Updated: Aug 6, 2020
The Day of My Baptism, I cried.
I woke up to the sound of thunder and lightning. Heavy rains poured as if God himself was cleansing Salt Lake City from all the sins I'd ever committed in it. It was the most fresh, awakening I have ever had in my life.
I prepared to get ready in my parent’s home, without telling them where I was going. Two weeks prior to this moment, I asked: “If I got baptized in the Mormon Church, would you come to my baptism.” My mom replied, “If I can’t come to your wedding, then I’m not coming to your baptism.” Then she clutched our family’s miniature dachshund and said, “You’re not a Mormon weiner dog are you?!” So I prepared to be baptized in my family’s house without any of them coming to my baptism.
The time came.
I was scared.
I had committed, but I didn't know what I was getting myself into. I knew my life was going to change, but I didn't know how? It seemed like a good idea when I wanted to be cleansed on my sins, but now that I was actually doing a ritual to be cleansed of my sins, it seemed like some cult shit. I wondered if I’d ever be the same? Of course, I wouldn’t. I wasn’t even the same as yesterday or last year. I’m not the same as when I was a baby, or a little girl, and I was changing every day. I just wanted to be conscious of the change. I was about to make the most drastic change I’d ever made this lifetime: Inheriting a new belief system.
I’m not going to lie:
There were weird things about my baptism.
The protocol, the Mormon way, the building, and the man I did not know.
The first thing I noticed was the architectural style of the building. I loved the old Utah architecture on the outside, but the inside of the building was scary. It had a 70s renovation, the cheapest money could buy, of dim fluorescent light bulbs, and greenish/blue/brown particle carpet.
I was MAD at myself for compromising. I told the missionaries I wanted to be baptized in a river like Jesus Christ outside. They said for "logistical reasons" it'd be best in an authorized area. To them, it didn’t matter. They just wanted to get it done. For me, it mattered a great deal how this decision pertaining to the “everlasting salvation of my life” looked and played out. I wish I would have trusted my instincts more.
I had 2 requests (and only 2 requests) for my baptism: To be baptized in a river like Jesus, and that the baptism be intimate with people I knew. I invited Mitchell and his family, Kenzie and her family, Bubba from Middle School, and all the missionaries who helped teach me. It felt like the perfect amount of people who’d understand, encourage, and be happy to share this intimate moment.
The first man I saw in the building was a man I’d never met. He was filling up the baptismal font for me. I walked up and said, “Hi!” He grunted back. I couldn’t even hear what he said, but his energy was all fucked up. He was 300 pounds with scoliosis and reminded me of the Hunch Back of Notre Dame. "Who is this guy?" I asked. "He's a part of the ward and his calling is to fill up the baptismal font." The missionary responded. “Oh.” I said quietly to myself. “That’s the baptismal font.” Look, I know I'm supposed to be Christlike, but I was upset that I compromised for this experience. I had to tone down my vision… To compromise with protocol… For his calling? I didn't know him, and I didn’t want him there. His energy left such a strong, negative impression on me about the church, protocol, and callings.
The time had come.
It was too late to turn back.
My friends arrived and instantly put my heart at ease.
I went back to get ready.
As I put on the white jumpsuit, the sister missionaries asked if I had a white bra. I did not. The thought never crossed my mind, and of course, my bra was the exact opposite color. So I wore the Sister Missionary’s bra to my baptism. I stood in front of the mirror looking at myself wondering: “Valerie, what the fuck?” The sisters walked back in and said everyone was ready and waiting.
I walked into the dim fluorescent, particle colored carpet room. Wood panels opened into a Jacuzzi looking baptismal font. The font was shaped like a square with steps on either side. Mitchell was already in the water, waiting.
As I stepped into the font, I noticed the water was nice, warm, and inviting me to step deeper. I looked at everyone in the room. There were people I’d known forever, and people I didn’t know at all. I was happy to see the people I knew: Kenzie Kunkle was there! Bubba Tuinea was there! Alan and his girlfriend Mikha were there! Mitchell and his family were there! 2 sets of sister missionaries and 2 sets of elder missionaries were there! The people I didn’t know were nice enough to come. They were members from my new ward: Brother Wainwright, Brother Romrell, Allison, Sally, and the Matriarch!
I walked into the font and took Mitchell's hand.
He took my arm,
said the sacred baptismal ordinance, and dipped me into the water. I plunged beneath the surface.
I felt incredible.
Then, the Hunchback of the Ward barked: "You did it wrong!" In this precious moment, I wanted to slap him in the face? Everyone was staring at me, and I just stood there wondering, “What the hell?”. Murmurs. Questions. Concerned looks exchanged. “Just to be safe”, we had to do it again.
We got back into position.
Mitchell dipped me in the water again,
And that was it.
I stepped out of the font dripping wet without making eye contact with anyone. The air quickly stung cold, as I sloshed step after step in socks soaked with water, until I was alone in the bathroom.
"What the hell was that?" I asked myself in the mirror.
I didn't even feel bad for saying "hell". It was the perfect description for the moment. Is this how Mormons treated sacred rituals? What the hell was that?
I was inside the bathroom for a minute when my friend Sally came with a bouquet of tulips. I cried to her. She gave me a hug. She wrapped me in the brightest love. She understood exactly where I was coming from, and left me to be alone.
This was supposed to be one of the most sacred moments of my life, and it was compromised to the Mormon way of doing things. To me, this was the most important decision. To them, it was another baptism. To me, this was the moment to be cleansed of a life worth of sin, to connect with God, Jesus Christ, and myself. To them, it was a program.
I looked at myself in the mirror with mixed emotions. In one thought, I knew my intentions were good, and therefore, it was a good decision. But in another, I had higher hopes. I wanted to be alone with God and savor the feelings of the moment, not distracted by people I didn’t know. Instead, "Knock knock!" It was the sister missionaries saying that people were waiting for me and that essentially we had to get on with the program.
I returned to the room with wet hair dripping down my back. I was cold. It was dark, and the feeling was less than I expected. The sisters played a sweet ukulele number and it instantly warmed my heart. Mitchell's brother Erich gave a talk. We sang "I Am A Child of God" and "Love One Another" or "Families Can Be Together Forever". In the end, it was a sweet gathering. Mitchell's twin brother Maxwell gave me a bible with my name engraved on it from the Schultz family. The sister missionaries gave me beautiful cards and a temple necklace. Kenzie gave me the most thoughtful gift: A light blue journal with the Salt Lake temple stitched on the cover. In the end, it was the women who made my baptism sweet and special.
The decision was done, and I’d soon feel the consequences.