It was like the whole world looked different to Liz; she felt so completely joyful and alive after her baptism. Never could she have guessed that something as simple as dunking her head in a basin of water would make her feel so whole all of a sudden. She finally understood why Jackie now seemed so different, for the better. She never even once thought of how she’d never been asked if she wanted to join the Children. She was just glad she had.
Ever since the Christmas incident, their mother had taken to walking around the house with her eyebrows furrowed, her own personal sign of pure worry. The crinkled, worried eyebrows had only gotten more distinct when the girls had come home and informed her that Liz had joined the church as well. Because she still hadn’t gotten over the shock of Jackie speaking to her like she had on Christmas, their mother didn’t push the subject.
The whole family, for that matter, seemed a strange mix of concerned and unnerved by the news. Even Eva didn’t have anything snide to say about it. Liz was grateful. She was too content right now to worry about how her family would react to her baptism. She wasn’t in the mood to fight it out with any of them. In fact, instead of dealing with any family drama, Liz turned to her one constant source of comfort, the one thing in the world that she could vent her feelings to with no worry of argument. Her journal.
I’m so excited for my first real church service since my baptism! We had a baptism class during this past Sunday morning service. Pastor Simon wanted to keep us separate from the rest of the church, so as to not overwhelm us so soon after baptism. So instead of having us in the regular service, we had a service of our own to start learning the teachings of Pastor Simon and the rules of the church. It was interesting, but it started earlier than the normal service and ended far after the regular service had ended.
Mom’s been all nervous. No one was very supportive when I shared my good news with them. I think the parents may have talked to the others. Either that, or none of them know what to say anyway. Just that they don’t approve. That much is painfully obvious.
Why can’t they understand that Jackie and I are both happy? We like the Children of the Rose, we like our church family and our friends. None of them can stand us enjoying time away from the drowning that is this family. Just because we’re spending time with new people, the whole family gets all freaked out.
The Wednesday following Christmas, Liz and Jackie excitedly got ready for the mid-week church service. As Liz put her new scarf over her braided hair, she felt it again—honor. Smiling to herself, and not wanting to tell Jackie in case her sister thought she was being silly, she thought how special she felt to be chosen by these people, how much she wanted to live up to their expectations of her.
“Are you nervous?” Jackie asked with a huge smile as the two girls waited out on the front porch for their friends to pick them up.
Liz looked back toward the front door. They had chosen to suck it up in the freezing cold outside to wait for their ride rather than deal with the tension that had been in the house for the last few days.
“Stop worrying about them, Liz,” Jackie said harshly. Her smile slipped and she looked at Liz with a level of seriousness that Liz had never before seen in her sister’s eyes. “They don’t matter anymore. You’ve devoted your life to Pastor Simon and the Children. That’s our eternal family. Not the McLancys.”
Liz tore her eyes from the front door and wrapped her arms around herself, nodding slowly. Jackie’s smile returned in full force.
“So. Are you nervous? Your first time worshiping with the rest of the Children since you baptized!”
“No, I’m not nervous,” Liz answered slowly.
“Good. You shouldn’t be.”
Jackie pulled her sister into a hug just as Sandra’s car pulled up in front of the house. Sandra honked twice and the girls dashed out to meet their friends. As they started down the street, Liz looked back at the house once again. She could have sworn she saw Eva watching from a second floor window.
When they arrived at the church that evening, Morgan and Liz found themselves to be the center of attention. Every member who hadn’t been at the baptism approached the pair and hugged them, saying, “Welcome to the Children.”
Liz couldn’t help but notice that all these people said the same thing in the same tone of voice. She couldn’t help but notice that there were some of the girls who wouldn’t meet her eyes when they welcomed her and that these same girls would scurry back to stern-looking older members as soon as the exchange ended. But then some other Rose would approach to welcome her, and Liz would forget all about it.
Heather and Jennifer, whom Liz hadn’t seen much of since she’d met them at the first service she’d attended, both gave her warm hugs.
“I’m so glad you got baptized, Elizabeth!” Heather exclaimed. “I knew the moment I met you that you would be the perfect addition to our family. I could feel that you needed to be part of it.” She beamed. “We’re all so thankful that Jacqueline brought you here and introduced you to us.”
Jennifer nodded in agreement as she pulled Liz into a hug. “We’re sure you’ll get as much out of this church as all of us has. As your sister has. We’re so excited you’re one of us now!”
As all the members began flooding into the sanctuary for the service, Morgan grabbed Liz’s hand. “Can you believe all this? I feel like some sort of celebrity.”
“They’re just being friendly, Morgan,” Liz whispered.
“I know. I wasn’t complaining. You might find it surprising, but I don’t have many friends. I like all this attention.”
“I like the attention too. It’s nice to not have to compete with all my younger siblings over something for once. And now you have lots of friends. We both do.”
Smiling, Morgan gave her an excited hug as they filed into one of the pews. As the service began, Pastor Simon processed down the aisle as he always did and turned to face the congregation.
“Good evening, Children!” he began.
“Good evening, Pastor Simon!” came the response.
“And a good evening it is indeed, for this is a day of God!”
Pastor Simon gave his warm smile and glanced around the room at all the faces. “First of all, I want to welcome and congratulate the newest Children in our family. As a family, I’m going to ask for the wonderful guidance of our older members to help these newly baptized find the truth in our message and bring our light into the world.”
The older members in the congregation nodded, especially those who looked to be in the older crowd. Liz guessed they had been with the church the longest and had the most experience in what she was going through in being newly baptized.
“It is truly a gift to have a family—especially a church family such as ours. It is an honor for us to have newly baptized among us today. ‘Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away,’ First Peter, chapter one, verses twenty-three and twenty-four.”
Jackie gave Liz a nudge in the side. When Liz looked over to her sister, Jackie smiled, which Liz returned. She was comfortable here, in this place. And, of course, it was never unwelcome to have her sister’s approval.