I cycled through excuses. Traffic is heavy, the line is too long, I’d be embarrassingly late, and surely there won’t be a seat. How close was I to turning around? Driving home, walking the pups, eating salmon and calling it an ordinary night. Chalking it up to a good effort, but just not tonight.
Then I passed the faces of singles, couples, families in the cars next to mine going to the same place- their patience fueled mine. I even thought to myself, “will I really let the devil win?”
So, I problem solved, swerved around the line, found a back entrance and pulled into the parking lot- still worried about the time. I got out of my car at 6:38. I turned around and a golf cart had one seat left and they gestured at me. Delivered right to the front door, like a VIP for the night, I entered to find a countdown on the TV screen saying “2:30…2:29…2:28“. Oh Jesus, what you do to our excuses. I smiled up at my Father, found the door and ventured to a seat-which I now knew would most definitely be available-He is good.
I grabbed a seat from a group that scooted in, leaving one aisle seat available. Within a few seconds, a younger girl sat next to me, kindly asking if it was taken. No words shared, only smiles of the two that showed up to church alone that evening. But immediately, I felt safe and at home between my two groups of strangers.
With the first song, tears were pooling at the bottom of my eyes, indicating there was something different about that night. I felt Him stirring and my mind was stilled- at peace. He was holding this moment and I knew it. I just didn’t know where He was going to take it. After the first song, the pastor spoke of tonight’s significance. The reason for the gathering. He spoke of 200 high school aged students who had just returned from their summer camp experience. 50 of them had been saved and were being baptized for the first time tonight. But more than that, there was an invitation to the congregation. They had made it easy. Just come. We have all the earthly necessities you need, and we invite you to come if you too want to be baptized.
My heart ached with the tug of the Spirit. For the better part of a year, I had contemplated this very same outward declaration of the inward change. Just 13 months ago, my life radically shifted and I stopped trying to fix things my way. I turned my entire world, the good, the bad and the broken, over to the Father and relinquished control. The decision has been life changing, and I now know what it feels like to be in a personal relationship with my Papa. To crave His words and time in His quiet. “Don’t those things deserve a visual depiction? A symbol of significance?” I often asked myself. But cue the excuses and doubt, and here I sit in a filled auditorium not yet making good on my promise to the Father to make this change and new life into something visible.
I heard what He was sweetly whispering in my ear. I knew in the moment that I was called to go down at the end of the time, but questioned my own courage. He pulled and the praise and worship continued. Was I going to let His call pass?
Tears filled my eyes and I surrendered my hands to my Papa. Praying for courage to go forward at the right time. I felt so strong in my resolve, but weak in my physical body. The excuses flowed, “No one is here to even see it. It’s a random Wednesday. It’ll take too much time. People will look at you funny-you aren’t a high school student.”
They piled up and I felt my body crushed beneath them-destined to stay at my chair. As the new pastor began speaking, my inner voice was silenced and replaced by his words of wisdom. “What are you doing to glorify God with your story? So often we are ready for the next story, and God questions what we did with the last one. Did we fully glorify His name with the ones of the past?—spread your story all over!” Here I sat, filled with reasons to stay in my chair but the Father was calling me to add to my story in obedience. Baptism was to be a part of the story-not for others to see, but for my audience of One.
My prayer shifted to an odd request. The whole sermon, I had felt this stranger next to me. Feeling her worship in a similar way. Seeing the tears drip down her face. I knew she was a part of this, I knew she was in this story. I started to visualize myself asking her to walk to the area for baptism. Brave enough to extend the invitation to another. My resolve was strong, but my boldness was absent.
“Papa, give her the courage to go. If she goes, then I will go.”
I felt strengthened by the stranger beside me.
The invitation came. A small trickle, maybe 3-5 out of the thousands, made their way to the exit. If the decision was made, it was noticed—a public display. My cheeks began to turn red. Of the thousands in the room, my prayer for courage was answered in the stranger next to me. She began to pack up her things. She walked toward the door.
“No excuses, little one- will you go now? Drop the barriers and excuses and just come. It’s okay” He answered my whirling thoughts.
I grabbed my clutch to follow her. I knew the Jesus I was chasing, and she was the answer to my prayer.
I walked toward the designated spot and snuck into the circle next to her. “I just followed you.”- no other words needed. We wrapped arms during the prayer.
As the circle concluded and we moved toward the place to get ready, I explained my side. “I prayed you would go, so I’d have the strength.” We shared stories, signed our names, and quickly changed.
Paired in courage and strength, and then separated on stage to declare our own truth and stand in our individual moments with the Father. The Papa that holds us equally but beckons us separately and holds us as His own-two separate baptismal pools on stage for two of His children.
I stood with quiet tears before the waters. Knowing all of the excuses did not matter because this was Him and me–my declaration to Him to be different and to live in dependence. At 9, I was baptized and the scene was a spectacle. A white gown, my childhood Pastor’s familiar face, family in from Atlanta, a prepared lunch and a shiny new cross necklace.
Today I stood barefoot on a new stage with a stranger, no family watching, no celebratory plans to follow and no familiar face to hug. Today I stood alone in the pool, no one watching but my Savior–I felt him beaming. The baptismal is familiar and safe. I feel the warm waters surround me. Drenching me in comfort. The courage and strength it took to now stand in waves of absolute peace. “Yes”- I confidently answered the questions. Yes, He is real and Yes, I love him and Yes, I strive to live a life for Him and Yes, I know He chose to die for me and though I will never deserve it, I strive to live a story that glorifies Him. Then, lowered into the waters, I was engulfed. Surrounded by His calm, physically embodied in the warmth of the waves. Reminiscent of the same peace that swept over me as I fell to my knees in surrender on June 10, 2016. Truly a physical depiction of an inward decision to respond to His calling on my life.
As quickly as I walked on the stage, I was off. Elizabeth and I walk out together-unware of how we’d just taken big steps in our journeys together. But still sisters in His call. As we chatted and walked to our cars, she stops me- “Is that your car?”
“Mine is right next to you!”
He is good and He has a plan. Beautifully orchestrated in His time and according to His desires, not our individual fears and excuses. He writes a story of redemption and courage, we just have to choose to follow along. Wednesday, August 2nd is a reminder that I am not alone. He will cause my story to cross the paths of many. Those that bring courage and those that will bring doubt. But reliance on my Papa will produce good. He holds all of us and walks with us on our broken journeys to the baptismal waters. All of us. He works in the lives of those that bravely leave their seats, accept the call and publicly praise His name.
-Written by Amy Kate Wilkins, my sister's baptism in her own beautiful words