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My mother and I went to church every Sunday for two services: 7 AM and 11 AM.  Sunday School in between. Multiple bible studies and prayer meetings in the evenings during the week.  Children's choir and youth usher board on Saturdays. Friday night youth group. If I wasn't at home or school, I was at church.  

I asked to be baptized at the age of nine.  Before it could happen, I had to attend four foundational classes over a period of 30 days to make sure I knew exactly what I was doing. By giving my life to Christ, I was accepting Him as my personal savior and acknowledging that He died on the cross so I could have eternal life.  I had questions about this, but I was told not to question, only to believe and have faith.  I never doubted God's existence, but I was skeptical about religion.  Why couldn't he forgive and save based on what's in a person's heart instead of what religion they chose?   Isn't the love and kindness in someone's heart more important than whether or not they've been baptized?

The night before the baptism, I lay in bed praying that I would not drown in the baptismal tub. I looked around my room thinking this could be my last night on earth and mourning all the things I would never get to do if I died in the tub.  I rationalized that if I did indeed die during the baptism, I'd probably go to heaven. That was my biggest motivation for wanting to get baptized after all, because even as a young girl, I was worried about death and what comes after.

In the morning, the choir sang Take Me to the Water and I fought back tears as the pastor and his assistant dunked me, a trust fall into salvation.  They pulled me up and someone covered me in a warm blanket, just as I imagined the angels would cover and comfort me when I got to heaven one day. I tried to find peace in the belief that I’d have safe passage from this life to the next.  But the baptism didn't make my questions go away or ease my fear of dying.

Most of the time, I was a smiling, playful kid.  But my heart was drawn to tragedy and I was often worried underneath my practiced cheer.  Just as the choir’s voices lifted me out of my body in church, seeing the homeless man on the street pulled me into the ground. With a cozy room and fleece footed pajamas waiting for me at home, I didn’t know cold the way this homeless man knew cold.  How did he end up there? Did God abandon him? My mother shunned me from asking her such things.

A few years later, my mom decided that we were quitting Christianity and joining Judaism.  She didn't use those words but that’s how I took it. Just like that, the redemption I'd been taught to believe in was in question.  Bye Jesus. Bye Heaven. The way I perceived my salvation changed overnight. I decided to seek out my own understanding of God.

This is an unfinished piece I’m working on for my book-in-progress, Underneath.

MY BOOKS, ESSAYSGG Renee