Right before they leaned him back, his lips turned up into a smile, his eyes closed gently and he took a little breath. If I had known that his face would have shown the sincerity of his heart, I might have rethought my idea to leave my phone back on my chair so that I wouldn’t be tempted to take pictures and not just experience the moment. I will hold fast to the peace and pleasure written on his face for years to come.
In second grade, the kids watched a video of a friend being baptized. There were questions that followed and I answered them as carefully as I could. I know that as a parent I have the power to convince my children of most anything, and with something as sacred as their faith, I do not want them to turn around one day and say “I only went to church, I only prayed that prayer, I only sang those church songs to make Mom and Dad happy.”
Afterwards we talked about it, what baptism was, what you had to decide before you did that. Before that video, I knew they knew that Frank was baptized as a baby, and Molly was dedicated, but we hadn’t really touched the subject beyond that. In that discussion I told Frank that he had been baptized, but that if he decided that he ever wanted to be baptized again as a way to show people that he’d decided to invite Jesus into his heart, that was ok by me. It was clear that while Frank thought about God and thought about spiritual things, he had not made that choice for himself…which that was no big deal, because he was just barely 8. I told him that he would decide whenever he was ready, but he shouldn’t decide anything because his friend had and he shouldn’t say anything because he’d thought it’d please me, because it actually wouldn’t make me happy if he only said something to make me happy about God, that it should only be about him. He nodded and looked like he was thinking, but that was sort of the end of that conversation.
A few months later, he sat and watched another friend be baptized. I glanced at him to see what I could see from his face and his eyes were a little damp and his expression was of close examination. I asked him what he’d thought about it and he said something to the effect of “Good,” and no more, but it was pretty clear the idea of being in front of all those people in a wooden tub was extremely strange to him.
The summer continued and the school year began, and we didn’t discuss it anymore. Our conversations centered around my trips to Richmond to help my parents, situations at school and how they made the kids feel, what they’d been learning or whatever they were interested in at the moment. My parents both had intense health concerns and we prayed for them pretty much every night, but I could see something different about the way Frank was praying. It was not recitation of familiar verses or listing thanks and wants, but it was this honest appeal to the one he believed could heal his grandparents whom he loves so dearly.
I had encouraged those prayers and agreed Amen and Amen with him, but I became discouraged about my parents health situation. Then as I was sure God was not going to bring the healing I so desperately wanted for them, I was afraid I’d set Frank up for incredible hurt and anger that he would direct towards God. Maybe I should have said something about how He should pray “thy will be done” or “not what I want, but what You want.” But no, I had told him to ask, ask honestly what he wanted from the God who was listening and who loved Him and whom he could trust to do big miraculous things. I was sure that not only would I soon have to walk him through incredible loss, but I would have to walk him through incredible anger. I turned to God, struggling to form good sounding paragraphs that would express my willingness to submit to suffering, petitioning for healing and help with my child. It was mostly just short statements and questions. “What are you doing? I can’t handle this. What have I done?”
On and on Frank continued to pray, and miraculously my parents both received words like “recovery” and “remission.” These words I never thought possible, but Frank prayed earnestly for. How that taught me about the faith like a child. How that taught me about how He cares about us. How humbled was I that my son had stayed trusting praying “Help them” while I gasped for enough air to croak out “Help me.” My cousin, who has worked tending to the care of patients who went through what my dad went through and personal experience with her family facing the same battle my mom has faced took the time out to call me and make clear that what my parents went through and their coming through the other side was nothing short of a miracle. It was medically ridiculous, but it was truly miraculous.
We continued on, Frank would pray for their continued strength and now he had other things to pray about, and his prayers were filled more thanksgivings than nearly anyone’s I’d ever heard. He started every prayer with all of the things he’d appreciated about the day and credited them to God, thanking Him for allowing those good things. He’d say “Thank you God for this great day. Let tomorrow be even better than this one!” And the following evening he thanked God again for the day, just as sincerely showing that he believed that God had indeed made the day better. Even on days I knew he’d had rough days, he thanked God for the day and found things that were good about it. That positivity and remembrance to give credit where it was due spoke so much to this mother again.
One night Frank was climbing the ladder to his loft and turned around and said “Mom, I want to be re-babatized.” I was a little taken aback. I asked him why and he explained that I’d said before that if he decided he wanted to do that, he could. Well, sure, I’d said that, but I’d sort of expected it to be something he did when he was maybe 17, you know, the same age I was when I decided to make my faith my own. I asked Kermit about it, was he too young to decide this? Kermit said “Well, 9 is young, but if the Spirit tells him it’s time to do it, then it’s time to do it.” Man. Look at everyone in my family being more right on than me.
Frank waited patiently for the baptism date to arrive and read his baptism booklet. There on the back was a spot for his testimony. He stopped on that. He asked if we could come back to it. Sure. But when we came back to it, he didn’t get it. I tried to explain what a testimony was, but he kept answering “Why do I want to get baptized?” instead of “Why did I ask Jesus into my heart?” I told him probably ten convoluted examples of what a testimony was and he looked over my shoulder and made silly faces. Finally I said here is a pencil, take this to your room, turn off the tv, sit down and write why you decided to ask Jesus into your heart.
I came back to check on him maybe 10 minutes later and he was watching tv. I asked him what happened and he said he’d finished and given it to Daddy. He’d written…
“I was sitting in church thinking of God and decided to follow Him so I could understand him better. I chose him in my life because one, no two people. My mom and dad. My family believes in him so much I couldn’t resist but to get baptized. I know he did some risky miracles, but nothing he does ever goes wrong.”
My heart, right!!! I told him it was perfect, and inside it made me feel so much better that he’d gone and written it alone so that I didn’t wonder if I’d influenced it. The last bit made me chuckle thinking through Jesus’s miracles and which would have been the risky ones. Probably walking on water. At bedtime I asked him “Which of Jesus’s miracles was the riskiest?” Frank answered, “In my life?” I was a little surprised, because I expected a bible story, but I said “Ok, sure, in your life.” He talked about how God had healed his grandfather, and how He’d helped Grandfather start living a healthier lifestyle, but in order to do it God used a big scary health problem.
And I saw it, the path that Frank had traveled in the past year, from the times where he watched his friends being baptized and knowing that about baptism the way he knew about anything else “bibley.” He’d been taught about it, he’d read about it, he’d heard about it. But faith is not faith that is on paper or words floating from a speaker to your ears. Faith is found in experiencing God and His might and majesty and finding no other alternative worth choosing.
Today Frank was baptized, something he’s waited and wanted to do for a few months. That smile as he slipped beneath the surface and came up, it came from deep inside. We have many more years ahead of us as parents, to guide him, to direct him, to speak truth to him and to encourage him to continue to choose this faith as his own…on his own. But what a gift we have in this day, to remember that our boy has a heart for the Lord and is tucked so sweetly in the arms of our Savior that he can whisper his prayers right into His ear.
Happy Baptism Day, Frankie!