I asked to go last. There were two adults before me, a man, and a woman, both dressed in the same thin, light blue gown. I was only 10 years old, so my gown was a little big and went all the way to the floor. As I watched them take two steps down into the waist-deep tank of warm water, I suddenly questioned my decision.
I should have gone first, I thought to myself – get it over with. I wanted to turn around and leave, but that was impossible. My mom was in the way. Standing in the shadows with a big smile on her face, she held a fluffy white towel in one hand and a bag of dry clothes in the other. She was proud; she had no idea I was having second thoughts.
Panic invaded my senses as I watched my born-again brother and sister lean back trustingly into the arm of our pastor, Brother Gene Strother. Slowly, Brother Gene guided their bodies into the water until they were completely submerged. Shouts of “Amen!” and applause could be heard coming from the congregation as Brother Gene quickly snapped them to their feet. No doubt, I would receive the same reaction from the congregation when it was my turn, that is, if I had the nerve to go through with it.
Aquaphobia is a fear of water, often developed from a traumatic event during childhood. For as long as I can remember, I have had a fear of water. This is the reason I never learned to swim. You read that right: I can’t swim. I have, however, taken swim lessons – twice. Unfortunately, I was kicked out of class – twice, and my registration fees were refunded – twice. I suspect I am partly to blame. I refused to put my face in the water. The thought of it gave (and still does!) me anxiety. I begged my instructors to teach me to doggie paddle instead. Dogs were great swimmers, and they didn’t put their heads in the water! Neither instructor was impressed with my observation and neither complied with my request; one even told me I was “unteachable.” Now that was a little harsh, don’t you think?
I don’t remember the incident, but I learned years ago that I did, in fact, experience a traumatic water-related event when I was two years old. It was a sticky summer afternoon and my dad, mom, sister, and I were out on a boat on Lake Chickasha. My sister liked to lean over the side so the waves could slap against her bare hands. As is typical for a little sister, I wanted to do what she was doing, except I was at a disadvantage. My arms were much shorter. I ended up leaning too far and falling overboard, face-first into the lake. I was only underwater for less than a second before my dad immediately sprang into action and grabbed me by my life jacket and pulled me out. Less than a second, but the damage was done. From that moment on, I feared water.
I didn’t think about being immersed in water when I walked the aisle of Maranatha Baptist Church in search of salvation. All I knew was I loved Jesus and wanted to go to Heaven someday. Nevertheless, Brother Gene informed me that the act of baptism followed salvation as a public expression of one’s faith. I understood and agreed it was the proper thing to do; however, I was afraid. Brother Gene promised he would hold me tight, and I could even hold my nose if I wanted to. I reluctantly agreed.
As my turn inched closer, I realized there was no turning back. I decided to go through with it even though I was afraid. Brother Gene was waiting in the middle of the baptismal with his left arm extended. I grabbed ahold of his hand as I stepped into the water. I was shorter than the two who had gone before me. Instead of my waist, the water came up to my chest and caused my heart to beat wildly. Brother Gene leaned down and whispered, “You are doing great! You ready?” I nodded my head, pinched my nose with my left thumb and forefinger, and closed my eyes tight.
I don’t remember going under, but I remember coming up because my foot slipped, and Brother Gene had to grab me to keep me from going under a second time. Once I regained my balance, I turned my head towards the roaring congregation. People were on their feet clapping and cheering for me. Brother Gene offered me a ‘high-five’ before helping me up the stairs and out of the water. Praise the Lord, I did it!
Aside from the obvious, this memory has a special place in my heart. Throughout life, there have been times when I needed or wanted to do something, but fear incapacitated me. As I grow in faith, I find the strength necessary to take steps forward – to do it anyway – to do it afraid.
I still have a fear of water. I still can’t swim. But, I have driven a jet-ski. I have waded in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. I went on a 5-day cruise across the Caribbean for my honeymoon, and crossed the English Channel from Germany to England on a ferry. I have learned that faith plus courage often produces the most precious memories. My baptism 39 years ago is one of them.