“… bring me back LORD, where I first started. I always found my answers there.”
—line from song, title unknown
It was a glorious spring day.
All soft warm sunshine; breezes wafting up from the river.
We were at a private ranch. Somewhere I had previously not visited and even today, could not give you directions to, or explain how I got there.
My memories of that day are selective. But what I do remember? Those I recall here with perfect clarity:
There was this large open field that had to be crossed from where we parked the car, to get to our ultimate destination, which of course was the river. It was to be my day of baptism, and I was nervous. I grew up in church but the idea of baptism? Of me being put under that water? It had always made me very uncomfortable.
In the little church on the corner where I began, there was this tank in the wall, with a large opening to the auditorium down below. You accessed it from a small hidden doorway in the back—narrow stairs leading up to it. The thing always gave me the creeps. I cannot tell you why. I don’t know. I only know that people always seemed to go down into that water extremely apprehensive, and come up spitting and sputtering, and gasping for air if not actually choking.
I wanted no part of it… or baptism. Not if I had to endure that dreaded tank!
Imagine then my dismay when years later, having “come back” to the Church after ten prodigal-years, I find myself in a church I enjoy, but with exactly the same kind of (you got it) tank-in-the-wall! Each Sunday the pastor would invite any of us who had not been baptized to become so. He would stress the imperative of “following Jesus publicly,” and every Sunday I would secretly in my heart say: “I’m sorry God—I can’t. I just can’t!“
I tell you all of this to relate my heart’s absolute knowing of this thing called—the grace of God.
I know you probably hear those words constantly these days.
(Too much—if you ask me.)
Those words have become so commonly bandied about, I think they have lost much of their uniqueness, and wonder.
And it is such a wondrous thing… His grace.
So there I am squirming in church each Sunday. Wanting with all my heart to obey this command to be baptized… yet caught in the grip of this unreasoning fear that will not let me go! Inwardly tormented with a guilty disappointment, that kept me good and trapped between what I wanted to do, and what I dreaded doing.
Oh, but this sweet and knowing grace. This Grace that knows, the who, and where, and why, of each of us. This grace that feels all our shame and embarrassment at our own fears and failing, yet hears our earnest heart speaking its inner longings, and so He quietly goes to work on our behalf.
The month was February, foggy and cold in our valley. All baptisms must be indoors, and in that dreaded tank… which to my wonder and immense relief has suddenly sprung a leak!
All baptisms cancelled until it can be fixed.
(Oh, thank you God!)
The church called for the repair men confident it will be soon fixed.
March comes and the list of people to be baptized is growing longer and longer.
April comes, and goes, but they can’t find the illusive leak. Indeed, every time they fill that tank it leaks water everywhere, and they have to drain it and start all over again.
Now, it was about this time that my guilt and my fear were in locked mortal hand-to-hand-combat. I am happy to tell you obedience and love finally conquered doubt… but the fear and dread remained.
Each Sunday my heart “threw down” with the dreaded tank in the wall.
“I can do this. I can do this.” I whispered to my childhood’s nemesis. “I will do this Jesus. I will.“
(Ah, but He knew.)
Knew my fear was pounding me week after week in these secret battles—and winning.
May finally arrived. May! When the valley becomes all sunshine-warmth, and sweet-smelling showers of pink and white blossoms in the peach and almond orchards. May… when the list of those to be baptized has grown to such prodigious proportions that a new decision is finally reached… we shall all go to the river!
And so, His kind and marvelous grace has brought me here, to this field, walking toward a new and entirely unknown experience… one that is to become one of the most wondrous of my life!
The air is warm, the water only three feet deep, and is crystal clear; flowing slow and lazy. The riverbank is small and narrow; so far out in the country not many people came. Instead our group is few in number and intimate (for the girl who also has a deep fear of public speaking) and so only has to “testify” to a few smiling and accepting faces.
We didn’t have to fall backwards into that horrid tank (as in my childhood’s dreading) but simply get on our knees and fall forward, into that clear sweet water called the Stanislaus River.
I remember I came up out of that river feeling clean—and wondrously free.
I could see my dad beaming at me from that small group on that tiny wedge of beach, and I could feel my Heavenly Father’s arms wrapped snuggly around my heart, hugging the stuffins’ out of me.
It was all such wondrous grace!
And, for the first time, I knew. This intimate personal love and understanding of God for me—all by myself—with all my fears, faults, and failings.
Such is His Grace!
My heart soaring, I just could not go back home that day as if something ordinary had occurred.
So I headed to the park down the street.
I climbed into a swing, full of all that childlike wonder, and I soared—the way I used to do when I really was a child!
Grace, such a wondrous thing! The intimate and tender love that He has for each of us. Truly, it gives the heart wings as if it really could fly!
I think C. S. Lewis must have been thinking of the wonder of God’s grace when he wrote:
“And that is enough to raise your thoughts to what may happen when the redeemed soul, beyond all hope and nearly beyond belief, learns at last that she has pleased Him whom she was created to please. There will be no room for vanity then. She will be free from the miserable illusion that it is her doing. With no taint of what we should now call self-approval she will most innocently rejoice in the thing that God has made her to be, and the moment which heals her old inferiority complex forever will also drown her pride… Perfect humility dispenses with modesty.”
― C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory