By: R.L. Wilson
During our time with Anne Graham Lotz, she made a comment that sparked a memory of a defining moment in my own faith journey. She said, “God doesn’t have any grandchildren. You know, just because I’m Billy Graham’s daughter doesn’t mean I’m a child of God. I had to make that decision for myself.”
I can relate to that.
I grew up on the mission field. We had family devotions frequently—can’t say I remember it being every night, but certainly several times a week. I am told that I was about 4 or 5 when I asked Jesus to come into my heart, although I don’t have a clear memory of that.
We had Bible classes in school. We all took part in a Bible memory program where we earned badges and prizes for memorizing verses. By the time I was in 7th grade, I was teaching a Bible class at a nearby school, had a leadership role in Pioneer Girls, and made straight A’s in Bible classes all through high school.
But imagine trying to rebel when every adult around you, including all your teachers, were missionaries who felt compelled to conform you to a pretty rigid standard of behavior and belief. Outwardly, I could totally identify with Paul. I was, to all outward appearances, “as for righteousness based on the law, faultless” (Philippians 3:6).
But then I graduated high school, and came to the United States for college. I had fully intended to rebel against my very religious upbringing, changing my name to one not so “biblical,” and finally getting a chance to “live a little.”
But several things happened: First, I was on my first solo airplane flight on the way to Atlanta. The pilot came on the intercom inviting us to see a rather unusual sight. There, on the clouds, was a shadow of the plane, completely encircled by a rainbow. He called it a pilot’s halo. As I looked at that rainbow, God brought to my mind a verse I had memorized years before, “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27). The first domino fell as I recognized I would not be getting away from God’s presence. In fact, He was promising to be with me.
When I got to school, the first thing the instructors told us was that they didn’t care what we wanted to be called, we would be known by the first name on our birth certificates—I was stuck with my biblical name! There went domino number 2.
Even worse, we’ll call them dominoes 3 and 4, among my instructors were twin sisters, former nuns, who had been missionaries in Africa. They took upon themselves the task of keeping me in line! YIKES!!!! Okay, fine. I would just continue to be the “good” missionary kid (a contradiction in terms, as we generally consider ourselves even worse than preacher’s kids!)
All that is a long lead up to what happened one Sunday a few months later. I was visiting a church with a friend. We had gone to a Sunday School class, where my friend introduced me. The teacher welcomed me, then asked, “Are you a Christian?” My immediate response? “Oh, yes. My parents are missionaries.”
Can you say brick wall?! As I heard those words echoing in my mind, I realized that I had some serious work to do. Did I truly believe I was saved simply because I was a missionary kid? Was I counting on my parents’ religion to get me to heaven? Was I truly a child of God?
Over the next few weeks and months, I had to do some serious thinking, praying, and reading my Bible. In the end, I was able to say with confidence that my faith was my own. I truly believed that Jesus died for me. I truly had asked for and received the salvation He offered me. I truly did have a lifelong commission to become “conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29).
Even as I thought about those circumstances I have related here—the pilot’s halo, the name edict, even the nuns, I could see how God was encircling me and protecting me, even from myself. I can echo Anne’s words, “He placed the Holy Spirit within me. It’s been a process. It’s a journey as a Holy Spirit has worked in my life. And his primary aim is not so much to clean me up, but to conform to the image of Jesus to make me like Jesus.”
So, not a grandchild, but a daughter of the King!