I wasn't exactly sure what I was doing when, at nine years old, I was baptized by my father in a river – and I'm OK with that.
There are people who think nine years old is premature for a person to be baptized. I'm actually surprised my parents didn't have me do it sooner.
I had asked Jesus into my heart at age five, and thanks to The Picture Bible (now The Action Bible), I had memorized practically every major biblical story and I believed it was all true. Baptism was the next natural step, and it was a step I took while on a family vacation.
My baptism happened in a river that ran down Lookout Mountain in northeast Alabama where we were spending a week at a rustic campground run by a Christian family. On the campgrounds was a little chapel where my father sent my brother Caleb and me to pray beforehand.
I knelt next to Caleb at the altar of the chapel, knowing that my time should be meaningful, but not knowing how to make it so. Caleb and I prayed silently for a moment and then fidgeted next to each other before I looked at him and said, "I guess we should go now." So down to the river we went to meet with our parents.
Dad met us in the muddy water and Mom stayed on a small cliff next to the river and sang a hymn as we waited to begin. It felt serious and important — it was, and it still is today.
Since that baptismal day on 8/8/88, my walk with Christ has been markedly uneven. I've just never been a pro at the Christian life. Just when I think it's all starting to make sense, there's some drastic change in circumstances and I'm trying to figure out how to trust God all over again.
I've been tempted to get re-baptized during one of those moments when I felt like I had finally seen as much light as there was to see. And while I don't fault people who do get re-baptized, I'm glad I haven't.
Baptism, to me, isn't the mark of a fresh start – it's the mark of the only start I ever had with Jesus. It's a wedding ceremony of sorts – For better or worse, richer or poor, in sickness and in health, till death do us part. Here we go, Jesus. This is it.
Through the years of sinful unforgiveness, the countless rich times in the presence of the Lord, the diagnosis of a chronic illness, and all the way to that bittersweet moment when I'll realize my life here is over. All of it – past, present, and future — plunged under the water with me that day and was submerged forever into the love of God.
My baptism was enough – even with an incomplete understanding of what I was doing (don't we all have an incomplete understanding when we get baptized?). It was enough to make an announcement to all of heaven: This one isn't perfect, but he's ours.