So my sister asked me in a text the other day if I could tell her the day that I believed in Christ. It’s such a wonderful thing to be asked I didn’t want to just keep it between me and her, so I decided to share it here.
First of all I don’t know exactly. I know that’s not much of an answer, but there are a few different times in my life that I consider to be major “baptisms” in my life… times when I was utterly changed. There is really only one “baptism” that converted me and it was at that moment that such a miraculous thing occurred in my heart that I have never been the same since. The reason I have such a hard time putting an exact day or circumstance on that miracle is because I think as I look back and see these turning points in my life, I can’t tell if it was then that the miracle of being re-created happened in me or if it happened before and that event was just a fruit of that miracle taking place.
And really my life is like that. I am a tree, planted by streams of living water. It started as a seed received in my dirty soil and by the miracle that only God can perform, I sprouted and despite storm and trial, I continue to grow deep roots and tall, gnarly, wind-tested branches, that I pray never stop producing the fruit of the love of Christ in me.
So to answer the question, here’s what I think is the story of how I became a tree.
When I was 15, I was at a youth retreat with our church’s youth group. At that time I was into the “mod” scene (now called goth or emo or something…), styling myself after the likes of The Cure and Depeche Mode. I was very insecure, wanting to “be different” and be liked. I wanted to make my own statement of non-conformity by conforming to non-conformists. I thought I was a real live fish swimming against the stream of passively floating jellyfish.
So here I was, at this youth retreat with other kids my age, all of whom I liked but felt very different than. And although I seemed to be saying with my look that I wanted to be different, I really wanted to just be liked and accepted. But there I was with all these athletic, preppy, popular teens, so I put on my white jeans, and styled my bob so it covered my left eye and painted my pale-faced lips with blood red lipstick and joined the other “normal” kids in an auditorium full of (I’m gonna guess a number here) 5,000 other kids singing Amazing Grace.
I remember standing there, not singing, looking around at those other kids and their families singing and instead of talking to myself I listened to a voice in my head saying, “Choose Sheila. Choose this day whom you will serve? You either follow me, or follow them.” I knew the “them” the voice spoke of- my peers who I so foolishly wanted to affirm and define me. And although I hadn’t been raised to believe that God “spoke” with a person, I knew that it was God “speaking” to my heart.
I ignored the voice and developed an acidy knot in my gut and the most horrible headache I had ever experienced. In fact, the headache was so bad, that on the 8 hour trip home with my youth group they stopped at an emergency room in Medford, Oregon to have me examined. There I was treated with narcotics for a migraine and sent home.
Once I got home I laid on my couch with this terrible headache, knowing that the cure for it would not come until I decided whom I would serve. And I knew what I needed to do to demonstrate that I had chosen. I had to call my best friend Delcina.
Delcina was my closest friend from 7th through 10th grades. Her family welcomed me, allowed me to raise a pig for 4-H on their farm and showed me stability and what I thought “normal families” looked like, since I didn’t think my family was normal. I valued Delcina’s thoughts about me more than any person. And I feared, as I laid there, that if I told her I had decided to follow Jesus I would loose her friendship. I tried to hide in my headache but I couldn’t anymore. So I called her. I remember the phone call so well. No cell. No wireless handset. I walked to the kitchen and dialed her number on the circular dial landline phone on the wall. I thought I’d puke waiting for her to answer and when she did answer I was swept away in her friendly voice telling me about the activities she’d been doing over the summer. Then she asked, “What did you do?” And out of my mouth came words I didn’t know before they came out, “I decided to follow Jesus Delcina.”
There was a little pause and an immediate relief of the boulder that had been crushing me for days.
“I knew you were going to say that,” Delcina responded in a soft, disappointed but understanding voice. “Well, what does that mean?…”
I remember her asking me what that meant for our friendship and I remember answering that I still wanted to be friends but I wasn’t probably going to be doing all the same things I had been doing before. She agreed, but said she still wanted to eat lunch with me at school and do things together. And so we did. But it was undeniably apparent from that moment on that the one thing I desired more than anything else had totally taken over my life, and that was Jesus. I wanted HIM! I wanted to know what He liked. I wanted to know what He thought of me. I wanted Him to define who I was and affirm me not my friends or parents or peers. And THAT was the evidence that I had been baptized into Christ. My desires were totally different. The old me had died. The desires of my heart were totally different. And I craved the Bible, like food!
I began a frenzy of energy in my new-found love of Christ. I started writing skits and poems and journal entries. I performed in my youth group’s drama club and church and asked hard questions of my elders- questions that challenged errors in doctrine that they had taught me that I didn’t see in the Bible. I went on a mission trip with my youth to Mexico to build a house for a poor family there and came back wanting to be a missionary forever. I dove into learning Spanish. I got a Spanish/English Bible for my 16th birthday and sang hymns in Spanish around my house. My life was night and day when comparing it to life a year previous. I was confident and full of hope!
I remember our youth pastor telling me one day, “Sheila, I just want to say your face has physically changed in the last weeks. You shine!” I knew it wasn’t makeup or style or DNA he was talking about. I didn’t know how to say it but it was Christ. He had come in and made me really alive!!
It wasn’t long after these events that my faith began being tested. I won’t go into those events now, but when I look back on them, there are a few more of these “baptisms” or crossroads in my life when I knew I had to take a step of faith in obeying what I knew God was saying, and was utterly changed in the process. Sometimes I failed to take a step of faith and instead did not obey and took detours into very hard, lonely times. But even those times God has used to prune and grow my life.
I am a tree planted by streams of living water. He planted me. He gave me life. He tends to me. He tests me. He prunes me. I will never be the same.
“Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” – James 1:21
“He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.” -Psalm 1:3
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” -Jeremiah 17:8
“What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” – Luke 13:19