I am a sucker for baptisms. They get me every time. I don’t know why I even bother to wear makeup on Baptism Sunday because the sobbing is so severe, God help my mascara. I so love the symbolism of being washed clean, of being made new, of being raised up in new life. I just can’t ever seem to get over the love story baptism tells; the romance of redemption.
This morning, I had the amazing privilege of watching my friend Julie get baptized in our church. I cannot begin to describe how amazing it was to see her, knee deep in some very difficult life circumstances, get waist deep in that pool and publicly declare her love for Jesus.
Being there with Julie this morning was a special time for me, as I have been honored to travel side-by-side with her these last few years, where together, we have grown (rather awkwardly and forcefully) in our faith. I have watched in awe as she battled valiantly through some incredibly difficult life struggles, all while clinging faithfully to the goodness of God. But as touching as today was for me, it pales mightily in comparison to how Julie will treasure this day for the rest of her life. Today was a victory celebration of sorts; a day to rejoice in her redemption.
Several others were also baptized this morning, including a lovely couple that is visiting here from China. As the pastor shared the story of the Chinese couple’s inability to be baptized in their home country because of the severe persecution of Christians, I was reminded of just how grateful I am that right now in America, I am able to freely worship Christ… although it likely won’t always be that way. Later, there was also an older handicapped gentleman who needed extra time and a bunch of assistance getting in and out of the baptismal pool. With him, I was reminded of how grateful I am that thus far in my nearly middle-aged body, I am able to follow God in perfect health… although it likely won’t always be that way. And then there was sweet, strong Julie, who despite the extreme brokenness of others around her, has found her way to wholeness in Christ. Watching her, I was reminded just how grateful I am that right now in my little world, I am able to praise Christ from a place of abundance, although it likely won’t always be that way.
Indeed, today I was blessed to be free to love Jesus publically and passionately, to deal with only the normal wear & tear of aging, and to be surrounded by joyful, loving people. And while I am certainly enjoying this current easy-breezy chapter, I know far too well that it likely won’t always be this way because it hasn’t always been this way. We live in a broken world with broken people (including me) and that makes for a lot of broken promises and dreams. And while brokenness has penned some difficult chapters of my story, those have possibly been the sweetest and most poignant. And now, having experienced both the darkness and the light, I can honestly say that I have found God to be plenty in both.
In fact, my personal experience has been that faith means so much more after having had to fight for it, cling to it, bleed from it. A hard-fought faith is not easily broken. The goodness of God is much easier to believe in and proclaim when the going is good. Those are the mountaintop moments in life when the sun shines brightly upon our faces and circumstances, and we can readily praise him for our blessings. And don’t get me wrong, this sunny season I am in right now is fabulous. But I also know how life works well enough to know that staying here isn’t realistic. And… I also know myself well enough to know that if I spend too much time coasting in my Christianity, my faith will likely get a little fluffy and flabby. I have found that a faith earned is very different than a faith learned – for only one has been tested, stretched, and shaken down to what is right and real and true. Perhaps that is the very reason God allows hardship at all- to build up and strengthen what would otherwise stay weak.
Maybe you are much more holy than I am and can spend lots time on a spiritual mountaintop, picking flowers and singing hymns of praise. I am not wired like that. I am much more likely to go find some cactus to roll in and then start trying to ferment some berries into wine. I am simply too broken to be allowed the opportunity to become spoiled and complacent. I apparently only prosper in the trenches, where I have to dig down deep into myself and the depth of his character. It is only there that I am forced to face what I am really made of (nothing good,) and get to experience what God is really made of (everything good.) In that place, I have found myself to be much less wonderful than I would have liked, and God much more plentiful than I had ever dared to dream.
Yes, today I experienced freedom, health, and friendship, but there is no promise of that continuing, even for tomorrow. To have worshipped freely, to have stood soundly, to have cheered enthusiastically – those were all wonderful gifts to me this morning. But the sweeter gift was for those who stood before us, publically proclaiming the greatness of God from the trenches of life. They have endured in persecution, suffered in illness, and persevered in faith. Today was their victory celebration, and the joy of redemption shone from their faces.