When God Surprises You: On Our Daughter's Unexpected Re-Birth

I'm sitting in church listening to my husband's sermon about baptism; I’m also praying for a friend who's getting baptized in a few minutes.  My youngest daughter sits beside me taking notes in my notebook, her loopy letters in black pen on cream pages, Sin is your forst enemy. If you have bin babtized you are apart of Jesuses death...

Then she looks up, Mom, she says, I want to be baptized. 

I look from her face to her notes. She's written it there: I want to get babtized.

She says this as my husband is talking about dying to sin, about surrender and giving up your life. She says it with a kind of self assurance I see in her often. She is ever decisive. 

We've talked about baptism before. Lots. She asks so many questions. She read The Case for Christ for kids with her dad. She reads her Bible after school each day. Job is her favorite book. 

This is not out of the blue. It's a baptism sermon. I should have seen it coming.

But I did not. And in this moment I do not want my daughter to be baptized. I tell her, Why don't we wait and talk about it at home?

Today my friend Dina will be baptized. I'm wearing a t-shirt I made to celebrate the day. So it's Dina's day, you know? And too, it's Sunday. I'm working. My job is partly to photograph baptisms. Who knows how many we'll have today (later I'll know it's five)? My head is on work and making other people feel comfortable and making sure the right sized t-shirts are in the baptistery rooms. Justin's working too. He's up there preaching right now. We don't have time to discuss this. We'll wait. Maybe later this week...

But Eve says to me, Mom I want to be baptized now. I'm ready to be baptized now. 

I say, Okay, baby. You can get baptized. That's wonderful. But I add, Let's wait until your grandparents get into town tomorrow. Maybe do it on Thanksgiving when your aunt's here, too. We can go to the creek. It'll be beautiful. 

I imagine my daughter in a white dress at the creek, surrounded by friends and family, sunshine on her cheeks. I've written a blessing. Justin reads a scripture. We hire a photographer to record the moment. This is the right way, I'm sure. 

Eve knods. Okay. 

My pulse dips back to normal.

But then her dad tells the story of the men and women at Pentecost, and she says, Mom I don't want to wait. I want to be baptized right now. 

What do you say to your daughter who loves God and wants to be baptized and knows more about God and the Bible than all the adults who'll be baptized today? What do you say to this girl who knows her mind, who does feel the sting of death and sin, who wants to live forever with God? 

I say, Okay.

She says, Do I go up to the front when they sing the song? I say, If that's what you want to do.

And though I thought maybe she would chicken out or change her mind, she did exactly what she wanted to do. She walked straight up to her dad and told him she wanted to be baptized. Justin didn't understand. And when he figured it out, he too wished she would have waited until her parents were off work. 

But then, after watching three of our friends put on Christ in that water beneath the giant cross hung on white drywall in our church's baptistery, after dressing her in borrowed basketball shorts and a too-big tee with the words "I was born in this shirt" plastered across the chest, Justin and I and Eve waded into the water. We looked out at our church, at our brothers and sisters who we love, and Justin took Eve's confession of faith. She asked if I would be the one to baptize her, and so I did. I held my daughter's hands, clasped at her chest, put my other hand in the small of her back and plunged her into the Spirit-charged water to wash away her sins. On the way down I kissed her forehead and whispered, Here we go...

-

On the day Eve was born I woke up in pain, too much pain to go back to sleep. I woke Justin and asked him to go to the store and get medicine for constipation. I remember sitting on the toilet at four am groaning, thinking I must have colon cancer. 

On March 20th of 2009 I was already three days past my due date. I’d had a baby before, so I don’t know why I didn’t realize I was in labor. But I didn’t. Convinced I was dying of constipation, I eventually agreed to go to the hospital. Not for the baby, of course—for the unceasing pain in my abdomen. Somewhere on the road between Henderson, TN and the hospital 30 minutes north, Justin convinced me the baby was coming. I sat backwards in the front seat. My mom (sitting in the backseat) tried to rub my head, and I spat, Don’t touch me!

When we arrived, nurses took their time getting me a room and a gown. They said, We’ll be in to check in a little while. Meanwhile I went to the bathroom again and pushed. When I came back, I told Justin I wanted an epidural. Dutiful, loving husband that he is, he flagged down a nurse. She said, There’ll be time for that later. He said, Will you please just check

So she did, and in seconds carts were crashing, nurses flooded the room and someone yelled, Get the doctor!

Eve Adeline Gerhardt came twenty minutes after we checked in at the front desk of Jackson General. She arrived suddenly and decisively, entirely differently than we’d planned. We had music to play, card games for the waiting. I had a pretty robe to wear and makeup to put on before those first pictures. My midwife was supposed to deliver Eve, but someone else did. I don’t know who. I suspect the first doctor they found in the hall. 

In the pictures I look like I’ve just run a marathon. And I look happy.

-

Today, after the excitement of a handful of baptisms, immersing my own kid, taking small group pictures with our three newly baptized members, I found Justin and he hugged me and I broke down in tears. This wasn’t how I’d planned it, but here we were with an all-new daughter, our whole family now committed to Christ from this day forward. After church we went to a mediocre Mexican restaurant with our friends. We ordered sopapilla cheesecake to celebrate, and Eve thought it was gross. 

Sometimes you plan how something should be. You see it in your head and it just feels right. And then the way it actually happens isn’t anything like the way it was in your head. That’s how today was. I wanted Eve’s baptism to be special. I wanted to be present, to say something meaningful, to make the moment unforgettable. 

But I realized today that Eve was baptized in just the way Eve ought to have been. My spontaneous, decisive girl who loves ALL THE PEOPLE wanted to be baptized at church with everyone watching. She wanted to be baptized alongside Miss Dina and Mr. Sloan. She loves that they share the same re-birthday. She wanted to be in the baptistery at the building she plays at after school. She wanted to wear the same t-shirt everyone else was wearing. 

Eve was reborn the same way Eve was born, in just her own way at just the right time. 

Tonight I asked Eve if she remembered what I said to her right before she went underwater. I laughed a little as I asked, somewhat embarrassed at those unplanned words, and she said, I do. You said, “Let’s go,” something like that, right? 

Maybe “Here we go,” I said.

Yeah, that, she said. I liked it.

Teacher? Lawyer? Preacher? On Trusting God to Make My Paths Straight

When I was eight years old my grandfather asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I thought through all the jobs the adults I knew had--teacher, coach, truck driver--and all the jobs people on TV had--doctor, news anchor, deep sea diver. I scrolled through these jobs like you’d scroll through your Facebook feed, looking for a satisfying place to stop. I said to my grandfather, yanking the truth from my gut, “A preacher.” I said this on a Sunday night at church, just before the service started, just before he’d climb the stairs and deliver the sermon he’d worked on all week. This job of his seemed like the best job I could imagine. Who wouldn’t want to spend all day reading and teaching about God?

That night he’d smile as if I’d picked both the exact right and exact wrong answer. I’d spend the next 25 years figuring out why.

I’m in my mid-thirties, and if you’d asked me, even just two or three years ago, what I wanted to be when I grew up, I probably wouldn’t have had a clear answer. That’s because my journey into a profession has been anything but straightforward. Maybe the murkiness started at eight when the thing I most wanted to be wasn’t something for me, not in the way I understood it then. Since then, it’s been a lot of wandering in the dark.

In middle school I said I wanted to find a cure for cancer. In high school I decided to be a lawyer. Then a news anchor. Then a judge. Then, briefly, a Judge Attorney General for the American Navy. In college I jumped back onto the lawyer track, majored in English, which spurred a desire to read books all day, and promptly switched my professional goals to either publishing or professoring. When I graduated college without having been accepted to an advanced degree program (because I didn’t apply), I decided to try my hand at house-wifing. Which I hated and was bad at. Unless you count binge-watching TLC as a house-wifing skill. I was great at that.

Eventually, I got a job at a newspaper as a reporter. I’d always been a good writer, was the college paper editor. But I quit reporting six months in to go to graduate school for English. I was great at grad school, leading me to wonder if perhaps I should just go forever. Instead, I took a job after graduation teaching freshmen how to read and write critically. I’d leave that job after two years to go to New York City with my husband to plant a church. That effort would end after only a year, and I’d find myself back in the same town in which I attended college, once again questioning my future, this time while I carried and birthed two little girls.

For the next seven years I’d struggle with my vocation. During those years I taught some, both about writing and about God. I learned photography and videography. I wrote a lot. Received a few rejection letters for book and article proposals (most editors didn’t bother to write back). And I prayed. I prayed that God would make a way for me. That He’d show me where to go and what to be.

And the whole time I was mostly a mess about it.

It all came to a dramatic head when my husband and I finally decided to enroll our girls in public school. For the first time since before they were born, I had the opportunity to pursue full time employment. And I cried about it every day.

We needed me to work. We needed the money. But I refused to consider jobs. I wanted to throw up every time Justin asked me what I wanted to do. I didn’t know why I felt that way, so viscerally opposed to teaching English or working for a marketing company or a newspaper, but I did. At first I thought I was afraid. Then I thought maybe I was unsure of myself. But when it came right down to it, when my husband pushed and pried and basically shoved his hand down my throat and yanked up the the truth, he found that same truth I’d told my Papa at eight years old. I wanted to be a preacher.

No, not a preacher. I wanted to read and teach about God all day.

There it was, clear as day, my vocation.

All along, I had been wanting to do one thing. All along I’d been pushing against everything that wasn’t it. All along I’d been unintentionally learning how to do it better--cultivating my skills as a teacher, reader, problem solver, leader, discerner and writer. Working alongside my husband in ministry, teaching Bible classes, creating church environments and events, building websites and online communities, reading my Bible like it might burn up before I had the chance to finish...

All along the path seemed dark and mysterious and full of what seemed like dead ends, but all along God was laying track.

I started writing tonight in response to Proverbs 3:5-6. I needed to write a short devotional for a website (this is already much too long). It’s a famous passage. You know it:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart

   and lean not on your own understanding;

in all your ways submit to him,

   and he will make your paths straight.

For whatever reason, when I read this tonight, I thought about all those years when trust was so hard, when sight was nil and faith was all, when I leaned on God like a blind woman with a cane, tapping around in the dark, looking for curbs and ditches--God, cane and curb.

I don’t know that I submitted my ways to Him every day, but I sure did try. I prayed a hundred times, “God, I just want to do what you want me to do. Show me what you want me to do.”

I didn’t know it then, but always He has been making my paths straight.

Since that day when Justin helped me see clearly, when we realized what it was I was made to do, neither of us have ever wavered in our commitment to the call--even though then it seemed crazy and still it takes trust, leaning not on our understanding.

If you’d asked me if there was a way for a woman to make a living in ministry within the churches of Christ, I’d have said, No way. And yet, here I am, writing books, speaking at churches and conferences, on staff at my church enabling testimonies, helping with communication and online community. Under my name on our church website is the word “Minister.” I’m pinching myself like ten times a day.

In some ways, I see more clearly what God’s up to now. And that makes the trust easier, of course. But I’m still tempted, perhaps more tempted, to make my own way, to push my own agenda, to set my own goals and chart my own course. I think, "I see what you're doing, God. I'll take it from here."

Nope.

I don’t know why this is the thing I wrote tonight. I tried to write something else. Maybe God wanted one of you wandering in the fog of uncertainty to know that trust works when the will of God is what you're seeking most. Trusting is like walking on an ever unfolding path, you can't see any path ahead, but every time you take a step your foot falls on solid ground. Maybe that's why I wrote this tonight and stayed up too late editing it. Whatever the reason, it's what I wrote, and I’m reminded of two things in the writing:

  1. When we submit to God, He takes us where we need to go.

  2. There’s always somewhere more to go.

Thus, I’m not done trusting.