A year after Jesus captured my heart and began to redeem my life, my Presbyterian pastor talked with me about considering going to an interdenominational evangelical seminary. I had gone through every Bible study the church had to offer, and wanting more, had taken two courses at a local Catholic seminary. I was grieved to discover there that some Christians, even seminary professors, consider the Old Testament and parts of the New to be myth rather than history. The Holy Spirit in me knew that was utterly false. Already having three graduate degrees from secular institutions, my view of the world was thoroughly brainwashed and I knew I needed to renew my mind with the Word of God.
At the time I was working as a Child Develop mentalist on the Pediatric faculty at the University of Texas Health Science Center. I was looked upon as an expert, but I soon realized that everything I had been taught about human nature and child development was based on assumptions that opposed God’s Word. How could I possibly move forward in this or in any vocation without being transformed by the truth myself? I wanted with all of my being to please God, to live the life that He had planned for me, to learn how to live in relationship with Him, and to teach my young son how to do the same.
I was ravenous for the Word of God, to know God, not as I imagined Him to be, but as He is. Jesus had encountered me and made Himself up close and real. I was enthralled by Him and longed to really know this gracious God who had shown Himself to me in the midst of a failed marriage. He was my daily portion for many decisions living as a single again, but now with the responsibility of a young boy who had just turned five. It was both a time of despair, living through the consequences of divorce, and a time of absolute joy and hope for a future.
Many seminaries have strayed from a reverence of the authority and inerrancy of the Word of God. My pastor recommended three that he thought would be trustworthy. For two years I prayed and asked God to help me surrender to His plans. I did not want the stress of more change and needed prayer to get into a neutral position which would allow me to hear God. I visited two of the three seminaries during summer of 1987.
While at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, in prayer one afternoon about whether or not to go to seminary, the Lord spoke to me,
Listen, O daughter, give attention and incline your ear:
Forget your people and your father’s house;
Then the King will desire your beauty.
Because He is your Lord, bow down to Him.
I understood these words as a call to leave my family in San Antonio and go to seminary. I thought of Abraham being called to leave the Ur of the Chaldees and follow the Lord to a land God would show Him:
By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed to go out unto a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he became a sojourner in the land of promise, as in a land not his own, dwelling in tents, with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise.”
Hebrews 11:8-9, ASV
I looked up the meaning of “sojourn:” a temporary stay, a brief period of residence. I did not know how long this sojourn was to be, or still even which direction to head.
When I visited Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Massachusetts, I cried through my interviews with each of two professors with whom my pastor had suggested I meet. Both men were of such inspiring character. When the Holy Spirit is working in me sometimes I cry. I have come to understand this as the Spirit groaning within me, interceding with a deep burden when I do not have the words. While at Gordon-Conwell, I could see my son and me living there among other families right on campus. I felt a strange sense during this visit of coming home, as if I had been there before though I had not. Although it would be an enormous loss to leave my parents, brother and sister, and their families, especially on the heels of the loss of a husband, there was a compelling sense of promise in yielding to what God had woven into my heart. Would I trust my new Husband to care for us in a strange land where we knew no one?
I returned from the trip knowing what I was to do, and excited and in awe that Jesus had made it all so clear. My pastor and his wife were thrilled, and my home Bible study friends were very positive and confirming. However, neither my family nor my son’s father were happy at all. My mother told me that I was being selfish and not thinking of what was best for my son who needed his extended family more than ever. Was I being selfish? She said she hoped I would not decide to become a pastor and expected me to return by the first cold winter. My father said that I would come to my senses and admonished me not to do anything radical, like becoming a missionary.
My ex-husband filed an injunction against our leaving, even though he had no legal basis for a favorable judgment. He called my mother and told her I had gone off the deep end and was becoming religious as a reaction to the divorce. He told our son that I was taking him away because I didn’t want them to be together. This contradicted the facts that as often as not my ex-husband had not shown up at the times he had reserved to be with our son when he had opportunity.
My father was kind enough to come over a few times to help me pack, but my mother would not speak to me. My parents were broken-hearted that their grandson was leaving and my mother seemed to view my decision as a rejection of my need for her. They saw it through natural eyes and were not able to see it as a call from God. I understood this and did not blame them, but I sorrowed and felt very alone. It was a stressful departure that could only have been made with the joy of Jesus calling me to follow Him. During a farewell dinner hosted by my sister, my son escaped outside to scavenge little tiny frogs from around her house. Frog and lizard collecting were his favorite activities and I supposed he had to have one last fling, not knowing if there were frogs where we were going.
Another member of my church had been accepted at the same seminary and offered to caravan with me so that I would not be travelling the 2000 miles alone. He tried to be very patient, but drove long hours without stopping. He seemed not to be able to remember that small children need more frequent stops, and there were no cell phones in those days. I just followed behind him trying not to lose sight of the bicycle he had mounted on the roof of his car. My son was a good sport about it during the day, playing car games and listening to audiotapes, but at night he cried himself to sleep vowing to return to Texas as soon as he earned enough money to buy the plane ticket.
The second day of our trip we began to notice a putrid smell from the air conditioning vents of my station wagon. I couldn’t figure out what it could possibly be. It smelled like some type of dead life form. My son finally acknowledged that he had kept the little frogs from Texas in his pockets to carry with him in case Massachusetts did not have frogs. There were dozens of them, and many had slowly made their way out of his pockets for air and crawled up into inaccessible parts of the AC. We travelled with this smell of dead frogs for three of our four days.
It seemed to take forever to get to Massachusetts, but I was so elated when we entered the campus that we stopped and got out by the lily pond to take it all in and say a prayer of thanks. My son immediately found a little yellow wildflower and gave it to me in celebration (see the photo above). I was so encouraged to see his joy, though I knew he was still hurting. It was such a tender and loving gesture to rejoice with me even though he did not want to be there. A few minutes later he spotted the pond and ran to drop his fists in every hole that might be hiding a frog. He was not disappointed to pull out the biggest bullfrog he had ever seen. He held it up in glee like a trophy. He knew from this first landing at our new home that God would provide for him too.
“The LORD watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless.”
Psalm 146:9, ESV
Jesus was true to Himself over the 18 years of sojourn in Massachusetts. He never left us through these years during which we were spiritually formed and prepared for our destinies in Christ. My son committed his life to Jesus and was baptized. He blossomed in His love for the Lord and for the Word. He went through the rites of passage of manhood without an earthly dad, which precipitated a serious crisis that was finally miraculously resolved in spiritual revival. A few months before graduating from high school, he visited a Christian college in Michigan and returned saying, “This is God’s choice.” He chose this college over some excellent secular universities that had already accepted him the previous fall.
In 2001 the Lord told me I would be relocating. After much prayer and a few years of painful mistakes, I sought the Lord for greater clarity about the move. Not knowing where I was to move, I felt I was to paint the house and get it ready for sale. In the fall of 2004, before I told anyone that I might be selling, a man came to my front door and expressed the desire to buy the house. When he learned that I had no definite plans, he gave me his card to contact him when I was ready to sell. Nine months later, in the spring of 2005 the Lord gave me clear instructions to return to Texas: “Return to the land of your ancestors and to your kindred, and I will be with you” (Genesis 31:3). Within the same week, I was able to sell our home in Massachusetts to the man who had come to my door the previous year and purchase a condo in San Antonio near my elderly parents’ home.
Again, I was deeply grateful for the clarity of Jesus’ direction. I needed that sure word to make a challenging move back during a period of poor physical health and weakness. The timing was good because my son had recently found his first post-college job. He was moving into an apartment in Boston at the very same time that I was packing to return to Texas. Though my son will always have a heart for Texas, he considers the Boston area his home. He has friends from grade school through college who still live in the area and is grateful for the work opportunities in that part of the country that are uniquely suited to his interests. Yet I hope he sees now that we are sojourners, and that we belong to the Lord, to live where He plants us.
When I obeyed God for my own life, He took care of my son also. He is a family God. His will for the parents is always also the best for the children. This truth was tested many times in many ways, but looking back over these past 25 years; it’s evident that God has the end in mind from the beginning. The wisest route is to obey His voice and follow Him wherever He says to go.
We are strangers and sojourners on earth, but citizens of a permanent place of dwelling. I cherish this current time closer to my family and becoming restored in health. Already I see that this season back home has many good purposes and I am in awe of God’s ways. I believe I would be happy living in San Antonio for the rest of my life, but I want to become so united with Jesus that I am always willing and not fearful to trust in His leadership.
Jill ThriftReturn to the Newsletter Archives