I grew up in a thoroughly secular home. God was simply never the topic of conversation. I literally didn’t know that Christmas was named for Christ. And Easter? Well, it was about eating chocolate bunnies and egg sandwiches made from multi-colored eggs found in the bushes outside. But crosses and empty tombs? Never heard of ‘em.
And yet, Mommandad wrote “Christian” on documents that asked their “religion.” More specifically, they wrote “Catholic” (Mom) and “Episcopalian” (Dad). Years later, my widowed mother would marry a man who did not believe in Jesus, and yet was deeply offended when I implied he wasn’t a Christian. For his generation (at least for those who weren’t officially something else), “Christian” meant a “decent, law-abiding citizen.”
At age eleven, I only knew one person who clearly meant something more when she referred to herself as a Christian. No, it didn’t mean she was a flag-waving conservative. It meant she was an actual follower of Jesus.
I was actually moving away from God at that point. The year before, at summer camp, I’d given God a chance to part the clouds and talk to me in a big, impressive Charlton Heston-y voice, and nothing had happened. Zilch. So, while I hadn’t actually gone full-bore atheist yet, I was gradually moving toward my dad’s view that Darwin, and not the Bible, was the go-to source for answers, and that our here-and-now existence in a randomly evolving universe was all there was. Finis. Roll credits.
But each time I came to collect the Jesus Lady’s newspaper subscription, she would tell me a little more about why she believed. She was enthusiastic, but always upbeat, and never condemning.
During the Easter season, she and her husband were hosting a visiting missionary. She asked if my family would like to meet him. To my surprise, Mom said yes. He was the first African person Mom and I had ever met (Dad was at work), and we were fascinated by his culture and traditions. But the big surprise came when we learned he wasn’t looking for donations from well-heeled Americans. No, he was here, he said, “To introduce Americans to Jesus.”
“But we’re a Christian country,” Mom explained.
“Sadly, this is not so,” the missionary replied, “most Americans, even if they call themselves ‘Christians’ (I loved the way he said ‘Kris-tee-AHNS’) have never met Jesus. They are proud—which is good in some ways—but too proud, I think, to let him in the front door.”
Near the end of that year, the Jesus Lady invited us to a showing of the movie King of Kings. But we were too busy with Christmas preparations to focus on the person Christmas was named for.
Yes, seeds were planted in both of our hearts, but they took a long time to sprout. I never actually met the Jesus our African missionary friend and the Jesus Lady spoke about until fifteen years later…
On Easter morning.