Monday, May 7, 2007
Baptism... means we are on the way HOME!
A week ago Saturday I was part of an amazing experience. My friend Sandra, who blew in with the winds of Hurricane Katrina 2 years ago was baptized. I was honored she asked me to speak on baptism.
When she first came to Utah, having been rescued from the Super dome she was so very ill. When she got here she went straight to Utah Vally Medical Center. Had they known how sick she was, they would have never put her on the plane to Utah, she would have been sent someplace within the state of Louisiana for medical treatment. From there she went to Camp Williams. Her first few days there, she was being rolled around in a wheel chair.
Through the LDS GENESIS Branch, I was volunteering. I would work my regular job from 8-5 and then volunteer at Camp Williams from 6-10 M-f evenings then from about 10-10 Saturday and Sunday. I was there so much they thought I came in from Katrina. I basically worked in the Clothing section to help them find clothes and personal care items. I met this woman her first day she was able to walk w/o being in a wheel chair. She needed some clothing. I was supposed to be looking for size 1 clothing. She was weak, frail and no bigger than a minute. Oh and there IS no size 1 clothing btw! Anyway we had a connection between us. I knew there was something wonderful and special about this woman... and her family.
I won't share all the details of the things she's gone through because it's her story to tell, and she'll tell the world when she's ready. And when you hear it, YOU WILL BE INSPIRED.
When she came to Utah she couldn't read or write anything but her name. She had a Kindergarten reading and reading comprehension level. While in Utah she detoxed from various hard drugs and tobacco. She was diagnosed with hepatitis A, B & C. Doctors told her she could die in her sleep. A few days before hurricane Katrina she had twins by c-section. She was told her family had her twins and would send them to her when she was healthier. She found out a few months ago from a relative who got upset with her, that her twins never survived the catastrophe.
A few days after another friends laid his mother to rest I rec'd a phone call about Sandra, She thought she was a burden to her family and me and everyone else and she tried to end her own life.
I rec'd a call to meet the ambulance since they were bringing her to the hospital less than a mile from my house. I didn't go to meet her for 2 reason: emotionally, I was spent. The other reason? I was So ANGRY with her that she and I would have been two chicks rollin' around on the ground fighting. I could see myself now... "unstrap her from that gurney so I can STRAP her across the face!" I'm serious we would have been throwing bows and scrapping. There would have been 2 of us admitted, Her for trying to kill herself and me for trying to kill someone who tried to kill themselves. (they wouldn't have known which one of us were craziest)
We even joke about how we would have just been 2 mad women going at each other blow by blow. I did go see her the next day.
People ask me why I was upset with her. I was angry with her, and she knew I was angry with her. We had talked so much about how God preserved her life through so many other things from the time she was a child to this point. How is she gonna know that God brought her through it and then SHE try and do herself in? Yeah, we had some words.
Anyway to quicken things up that was 3 months ago. I'll cut to the chase; while at the hospital I was able to speak to the nurses a little about her history while in Utah. I told her she could read a little, and if they were patient with her and didn't do her reading and writing for her she would get better at it. They actually put her in a class while she was under their care. Now she can read and is reading anything she can get her hands on. Now she can write. And she can comprehend the things she's reading. She's reading EVERYTHING she can get her hands on. Way to go Utah Valley Regional Medical Center!
Sharing the Gospel with her was going to happen. Because I live about 30 minutes away from her, It was very hard for me to help see to her different needs. Last summer at the Annual Genesis Family Picnic I introduced her to my friend Pat. Pat lives relatively close to Sandra. I introduced them and asked Pat, if she would befriend Sandra since they lived so close together. I assured Sandra I wasn't going anywhere, but because Pat lived closer and had a more flexible hours she could see to her immediate needs, making sure she got to her dr appointments and taking care of her FEMA documents and housing and other things she would need on a daily basis. Basically Pat and I tag teamed one her! Pat took over and filled in when I was unable to, but she kept me updated on everything.
Pat and I knew that sharing the Gospel with this friend was going to happen, but not in typical ways. I believe she and I both understood that it would be first by our example. Because this friend didn't have a car Pat would take her and her husband around to make groceries and just around town. She took them to welfare square and into Salt Lake City. We referred them to the LDS ward when they were having trouble with their rent and food and things. Explained about how our church helps many many people all over the world. People who aren't members of our church. Missionary work was being done..."outside the box." Sandra went thru 2 sets of missionaries. The first one's she was so ill, she couldn't comprehend what they were speaking about. The second set were the spanish missionaries. The THIRD time was charm. Elder N, just by looking at him, you could see a countenance in him. For me, being able to hear the discussions again and see Sandra comprehend those thing we take for granted has had an profound effect on me. Those of us who have been members most and all of our lives, how often do we go back and rehearse the basics of the Gospel? We don't spend too much time on those things that make up the foundation of what we believe. There has become an anxiousness to return to those simply things of the gospel that brings simply joy and peace. Watching Sandra learn and accept the Gospel is like watching a child let loose in a toy shop.
The day of her baptism was awesome. The sweetest, strongest feelings of heaven surrounded each of us that. There were many in the room that day unseen by human eyes but you could feel so strongly their presence. The presence of those unseen were even acknowledged in the opening prayer. Sandra, because she survived camp Katrina is afraid of water. As she walked down the stairs into the font when her foot hit the water she froze and began to lose her breath and tremble. I was called to go just inside the font door at the stop of the steps to aide her. I opened the door and stood at the top of the stairs and I watched her take deep breaths while holding on for dear life to the metal step railing. She was shaking quite badly. She got to the bottom of the font and froze. I quietly called out to her : "Sandra, I'm right here behind you." she took a step and walked over to Elder N who then, proceeded to baptize her.
If I told you it went perfectly, I would be a big fat liar. I believe in the rush to get it done and over with for her, The Elder was nervous. WE WERE ALL NERVOUS, this woman had faced so many fears and overcome so many obstacles and the very thing she needed was the very thing that terrified her the most. As she began to be immersed into the water, I watched one of her feet slide out from under her and she slipped. The elder basically caught her as she went under. Her leg flipped up out of the water. She came up gasping for air, breathing panicked and heavy, eyes closed, hands stretched out like blind person searching for the wall, trying to find her way out. The Gasps were audible. The fear into the eyes of the congregation and the Elder were heart wrenching. He looked devastated! I came down 2 more steps into the font with a silent prayer: "Lord, how do I tell her she will have to go back?"
She came toward the stair, her eyes now opened and the frantic look of "get me out of here!" was wild in her eyes. I caught both of the hands and took a deep breath. I looked into her eyes and softly spoke:
"Sandra, stop. I want you to take some deep breaths. You are fine and safe." still trembling, she nodded. We breathed for about 30 seconds until I could visibly see her relax and then I spoke again:
"Sandra, because your leg came up out of the water, the baptism will need to be performed again." Her eyes grew wide. "Sandra remember how we practiced holding our breath? And you were able to hold yours for about 10 seconds and still be ok?"
"well you were under water less than 5 seconds. So you have nothing to worry about. Know that you can do this and recover. You JUST did it, right?"
"So you got this, girl! You know you can go into that water and come out a survivor, right?"
She said "yeah."
"Are you ready?"
"yeah, I'm ready."
she said. She turned around and went back into the water.
Elder N's eye's offering a silent "Thank you!" (he later came up to and said he didn't know what to do and was about to freak out himself)
You could hear the sobs and sniffles and sighs of relief coming from the congregation as Sandra descended back down the stairs of the baptismal font.
Elder N performed her baptism a 2nd time, flawlessly. This time when she came up from the water and back to me on the stairs there were no trembling. No gasping for air or heavy labored breathing. I met her at the top of the stairs, towel in hand. Away we went to the dressing room. As she was getting dressed and I collected her wet clothing she called out to me,
"I feel different."
I called back
"you're supposed to, you ARE different."
Our conversation led to what happened just a few minutes before.
"girl, I didn't know how to tell you you had to turn around and do it again."
Sandra said... " I saw you at the top of the stairs and I KNEW you weren't gonna let me pass."
I told her. " If you would have said to me 'uh uh, girl, I tried it, I'm done, I can't do this." I would have let you pass."
She asked me why? I told her it had to be her decision. Something she wanted to do. Something she felt strong enough to do. Something she felt worth facing her fears for. (I've had a lesson or two this year about facing fears lately myself ;)
She told me after I met her on the stairs, took her hands and started speaking with her, she felt so calm, so peaceful.
"I wasn't even afraid the 2nd time."
Thank You Lord! We got her dressed and then went in and finished with talks on the Holy Ghost given by our friend Pat. Pat shared our experiences with Sandra through the last year. And she shared some really sacred moments we've shared with Sandra. (Yeah, like I'm gonna cast my pearls before internet swines).
I found yesterday from Sandra that the night before her baptism, she had a dream.
"I was able to see my life from the time I could remember from the time of Hurricane Katrina... my WHOLE life, and everything I did from the passed, all the bad stuff and negative stuff, and just EVERYTHING. And just before I woke up in my dream somebody asked me, if I was sure I wanted to be baptized."
In my talk on baptism as I'm sure with most baptisms my exact words to her were: "Sandra, as you step into the waters of baptism today, know that the heavens and angels rejoice in your behalf. Know that all your sins from you passed will no longer be in the records of heaven and will be washed away. God will remember them no more. Today you will be presented before The Father as a woman of God.... a Daughter of God perfected in him."
After having that dream, she felt good to hear me say those things in the talk.
Sandra is truly the bravest person I know. Her life is a great testimony of Heavenly Father's love. Her life is the example of how we can become washed and cleanse through the blood of Jesus Christ. She is an example of how weak things can become our strengths. She is an example of God's mercy and love and she reminds me that he has portion enough of that for me and everyone else.
I know that Heavenly Father wants us all to succeed. I know he wants us to partake in his love and in all that he has promised can be ours. I know not a passing day goes by that God the Father doesn't look down upon us and ache for our return to be with him.
Thank you, Sandra, for reminding me of who I am and for directing me back onto the path.