Updated: Aug 17, 2019
What would you do if your Agnostic mom came home from a business trip as a Born-Again Christian? Curious how to navigate the messy aftermath? Here's what happened in the initial messy weeks after my conversion and the coffee chat that changed everything.
Out of the blue
I won’t talk too much about my family in this blog. After all, I decided to write about my life, but they didn’t. I will share, though, that I have three wonderful and wildly different teenagers, and a husband I'm so grateful for that I get choked up thinking about him. And I'll share that we taught our kids from the time that they could understand:
“Nobody knows the truth about God, so believe whatever you want.”
Then, out of the blue, I became a Christian.
In the days after my conversion, I wanted to slowly reveal to my husband what had happened to me in Austin to avoid worrying him, but it all spilled out in a teary mess the night I returned from my business trip. He was understanding at first, listening and validating, but pretty quickly became concerned. The kids were just as unnerved: "What do you mean you're a Christian?"
One problem was that I barely understood it all myself. While my family was coming to terms with this new Sue, I was coming to terms with what it even meant to be a Christian. I voraciously read scripture and sought advice. I began wrestling with the topics I didn't like or understand, and the insufficient answers I found. Noah was 950 years old? What???
I was increasingly tempted to throw it all away and go back to my secular life of working, mothering, and just being a good person. I had a good life before all of this. Nobody thought I was crazy, or brainwashed, or confused. I Googled "alternative churches in the Bay Area" and wondered, can't I just keep the parts of this Christian thing that I like and leave out the parts I don't? Can't I just have God my way?
A few weeks into all of this, my frustration peaked. I drove to church on Sunday morning, but instead of turning into the parking lot, I found myself pressing on the gas. I drove all around town, thinking, ruminating, doubting. I could just leave it all behind...If it weren't for Auntie Jean.
See, despite my protests, nothing could change the fact that I had experienced a full-blown road-to-Damascus miracle. Auntie Jean's call in that Austin hotel room, showing me Jesus at the exact moment when I was ready to receive Him, and the miraculous nuggets preceding it all, was a gift so perfectly wrapped that nobody, not the biggest skeptic in the world, could have denied it. It happened. It could never un-happen. For the rest of my life, I will know that it happened. Like Saul seeing Jesus on the road to Damascus. There it was. Now, what was I going to do about it?
I think often of the apostles. When Jesus was crucified, they went into hiding, "meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders." (John 20:19). When Jesus came to them alive(!), nothing could change the fact that they had seen him. Touched him. Eaten with him. Witnessed Him. The truth of that first-hand experience pulled them out of hiding and into full sight. They risked everything — their safety, their reputations, their very lives — to share what they had experienced. In their messy, imperfect ways, they chose to step rather than stop.
Sitting in my car at the north end of town, stewing in confusion, missing my old life before conversion, I received a text. If you've read my conversion story, you can take a guess at who it was from. That karate teacher. Of course. He always seemed to know when to reach out to me.
"Would you be up for meeting the pastor for coffee after church? I can come too, if you'd like. And our wives. Ask any question you have."
My hardening heart softened. Once again - the kindness of it stopped me. Love, right when I needed it. I thought of Jean. I thought of Saul. I thought of Jesus. And I agreed.
At the coffee shop, I dumped my many questions on them -- the pastor, karate teacher, and their wives -- the battles that had built up for weeks in my head, the doubts and confusion. What a relief to get it all out. They answered as best they could and admitted they didn't have all the answers. I was struck by that. The humility of not knowing, not defending, not arguing. It was such a contrast to my work life in Silicon Valley. More than anything, I was struck by how they listened. I was able to say everything on my heart. And they heard me. Loved me no matter what.
A God whose people love like this, I decided, was a God that I could lean on. Conversion in that hotel room may have been a shocking light switch, but faith was more of a gradual unveiling. Like dawn over the wide, blue sea. I technically missed the church service that day, but it turns out this little coffee shop was just the church service I needed.
Throughout these tumultuous initial weeks, my family and I came to a place of acceptance. They could see that I was happier, calmer, more loving, and forgiving. They saw how I somehow released hurts from the past: old wounds from childhood that I had complained about my whole life, wounds that would have taken years of therapy to resolve, were somehow healed. Completely gone. To their relief, I wasn't joining a cult or throwing Bibles at them. And these Christians weren't braining-washing me, but befriending me. They got to know them, and found them to be a diverse and lovely group of people.
One day while I was cleaning the living room, my middle daughter looked up at me and said, "Don't let this go to your head, but I kind of like you as a Christian." I smiled. I like me better, too. I like life better. I like waking up with a purpose and clarity and peace and the knowledge that I don't carry my day alone. Several friends and family members interested in my journey have come along with me. Some join me at church and some do not. Some have become believers, and some have not. We're all on our journeys, and I respect that. "God's got this," I often say, and I mean it.
If you're feeling caught in the messy aftermath of conversion, even years or decades later, I encourage you to find someone who will listen. Then feel free to dump -- all of it -- your doubts, questions, and concerns. In future blogs, I'll explore those specific wrestling matches I've faced and how I've made peace with them. For now, let us welcome the mess and work through it.
God's got this.
What about you?
Are you eager to explore or express your faith but uncertain what your friends, family, or coworkers will think? I challenge you to share what's going on in your heart with someone. When you share with gentleness, most people will understand and eventually support you. To find someone to chat with, reach out to your local church, your company's Christian group (if one exists), or online at needhim.org.
Are you eager to BE that person who supports faith explorers? Watch to see who might be struggling, and don't be afraid to open up a conversation. I've found that a great conversation starter is a "you question," like "What are your thoughts about faith? Did you grow up with religion?" Don't worry about having all the answers; the most important thing you can do is to listen with love.