“I have decided to follow to Jesus. I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back. No turning back.”
I can remember the moment when I decided to follow Jesus Christ. It was during a revival service at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church. I remember falling asleep across the royal blue church pew shortly after the deacons completed devotion. For those of you that are unfamiliar with old school Baptist church customs, devotion was the deacons form of modern day praise and worship. Devotion consisted of the deacons interchanging Baptist hymnals with prayer, scripture reading and testimony service and it usually last anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour–depending how the Spirit lead. On that evening, I slept all the way through the revival service and abruptly awoke as the altar call began. Somewhere in between Rev. Randall E. Holts finishing his sermon, the choir singing “We Offer Christ to You” and “opening the doors of the church,” I jumped up from my sleep and confidently jolted down to the altar. I took a seat in one of the ten blue, fabric cushioned folding chairs that the ushers had lined up across the front of the church altar. As I dangled my black, patent leather, Stride-Rite church shoes and fancy, ivory, ribbon laced church socks from the chair, my mom stood back in our row in a state of awe. Not that I had rushed to the altar, but at the fact that I had been asleep, snoring and drooling on her lap, for most of the service.
As I waited patiently for Rev. Holts to interview me, I looked up at the choir who sang with bold confidence and persuasion. Each member wore a royal blue choir robe, swayed from side to side and waved their hands in forms of adoration. They stood directly in front of the baptismal pool. Baptism was a symbolical and traditional part of our Christian faith. At the age of eight, I recalled it being the reason as to why church service was super long on certain Sundays and the method by which people were “washed white as snow.” Behind the baptismal pool was a stained-glass window portrait of a black man. I knew that picture all too well. It was Jesus Christ clothed in a red robe and kneeling in the Garden of Gethsemane. As I stared upon the picture, I recalled the story that my Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Jones, had often told us. Per Mrs. Jones, at this point in Jesus’ life he was near the end of his earthly ministry. The Bible records that Jesus requested the accompaniment of two of his twelve disciples, James and John, to the garden. The remainder of the disciples were asked to stay behind and pray. Jesus, realizing the necessary but excruciating task of crucifixion that lay before Him, cried out to His Father in heaven, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 26:39)
Interrupted in mid thought by the church claps and loud shouts of, “Hallelujah,” my eyes shifted to the row of chairs in which I sat. The row was now filled with new converts and the ushers began adding additional folding chairs to seat those who were still coming to the altar. Soon the choir went silent, the applause and shouting ceased and all that was left to hear was Min. Elvis playing softly on the keyboard. Rev. Holts stepped down from the pulpit, into the altar area and began to interview the new converts. With my feet still dangling and my hands clasped in my lap, I watched Rev. Holts go from person to person and eventually he came to me.
Rev. Holts stood directly in front of me and reached out his arms to hug me. I obliged as Rev. Holts was no stranger to my family. He and my mom attended high school together and New Hope Missionary Baptist Church was literally the only church I’d ever known.
He said, “Sweetheart, can you tell everyone your name?”
I responded, “My name is Margaret Smith.”
He asked, “For those of you who don’t know this is Elouise’s daughter! Weesie, do you see your daughter down here?”
My mother, Elouise, waived from the back of the church, smiled and nodded .
Rev. Holts continued, “And, Margaret how old are you?”
I said, “I am 8 years old.”
Rev. Holt’s responded, “Church, Margaret is 8 years old and she is here to give her life to the Lord!”
The church immediately exploded in applause and shouts of “Hallelujah,” “Thank you Jesus!” and “Glory be to God!”
Rev. Holt’s waited for the congregation’s excitement to cease and then he continued, “Margaret, why do you want to be saved?”
With the boldness of a lion, I exclaimed, “I just love Jesus!”
Fast forward nearly 24 years later to January of this year. My 8-year-old daughter, Ayanna, came to my husband, Jelani, and I with the desire to be baptized and commit her life to Christ. Although we were excited that she made the decision to follow Christ, we wanted to make sure she understood what baptism symbolized. I also needed to ensure she fully understood that the commitment she wanted to make was not the same as the pinky promises that she made between her friends.
As that of a child, her response was simple, yet profound.
With the same boldness and tenacity that I displayed at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, my daughter said to me, “Mommy, I just love God and I want to live a life that pleases him!”
That response sealed the deal for me and immediately the over the top, mommy milestone-party planning juices began to flow. I set the baptism date for the last Sunday in February. This would allow the necessary time for my parents and sister to book flights from Atlanta and for me to plan the most extravagant baptism celebration ever. I know mother’s who celebrate the loss of baby teeth—which I find kind of gross by the way. So why couldn’t I celebrate my daughter making the single most important decision of her life? I wanted to be sure that “Ayanna” would remember her baptism and that her decision to follow Jesus Christ was celebrated in the most excessive way possible. I needed to have custom pink, gold and purple rhinestone and glittered invitations made, plan a kid and adult friendly menu, rent a covered tent, chairs, tables for our backyard celebration, and feed my preexisting obsession with Pinterest while searching for perfect décor. Ayanna’s baptism celebration would be one for the books – one for my mommy celebration hall of fame book , that is.
About two Sundays after Ayanna’s desire to baptized was revealed, our church worship service was extraordinarily consumed by the presence of God. Our praise and worship segment shifted to a time of intercessory prayer and then into a quiet stillness. During the height of this service, I heard the Holy Spirit say, “If she’s ready today, don’t make her wait until February.” I knew immediately that the Holy Spirit was referring to Ayanna’s decision to be baptized on that day as baptism was scheduled to take place later during the service.
With a sense of urgency resting in my spirit, I took Ayanna aside and asked her, “Ayanna, are you ready to be baptized today or do you prefer to wait until February?”
Ayanna boldly and enthusiastically declared, “Yes, mommy I’m ready and I do not want to wait until February to be baptized!”
I quickly spoke with my husband, Jelani, and we conceded to her demands. All my elaborate baptismal celebration plans were driven over by a Mack truck and would be replaced by Ayanna’s desire to get celebratory frozen yogurt from Menchies…smh! I took Ayanna over to her Great Aunt “Mackie” to be prepped for the baptism. As the baptismal team rushed Ayanna to the changing area, I proceeded to the upstairs office area to call my parents and my sister, Ashley. After two unsuccessful attempts at reaching my sister, I called my parents. To my luck, my mother answered the phone immediately. I quickly informed both my mom and my dad, Lem, of Ayanna’s decision to be baptized on that day.
My mother, in all of her Elouise-like wisdom, grace and no nonsense demeanor responded, “I felt in my spirit that she would want to be baptized earlier. You should allow her to. You don’t need to wait on us. You never know what God is doing and you never want to hinder His plans.”
I agreed to Facetime them for the entire experience and headed back downstairs to prepare for Ayanna’s baptism. By the time, I arrived back inside of the church, Ayanna was dressed in her white baptismal attire and seated in the front church pew. My husband had been summoned from his usual position as a minister of music so that he could have the privilege of baptizing his own daughter. He was, too, rushed to the changing area to exchange his Sunday attire for white, nurse-like scrubs. I sat down next to Ayanna and fumbled through both her cellphone and mine to ensure ample battery percentage and Wi-Fi connection. I would use Ayanna’s phone to FaceTime my parents and my phone to Google Duo my sister. (Side note: Yes, my 8-year-old has a cell phone – compliments of grandparents. Please know that I pettily remind her that I did not get a cellphone until I was 17. And that was only because I was going half way across the country to attend college at Oral Roberts University. Grandparents…gotta love them!!)
I looked at Ayanna as she fidgeted in her seat, just as I did. Barefoot, she dangled her feet and bit her lips as she always does when she is nervous.
I asked, “Are, you ok?’
Ayanna responded, “Yes, mommy. I am fine.”
In a final effort to ensure that she was confident in the decision she had made and hopes of salvaging my grandeur baptism celebration plans, I asked once again, “Are you sure you want to be baptized today? There is no pressure from your dad nor I. ”
She stated once again, “Yes, mommy, I am ready.”
I hugged her tightly and told her that I was very proud of her. Her Great Aunt/Pastor Helga reached for her to seal her commitment with a hug, kiss and a quick prayer. And then, Ayanna was beckoned to join our Bishop, on the stage for her interview.
Bishop, who also happens to be Ayanna’s Great Uncle Donald, asked, “Ayanna, why do you want to be baptized?”
Ayanna replied, “I want to live a life for the Lord.”
As with me, nearly twenty-four years prior, the church immediately exploded in applause and shouts.
Just as I did at her age, Ayanna bravely stood before our church congregation. Although there were no blue, fabric cushioned folding chairs at the altar, nor “Come To Jesus” melodies playing in the background or a stained glassed image of black Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, I felt like I was 8 years old all over again. But this time, I was not looking at a rerun of my former life. Instead, I was watching my daughter, my baby, my own flesh and blood make the decision to follow Christ.
Bishop then passed the microphone to my husband. After detailing a brief history of Ayanna’s spiritual journey, her eagerness to make the right decisions and to remind even her parents of the importance of reading God’s word and pray, Jelani escorted Ayanna to the baptismal pool. With both Ayanna’s phone and mine aimed and ready, I watched as my daughter stood fearlessly and firmly in the baptismal pool. In between, waving and calling out to my parents streaming in via Facetime and folding her arms to keep warm in the chilly water, she smiled from ear to ear.
With her father behind her and her “Uncle” Pastor Don, Jr. in front of her, Ayanna raised her right hand to the sky.
At the instruction of her “Uncle” Pastor Don, Ayanna recited, “I, Ayanna, have decided to follow Jesus Christ for the rest of my life until I die or they call me home in the rapture.”
My three-year-old son, Jordan, blurts out in the background, “That’s my sister, Ayanna!!!”
I responded, “Yes, Papa! That is Ayanna! She is getting baptized!”
Continuing the baptism ceremony, “Uncle” Pastor Don, Jr. replied, “Ayanna Williams, based on the confession of your faith, I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
Shivering, Ayanna was brought up from the baptismal waters and carefully out of the pool. I, in that moment, thought that this is just a tiny form of what God must have felt when Jesus was baptized. Matthew 3:16-17 states, “ When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He[a] saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. 17 And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Ayanna is my beloved daughter and I was well pleased! As a parent who daily strives to impart godly wisdom, disciplines and values into my children, I was beyond proud. My husband and I had no desire to force Ayanna into this decision. Instead, we wanted the life that we lived and the values that we impart to be the example. Just as we did as children, we wanted her to make the choice to follow Christ when the time was right for her. I was pleased with Ayanna’s confident disposition and her child like faith that believed that with God, all things truly are better. Ayanna’s decision to accept Christ validated me as a parent. Ayanna made the conscious effort to the choose to follow the God that her parents served and loved wholeheartedly. It reminded me that the countless Sundays of children’s ministry instruction, morning and evening prayers, Bible study readings and lessons in “What Would Jesus Do?” were not in vain. Besides, as Christian parents, all our sacrifices for the best living environment, clothing, shoes, education, etiquette and extracurricular activities are null if our children don’t grow to have their own personal relationship with Christ.
But at the same time, in all honesty, my heart was just tad a bit heavy. Yes, I was beyond excited that my daughter had accepted the Lord Jesus Christ into her heart. For, I believe that a life without Christ is truly an unfilled life; that a relationship with Jesus Christ affords you with promissory note of hope, joy, peace, love and abundance that exceeds all others. But Ayanna, just as I at the age of eight and sometimes now at the age of 32, probably only has the slightest inkling of what a true commitment to Christ means. Yes, committing your life to Christ does guarantee an incomparable and eternal life– but that life surely isn’t always a daily dose of rainbows, golden pots of Skittles or yellow brick roads. It is more than just attending church, praying, reading your word and being “nice” to people. It’s a continual surrender of your entire being—your mind, your will, your emotions, your intellect, your desires, your plans, your heart. There will be days when the commitment seems to be overwhelming and you are not sure if you can carry out your end of the deal. There will moments when your faith won’t seem strong enough or your heart can’t seem to take the pain. There will be times when you don’t want to be the bigger person and you really want to tell the Lord to turn His head and close His ears just for 5 minutes so that you can give someone a piece of your mind or punch someone in the face. There will instances where your initial responses are not to forgive, not to turn the other cheek, or spread love, or be at peace. As with any commitment, there will be times when you question yourself and even God.
And in those moments, I pray that as He does with me, the joy of the Lord becomes Ayanna’s strength. I pray, that in the words of those old-school deacons at New Hope Missionary Baptist church, she holds to “God’s unchanging hand.” I pray that she knows that every sacrifice she makes is worth it and that she does not “grow weary in well doing.” I pray that she is surrounded by a body of fellow believers who will genuinely love, encourage, uplift and intercede for her. I pray that the presence of God will surround her like a warm blanket of reassurance, peace and fortitude. I pray that in those moments, the child like faith she displayed on the day of her baptism is rekindled. I pray that she remembers that God truly makes all things better. I pray that the melody to this old but powerful song plays sweetly in her ears, “I have decided to follow to Jesus.I have decided to follow Jesus. I have decided to follow to Jesus. No turning back. No turning back.”