Non-Fiction: Rebel Soul or The Mostly True Story of My Accidental Baptism

Sunday, June 08, 2014


Rebel Soul
The mostly true story of my accidental baptism

Eventually all the pieces fall into place. In the meantime, laugh at the confusion, live for the moment, and know that everything happens for a reason. - Carrie Bradshaw


I was baptized by mistake.

Technically, I had already been baptized. The evidence is in the pictures: me in a frilly, white dress and an expression of boredom, my mother holding me like a trophy, and the old priest smiling pleasantly in the white robe, eyes half-lidded in mid-blink, the background a blur of dark brown and stained glass.

It was nothing more than a religious ritual. Or perhaps more like an extended expression of gratitude for the man and church that wed my parents. A gesture that said, we appreciate you marrying us. Please baptize the first souvenir of our union.

Neither of my parents were particularly religious. My father was raised in the stereotypical, hypocritical Catholic home with parents who drowned their guilt with alcohol, misdirected, often violent anger, and daily Hail Mary’s. It was a lifestyle my father vowed never to repeat.

My mother, on the other hand, was raised primarily Protestant, and while she dutifully attended church on all the important holidays and most Sundays, she never truly dedicated herself to the religion. 

Somehow, their combined backgrounds led them to embrace a religion of faith comprised of establishing a personal relationship with the Divine in whatever way was most practical for us. What this meant is that I attended a non-denominational church on the Sunday’s my parents could manage to get our entire family of six presentable and out the door. Sporadic church attendance and weekly church group were the most religious things we ever did as a family. We didn’t pray before meals or bed, Bibles were used as coasters when they weren’t collecting dust on an old bookshelf, and “God” was most likely to be an expression of agitation than an endearing name for the Creator of the Universe.

Still, it was important for my parents to at least give the appearance that we were a family of faithful Christian servants, and so on the Sunday’s we managed to attend church (relatively) on time, I wouldn’t put up too much of a protest. I would stroll into my Sunday school classroom in my best dress, my hair brushed and adorned with a satin bow, looking every bit like the perfect, conservative lady-to-be…with the absence of shoes.

It was the one argument I would always win:

“Jesus didn’t wear shoes. Why should I?”

I suppose I was a contentious child. 

I had an argument for everything:

It was okay for me to spend a half-hour playing hangman on the walls of the bathroom stall during Sunday school because it was the Sabbath Day, and religious study was too much work; ice cream for dinner was acceptable because (in the words of my second grade teacher) “Life is short. Eat dessert first.” 

Adult custom and tradition were no match for my childhood wisdom.

However, there were some arguments I couldn’t win, and one of these included the argument of why I shouldn’t have to spend two weeks out of my summer to go to a camp with my Youth Group.

As far as church camps go, Highland Lakes Camp wasn’t the worst way to spend two weeks. There was the early rising, adequately satisfying meals, the sports and games designed to improve our leadership skills, the lake swims to shield us from the summer heat, the two hour worship service twice a day, and the late bedtime. Repeat for two weeks, and then return home to enjoy the rest of summer break. Not a bad deal at all.

It wasn’t as fun as John Knox Ranch, the camp I had gone to with my cousin Madeline the summer before, but it was fun enough. Especially since Madeline would be joining me at Highland Lakes, despite not officially belonging to my Youth Group.

Madeline made everything more fun. She could always turn the most tedious of tasks into the greatest of times, and I was really looking forward to spending time with her. I was sure she would be able to make the long, incredibly boring worship services more entertaining.

The worship services started out fun with dancing, singing, and other physically engaging activities, but the second Pastor Kricket walked onto the stage, the fun was immediately replaced by the kind of somber seriousness that was more suited for adults than an auditorium full of restless children.

Madeline and I would pass the time playing hangman, tic-tac-toe, and MASH on our itineraries. However, on the last night, Pastor Kricket demanded our attention.

“I need you all to close your eyes, and look into your hearts. See what you find.” He said.

I closed my eyes, but I wasn’t sure what he could possibly mean by looking into my heart. I wasn’t a surgeon, and even if I was, I was pretty sure I’d have to be dead before I could see what was inside my own heart.

I looked at Madeline, hoping to share a snicker over Paster Kricket’s nonsensical directions, but Madeline had her eyes closed with a serious expression clouding her face. I quickly turned away, confused. What was that about?

“Do you see Jesus?” Pastor Kricket asked. “When you accept Jesus Christ as your one and only Savior, who died on the Cross for our sins, you heart will be filled with the love, forgiveness, and peace that is God. Some of you tonight may be missing God from your hearts. Some of you may feel ashamed for things you wish you hadn’t done. And maybe some of you are feeling nothing at all. Maybe some of you have already accepted Jesus and God into your hearts. Whatever you feel, let yourself feel. But if you feel like God is missing from your heart, and you want to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior right now, please raise your hand. Keep your hands raised and your eyes closed and the hands of God’s wonderful helpers will come to show you the way to the heart of God.”

I kept my eyes closed and sat still. I didn’t understand what was going on. Wasn’t God in Heaven? How could he possibly be inside my heart? I imagined a tiny man squeezing himself into the thumping organ in my chest. Wouldn’t he drown in there? I wondered what Madeline thought of all this serious nonsense.

After several minutes, we were finally prompted to open our eyes. I immediately looked beside me, but Madeline was gone. My Youth Group leader, Nicole, saw the panic on my face and rushed to dispel my fears.

“It’s okay.” She said. “Madeline made the choice to be saved. She’ll be right back.”

And indeed she was, joining our group as if nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened.

“I’ve been saved!” She said. “What did I miss? Nothing? Hey, I bet I can beat you to the cabin!”

She did beat me to the cabin, but only because I was unprepared for her cheater’s start. As a child, it was completely natural for me to forget all about her unusual disappearance as well as the rest of the night’s peculiar events in lieu of a childish competition. It would be a whole month later before I would be reminded of the nights events.

As it would turn out, Madeline hadn’t actually been saved that night. She had only agreed to be saved (baptized) by the church whose Youth Group she belonged to upon her return home. The problem, of course, was that Madeline didn’t actually attend church or belong to my Youth Group. She was merely there for the familiar support since I had done the same for her at her camp of choice the summer before.

Therefore, it was my parents who received the email a month later.
Congratulations, the email read, during your child’s stay, he/she agreed to accept the love of Jesus Christ! Please speak with your child and Pastor to secure a baptism as soon as possible! God Bless!

After receiving the email, my parents called me into the office to talk with me privately.

“Why didn’t you tell us you wanted to be baptized?” My mother asked. “I just got the email from camp! You agreed to be baptized! That’s such wonderful news! Why didn’t you say anything?”

I was confused, but the expressions of ecstasy on both of my parents’ faces was enough for me to go along with whatever they were saying, and give them a shrug as a response.

“Do you still want to be baptized?” 

I nodded, even though I had no idea what they were talking about. They both looked so proud! So happy!

“We’ll support whatever decision you want to make, so are you sure this is what you want?” My father asked, sensing my confusion.

“Yes, yes it’s what I want.” I said.

My parents beamed, and three short weeks later I was being dunked in the community pool by the Pastor of my church in front of a park-full of people.

“How do you feel?” My mother asked afterwards as she wrapped a towel around me.

“Wet.” I answered.

A party was thrown for me in the park so I could celebrate my baptism with my closest friends and family. There was cake, ice cream, and even Christian-inspired presents. Baptism, it seemed, was a lot like having a birthday.

One of the gifts I received was a book from my mother. It was called He Chose You by Max Lucado. On the first page, my mother had written me a note:

Kayla-
He chose you! Today is the 1st day of your new journey, and we are so happy and proud for you. From this day forward, you will never walk alone. As long as you have faith, Jesus will be right beside you, all the way. Sometimes, there will be difficult times and other times there will be joy. Just turn to God, open your heart, and let him guide you. He will never steer you wrong. Enjoy your journey, and know that we are all here for you.
Love,
Mom & Dad

At the time it was just another gift I didn’t understand, though I read it because it was a book and I always found reading entertaining. Eventually, though, this book would teach me the meaning of baptism, and would be the book I would turn to for advice, comfort, and a closeness to God throughout the years. I’d reach for it during a crisis, and feel saved all over again.


So yes, my baptism that hot summer day may have been a complete accident, but the book I received that day would result in me being saved on purpose. Eventually, all the pieces fell into place, and I ended up exactly where I was meant to be all along.

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