Sunday, February 5, 2017, I was baptized at the age of 48. I do not want to call it a re-baptism -- when I went under the water of a cold Missouri creek in 1979 I was not a believer. The event could not be called child baptism either. My parents were not presenting me for baptism, and the pastor officiating was Southern Baptist, and would certainly not have done a child baptism.
Below is the testimony I gave before my brothers and sisters in Christ:
In February of 1979, I was 10 years old, and my family had just started going to church for the first time in my life. Prior to that, the only exposure I’d had to the name of Jesus was in expletives and Christmas carols. Many of you have heard me speak of the abuse I experienced as a child. At 10 years old, I had already attempted to run away twice. Home was a scary place.
So when I met Susan, whose husband preached twice a month at the country church we had begun attending, I knew there was something different about her. She was the nicest woman I had ever met, the first woman I ever felt safe with. I often went to her house after school, and one of those afternoons she shared the Four Spiritual Laws tract with me and led me in the sinner’s prayer.
I would have done anything to make her happy. I was responding to Susan, not to Jesus. He was about as real to me as the cartoon characters in the tract.
A few months later, I was baptized in a very cold creek near West Plains, Missouri with my mother and step-father. However, the abuse only escalated after that. I came to see myself as the cause of all the unhappiness in the home. The solution that became clear in my 10 year-old mind was that if I removed myself from the family everyone could be happy.
It took about three weeks to come up with a plan for ending my life. The night I had selected to carry out my plan, I was convinced that I would not see another morning. As I went to bed, I was at peace, even happy, as I looked forward to giving my family this gift. I was not thinking about my own misery or what would happen after I died. I had simply come up with the obvious solution to a long-standing problem, and it felt great. (That was a child’s simplistic understanding. Of course, I realize NOW that it would have been devastating to my family.)
When my mother woke me the next morning, I think I went into a mild state of shock. I was literally immobilized as I came to the realization that I was still alive.
The ONLY explanation that made any sense was that God was real. God was real, and wanted me alive.
Looking back, I realize that I DID die that night. I died to the sin of the adults in my life who had brought me such misery, pain and fear. I died to my own sins, the extent of which I could not even anticipate at that point.
That morning was a resurrection of sorts, as I awoke to a completely new world view, one in which abusive adults did not have the final claim on my life. The God who created the world and sent His Son had the ultimate claim on my life. I understand now that Christ received me that day, and I have been receiving Christ ever since. As on that first day of believing, His mercies are new every morning.
I wish I could say that the path of following Him was straight after that. I wish I could say that when I married my dear husband I left behind all of the abuse and the affects of it, and that we served the Lord with unwavering devotion and lived happily ever after.
But you all know that is not how it works.
As a young adult I was completely unprepared for the long term, devastating, and often terrifying effects of the abuse, not just for myself, but for my husband and children as well. As I have struggled to understand how abuse glorifies God, I have come to see that the resulting depression, mental illness, and physical challenges I have faced as a result of abuse were the only way for me to see my need for a savior. It took a lot of time and a lot of prayer before I could see that it was God who had intervened and sustained and protected and revealed, even in those times when I felt cheated, weak, powerless, and uncertain.
I was in high school before I could start talking about my suicide attempt and how God became real to me. I have tried to tell every pastor I have had that I thought I got baptism in the wrong order, but none had seen it as a problem until Terry took it seriously at the end of last summer. I know that Christ’s saving grace has held me for almost 40 years. But I want to follow Christ in obedience in this, and I also want to experience Baptism as the public statement that I claim and participate in His death and resurrection, and that I deny all other claims on my life.
Read more about Tanja's journey of recovery through liturgical art.