t go to church, and I had never doubted that Jesus Loved Me or that The Bible Told Me So. And I didn’t doubt it that Sunday as I sat in the wooden pew, chest full of the secret knowledge that I had broken the biggest Christian rule. Sure I had been toeing that line for years, and doing so brazenly, but this time I was firmly standing on the other side. I sat on edge, coy and curious, wondering if the ceiling would open up and start hailing on me. Nothing. I checked my insides: guilty, but not feeling all that differently about Jesus. He still loved me; He had to. And it wasn’t like I had ever been His favorite anyway.
My parents heaved cardboard boxes full of zebra print bedsheets and Zoloft out of the back of their Chevy Suburban and up the stairs into my dorm room at Hardin-Simmons University. We exchanged pleasantries and shared jitters with my roommate Deloris, an African-American girl with curly eyelashes and a penchant for Mickey Mouse.
They drove off into the night and I wonder now, a mother myself, how they could bear it. It is one of life’s most fearsome demands, that we are ever required to let our children go.
... read Part 2 here.