I was born in a French Canadian enclave in Rhode Island in the 1950s where there was no discernible spirituality whatsoever. There were pleasant and decent people who would never miss church. There were edifices full of statues and incense. But I can honestly say that wracking my brain produces not a single instance of a conversation or practical decision that brought God into the picture. It is not that we disdained a minority of Christians as whackos; it is that there was no such minority, and Christianity seemed a quaint artifact of a bygone century.
It is still a mystery how it happened, but in the mid-1970s my brother, sister, father, and I all came to Christ, quite independently of one another (except for a small nudge from my brother to me). All my other relatives and neighbors were lost, or so I thought. So palpable was the nonexistent spiritual vibe in my hometown that it was intimidating to even broach the subject of God with cousins or aunts and uncles because I seemed even to myself to be a whacko when I was there.
Out of the blue my cousin Denise made contact with me five or six years ago. Though we had lived less than a mile apart as children, we had scant contact growing up. She was two years older and much cooler than I. But now here she was on the phone gushing with joy in Christ. Only one thing could make her happier: to know that her mother is with the Lord. From our initial re-acquaintance there is not a conversation she and I have that does not always circle back to her mother and her wish for certainty regarding her mother’s eternal destiny.
This week I spent four full days cleaning the attic. In helter-skelter boxes of letters I came across three whose existence and contents I had entirely forgotten. They were from Denise’s mother Jeanette. Here is the first:
January 24, 1991
First I want to thank you for the beautiful Loving God book you left for me. Denise is always on my mind; she hasn’t been lucky. Until she realizes that there’s a God … she will never be. With all my trials and tribulations God has given me strength and health. “God is my light.” I also praise him every day. Thanks again.
This is not the way people in my hometown talked. Where did such language come from?
“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8, ESV).
Today I phoned Denise. I told her I am sending her the most precious gift she will ever get via the U.S. Postal Service, something that will make her very happy. She reacted with incredulity that there was anything in the world that could make her happier than she already is. I was glad to see that it is well with her soul, but beg to differ that felicity cannot increase. There is a place we are all going to where every day will mean a journey further up and further in.
We shall see in three days’ time whether the letter bearing God’s loving answer to her heart’s cry for assurance does not transport her soul to greater heights.