I had simply decided to stay home that day.
We were newcomers in Germany again in 1997, missionaries from our Baptist Church in Indiana. We were there to start a Gospel-preaching, Independent, Fundamental Baptist Church for the German-speaking people.
My parents and brother had gone to the old military base to clean up around the building that would become our church.
This was newsworthy in the small town of Herzogenaurach in southern Germany. A newspaper reporter appeared on the military base that day, asking questions of my dad, probing for information.
My dad, German still rusty, must have tried to say that his daughter was at home.
The reporter interpreted this information as, “Mr. Bracher has another daughter who lives in the United States in a Baptist church.”
There it was. In black and white. I was living in a Baptist church in the United States. Therefore, I was a Baptist nun—just like those venerable souls who devote their lives to service in the Catholic Church. The nickname struck our family as funny because like the Hatfields and McCoys of history, Baptists and Catholics have feuded for centuries over who is theologically correct.
I was 14 years old.
Honestly, the article really wasn’t that far off. I didn’t venture out much, beyond the walls of our home. So, while I didn’t live in a church, the newspapers’ misinterpretation of my whereabouts actually didn’t matter much. I wasn’t allowed to play sports or be in youth group or have a job or go anywhere alone. I didn’t have many friends (just one!). And, I was homeschooled.
My only recourse, as a young woman tamped down by her religion, was to surrender my life to God. Just like a nun. Just like Maria in “The Sound of Music”. Or at least, in the first part of that movie. (I mean, who knew that she would end up married with seven children? This end would have also been accepted in the Baptist group, though.)
I dreamed of writing. Of newspapers. Of becoming a teacher or a nurse or joining the Navy. Of branching out. Of being free. But every time I tried, I was stonewalled in some way. This pressure to stay true to this religion became inbred in me until I had no will to fight it anymore. I had to grip onto something or I would slip away.
With limited choices available to me, God seemed the logical choice. I bought into the idea of Him with all my heart, soul, and mind. From my childhood, all the way into my early 20’s, God was a refuge. The invisible friend I cried to when things weren’t right. The silent solace in my room at night.
I became the perfect missionary’s daughter. The one who prayed every night and every morning. The one who gave 10% of her $5.00 allowance to the church offering plate. The one who memorized every verse lined up by my Sunday School teacher.
I used to write my dad notes before he would preach. Verses about sermons, or Oswald Chamber’s words, “Preach the word in its undiluted sternness.” I wanted him to know I was listening, out there, in the pew, probably in another floral, floor-length dress. A dress that undoubtedly would match my mom’s.
I wanted to be my dad. To stand behind a podium and say powerful words. To see people walk forward and kneel to God after something I had said. To raise my voice and wave my arms, while people stared at me.
But, women weren’t really allowed to speak. Not in front of men, at least. Our area was limited to the women and children’s ministries.
When our German church finally opened, my Dad told my brother David and I that we were going to lead the children’s ministry. I couldn’t believe my ears. Me? Lead something? I had never given it any thought really. But maybe this was the time. My time to be heard. My time to shine.
My nerves came from trying to tell stories in a foreign language, not from this chance to be in front of people. All my energies went into these stories. As time progressed, I settled more and more into this role. The girl who could tell stories. The girl with the passion.
I moved into speaking at women’s conferences, women’s sessions, and even the large children’s event at my grandpa’s church. These were leaping moments. Propelling me into the Independent Baptist movement even deeper.
I believed that my voice was being heard.
I believed that my passion was stirring up women to do things.
But, my voice was only heard in small sectors. I was repeating the same old stories taught to me by men. I was a parrot of the theology passed down from the 1970’s mass migration from the Southern Baptist Convention.
I was the perfect nun for my group: devout, committed, shunning the outside world. I prayed early and often. I memorized Scripture, wrote down Scripture, quoted Scripture. If there was a spiritual act to do, I did it.
While other 20-year olds were graduating college, I was sitting in a roach-infested hotel room with my parents as we were attending a missionary conference in California. I was writing in my journal, trying to be grateful for my birthday arriving. My log from September 11, 2004 reads,
“I’ve experienced a few bouts of depression at being 20. Plus being away from home in a one-horse town and a small hotel room hasn’t helped. But God has reminded me to count my blessings and has even added a few more today.”
I gave no further details on those blessings. I suppose I didn’t need to. The truth of my circumstance lay in the first 2 sentences while the last sentence is my Baptist training at its best.
I clung to all of the forms of Baptist ideology, but it did not bring me the lasting joy and the peace and the hope it promised. As Richard Rohr would frame it, I was the “loyal soldier”. I was trying to lay the groundwork for a deeper faith, a wider connection, and a fuller experience of the world God made. But my experience became limited, after while.
I knew more of Jesus and His work was to be found. I just didn’t know where yet. This would come later as I grew up, left my parents’ house, and moved on from the church as it was. This would come when I used my voice, not to parrot old themes, but to ask questions, stay curious, and be vulnerable with other humans around me. (More to come on these ideas later!)
My brothers still tease me about the label of the “Baptist Nun”. I’m okay with it. If I hadn’t devoted myself to these practices of faith, I’m not sure how my future would have played out. Having this name meant I was spending time with Jesus and learning more about Him.
I think He was thrilled when I took the first step away from rigidity. When I left the forms of my organization and explored greater depths of faith and grace. When I embraced the idea behind the name “The Baptist Nun” and rejected its connotations of judgment, shame, and doubt.
Now you know, I am the Baptist Nun. Not because I’m housed in a certain religion, but because I’m seeing Jesus more and more everywhere around me. Sometimes, He just doesn’t look like how I’d imagined.
And, that’s the fun part.
Yes, me and Jesus. We’ve had quite the journey together so far.
And it’s only getting better from here.
The Baptist Nun