On Trauma, Baptism and Vulnerability: A Reflection

This is the most important thing I will ever publish on this site or anywhere else. From my wife, Melissa, on her recent baptism.

-Michael

I've been contemplating whether or not to share a new experience this week in writing, on a social media platform - on my husband’s normally quite astute, well-written and wonderful blog. I hope I don’t muck it up too much.

I don’t post too many personal things, or much of anything, besides pictures of my cats, my family or some travel adventures, all of which indicate an immense amount of blessing. Like in real life, I often stay silent and hear and watch others do the talking. Then I read this post by a woman named Sarah Bessey today. She talks about trauma, and how we like to sanitize trauma. I think we do this to ourselves, and we do this to others. Sometimes, I find that when other Christians know more about my walk with Christ, and my experiences, they cannot find the empathy to hear. Sarah’s post resonated with me a great deal, so I thought I’d share a fairly brief reflection on a new step I took a few days ago.

I was baptized on Sunday. I experienced so many emotions: waves of nerves, heart-wrenching emotion, fleeting numbness, distraction, focus and during it all, peace and a one-ness that I’ve never quite experienced before. Afterwards, I felt freedom. And joy. You cannot (or, perhaps, you can) even understand what it feels like to truly feel joy after so much struggle. 

It’s been 12 years since I became a believer and follower in the Christian Church and 20 years since a fateful day where I was wrecked and ruined in so many ways. Essentially, in one of the first churches I ever attended, two Sunday School teachers got a hold of me in a coat closet and told me I was going to Hell. I was 6 years old. I didn’t have discernment or experience or a voice to ask questions or deny them or tell them they were wrong. I believed every single word of what they said to me, and for years, I repeated their words over and over and believed them fully with my young heart. They set the stage for brainwashing, and for years, I continued their work. All because I had raised my hand and said that I wasn’t baptized (the only child in the room to do so). 

I learned to resent baptism, and then after a bit of healing when I was 14 (thanks, Mom & Dad), I simply feared it. It was like a chain wrapped around my body that was locked until I entered eternity. With several other emotional and mental chains from that Sunday School experience, I’ve struggled with my walk with Jesus. Contentment and numbness would come in waves. I developed a cynicism toward community and others in the Church, mainly because I distrusted authenticity and intentions and closeness with anyone who might discover I’m not that strong. More often than not, I felt like I was a defective believer, unable to experience the kind of grace I saw, or thought I saw, others experiencing. I’d pray for my mind to change and my heart to change. But I knew my experience was imprinted deep, deep down, next to the place where my convictions are stored and cultivated. As in Mark 4, it was as if the seed of my faith was planted along the path, and the birds continuously ate the seed as soon as it was planted. It never felt fair, and I always felt like God betrayed my ability to experience faith. I had faith (which, upon reflection, is a miracle), but it always felt cut short.

I’ve had several, miraculous breakthroughs since I was 14; breakthroughs which have allowed me to shed some of the baggage and pain and have allowed me to draw nearer to God. But I still avoided baptism like the plague. I thought that if I denied myself baptism, I’d deny the things that were brainwashed in me and branded on my soul. 

This past summer, as I listened to Dallas Willard talk about a God who longs to be sought, I realized that baptism was a clear next step. That I should face one of my biggest fears. And so this past Sunday, I did. I faced my deepest, spiritual fear, and I unashamedly feel fantastic, but also feel vulnerable in a new way. Like my heart is more open. Like perhaps this is where God planned for me to be, baptized in an Anglican church with two other young girls; girls who looked a lot like me when I was so young and impressionable. The symbolism was almost too much to bear, and I cried in front of the entire congregation, so full of feelings I usually try to deny. Emotions I try to sanitize, and perhaps emotions that I will try to embrace a bit more. Telling this story, perhaps, is one of many first steps this week.

If you’ve experienced trauma like I have as a believer or non-believer or believer of another faith, I want you to know that you’re not alone. That you are not defective; that all of the wonderful things inside of you are worthy; that God loves you and longs for you to know it unequivocally. If you’re in the DC area, perhaps you’d like to come to church with me on a Sunday. I’d love for you to join me. And I’d love to hear your story, no matter how seemingly trivial or heavy or complicated or joyful.