Jesus Take the Wheel: Why I Decided to Get Baptized at 27

As a queer feminist, Alyssa Garrison once viewed religion as the enemy. Then she found God in a high school gymnasium through C3, a global Christian movement with a large millennial following

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Adult believers baptism-a photo of a pink stucco church with a steeple-inline

This is *not* a C3 church but it’s very on-brand for Random Acts of Pastel (Photograph: Courtesy Alyssa Garrison)

I’m 27 years old, and for the first time in a long time, I’m scared to call my mom. We tell each other everything, but on this particular day I’m in a cold sweat as the phone rings. She picks up and I ask, “Mom, was I ever baptized?” She and my dad erupt in laughter. “You think we’d have you baptized? Of course not!” They have quite the chuckle, until I cut back in.

“Well, good,” I say, “because I’m getting baptized this Easter Sunday.”

Growing up in my house, church was nothing short of sacrilegious. My parents are extremely open-minded, liberal people, but for some reason, the only intolerance they have is for religion. I went to church one time as a teenager—I was looking for a way to rebel—and my parents were appalled. “Church is a crutch for weak people,” they repeated, again and again, until it eventually stuck. When I came out as a lesbian at 18 and later started to identify as queer, dating all over the gender spectrum, religious people became the enemy. “They” were against “us.” So for years, I knocked organized religion: it was illogical, it was a cult. Christians must be suckers. Why live for a man in the sky when you could live for yourself?

Here’s the thing, though: All this time I begrudged religious people, I felt pretty hateful, sad and alone myself. I had always felt a bit disappointed with reality, and when I graduated journalism school I started pouring myself into a project called Random Acts of Pastel, a world where love reigned and colour was everywhere, where caring was cute. I launched a blog to jot down my thoughts and people pretty much immediately bought into it as a fun lifestyle concept. Within a year I was making a bit of money from working with brands who liked what I was doing, and by year 3 it had become my full-time job.

When I first started RAOP it was with the support of my long-time partner, and a lot of the content focused on our relationship and the love between us. After things fell apart, I found my fairytale narrative a bit harder to keep up, and though RAOP continued to grow into a massive success, I struggled more and more to have faith in my own messages. Did love actually conquer all? Despite all of the magic and beauty in my life, I was destructive and confused, constantly feeling like something massive was missing. I repeated time and time again “I just don’t know what feels like home” and it was true—I had moved from Vancouver to Toronto when I turned 18 and neither felt like somewhere I could settle and grow roots. I was trying to find satisfaction in relationships, my career, fancy parties and creative pursuits, but there was always a space inside of me that I couldn’t seem to fill. People kept telling me to focus on myself, but focusing on myself didn’t cut it—I had accomplished almost everything I had ever wanted, so what was next? I was living in my own world, but I was all alone in there.

A white coffee cup stamped with the saying "For God So Loved the 6"

A coffee from the C3 coffee bar (Photograph: courtesy Alyssa Garrison)

2017 was a record low year for me, loaded with heartache and personal disappointments that always seemed at odds with my incredible career and magical, colourful lifestyle. It started with a traumatizing breakup, which left me without my best friend and our entire friend group. I tried to run away to California, but both my business and apartment were falling apart back home (like actually, the ceiling collapsed and my roommate moved out while I was away). I came back to the city defeated, moved into a condo—which so isn’t my style—and started swiping in search of new romance, which only led to more letdowns. Though my Instagram feed stayed the same, more or less, my reality was suffering from a lack of colour—I couldn’t remember the last day I’d gone without a drink, I was smoking a pack a day and I couldn’t get myself out of bed.

By November, I knew I needed a drastic change to break out of my funk. I’d heard whisperings of C3 church around the city, both on social media and through friends—a “cool” church where young people were finding purpose. I texted a friend who attends C3, and I showed up that same Sunday. The first service I attended took place in a downtown Toronto high school, complete with a cute coffee bar and a super-talented pop band. Everyone looked totally different than what I had imagined (i.e. many were wearing Vans and had full sleeve tattoos), but the one thing that unified the group was their kindness—it was as though these strangers were genuinely thrilled to see me. I didn’t know the words to the songs or the verses of the Bible that the people on stage were referring to, but I could feel the love, the sense of community and family, right away. When the pastor said, “At C3, we do life together! No one should be alone in this!” I was shaken to my core. Suddenly, I had a reason to get out of bed.

The next week, at the end of the service, the pastor asked if anyone in the room was ready to surrender their lives to Jesus, a question posed every single service, every single week, and every week there are new hands from new visitors. I raised mine. I still didn’t know what exactly this whole thing meant to me, but I knew I wanted more. I started reading the Bible and praying before I went to sleep. By January 1, I had quit smoking cold turkey. I was working out again, my energy level was back up and my heart finally felt full. At first I was nervous to tell my friends and family where I’d been spending my Sundays because it was so unexpected, so far from everything I’d known and the people I generally hang out with. But each time I “came out of the spiritual closet,” I was met with support, acceptance and curiosity. My family was confused, but after seeing the positive change in my life, even they settled for,“If it makes you happy.” I kept repeating, “I don’t know how it happened, but it feels right. There’s something to it. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever known.”

A photo of an open bible and photographs of an adult baptism on a carpet with a hot pink grid

(Photograph: courtesy Alyssa Garrison)

There is so much love at C3—love thrown around like confetti. Early on, I asked one of the pastors, Jess—who I connected with immediately as a strong woman leading the church alongside her husband—what the rules were and she was quick to assure me there were none. C3 simply offers guidelines, like giving back to your community through service, to help people have the best life they can. It was important to me that the church didn’t conflict with my own values as a queer feminist (after all, how often do you hear those two words alongside “Christian?”). She explained, “People walk through our doors with many different backgrounds, beliefs and values. We value unity and community, not conformity. We don’t tell people how to live. We tell people who to follow.”

But why follow? For me personally, I found that it feels really good to say “Jesus, take the wheel”—to look for guidance from something bigger than myself and to have confidence that there’s a bigger plan in place. I’ll never forget the service where the lead pastor spoke about an article he’d read that morning, about an 11-year-old girl who hanged herself. With tears streaming down his face, he said what a crime it was that she didn’t know how much amazing life lay ahead of her. I found myself crying too, reflecting on the many times I’d felt like I couldn’t go on, that there was no place for me, that I was completely alone. I left service that Sunday so grateful for my C3 family and for the endless, unfaltering love I’d felt since I started attending church.

A couple weeks later I signed up to be baptized on Easter Sunday.

When the big day came, I was way more nervous than I’d bargained for: there were a lot of people at the Easter services, and I suddenly remembered my terrible fear of being in front of a crowd. But before I knew it, I was up on the stage, stepping toward Pastor Jess with music and light swirling around me. She took my hand and whispered in my ear, “This is special, isn’t it?” Then she launched into a beautiful prayer for me. My face screwed up in too many emotions all at once—I could hardly breathe. As she passed me off to the big tank of water and I stepped inside with the entire congregation watching, everything went blank. I couldn’t hear the music, even though the band was right beside me and everyone in the room was singing. All I could hear was my own voice in my head, repeating again and again, “I will leave behind the hurt of the past and come out of this water ready to love like I’ve never loved before. I will walk in the light and spread that light to every corner that I can. I will never, ever be alone again. Jesus, take the wheel.”

Then I was under water, and in one shining moment, I felt 27 years of hurt, disappointment and isolation drawn from my body. As I was pulled up, the water took the past with it, and I came back to the room absolutely elated, a massive smile on my face and a lightness in my heart. I took a few steps down the stairs and that smile quickly turned to thick, loud sobs, like I was crying out all of the darkness that I’d been fighting my entire life. When my friends asked me how I felt, I could answer with only one word: new.

An Instagram post of Alyssa Garrison standing in a field of flowers in a yellow 'Late Bloomer' t-shirt

So here I am, a fresh Christian at age 27. It felt like the natural next step was to “come out” of the church closet to my Instagram followers—after all, I share everything with them, the highs and the lows. But while authenticity is one of the benchmarks of my brand, when it came to sharing this part of me I suddenly felt self conscious. I agonized over posting, writing and rewriting the caption 100 times, until finally I took a leap of faith and hit publish, positive my following would be cut in half and my DMs would be filled with “Are you serious?”

To my surprise, I received nothing but words of support and encouragement. Folks shared their own spiritual journeys and cautiously asked questions. Within 24 hours, the post had become one of my most popular of all time, and to my surprise, my follower count stayed the same. The greatest gift came in the form of a message from one of the worship leaders at church, a woman who’d watched me from the stage over the past few months. She’d been following RAOP for ages, and had picked me out of the crowd at C3 early on. “The first week I saw you lift your hand, I could see a shift,” she said, “like a breakthrough had happened in your heart.” I go back to that DM whenever I have a low day, to remind myself of the journey I’ve been on and the path I’ve committed to follow from here on out. A path where love and light rules.

Related:
Talking Master of None’s Religion Episode with my Devout Dadi
Nine Millennials on Navigating Sex and Religion
Young, Muslim and Tattoed: How I Stayed True to Myself

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