by Linda Troxell
My family has gone through many stages in our Christian journey, together and separately. Some were difficult and painful, others were difficult and joyful, and some were just divine. Throughout our journey, we were often separated at Christmas, and each year I prayed for that Christmas to be the one when we would be together.
My Christian journey’s theme was accepting Jesus back into my heart. You may think it sounds strange to have a Christian journey without Christ, and it is. Thankfully, God was quite patient with me as I resisted His Son for most of my life. Nonetheless, He got me to the perfect destination at the ideal time. By now, you are probably confused, so let me explain.
When I was young, my grandmother took me to Sunday school, where I learned how much Jesus loved me. In response to His love, He became my best friend. Each day, I couldn’t wait for bedtime to talk to my friend Jesus. Sometimes I would go to the “big” church with my grandma. I liked church for the music and because our pastor’s speaking voice was comforting. All was well with my spiritual life until the Sunday Jesus ended our friendship.
I was about six years old on that day, attending the big church, when the pastor gave an alter call. I was far too young to participate in an adult alter call, and I lacked the understanding to process the meaning of this experience effectively. But no one stopped me. All that I did understand was that I was going to talk to my friend Jesus. I will continue this part of the story through a poem written many years later as part of allowing Jesus back into my heart.
At the Tender Age of Six
It was when I was six years old At a church in my hometown, That the pastor gave an alter call To help the lost be found. He asked us to come forward, So our lives might be redeemed. I didn't think that I was lost, I didn't know what it could mean. The pastor said I would talk to Jesus Invite Him to come into my heart; He said Jesus would change everything Give my life a brand new start. Well, I knew how to talk to Jesus I'd done it many times before. This redeeming thing seemed easy; A talk with Jesus, nothing more. I was very excited, Expecting to have fun. So I ran headlong down the aisle, Smiling and waving at everyone. I heard the pastor say that Jesus Was going to save us all from sin. He would redeem our lives for God Once we invited Him to come in. So I prayed the words after the pastor, I asked Jesus to fill my heart. And I waited in anticipation, For my brand new life to start. When I felt absolutely nothing, I opened up just one eye. Peered around the altar, And felt panic begin to rise. For I understood what had happened, I just hoped it didn't show. That when I asked Jesus into my heart, He answered with a NO! On that day when I was six years old, I began to feel the need to hide. And it was the day I came to understand That God and religion were just lies. It was the only way my heart could accept Or understand this shameful conflict About why Jesus Christ would reject me At the tender age of six
Thus began a lonely and challenging life with my heart burdened by a grudge against the Son of God. I dealt with it by ignoring the existence of Jesus and believing only in God. When I first made that decision, I was still too young to understand they were the same person. That was the beginning of 50 years without the joy of knowing my Savior. When someone mentioned Jesus’ name, I just tuned out. I still thought I was Christian and accepted the paradox of being a Christian without Christ; until God would tolerate it no more.
Because I’m a single mother and my daughter is an only child, we have always been very close. She was saved and committed to Christ as an adult with her own children. I’m happy that my issue with Christ did not prevent my daughter from coming to Jesus or, by God’s grace, that it didn’t cause a severe rift in our relationship. But still, my brokenness brought something into our relationship that we could not discuss openly for the first time.
At the time, I wished I could protect my grandchildren from the delusion that Jesus was their loving best friend. I knew better; He and I were still not on speaking terms. But I didn’t give my opinion about how my daughter raised her kids unless she asked. I just avoided that part of their lives. It was painful, but not yet painful enough to melt my frozen heart.
When my grandson was ready to start High School, and his sister was only eight years old, the firm their father worked for moved 400 miles away to a suburb of San Francisco, and he chose to transfer with them. With my daughter and my grandchildren so far away, I was heartbroken. They were the brightest part of my day, and I spent time with one of them every day.
We had forged strong bonds, and I feared being away from them would change that. It was a dark time for me, and I questioned how this could glorify God. Eventually, I would understand it as confirmation of Romans 8:28. And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
God took advantage of that dark time, if He had not arranged it, as the perfect time to teach me that I was, indeed, called according to His purpose. So He chased me down until I was trapped. The whole story of how God convinced me to open my heart to Jesus once more is too long to tell here. The important thing to know about the story is that God delivered me to the perfect destination at the ideal time. In time to be my grandson’s touchstone when his journey went off track.
In the years after my family moved, I had a series of health problems. Ultimately, I retired on disability. With my income slashed by more than half, I had to give up my apartment to find a place I could afford. Not an easy task in Southern California. I ended up in the mountains in a tiny one-bedroom cabin with a small kitchenette, a tiny bathroom, and a sliver of a living room; it might be called cozy.
In the beginning, I had a car, and I could still drive up and down the mountain at will. But as I was adjusting to that lifestyle, I fell and broke my arm. It didn’t heal properly, and the surgeons I consulted would not perform the surgery needed to correct it. It was my right arm; I am right-handed, so for all intents and purposes, I was a disabled shut-in. God was moving in my life. And from that point forward, He moved quickly and deeply.
With my family gone, my friends did their best to help. But between working and their own families, driving up the mountain to see me was difficult. And, when the snow came in the winter, an already difficult task became impossible. So, I spent most of the winters alone in the cabin with silence. Winter brought Christmas, and it was by far my loneliest time. The people I loved the most were far away, and Christmas held little joy without them. Keeping depression at bay when living with that much silence requires vigilance, discipline, a routine, and television.
Way up there in the mountains, I had no wifi, which meant inferior television reception. TBN, home of those who love Jesus, was the only reliable channel with a strong signal. Still, I needed voices to break the silence and hold cabin fever at bay. My choices were the voices of Joyce Meyer, Christian Caine, or others like them. It’s tough to ignore Jesus while hearing His name constantly. God was actively pulling the strings in my life.
As He had planned, it took no time for my attention to be engaged and my curiosity to be stirred by the many Christians on the TBN network. And before I knew it, I wanted to believe what they said about Jesus. I needed that kind of love in my life like I had not at any other time. I wanted to give Jesus another chance. (Oh, the impertinence!) But my frozen heart was afraid to open for Him again. But that desire was the only opening God needed.
Suddenly, day after day, I heard stories of others who had shut their hearts to Jesus and the joy they found when they reconciled with Him. as I watched, I could feel God working in my life, and the ice around my heart began to defrost. I wanted to trust again, but the many fears and doubts I had convinced me I couldn’t believe in Christ fully. I mistakenly thought that “real” Christians did not doubt their faith.
One day, I was doing a crossword puzzle with TBN for the company. When I felt my attention pulled to the television, I realized I was more interested than I wanted to be. At that moment, I realized God was nudging me back to His Son. A few more icicles fell. I went for a nap, and TBN was still on the television when I awoke. Someone was interviewing an author about his new book titled “I Believe, Help me with my Unbelief.” It was about, you guessed it, the author’s journey to Christ despite his fears and doubts. Could God be any more obvious?
Obvious or not, it led me to use the time I’d previously wasted being lonely to learn more about Jesus. For the rest of the winter, I read and studied the Bible paying particular attention to how accepting and inclusive Jesus was with everyone. He consistently gave love and respect without regard for nationality or origin. He paid no attention to social status or one’s health. Titles and position did not impress Him. He had no interest in financial status, for His heart was open to everyone. I began to wonder how a man like this, a man of compassion, empathy, and love, could have rejected an innocent six-year-old child.
That question stayed with me as I watched sermons and church services on television, continued to read the Bible, and prayed and meditated. By the Spring, my idea of Jesus had changed considerably, and I was no longer angry at Him. There was joy in our reunion, just as I heard there would be. I understood now that Jesus had never rejected me. Instead, the adults in my life had failed me. I should have never been allowed to participate in an adult activity that I could not understand. The defrosting of my heart was just in time. My family would need my renewed faith in a big way in the next few years.
Without warning, my daughter’s husband of 10 years asked for a divorce. She believed her marriage was on solid ground. She told me there had been the usual ups and downs, but she was unaware that anything was seriously wrong. They had not been fighting or even disagreeing. I could hear the tears in her voice as she told me that even if her marriage was not the stuff dreams are made of, she thought it was stable, and she was willing to work to keep it so. She believed in until death does us part. But her husband, it seemed, did not. She tried hard. She did things that I know required her to set aside all pride. In effect, she begged for her marriage but begging served only to make her feel more rejected.
I was devastated for her and her kids. My grandson was just short of high school graduation and was accepted at an outstanding school, one of his top picks. It should have been a joyous time for him, a great summer at the beach where he now lived, before heading off to college at a different beach where he would spend his college years. But he couldn’t quite feel joy when he knew his family was falling apart.
My granddaughter showed little reaction. She is like that even now; she keeps her feelings to herself. But it doesn’t take much knowledge about divorce or 12-year-old girls to figure out the kind of feelings she was having. My heart broke for all three of them. As validation of my budding Christianity, I was even sad for their dad. I recognized that no one divorces without sadness. I asked God to comfort him in his sorrow. Of course, that was between praying for God to remove the malice in my heart.
Even as my heart broke, I was happy they were coming home. I knew my daughter would not survive her divorce unbroken without God in her life. But she needed her mom too. She had been praying for years for my salvation, and my newfound belief gave her great comfort. It gave her comfort, too, to have my support from a shared paradigm. I thanked God for isolating me in a cabin in the mountains so He could begin my recreation in the image of His Son.
My grandson showed signs of dangerous behavior over the summer between high school and college. Hmm, I wonder why. It was by the skin of all of our teeth that we got him to the dorms in Santa Barbara, barely ready to start his classes. But that was the beginning of the trouble, not the end. It isn’t original, but I call the next two years of his life the desert years. He began questioning his faith, and at the same time, he began to attend raves and take drugs. He started believing that it was LSD that led to the genuine divine connection. It was all very frightening.
But, for God, we never lost communication with him. Grace allowed us to stay calm and discuss his feelings and new ideas without anger or blame. That was not usually my first choice of how to talk to him about his ridiculous and dangerous behavior. Once more, I thanked God for the time he gave me in isolation. That gift grounded me in faith and gave me the tools to answer my grandson’s questions and refute his ideas with Biblically sound answers based on scripture. In those two years, I spent more time in prayer and surrendering to God than I could have ever imagined possible. But it taught me how to surrender without resistance. And it gave me the humility to ask God to remove my fears.
There are side effects when we establish an open relationship with our children and allow them to be honest with us. One is knowing more about what they are doing than is comfortable. It would have been less painful to hide our heads in the sand to ignore the disasters waiting to happen in the environments he frequented. Instead, we turned to God to help us bear the burden of our worry and fear. God led us through the whole thing, and in retrospect, I could see that he had laid the groundwork years before the problem manifested.
The next few Christmases were less joyful than we had hoped. Celebrating our Savior’s birth was marred by the absence of my grandson and our concern for his safety. But I do not want to leave out the many miracles God granted us in those two years. Small gifts, like my daughter’s ability to quickly find full-time work. And despite all of the grief, stress, and fear she was battling, God’s grace allowed her to continue being the engaged parent her daughter deserved.
There were more significant miracles too. When my grandson was in such danger, I prayed the same prayer repeatedly every day, at least three times each day. In it, I asked God to please put a strong Christian in my grandson’s path, someone he could connect with on a level that would bring him back into the church and God’s safety. I also called several campus ministries to ask them to contact my grandson. I knew that no matter how much he wanted help to return to God, his pride would not allow him to reach out.
Then one day, my grandson called me. When I saw his number on my phone, my heart rate increased. With a prayer, I answered, hoping this wasn’t more trouble; joyfully, it was not. He was calling to tell me that God had answered my prayer precisely how I had prayed. He told the story like this:
“I have two classes that meet in the same room back to back,” he went on, “I usually wait in the classroom between the two. But for some reason, today I craved a Jamba Juice.” “So, I went to the Jamba Juice stand on campus.” He said, “While standing in line, I noticed a very tall man in an adjacent line wearing a tee shirt featuring my favorite rapper.” “As I looked at his shirt, our eyes met, and he left the line and walked up to me.” My grandson said he was confused as the man asked, “Do you believe in God?” My grandson said to me very seriously, “Well, you know, grandma, that I would never deny God, so I told him that I do believe in God.” Then he told my grandson he was having a Bible study for some students that night and asked him to come. “Now, grandma,” my grandson said, “If it had been an individual study, I would not have said yes.” “And if I had plans that night, I probably wouldn’t have gone either.” “But it wasn’t, and I didn’t, so I went.” God had answered my specific prayer just as I had prayed it.
That was the beginning of the end of my grandson’s time in the desert. He stuck with this man, let’s call him James, as James discipled him. He went to church every Sunday and Bible study every Wednesday. Not much later, my grandson began teaching a Bible study of his own. On February 14, 2019, James baptized my grandson on a beautiful beach in Santa Barbara, California. And his baptism was the miracle for which I had prayed.
The following Christmas, God, answered another specific prayer I had been praying for since my time in the mountains. The prayer began with asking God to allow my family to be together on Christmas. But as my faith grew, I added something to the request. My family and I had never had an opportunity to pray together when we were together. So I amended my prayer to ask God to bring my family together on Christmas, so we could pray together and glorify Him on that holy day.
The first Christmas, my grandson was safe; we all stood together in front of the Christmas tree. Before passing out presents, we joined hands, bowed our heads, and prayed to our Father in heaven. After glorifying Him for every day He has given us breath, we thanked Him for answering all the prayers that brought us back together for Christmas. As we sang happy birthday to our Lord and Savior, I realized this was the Christmas I prayed for.
Linda Troxell is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who lives in a small town in Southern California where she writes devotionals and poetry to post on her personal blog. For over twenty years, she worked to help men and women struggling with substance abuse and adolescent boys in group homes struggling with family difficulties. She is now retired and spends most of her time doing what she loves best, writing about the Lord, and spending time with her grandchildren.