In May of this year I was substituted aka. baptized. Now going backwards. I grew up in a wonderful Christian home. Went to private school till high school and attended an amazing on fire for God, Catholic church. My grandma spoke of Jesus like her dear friend and often told my sister and I to yell at the devil in the Lords name if we felt him near. I knew God. I knew who he was and what he did for me. I remember in 2nd grade I had my first communion and at that age I understood what Jesus did to wipe my heart clean and make it white as snow.
I went on my schooling years going to chapel every morning and youth group on Wednesday nights. I remember all the retreats and the worship. I love worship. Music speaks to my soul like no other medium. I remember singing in youth group and being so on fire for God especially during 9th and 10th grade. Yet, at that time it was pretty constricted to my church friends and my wednesday nights. When I was at school I had different agendas. I tried SO hard to fit in, which in reality never happened. I didn’t understand why I didn’t. Then I got to college thinking it might change now, yet it was still a world of trying to fit in. Parties, dancing and just the typical college experience. While there are great memories there, yet there are also lots of years of drama, hurt and mistakes searching for something to fill that void in my heart. I guess I thought that this was next chapter in life and God would be something I would do every once in awhile on a Sunday, for now. I would just put him on the back burner and went on accomplish “the list ” in life. Go to college, play your sport, do good in school, marry a great guy and start a job with your degree.
So, I started a job with that degree and then about 8 months after we got married I started my photography business. Again, while I prayed to God and knew he was there. I still put him in a box to only open on Sunday-ish. Matt and I continued on our quest for a church and through a connection or two we stumbled on the church we attend now. We went on and off , and (by on and off means whenever I didn’t want to sleep in) for 2 years before we felt we needed to surround ourselves with other Christian couples and we joined a bible study there to get connected. We loved the people we met through it (still do),which sent us headed to pursuing membership.
Here is where we HAULT. In order to be a member at Bethlehem you have to be baptized. Now Matt had done this when he was 11 or so at his home church, but I had an infant baptism which didn’t qualify as I understood. At first this made me so frustrated, uncomfortable and just unsure. Also, to make matters worse you had to give your testimony publicly at your baptism. WHAT I thought? Heck, no. People are going to think I’m not good enough or that my story won’t be “right”. It made me question everything. Did I really know Jesus? Am I saved? Is he really my Lord and savior? I spent so many hours trying to put together my testimony, but it just seemed so lame to me. I didn’t have a “I was on the corner and a Jesus pamphlet hit me in the faith and I was saved” story. Mine is plain jane almost text book. Good kid, crazy college years and back on track. I felt like if I didn’t have a “good” story then maybe I wasn’t being called, I was just making it up or that maybe I had done something wrong the first time. But after a couple hard months of God working on me (even having to postpone my baptism because I didn’t feel ready) God slowly revealed that my story is just my story …….just the way he planned it. Gina Iolanda’s path. His exact path for me, not anyone else’s. and that it was OK. More than ok.
The testimony that I actually ended up sharing on video (that was played during church service) went something like this….. I did grow up in a home with all the right surroundings, the right schooling and the right path. I accepted Jesus when I was very young but it was more a head knowledge. A surface knowledge. Through the years of high school, college and beyond I lost track of Jesus. I put him behind what I believed was important. Over the past year God has been calling me to learn and understand what a heart knowledge of him looks and feels like and what it truly means. What a personal relationship with him was the only way to be truly saved. To talk to God daily and not just in passing or the same prayers, to really let Jesus at my heart. To give myself to him and live. Give him my security, my plans, my thoughts, my troubles, my pride and my desires. Baptism was the outward symbol of what God has done for me and is always doing. Just like when they dunk you in the water, Jesus’s death takes away my sins (under the water )and when I arise (out of the water) I am saved with him.
It wasn’t as scary as I thought. In fact it was beautifully overwhelming. I thought I would be so intimated about being in a baptismal tub (more like a decked out hot tub) in front of the busy service and how dorky I was on video. Yet once I stepped in and hit the water. IMMENSE peace filled my soul. It was like no one else was there. I got out of the tub and got wrapped with a towel, as the others were being baptized, and tears just continued to drip from my face. Happy tears, yet still the heyiwanttosingthissongsostopblubbering already tears. I was overwhelmed with deep in my soul joy.
Now honestly I thought after this day, life would become easier. Like hand me my halo and white robe, well not really but sort of. While my circumstances haven’t changed and everyday isn’t rainbows & unicorns. It is my choice to wake up (fighting my heart out) each day to lay my plans, my decisions and my every moment at his feet. Where he is waiting for me, to give me his JOY and peace. I just have to slow down and let him lead. Which is hard for this go-getter girl to do, but completely and utterly worth it.
Enough about me. I want you know that your story is your story, and if I have learned anything in 2011 is that God loves us each individually, personally. Don’t compare your walk to anyone elses. ANYONE Else. Sin is sin to God, and we all have it, since we took our first breath. It plagues us everyday whether you tell a lie or burn down someones house down or worse. Yet, he can take all of that away by being a substitute for you. His death on the cross can substitute the wrath of your sins. He will take your place, if you let him and get to know him.
If you could sum up what you believe in or what your religion is all about in one word that word is SUBSTITUTION. So, that is why I started this post by saying I was substituted.
Questions? or if you feel doubt about your walk? I GET YOU. I totally get you and am here for you if you want to chat. I would love to give you the real skinny, not a pretty perfect picture. Just authenticity.
Thanks for listening to this long post. And Thank Melissa O for taking these beautiful film images of this day.