If you watched television even once in August of 1985, you’ll remember the iconic image of a paramedic, covered in mud, carrying a frightened little boy. The headlines read BABY IN WELL RESCUED—that was me, Will Westin.
Thing is, I wasn’t a baby. I was four years old when I fell into that well, and I remember every frozen moment. My ankle snapped in the fall, so I sat for hours, submerged past my chin. When sleepiness drooped my little head, I swallowed water that tasted of leaves.
It won’t surprise you that I’ve been afraid of water ever since. You might be surprised, though, at the real reason I was in the well—I’d been running from my stepdad and his heavy-buckled belt.
In the media hoo-hah following my rescue, my mother and Joe played their roles well: loving parents, frantic with worry, thankful to my grimy savior. But over the next several years they spent the “well baby” fund on whiskey and cigarettes. Joe didn’t beat me any more, but their neglect of me was spectacular. At sixteen, I escaped.
I’ll spare you the details of the next decade, except to say that a trail of beer bottles led me to another savior. Two rescues in two decades—I’m done with rescues now—but about a year ago, my fear of water caused my first spiritual crisis.
Pastor Bob of the New Hope Baptist Church had given a top-notch sermon on baptism. I need to do that, I thought, but when I remembered brackish well water, my throat constricted in panic.
I’ve spent my life avoiding water. No baths--my mother berated me for dirtying several washcloths each week. When I got older, I’d take speed-showers, my back to the trickling water. Shampooing has always been misery, so I’ve kept my hair Army-short.
I pondered my baptism dilemma, then presented Pastor Bob with a brilliant solution.
“You know about the water phobia, right?”
“Yeah, Will. Haven’t changed your mind, have you?”
“No, but I’ve got an idea. How about if you sort of push me down on my knees—so the water only goes up to my neck? I think I could handle that.”
Bob thought for a moment. “I guess I could.”
“Sure…if you only want to be 80 percent baptized.”
He was smiling, but I could tell that he was serious.
“I guess you won’t think much of my other idea, then. It involves lying down in a couple inches of water and just…rolling around.”
Bob shook his head. “Baptism’s the whole deal, Will. When you’re ready, God will help you through the phobia.”
For weeks, baptism was never far from my mind—and my thoughts were always accompanied by a thudding heartbeat and serious flop-sweat. Finally, on a sweltering day, inspiration struck. I called Pastor Bob.
“What about this—you know those mist-makers that people take to Disneyland?”
Silence—then Bob said, “Will, I’m not baptizing you with a mist-maker.”
I had a quick comeback. “Steam room? C’mon—it’s water, and I’d be totally immersed in it.”
Bob chuckled. “I’m praying for you, brother. I’ll be here when you’re ready.”
A few months passed, and I had another weather-related inspiration in early November. I cornered Bob after church.
“What about snow? We wait until the first good snowfall, and you can lower me into a snowbank. That’d cover the whole “burial” symbolism, right?”
Bob shook his head. “I don’t think so, Will. Keep working on it.”
Well, God kept working on me. It’s going to happen this morning. I’ll finish writing this journey though the life of Will Westin, then I’ll put on my swim trunks and meet Pastor Bob at Blue Lake. I keep checking my heart, my gut, even—sorry to be blunt—my pits. I’m surprisingly calm. I want to do this.
One more thing to tell you--I’ve been writing a few songs. It’s the one good thing I got from my mother—she was always singing along with the radio, and her raspy voice sounded great. This is what the praise team will sing when I come out of the water:
Wounded, scared, and filthy
I was drowning in my shame
Longing for a savior
When I heard You call my name
Wash me, Jesus, wash me
I can’t wait to be made pure
Let me be immersed in goodness
‘Til my cleansing is assured
I’ll stay underneath the water
‘Til my cleansing is assured
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