Old Selves – Learning to Love Family Members Who Have not Yet Changed

Lydia currently lives in West Lafayette, Indiana, where she and her husband, Nick, serve full-time with China Outreach Ministries, reaching Chinese international students at Purdue University. Lydia is a Wheatie for life (Wheaton College) and an enthusiast of Christian Classical education. In her spare time, Lydia enjoys being with kids (Nathaniel, Ethan, and Abigail in particular), doing calligraphy, teaching piano, running, and being active.

For more of this series check out: The Hostess with the Mostess – A Pre-Arrival ReflectionAdventure and Inconvenience – A Reflection One Week In, and Searching for Significance – A Reflection on Conversations with Ayi.

M and I have been friends for a little more than a year. I got to know her last year through weekly meetings to pray, study the Bible, and talk about life. I had thought my relationship with M grew deep and open as the year went by, but this summer I really got to know her in a deeper way – the roommate kind of way where you know a person’s “I’m tired” and “I’m feeling excited” faces.

Looking back over the summer, the amount of time I spent with M was much less than what I had expected when we started talking about her and her mother coming to live at my house. When we finalized M and Ayi coming to live with us at the end of last school year, I had this idea that each week there would be multiple nights of good conversation with M around the dinner table. I had no idea what it meant that M was signed up for two summer courses and a part-time job at a laboratory on campus. In reality these commitments meant that M was generally away from home 7am-7pm every day and would be studying until late at night almost every night. But despite her busy schedule, we did end up having a few noteworthy conversations during the course of the summer.

As you may recall from my previous posts, M’s paternal grandfather passed away one week after M and Ayi came to our house. I drove Ayi to the airport to catch her flight back to China and since I didn’t want to make the two-hour drive alone, I asked M to come. It turns out M is the perfect driving buddy to keep you from falling a sleep! She is an avid reader and pursuer of knowledge, and we seem to share the love language of quality time. We just enjoy being together and talking about the goings-on of life. Our drive home went by quickly as M reflected on the state of her family and shared stories from her childhood.

Talking to M, I realized that when your relationship with God begins an ocean away from your family, it can be difficult to realize that your family members have not changed and are still continuing on as they have for years. You have made a 180 degree turn and had a transformation in life-perspective and self-understanding, but they are their old selves while you are a new self. They do not know the new you, they don’t understand why you’ve forsaken their ways for God’s ways, and they expect you to still act like the old you. 

M’s love for her family became apparent as she shared about the brokenness of her various family members and their desperate need for freedom from the chaos sin brings to life. As she shared about her family, I saw her deep desire for them to know the Truth that would set them free. For M’s mom, coming to America where M’s life was transformed by Jesus has been a catalyst for deepening her curiosity about Christianity. 

M and her mom have a pretty close relationship, and I can tell that Ayi loves M very much. Ayi is very talkative and voluntarily shares life stories and lessons with M. They also butt heads sometimes with their differing views on life decisions and issues, and they experience all the other dynamics that exist in close relationships. M has had many opportunities to get to know her mom in new ways during her visit. For example, M shared that since their family had always had a housekeeper who cooked for them, M hadn’t realized her mom actually knew how to cook!

Up until this summer, M hasn’t had many chances to share her faith with her mom in person or hear her mom’s views on the origins and purpose of life. This summer, Ayi’s attendance at M’s weekly college Bible study and church service on Sunday has been an important for starting many spiritual conversations. During finals week of summer school, when M actually had some more time off because of finals scheduling, she and her mom went on long walks at night where they would talk about many everyday life topics that opened up conversation to spiritual sharing from M.  

One night M and Ayi came back from their evening stroll and M immediately came up the stairs to excitedly tell me, “I just had a really good conversation with my mom!” I felt privileged to share in M’s excitement about her mom’s change of heart toward God throughout the summer. M shared that her mom was starting to tell her own friends to go to church and that learning more about Jesus is important. This was a huge change from the beginning of the summer when Ayi said she would only start considering God and Jesus after she got a little older.

Ministering to Ayi together with M has been a very blessed experience. I often hear, “My mom and I talked about… on our walk. Maybe you can ask her more about it and share with her your experience when you interact with her this week.” To know a person and play a role in the deepening of their understanding of God is a unique experience. Engaging our fruitful conversations with Ayi reminds me that God’s design for a person coming to faith is one that includes many steps, parts, and people; I am not the only one responsible for changing a person’s view of God. I am just one piece of the puzzle and it is ultimately God who is in charge of a person’s changed heart. Praise him!

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I’m looking forward to sharing another year with M as this school year begins. M has mentioned the possibility of restarting a blog she began in middle school as a way of ministering and reaching out to her non-believing friends, so it will be fun to wait and see what God does with that desire. There are many skills that M is still learning as a young college student, many of which I myself am also still learning: discipline, time management and self-control, communication, and how to sense the Holy Spirit’s guidance. It will be an honor to witness first hand M’s growth in applying her abundant knowledge of God to her daily conversations, her friendships, and decision-making.

This is the prayer I have for M – pray with me!

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

2 Peter 1:5-10

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Further Reading

A Chinese Immigrant’s Reflection on American Holidays
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Share My Love: A Tea Merchant's Story
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Raising Children in the Gospel
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