On July 2, 1969, I came into the world alone and flawed. My birth mother relinquished rights at birth, so the medical staff was left to make decisions about how to treat a not fully formed aortic valve that was leaking blood from one chamber of my heart to the other. Left alone, my heart would probably develop and heal itself. Or maybe not. They decided to wait.
In the meantime, what to do with an infant girl un-adoptable with such a life threatening condition? The State of Arizona’s foster care system took charge and contacted a family that had taken high risk children in the past. Joe and Nel, with their own three children, said, “Yes, we’ll take the little lost miss,” and nicknamed me Missy since I had no other name.
Their one condition for the placement: baptism. The system didn’t encourage baptism of foster children, since future adoptive parents typically wanted the privilege, but, in this case given my heart condition, they agreed.
So, that next Sunday, in the sanctuary of Trinity Lutheran Church in south Tucson, I was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I was cleansed by grace and sealed by the Spirit.
“It was a cloudy day,” my Aunt Flo later told me, “but just as the minister was pouring the water on your forehead, the sun broke through the clouds and came in through the stained glass window right onto your little face. Then, I just knew you were going to be all right.”
Joe and Nel later adopted me, as you might already suspect, and the name Missy stuck. So did the baptism.
Later, as a young adult worshiping in a Vineyard church, friends wanted to know when I was going to be baptized.
I’m already baptized, I’d reply.
But, Missy Jo, that wasn’t really a baptism. They’d speak the words or say it with their pursed lips or sideways glance.
And with my own fiercest glance in response, I’d stand firm. No. I’m already baptized.
I’ve been in the ordained ministry now for going on 16 years. Every now and then, a well meaning man or woman has approached me. I was baptized as a baby, they’ve asked, but could you do it again?
Why? I ask. Their answers have varied: I want to remember it, or I want to claim the faith for myself, or there was a problem with the minister, or my new girlfriend says the first baptism wasn’t real.
With my kindest glance in response, I’ve stood firm. No, I say. You’re already baptized.
I know some families have strong convictions about wanting their children to be old enough to request baptism for themselves. I honor those convictions. What I will not honor is any implicit message that salvation is something we accomplish by professing our faith in Jesus Christ. No. God accomplished our salvation in His Son Jesus Christ. We respond, yes, but the initiative never was and never will be ours.
So, friends, remember your baptism and be glad. At every age. Today and every day.