We've been hosting Beve's middle brother and wife this weekend, the ones who live in the arid central valley of our evergreen state, the apple-and-wonderful-wine-producing Yakima valley. It's been good to be with them, though, as we age, our conversation tends to be a whole lot more about aches, pains and various ailments than we ever dreamed. I remember when my grandmother began to be fixated on her internal workings and vowed to NEVER talk about such things. Then Mom started doing exactly the same thing. And now I see that highway spread out before us and we're racing down it at 70 mph. Sad to say. I repent to my kids now for what I'll put them through later.
Today when my sister-in-law and I were talking about praying for those we love coming to faith in Christ, her husband, Beve's mountain-of-a-man brother, wandered in and asked how my very smart, scientific, rational, dependent-on-his-brain father came to Christ. So I told this story, and by the end of it, all three of us were crying.
My dad was a good man. I may have mentioned this before. And more than being rich, I've always thought that goodness can be the barrier to a person coming to faith. Along with Dad's goodness, he had great faith in his brain, as my b-i-l said, in his ability to solve any problem, to handle anything life threw at him and most things life threw at everyone around him as well. When I came to faith at 14, and began praying for my Papa-Daddy, as I called him in those days, I trusted God more than I did him, and that was saying a whole lot.
Later--much later--Dad called the years before the moment I came to Christ, as his Old Testament years. He was a rule man. He obeyed the 10 commandments and the Boy Scout law, and every other moral law one can imagine. But there was no heart behind them. The years when I came to Christ and my siblings came tumbling after, he called his 'between the Testaments' years. He saw something very different in us. I remember talking about Jesus--ad nauseum, he must have thought at times--and he paid attention. I know he was the only other person in the room the first time I spoke in tongues because he looked up from the magazine he was reading and asked what I had said. I mumbled quickly and raced down to my room. That was one thing I couldn't explain. However, years later, he told me he appreciated how certain I was about Jesus, how real He was to me that He governed my life.
Fast forward twenty years. By then I was 34 years old, living in Tacoma with three chublets taking up all my time. In those years, my time with Christ was usually standing in the shower, praying for His grace and asking for His mercy to cover all the spaces I didn't have to myself. In those days, not only did I have no time, my very body wasn't even my own. There was always one child or another climbing on me, pulling at me. Those of you who are moms know what I'm talking about.
It was a Monday morning. Just a typical Monday morning with the same tears, cereal, toys and laundry. To the voices of my children, I answered the phone to my father's voice. To him saying, with tears in his voice, "I finally understand. I finally know what you've been talking about all these years." Tears started in my eyes, but I had to ask, "Are you saying---" and he interrupted me to answer, "I met Jesus this weekend and gave my life to Him." I prayed with him on the phone that morning, I remember that. And after my wedding day, and the births of my children, that may have been the best day of my life. Dad had been to a retreat, Walk to Emmaus, and it changed His life. It was a profoundly meaningful day.
A few weeks later, when he came over to our house, he spent the entire weekend singing worship songs in his slightly off-key voice. The one I remember most clearly is Emmanuel. Dad called these next years his New Testament years. His life was transformed. On a dime. He took seriously God's call to spread the gospel, to participate in Kingdom work, and poured himself into the ministry of his church.
After he died, my sister found a letter Dad had started to me about the impact I'd had on him coming to Christ. Along with that letter was a sermon in which he not only spoke about that impact but he talked about these three phases of his life. Though it was woefully short and regrettably unfinished, it was both honoring and humbling to get that letter,. But I also know that only Christ brings a person to salvation. He is the author and perfecter of our faith. The end. But to be used as a tool in my beloved father's life is an eternal gift. If I do nothing else of value in my life, that is enough. Isn't it? Really? What better thing could there be than to be a tool of salvation. What other thing can a person do that will have such eternal consequences? On the days (and there are plenty) when I wonder what I've done or am doing with my life, it's good to know He has made me His instrument.
But here's the other thing: Twenty years seemed like an eternity in the middle of it. I thought it would never be, to tell the truth. And I've thought that about other beloveds that I pray for. From here it doesn't look possible that he or she will surrender to Him. But the minute--the very minute--that twenty years was over, it's like they had never been. And twenty years is nothing compared to eternity. And, after all, eternity is what we're after.
Who are you praying for? Don't give up. It's worth it. In the end, whenever that comes, it's completely, utterly worth it.