From the moment of my conversion to a life of faith, I was aware that there was a cost that came with following Jesus. I knew that to profess myself a Christian was to automatically alienate myself from the secular world in which I had previously felt at home, and for me, that included my family. It was my fervent desire that I would remain close to my parents, brother, and the extended family members who had played such important roles in my life throughout childhood. We continued to spend time together, checked in on one another regularly, communicated about the incidental details of our lives, and carried on with all of our holiday traditions. But the “elephant in the room” so to speak, the reality that I had decided to build my entire life around something in which none of them believed, created a discernible divide that seemed to deepen over time.
My mom and dad were the most aware of the increasing distance and regularly sought me out to ask questions that might help them better understand why I had chosen the path I was now pursuing. I knew that their primary motivation was preserving our relationship, but the pressure of being confronted with questions of faith and belief that I felt unprepared to answer adequately often left me feeling defensive and discouraged over how best to relate to them. While I had a lot of empathy for the position they were in as parents—over the span of just two years, they had watched their daughter convert to a faith they didn’t share, marry a boy within that faith who they didn’t really know, begin to raise their only grandchild around faith-based principles, and choose a life and career path centered on ministry—I didn’t know how to help them understand, and short of them discovering for themselves all that I had found in Christ, I didn’t know how to remain as deeply connected as we all hoped when our lives were taking us in such different directions.
Beyond the emotional effect our growing apart was having on me, the fact that everyone I had ever known and loved lacked a saving knowledge of the life purchased for them on the cross began to weigh heavily. I watched them all continue to go about their lives as usual—pursuing work and play, giving and receiving love, eating and resting—as if this life we know is all there is. Hadn’t I done just the same before? Hadn’t I managed all of those years to find plenty of good and important things to pour myself into to occupy the time? Had things changed so much for me?
They had. Although many of the motions of life carried on just as always, everything took on new purpose and meaning, making all aspects of living richer and deeper, and casting an overarching eternal shadow that made even death subject to a higher reality. It was very much like going to bed in the dark and waking from a dream state to find the world much brighter and more brilliant in the light of day. I desperately desired that those I loved most would come to know the unfathomable riches of a life found in God.
But how? Who was I to convince them? I was aware that the way in which I came to faith, while not unprecedented, was also not conventional. Short of being brought up in church, as every Believer I had so far met had been, I didn’t know how others might come to know Christ. Would it be enough to just tell them? I decided I had to try, so I started with my parents. I prepared with a thorough review of the “Romans Road.” As I fumbled my way through a gospel presentation, interspersed with short bits of testimony about my personal experience, they listened and even asked questions for clarification. But eventually the conversation devolved into a scientific discussion on evolution, creationism, and the dinosaurs, and I walked away feeling defeated and without hope that we would ever truly be on the same page.
That night, over dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant, I admitted to Layne that the despair I was feeling over the relationship with my family and my concern for their salvation was beginning to take a real toll on me, and I was struggling with my faith as a result. Questions centering on original sin, heaven and hell, free will, and election came flooding out of me faster than Layne could field them. Despite his solid answers, I grew increasingly more distraught, and a disturbing thought came to me: If in choosing to follow Jesus, I must leave my family behind, I don’t know if I can bear the cost. It was the first time since becoming a Christ follower that I was tempted to walk away from faith. I was sincerely angry at God, and I knew in that moment that I was at a very real crossroads. I became so emotional that I had to excuse myself from the table and step outside.
Standing just to left of the front door, facing the wall with my back turned to those entering the busy restaurant, head ducked to conceal my embarssment over the tears that were streaming down my cheeks, I quietly cried out to the Lord: I believe that you are all you claim to be, and I want to follow you always. But please don’t ask me to go through this life estranged from my family, getting to experience the eternal beauty that can only be found in you while they live a life apart. I know it is your desire that all be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, so please hear me! Please save them!
I was abruptly startled out of prayer by a hand on my shoulder and a tender voice urging me to be at peace. I turned to find four strangers, a man in front with three women behind, creating a semi-circle around us both. I noticed that the three women stood in an identical manner, each with her head bowed and hands folded together, just below the waist. They waited silently as the man continued to speak. “If you are sad, there is one willing to help. He hears us when we call on him.”
It was then that I first looked directly at the man’s face and was immediately drawn in by the warmth of his countenance. There was a gentleness and tranquility in his smile, and his eyes practically brimmed with kindness and joy. There was a softness in his features, and his face seemed as though it was somehow emanating light. A quick glance back at the other three, and I realized that their faces all had the same radiant quality. I suddenly became very self-conscious about the way I must appear, face red and swollen, eye makeup smeared. “I’m fine, thank you,” I quickly blurted out. “I will be fine.”
I turned toward the wall once more to wipe my eyes, hoping that the four would take the hint and move along inside. Instead, the man once again reached out and placed a hand on me, and as I glanced back in his direction he said, “He has heard your prayer. He will be faithful to answer.” At once I became aware of the presence of the Spirit, and I was filled with unsurpassing peace and a nearly overwhelming sense of joy. I quickly spun around, wanting to thank the strangers for their concern and words of encouragement, but they were gone. I wondered how they could have so quickly entered the restaurant without my noticing. I finished gaining my composure, then returned to my seat. Layne was surprised to see that my mood had so quickly shifted, and I told him about my strange experience outside and how something about the encounter helped me know that everything would be alright.
“Jennie, I think they may have been angels,” Layne said in response. “Sure,” I laughed. “Angels came to visit me at Tejano’s.” But he was serious. He asked for their description, and as I recalled each detail, I had to admit that there was, in truth, something otherworldly about them. Anxious to test his hunch, he got up from the table and began darting around the restaurant in search of the party I had described. They were nowhere to be found—a fact that, for Layne, added proof to the theory.
Those who know him would attest to the fact that my husband is a pretty level-headed guy and not at all fond of sensationalism. Neither of us can say for sure whether or not I came face to face with angels that night. But during my time of prayer before bed that evening, the Lord spoke to me concerning the family members for whom I had been praying. “I have heard you,” he said, “and I will pursue them. Though they may be far off now, I will lead each of them back to me.” I rested that night under the complete assurance that God would be faithful to keep his promise.
And this is the real testimony—not of angels, but of the Lord’s faithfulness. A short time later, at the church where Layne had been hired following his dismissal from the first, in front of a large room full of newcomers, my mom and dad stood, and to my great shock and delight, each professed faith in Christ. They had been seeking God, they said, over the course of the past couple of years, asking questions, studying and praying, and requesting that he make the truth known to them. They were inspired to do so, they said, by what they called our “unwavering faith.” They had watched Layne and I struggle through the challenges of young adult life, and had witnessed how, no matter the circumstances, we kept coming back to the same place, resting in the same truths. Now they too had come to know the One in whom all truth is found, and at last they understood why once you have really seen and heard, there is no going back. They could attest to the fact that faith in God truly changes everything, and we were able to begin building a new, deeper relationship on a shared foundation, relating not just as parent and child, but as brothers and sisters in Christ. Of all the things the Lord has done for me, the salvation of my mom and dad is by far the sweetest gift he has granted.
I continue to this day to cry out to the Lord of hosts on behalf of those in my family who have yet to come to faith. He knows each by name, and he does not slumber. He promised to pursue them, and pursue them he will.
“For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways…When you call out to Me, I will answer.”Psalm 91:11,15