I was baptized on July 24th, 1999, but as to how I got to that point? It is never just as simple as I read my Bible, I understood, and therefore, I became a Christian. You can say it is, but even the Ethiopian eunuch had more to his story than that.
The inspiration for my baptism began with attending church my whole life, literally since the week I was born. I grew-up with parents who were learning what it was like to be a Christian their self. I witnessed their struggles, their successes. I saw them research their Bible in times of trouble, as opposed to seeking out their own solutions. I still remember my parents deciding to leave the Waverly church of Christ, a church that was transitioning from conservative to liberal, because of the leadership it had received from the preacher at the time. I remember it being like any other Sunday morning, running around the parking lot after church with Trenton Hall, who is a cherished friend and brother-in-Christ to this day, but at this time, he was a curly headed child running around in diapers. There are moments in life when no matter how normal it all seems, something just seems to be amiss. That was this Sunday morning. It was if the air itself had even morphed into this other worldly state. I remember my father and the preacher having a very serious discussion, and the next thing I knew, we were in our old station wagon driving home. My father said, “We aren’t coming back here again.” Endings tend to leave a lasting mark on a child. I don’t care how old they are. They realize when something is changing in their lives, and for me, that day I learned that the preacher is not always right, every church member can be fallible if they don’t go by the Bible, and I learned what it was like to miss my Christian friends and family for the first time. I was separated from people that I had learned an invaluable amount from, my family, my home. I will never be able to repay the great ladies who had taught me about the Bible there. Sometimes we forget that, if they are fortunate enough to, our little ones grow-up to be adults, and they taught me from the ground up like they knew that all along. They provided me with building blocks that I am unbelievably grateful for to this day, ones that began to build my faith and love for God.
We attended Winding Road church of Christ in Parkersburg, WV that Sunday night and after that, until we moved. There, church became an extension of the family based community I was a part of on a daily basis. You see my childhood was spent living on the family farm. We raised cows, sheep, had horses, dogs, barn cats. The earth was our playground. We caught salamanders, got way too dirty too many times, and had way more freedom than kids do today. From that freedom, we got bumps, scars (one under my chin if you would like to see it), and we made good and bad mistakes. We saw birth. We learned death. We saw the world working in perfect order without any man controlling it. My Grandma Sams’ and Great-Grandma O’Dell’s houses sat atop our hill and there we were exposed to an older woman (Grandma Sams) doing everything she could follow God’s will and an old woman (Great-Grandma O’Dell) who really studied her Bible or went to church. I saw a woman in my Grandma, though she had lost her husband and her son at a very early age, who was always happy and worked for others without giving a second thought, and I saw another woman in my Great-Grandma, though she was always kind to me because I was born on her birthday, was living an unsatisfied and remorseful life. Great-Grandma couldn’t move very well at this time, and she had a lot of time to sit and think about her life, and even as a child, you could tell their was a lot of pain in her memories, a lot of regret. I learned from everyone, be they a member of church or not. The people who surround us impact us more than we ever know. In my Grandma I saw a woman who I wanted my life to emulate, and in my Great-Grandma, I saw a woman whose life I did not want mine to become, even if she did live to be well over 100. I knew I would rather have as many good years as God was going to grant me then to live 100 years not appreciate the daily blessings God provided me.
At Winding Road, I got to worship with not only my mom and dad, sisters, and Grandma, but I was also fortunate enough to worship with my cousins and my aunt and uncle, which I thought was so great. To this day, I can see why it is hard for people who were not raised in the church to leave their family’s belief, even when the scriptures clearly state a practice contrary to God’s will that their family’s congregation is practicing. I am not saying that it is right. I am just saying it is harder than people give it credit for. I could see that if I attended a church surrounded with a large part of my family for my entire life why it would be so difficult to see an error if they taught it, because as children, we don’t think our families can do wrong, and sadly, that sometimes bleeds into adulthood. The examples I got from my limited time spent at Winding Road weren’t innumerable, because they were things and people I had been learning from my whole life. It is easy to take advantage of something you have always had in your life and you believe you will always have. The lessons I learned there I am still learning as I grow older. Never take people for granted, and never take the time you have with them for granted either. One thing you can’t replicate in life is moments, so why throw them away so carelessly?
We moved shortly after we started attending the Winding Road church of Christ, an hour up the river to Sistersville, WV. While we were there, I remember I tried to be baptized once when I was in the sixth grade. I say tried because it didn’t really work out. We were attending the Elk Fork church of Christ at that time, and I remember I would sit-up at night in a cold sweat fearing that I might die and be found less than favorable to God. Some people might have you believe that it isn’t healthy for little children to sit-up at night in their beds and fear for the afterlife. Contrary to what their 21st century Americana brainwashed minds might tell them, a healthy fear is a good thing to have. I have learned more from moments when I have been afraid then moments where I coast through things. Just like a child shouldn’t rule their parents, a person shouldn’t attempt to rule God. I only feared God because I loved Him and respected Him enough to not want to let Him down, and truthfully, that mindset has been one of the greatest blessings of my entire life. This is what I believe is meant by the term reaching the age of accountability. I had reached it because I knew what was right, but for any young person, doing what is right is sometimes way more difficult than it should be. The night I “attempted” to be baptized was one of moments where it was difficult.
It was about 2am on a Monday night that I finally got tired of sitting-up at night in a cold sweat, and I finally got the gumption to go to my parent’s bedroom, lightly tap on their bedroom door, and very nervously declare I wanted to be baptized. Well, my parents, groggily (so groggily in fact that to this day, I don’t know if they even remember this happening) advised me to make sure that this is something I was ready to take on, and if so, that I should go forward on Wednesday night. Well, as soon as those words came out of their mouth, I pacified my fears because little to their knowledge, from our move and reaching an awkward age, I had cocooned myself in a place where I was nervous to put myself “out there” in front of people (mostly adults). So, I told myself, “You must still be too young, Nathan.” That made me feel better for a time, and I let Wednesday night come and go without doing what I knew was right. Even sadder, from this moment, I carried this “your not old enough” rational in my mind for many years, and it was further justified by the fact that I was not seeing others my age being baptized their self, and I thought, “If it is so important, why aren’t they doing it?” So, Wednesday after Sunday after weekday after weekend passed, and I continued to attend church and occasionally, I would have a night where I felt so very alone in this world and I would think about my days on the farm, and the animals that had so quickly come and gone and how my fate was no different than theirs. Then fear would dot my brow with perspiration, and I would calm my thoughts by praying to God, but, as so many of us do, forgetting to do His will completely.
Life went on. I grew from a little boy to a young man. We moved again and were now attending the Wellsburg church of Christ. The people who surrounded me in the church, at that time, were the worst group of “church friends” I had ever had. They were not the best examples and didn’t seem to put God first, second, or one hundredth on their priority list, and so, I got even more comfortable in my place in life. I thought, “Well, you surely aren’t as bad as they are. So, you are good.” This is the danger in comparing yourself to others, something the Bible has never commanded, but no doubt, a trick the Devil uses to his advantage. I was now mentally being dragged to church. I had become a teenager, and I had too many other things on my mind: girls, being the “popular” kid for the first time, girls, sports, and did I say, “Girls?” Notice, I left out school, because like God, it was something I always assumed I would get to eventual. Assumptions, another great trick of the Devil. I gradually stopped caring about death. The world told me this was my time and I needed to focus on living, because no moment in life would be as good as it was to be young. What lies. Still, I bought them hook, line, and sinker…
This continued from eighth grade till the summer before my senior year. It was like a mirage, it seemed to be continuing the same way it always had, but again, that all to familiar word “finality” gradually began to creep back into my world. I tried to focus my attentions on keeping life the same as it had seemingly been every year leading up to this one, enjoy time off from school and prepare for football season. I wasn’t worried about life after school, that’s all I had ever known, and as we all do, I had fooled myself into believing that this was life. For forever and always, this was the way life would be. However, as my mom often told me while I was bemoaning the fact that I was growing older, “Well, you can’t stay the same age, Nathan. You have two options in life, you can either get older or die.” As morbid as that looks on paper, believe me, it was even more morbid to hear out loud. Still, she was right, and sometimes little conversations like that pay big dividends down the road, be it later that day or later that lifetime. Thankfully, God was patient enough with me throughout all of this that He would spare my life until I made the decision to be baptized. A decision I should have made many years before my trip to a summer camp on the other side of a cornfield in the middle of nowhere Ohio.
It sounds weird, but the push that finally sent me off the cliff and soaring into the skies of doing the Lord’s will was the peer pressure I received from the great Christian friends I got at Camp Noah. As a young man, I was fortunate enough to attend Camp Noah, a weeklong summer camp that former Wellsburg church of Christ minister Bill Carroll ran based on principles of the Bible. That fateful summer, I had decided that I had no desire to go to some “baby, Christian based” camp. I had determined that I was too grown-up for that. I was too cool. You know how we all think we are too “mature” for so much during that time in our life. Well, I had decided that I was not only too cool for the camp, but somewhere along the line, I had begun to believe that I was too cool for God. I saw it as something only hypocritical people in outdated dress clothes cared about on Sundays and Wednesdays. Even then, I had seen members of the church, people who were supposed to be an example, do nothing more than reinforce my being okay with not fully serving God. They talked about each other, got insanely angry and jealous of each other, and they tried to beat the Word of God into your head instead of being patient and kind. Church became a burden to attend. It drained me more than the world did, and there were times when I sincerely hated it. What had become of me? I needed to open my Bible for the answers, but I looked to the “successes” of people in the world as a measuring point as to what kind of a man I was to become.
The year Camp Noah changed my life, very nearly didn’t happen. All this animosity toward “boring, old” church had bled into my day-to-day life, and I hadn’t even realized. This was actually the second year I was attending Camp Noah, and I figured I had been there once and seen it all, and what I had seen, I didn’t desire to be apart of again. It was “too corny” for me. In fact, I so completely disinterested in attending that I literally was on the floor of our van begging my parents not to make me go the entire way to camp. Again, my mindset was worried about other things, like the phone number I had just got from the girl I had a huge high school sized crush on. “She can’t wait a WEEK to talk to me,” I had thought. “This is literally going to be the longest and worst week of my life.”
Still, my parents made me go, because I had signed-up months before. Little did I know how much this would impact me for forever. That year at camp, I was in the oldest boy dorm. It was an eclectic mix of ornery kids from all over Ohio. I soon found out that I was the only one in the cabin who wasn’t a Christian. Our counselor wasn’t some stuck-up, terrible dictator as I had assumed he would be. He was one of the best Christian examples I could have had at that time. He was a Christian man by the name of Gary Lucas who attended the Barnesville church of Christ in Barnesville, Ohio, and he was as ornery as the rest of us in the cabin. He was not stuffy, pretentious, and self-righteous, as I had seen so many people in the church become. He was the opposite. He was humble, kind, obedient. He was flawed but perfect. To this day, he is still one of my examples of what the definition of a Christian man is to be. He challenged us to grow-up in Christ and to be more responsible for our actions. It wasn’t anyone else’s fault but ours if we weren’t serving God correctly. This cut me deep, because I knew I wasn’t. I had developed an excuse for every occasion when it came to Christianity, and he showed me with his Bible why those excuses were no good. At night, he would lead us in devotion, turn out the lights, and leave us alone in our cabins. This gave us time to talk about love, life, and the pursuit of eternal salvation. Us campers, we stayed up every night, way too late, talking, philosophizing, learning from each other. For the first time in my young life, when the lights went off, it wasn’t just God and I having a discussion with, it was many other voices, and thankfully, they were Christian voices. They would ask me things like, “How are you not baptized?” Things that I did not have answers for.
By the end of that week, I had grown more in my beliefs in Christianity than I had in five years. I learned more than how shoot a bow, how to secretly smuggle a pizza into camp from a local pizzeria, and how to beat our counselors at softball. I learned how to be a better man, a Christian man.
I still remember our last night there, another moment of finality. I remember Rob, one of my closest friends out there, sharing with us his fears of returning home. “Why would you have fears of returning home,” I asked? I’ll never forget this young Christian man with tears in his eyes and fear in his heart, telling us how he didn’t want to return home because he knew that he was going to let God down. Like me, he had set-up a world around him that was destining him to fail as a Christian rather than to succeed. He told us he had already been failing in his Christian walk in life, and that the people he had chose to surround himself with at home were ones he knew would easily lead him astray again. My heart went out to this young man, because he was saying the things I was feeling inside my heart. Like me, like us all, he was struggling. He was looking for a hand to lift him up, not shove him down. From moments like this one I shared with Rob and my other cabin mates, I realized that no matter what part of life you are at, you are going to deal with circumstances that try to drive you from God, and you have two choices, whether to obey these things or to not obey them. I had finally matured enough to realize it was way past time for me to obey the Lord.
As I left my friends, my new family that week, I didn’t speak too much on the way home. That week, I had witnessed friendships, baptisms, and a sense of pride in being a Christian that I had never fully experienced before. To this day, I still love singing “As the Deer” in our hymnals, because every time we sing it, it takes me back. Back to a little camp on the other side of a corn field in middle of nowhere Ohio, and for a moment, I hear not only the congregation surrounding me sing it, but the voices of Rob and Gary and my friends at Camp Noah and Bill Carroll and my Grandma Sams and the many, many Christian men and women who had patience with me, who loved me, who inspired me to be better than just another man. I hear them sing, ”You alone are my heart’s desire and I long to worship you,” and I yearn to hear them again. Daily, I fight to hear those voices again, and I imagine that on the day I breathe my last, before I go, I will hear those voices singing, welcoming, “You alone are my strength my shield, to you alone may my spirit yield. You alone are my heart’s desire, and I long to worship you.” I can’t wait to join that chorus. A chorus of all the voices that have led me home. Won’t that be a beautiful day?
As far as when I was baptized? It was the day I returned, July 24th, 1999. I was working in the attic of our house with my father. We were putting insulation in the top of our house. It had to be 100 degrees in that attic working then. I had been thinking about baptism all day, and in the middle of placing insulation, I finally had enough of the countless moments of contemplating. I told my father, “I want to be baptized, and I would like to do so now.” At that point, I had no clue what an amazing journey I was about to embark upon. I just knew I wanted to be a part of my Lord’s church, my Lord’s army, and that I wanted to dedicate my life to Him. So, that day, I was finally buried in baptism and rose a Christian. Never again would life be the same, and for the first time in my life, that was more than alright with me.