Ann was hard to love. The confirmation class outcast, she suffered with a whole host of behavioral disorders. She fluctuated between making precocious and endearing observations, and having an outburst inclusive of name-calling and profanities.
To her classmates, she was a pariah. To those of us on the ministry team? We were asking the hard question. Yes, it was true that we in the church are called to offer a safe place for the marginalized. Yet to what degree should we let this one influence the learning environment for 18 others?
The challenge deepened the next year. A high school freshman, she registered for our youth service-learning trip. When another parent approached me, asking that Ann not be allowed to attend, I found myself defending her. Ann would attend. We would all learn from this, I suggested.
Not surprisingly, as our week of travel progressed, the other youth became increasingly impatient with her mood swings. Ann found herself ostracized until one night during our usual group time.
That night Ann was particularly sad as we read how, in baptism, God sees us differently and how baptism creates community where all are welcome.
“But you don’t know what it’s like to be me!” she erupted from her perch on the sofa. “You have no idea! You don’t know what it’s like to have such a crazy-busy mind that you forget to take your meds … and when you do, you behave like I do … and then everyone turns away, exchanging glances, rolling eyes. I can’t help being this way! Can’t you see?”
We sat in stunned silence. Then a gentle voice came from a corner. It was Corey, the group troublemaker, but also the tenderhearted one: “Hey! Wait a minute, Ann. You can’t help it. But, can we help you? You just need a reminder to take your ‘head meds’? We can do that! Is that all you really need, Ann?”
“It is,” she nodded.
That exchange marked the beginning of Ann’s transformation. The transformation of each of us, actually, as we finally saw Ann for the beautiful young woman she was.
This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased (Matthew 3:17).
This voice and these words from heaven follow an almost paranormal display when Jesus’ face begins to blaze and his clothes become white hot as part of his transfiguration. They mark Jesus as the transformed one—the one whose ultimate glory would soon be revealed in his suffering and death.
This voice and these words at Jesus’ transfiguration are the same voice and words we heard at his baptism.
This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased.
These words might well be said of Ann, and of each of us, as baptismal waters bring about our own transfiguration. Indeed, the waters of baptism remind us that we are who God says we are, regardless of what anyone else may say or think. These waters create a community in which we recognize and strengthen the beauty in one another.
“Hey Ann, you can’t help it. But can we help you?”
Ann’s moods would continue to swing after that loving conversation. But Ann and friends alike were transformed. On her less stable days, a peer would gently remind, “Ann, you’re getting excited. Did you take your ‘head med’?”
Ann, grinning, would nod her head and chirp, “Oh yeah! Hey! Thanks!”
The baptismal community never ceases to transform. One year later Ann would be found in a bright white alb behind the altar, chanting the liturgy as our first high school assisting minister.
“This is my daughter, with whom I am well pleased.”