Sunday, 5th May 2019, wasn’t the best day for a swim. Fourteen degrees at dawn, and it would take most of the day to reach twenty-four—overcast and rain expected—I was grateful I’d be inside.
Our girls were in the same hemisphere, and we were a family of five again—seven with partners. After two years, Danielle was finally home, and my baptism could go ahead in Arana Hills Church of Christ.
Good Friday 2016 and Nexus Church, Everton Park—one of Danielle’s church crawls. A sprawling and spacious modern brick structure attached to the local school and the hangout for every teacher she knows. They follow the coffee, or so I’ve heard. I don’t know how many out of the way, bohemian, retro, or cart-based coffee hubs Danielle knows about, but I’ve been to many. I’m a tea drinker, English/Irish Breakfast, nothing herbal; not as exciting but infinitely more satisfying than coffee. No time for caffeine this morning.
The church has air-conditioning. Did I mention that? Blissful on the few occasions we visited in summer. Easter in Brisbane can still prove sticky weather, and when there’s standing room only, it’s essential. Children with bunny ears, chocolate smeared faces, and molten misshaped eggs in tiny hands. Mothers with wriggling infants in prams or pressed against their chests in baby pouches—hands poking out—cries muffled. Girls giggling as their heads touch in the seat in front of me. A cacophony of sounds as seats are filled with people who know each other. They belong to a community I know nothing about. I know no one except my daughter beside me.
Intimidated and a little nervous, I try to sing along with the musicians; the rows are narrow. I can’t stand up straight. Being a large lady—read: more to love—my legs are close to cramping. I can’t remember the song, but their vocals and musical skills are excellent, and I eventually get into the spirit of the music. Danielle knows them all. I can’t even remember the sermon now, but I’m positive it was Easter-related.
Towards the end of the service, there was a point that physically struck me.
The pastor called out, ‘If there is anyone who wants to give their lives to Jesus, raise your hand.’
Immediately I felt flutters and butterflies in my stomach, and something like a slow zap of electricity skittered down my spine. I was scared and exhilarated, nervous, and bold; my hand rose—compelled by something more than my will.
Nexus gave me a Bible—the Gospels—and a little welcome kit with cards, a pencil, some flyers. Many people came to congratulate me, hugs galore. Danielle cried—she had been praying for me for years. So had her church and all her friends. I buzzed; I was bubbling over in nervous excitement. I’m sure I floated home.
I’ve never been back to Nexus Church. Does that make me disloyal? I hope not. ‘Arana’ is my home, and I haven’t missed a day since, except for illness. They are family.
I first visited ‘Arana’ in 2010. It was a moderately sized church, more extensive than a Queensland highset house but significantly larger than its original home. It started in Ray and June Wilson’s family home in Narellan St on 22nd May 1966, when they held the first Sunday School. Expansion led to the purchase of the current site—2 Bringelly Street—in 1980. I attended the fiftieth-anniversary celebration in 2016 and saw the transformation of the church (Smith 2021). There were photos of the Wilson’s austere post-war home, a type often described as ‘housing commission’ in the early years, and the newly built ‘modern’ brick and tall cantilever windowed edifice still standing on the site. The exterior would essentially remain while the internal decoration would change rapidly with the progression of years. Many of the original members had passed away, but numerous people could reminisce about the old days.
5th May 2019 The church was packed. Almost every seat was occupied, and several friends stood near the open doors at the back. My swimsuit pinched under my clothes as I walked to the front row to the right of the stage. The light streamed through the filmy curtains and created shimmering lights amongst the crowd. I knew them all—most by name, some by face; I’ve never been good with names—my physical and spiritual family. The L-shaped room buzzed with murmurings and laughter.
The music started. We stood up and worshipped. Danielle and I knew the words to the songs, but the rest of my family didn’t. They don’t go to church. Pastor Clinton stepped onto the stage, and the room became quiet.
I scanned my written testimony as I waited for the end of the service. Don sat quietly beside me, and Danielle leaned against me. Zoe, Elizabeth, and James (her boyfriend) sat in the row behind us, keenly waiting. Zoe’s husband, Glen, had a history with religion and didn’t come for the service. I was unable to hide my disappointment from Zoe. I was more disheartened for her than for me.
Standing on the stage with Danielle, I felt shivers down my spine, and my mouth became dry. Then it was time to get into the water.
I had visions of falling down the steps, making an almighty splash, then rising sharply and saying, ‘Tada! Okay, I’m baptised now!’
Only having six toes due to Diabetes complications—I had four toes amputated between 2016 and 2018, leaving only the big toes and the two end toes on each foot—made me nervous about the steps, but Danielle stood beside me, and we took the steps boldly.
It was a surprise to find the water quite warm, and the shivers disappeared. I looked upon the faces of my family, scanned the room, then started to read.
‘I was baptised into the Catholic faith at six weeks of age … When I did read the Bible for the first time, I kept looking for the ascension of Mary in the New Testament, but of course, I never found it (Trappett 2019, p 1).’ Laughter filled the room.
I always believed in God. I’m sure he saved us from a house fire on 1st June 1995. Zoe was three, and the twins were seven weeks old then. It was the dryer. I almost died in March 2009 from a blood infection—I developed infections (osteomyelitis) in my shoulder bone and spine and spent thirty-one days in the Royal Brisbane and Women’s hospital. On Christmas eve the same year, I developed anaphylaxis within five minutes of taking an antibiotic and needed an urgent trip to the hospital.
I didn’t see Zoe run out of the church in tears then, but Jenny told me afterwards. She hated 2009, the same year as her high school formal. I gave her drama she didn’t need that year. Year 12 is stressful with your mother out of action for almost four months of the year.
Diabetes, Diabetic Neuropathy, a work injury, depression, withdrawal from the world, self-destructive behaviour; it all came out. I didn’t tell them I was close to throwing myself on train tracks at one time. The only thing that stopped me was Don. He works for Queensland Rail, and he knows drivers who have never recovered from suicides on their watch. I couldn’t do that to anyone. No one knew the state of my mind at my lowest point—only God.
I spoke about the sparks that truly zapped us when I met Don, our miracle babies after five years of infertility, and the heartache of loss—little Catherine. The witness of Danielle, Simon, and John; the mentorship of Joy; the moment when I saw the Holy Spirit physically move through Leanne; and the day I accepted Jesus.
Quite a few people surrounded the baptistry. I could see people wiping their eyes. Little Jane, one of Lizzie’s friends, was smiling at me. She has Down Syndrome and has become a special friend during my transformation. Hers is not the only smile in the room; many have shared my struggles, particularly the family. They have been to hell and back during the difficult years.
My heart skipped, and I continued. My life gradually changed—a thirst for knowledge, a search for truth and self, a search for God.
‘I no longer listen to the rubbish that passes for music these days, I read more, I pray … that angry person is dead and buried.’ I devoured the Bible. The TV went off. I stopped trying to escape. I discovered joy and fulfilment by living with purpose.
‘Since 2016, I have almost completed a bachelor’s degree, which I never thought I would ever do.’ I told the congregation that I would be travelling to Thailand at Christmas; my first ever trip outside Australia—I’ll see where Danielle lives in Chiang Mai and finally meet Dan, her boyfriend, in Chiang Rai.
After always having problems with money, Don and I are not simply surviving but thriving. I have friends, so many friends that I love and who love me; my second family. My horizons have expanded—Jesus has done that—and I finally belong.
‘Do I miss my old life? Not one bit.’
‘My journey with illness may have started with a diagnosis and some really crappy years; times when I despaired of ever being normal again, but I count my journey as a blessing now. I’ll never be normal—I’m quite fabulous really; I can be happy in spite of my limitations.’
I sighed as I recited the last sentence of my testimony,
‘I might be stumbling on wobbly legs, and my body sucks, but inside I’m dancing with an angel choir.’
While the congregation clapped, I laid the papers down beside the tank and placed my glasses on top.
‘Are you ready?’ asked Clinton.
‘Yes,’ I whispered and kneeled.
Danielle squeezed my arm. Clinton asked me the questions about my belief, and I responded yes each time. Almost before the words were out of my mouth, I was under and out of the water. I was baptised, and I almost missed it. I should have been under the water longer. I didn’t even get a chance to think about it.
‘Baptism was the central rite for entrance into the church in apostolic and later times’ (Ferguson 2013, p 66). Adult water baptism—which is the traditional apostolic form—is the physical witness of believers in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. The immersion represents being buried/dying and rising from the water is spiritual rebirth—the old is gone, the new has begun. ‘Baptism doesn’t “save,” but it shows that the person has been saved by accepting the Savior (sic)’ (Cross 2016, p 86). Now I truly am a Christian.
Danielle and I stood in the tank. I closed my eyes as Clinton prayed for me. Then I felt arms surrounding me, and there was Don. Taking no notice of my wet clothes, he encircled me with love. I found out later that he was crying as he approached me.
Marg Williams (2021, pers. comm., 15th August) said, ‘it was the most emotional baptism she had ever been involved in.’ As I leaned into him, my children and others came up and held me in a group embrace. Jane was there too, her hand on my shoulder, and I could hear Jenny praying above the sound of others. Warm hands blessed me. I didn’t want the moment to end. Someone took a photo. A river of love wells up in my heart whenever I look at it today.
After I changed my wet clothes, I went to find Zoe. Her mascara had run, but that didn’t matter. Our family and friends surrounded her. Darling Zoe, my firstborn and one of the most empathetic souls on the planet.
‘It’s alright, dear,’ I said as I hugged her, ‘I know 2009 was a tough year for you, for everyone. I’m sorry. Let’s go and have some of Juanita’s yummy cake.’
Our arms around each other, we walked across the recently built deck to the long table. Don, Danielle, Lizzie, and James followed right behind us.
Juanita baked the most amazing Red Velvet cake for the celebration, and even now, I can almost taste it. I cut the cake, and there was enough for everyone, with nothing left over. There are never any leftovers from her cakes. She is well known for her gorgeous baked goodies and cakes, perfect icing, and intricate created sugar decorations. I remember the Easter eggs she made for Don and me one year. They were almost too beautiful to eat. I ate mine anyway!
There were so many hugs and kisses, it reminded me of the day at Nexus Church, but these were from people I truly loved and who loved me. It made all the difference.
~ ~ ~
‘Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.’ (1 Timothy 6:12)