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There’s something in me that thrills to recall finding God’s love for the very first time. There’s something in me that’s just dying to witness a new believer singing “Amazing Grace” with tears in their eyes, conviction in their soul. There’s something in me that’s itching to see masses at an altar call or hordes sobbing in repentance.
The longer I’m a Christian, the more I yearn to witness a good ol’ fashioned, solid conversion. These moments have been too few and far in between, but I’ve seen ‘em happen. And every time, my heart flutters in gratitude.
One happened when I was still in university. At the time, my childhood faith finally became real. I had a personal revival.
This all happened to the mortification of my uber-charming, non-believing, motorcycle-riding love interest. One day, I even sat him down (me all nervous and shaky, him bemused and quizzical) in the university library, and I forced the gospel down his throat. I remember plowing ahead with the “four-spiritual laws,” an awkward evangelist through and through.
I'm sure I stumbled over every word and made the gospel sound like a poor sales pitch. But he politely pocketed my stick drawing of God, of the cliff, of the cross and of humanity and we (mercifully) didn't talk about it again.
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Then the Holy Spirit got to me. That and the persistent naggings of very loving friends. I knew I would have to do more than talk about my faith. I would have to stop spending so much time with the guy. Flirtation was bordering on commitment... I would have to give him “the talk.”
“The talk” landed on New Years’ Eve. So as all our friends were counting down inside a house party, the two of us hunkered down in his car, breathing out steam in the cold prairie winter air. I laid it out. "This is infatuation. It's just puppy love. We can't be together...the most important person in my life is Jesus. I can’t share that with you. So..."
"It's not infatuation!" he insisted. To my horror, he began to tear up. But felt I had no choice. I got out of the car. It hurt. And so much more so because I knew it was my fault. I could have prevented the pain if I had only had better self-control earlier on. But I turned my back and slammed the car door shut. Suffice it to say that was the end of my missionary dating days, as well as a very severe wrist-slap for dabbling in romances I knew would end up no-where.
About a year later, I was sitting in the University cafeteria studying. As was my new habit, I read scripture before picking up my textbooks:
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"As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." Isaiah 55:10-11.
Just as I read that very last sentence, I looked up. A Christian acquaintance was weaving his way through the cafeteria tables, coming my way. He sat down to chat; we made small talk.
Then he gave me some news that took my breath away.
It turns out that about a year after that ridiculous pseudo-break-up with my non-believing, motorcycle-riding love interest, that love interest had actually become a Christian. “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty,” I had just read. Indeed, even God’s word, spoken awkwardly through the mouth of an infatuated, flirtatious 18-year-old girl, had eventually yielded fruit.
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God’s love had transcended all my blundering and all my miscommunication. He had won His new child over, in spite of me.
God’s love transcends language, too.
In more recent years, my husband and I went out on a limb and fostered two boys, doubling the amount of kids in our house in one fell stroke. It was a wild ride. After it was all over, we were left wondering how God would continue the work that we had started in the two boys’ lives. But we were dumbfounded by how quickly we saw fruit in the unexpected places.
The boys are still young. We haven’t seen them make decisions to follow Christ yet. But their non-Christian, non-English speaking nanny spent a lot of time in our house, too.
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At the time, she had been wrestling with doubt. But a year after she and the boys left our home, she came to Christ via another church. In her baptism testimony, she recounted how my husband and I had influenced her. When she was in our house, she had observed our day-to-day life and she had seen Christ’s love in our family.
Seeing our family in action planted a seed in her heart. And God made new life arise.
This shocks me. Because she saw me in my home with four children, in the midst of turmoil and transition, at my utter wits’ end, spinning out of control and in complete dependence on God. But that vision must’ve painted a picture for her of God’s faithfulness and goodness. In this case, our family was the paintbrush.
And to think that it was a picture painted in vivid hues without language!
We don’t speak the dialect of Chinese that our nanny spoke, so almost all of our communication happened in painstaking mimery, broken English, or broken Chinese. Every point of communication (and there are lots when you’re running a busy household with four kids!) took twice as much time.
But God’s love touched her heart, in spite of—or maybe because of— our linguistic deficiencies.
My path never crossed with that “ex-boyfriend” again, and I rarely see our “ex-nanny”. But I treasure their stories.
It’s like gardening. (Really, I didn’t up come up with that illustration —Jesus did. And oh so apt!)
You see a wilting plant. You repot it, and add some compost. You don’t see any change, till a year later, when the exact same plant in the same location is so much healthier. Or you plant a seed. You know how that goes down. You waaaaait.
Instant gratification comes to the faithful gardener —only when he’s weeding. Everything else takes time. But the fulfillment you get from seeing the labor of your hands bear fruit in stunning, miraculous ways?
Priceless. Good things do come to those who wait.
“So is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty.”
Julia Cheung is a cultural analyst and journalist of relationships, always on the lookout for stories of beautiful misfits. She lives in Vancouver BC with the loveable motley crew of her pastor husband and two preteen children. She is a bundle of antitheses, a lover of truth, a teller of tales, a too often emotional egoist and a fervently curious anti-narcissist. You can find her online at wifeinredemption.com.