This image sort of sums me up as a twelve year old. I was wide-eyed and dumbfounded. I thought life was complicated, but it was the simplest form of complicated I’d ever know.
Approximately two months before this picture was taken the most significant day of my life occurred. On Sunday, March 6, 1994 I became a Christian. That was 20 years ago today.
Like any memory from twenty years ago, memories from that day are a little sketchy. This I know: I was baptized at First Christian Church in Salem, Missouri. The only people present were my family and my preacher’s family, and for some reason we met at the church when it was already dark. I wore a blue shirt and black shorts, if memory serves. I was immersed first, then my sister, then my dad. My mom would follow a few years later. On this night, she stood in support of us all. I remember standing in the hallway behind the sanctuary and offering up my confession of faith.
I remember going down into the water, and I remember coming back up. In my mind’s eye, I can recall the instant I was submerged, and the feeling of newness that washed over me as I was lifted back up out of the water. I can remember thinking to myself that I somehow felt new. Looking back now I know I was experiencing Romans 6 right there in that water in my blue t-shirt.
I remember opening my eyes after wiping the droplets of water away. There I was again: a Jr. High boy, wide-eyed and dumbfounded. I had no idea what was coming. I knew I’d heard about Jesus and I knew I wanted to follow Him and I knew I’d never be quite the same. I knew the books of the Bible and I wanted to be forgiven of my sins and I knew that being a Christian was how I wanted to live my life, but there’s no way I could fathom what that meant. I had no clue, truly.
I started off fast. I told everyone in my class that God loved them and that I’d been baptized and that I didn’t want them to go to hell so they should love God too. After a year or so I got a little less zealous and a little more palatable in my proselytizing. In 8th grade I set out to read the Bible straight through. I made it to Numbers and stalled out. Don’t judge. Have you ever read Numbers?
In high school I did my best impression of a Christian and managed to keep one foot in the church despite desperately wanting to fit into “the world.” I played basketball and sang in the church choir and liked girls and started preaching and laughed at dirty jokes in the locker room and listened to the southern Gospel radio station. I loved Jesus, but in the same way I loved my sister — sincerely but with very little public expression.
Like any relationship, my friendship with Jesus has had it’s ups and downs. I’ve been faithful and faithless. I’ve felt inspired and isolated. I’ve gone long stretches where I felt like I was splashing around in grace and mercy. I’ve experienced equally long stretches where my soul was parched and dry. There have been only two constants for the past twenty years:
1. Jesus has been faithful, real, and good.
2. I have been wide-eyed and dumbfounded all along.
I’ve never lost my sense of awe or my sense of ignorance. As I’ve learned more about God I somehow have grown in my naivety as well. As I’ve grown closer to Him He sometimes has felt twice as distant. Just when I think I have Jesus figured out, He throws me a curve ball and leaves me standing in the batters box, scratching my head. I have often asked out loud, anxiously, “What do you want from me?” Occasionally I scrape together enough humility to actually listen to His reply.
My walk is not done. I’ll get old and fat and my skin will be stretched. So will my faith. My body will wear down and so might my resolve. My heroes will die. I’ll be tested and tried. Tragedies will strike. I’ll cry out to God like I’ve never cried out to him before. I’ll experience a complicated in life I never dreamed of when I was in seventh grade. It won’t be a simple complicated any longer, it will be a gut-wrenching complicated. I’ll be tired. Someday I will walk with a limp.
I will walk nonetheless.
When a baby is born it comes out of the womb with little knowledge about the world it just entered. It’s colder and brighter and louder and way less predictable. For the first day or so the baby squints its way through things taking in the new environment in blurry segments. But we’ve all looked down at a baby when its eyes were open wide and wondered what that baby was thinking. How is it even possible to take it all in? There’s just so much to process.
Twenty years ago today I was born for a second time, and when I came out of the water it was much like a baby emerging into an entirely new reality. When I wiped the water from my lashes and started to take it all in, I was wide-eyed and dumbfounded. In many ways I’ve been wide-eyed and dumbfounded ever since. I don’t suspect that will ever change. I’m not sure it should.
May the faithfulness of Jesus make my eyes wide forever, dumbfounded by this inexplicable grace. May I never give up on Him as He has never given up on me. May I take my last breaths with His name on my lips. May I stumble and stagger and strain, but remain in Him.
May the God that saved me at twelve save me still.