When Papa Fried the Onions

Michele’s Story:

When smoke fills the air, you know the Holy Spirit is in the room … or is that just the onions burning?

Heat is already in the room with parents from two different world religions. My father was a Muslim from Iran and my mother was a stubborn Irish agnostic who saw little need for God. Because both my parents had many priorities besides me, I often felt neglected and unloved yet shouldered high parental expectations for my academic performance. As far as my dad was concerned, there were only three options for a future career: lawyer, doctor, or President of the United States.

While my dad wanted me under his thumb, my mom wanted me independent so she could do her own thing. I was left utterly confused. Not surprisingly, this dynamic was ripe for my teenage rebellion. While I can’t blame my parents for my choices, I can see how the neglect and pressure to perform fed the lie that I was invincible. From a very young age, I put myself in many self-destructive situations and stayed on that path for ten years.

When my college years arrived, I went home for weekend visits with some of my roommates and discovered a whole new family dynamic. One family ate dinner together with light and funny conversations at the table. Another time, a family stayed up late to play card games with us. Several of these families also “happened” to believe in Jesus.

My next encounter with Christian believers was the last place I might have expected.  A Jewish summer camp in Maine placed flyers at college campuses all over the country to recruit camp counselors. When I arrived, the first people I met were a group of Christian friends. That summer I encountered Jesus as my Savior. My new friends helped me come to know him through the Bible, worship songs and prayer.

For over two decades, I grew in my faith and experienced much healing from the hurts of my childhood. My parents had divorced but remained good friends. I spoke with them often about my faith in Christ, but it was one of the hardest areas I navigated in my Christian walk. For twenty years, I didn’t see any fruit from my efforts or prayers.

Seven years ago, I got a phone call from my mom with devastating news: she had breast cancer. Though stunned, I prayed for my mom and determined to walk through this trial with her. After she started cancer treatment, she began reaching out to me and my family in new ways. She called often. She sent packages and cards to my kids. When she completed her treatment, she even flew to Virginia to visit my family for the first time. Over the next five years, God gave back so much of what had been stolen from my childhood: I had a loving, nurturing and involved Mom in my daily life.

Then one day I got sickening news: Mom’s breast cancer had returned and metastasized to her brain and lungs. Shortly after the diagnosis, I flew back to Florida. Before leaving, I had asked several people to pray for both my parents’ salvation and for me to have the right words at the right time.

On my first night there, I tried to settle down at Dad’s house. But his grandfather clock taunted me through the night. Every fifteen minutes I heard its annoying chimes. After a restless night I woke up in such a funk that I was in no condition to share my faith in Jesus with anyone. That morning I planned to take my mom for a facial, so I dragged myself out of bed and sent a desperate text to friends back home asking for prayer to help me have a meaningful conversation with my mother in my cranky, sleep-deprived state.

Suddenly Dad called for me to come to the kitchen. He was making breakfast but had an urgent question to ask me.

When I arrived at the doorway, he asked, “What are we going to do if Mom doesn’t make it?”

I looked at my Muslim father and said, “The only hope Mom has now is Jesus.” My boldness shocked even me.

My dad started crying and said, “Can you do one of your powerful prayers for us?”

I didn’t even know my prayers were making a difference to him! Of course, I dove right in. I began weeping, snot was coming out of my nose, and I was babbling and didn’t even know what I was saying.  But somehow we both knew God was there.

And then the entire room filled with smoke! Was it the Holy Spirit?

Dad had left the onions on while we prayed and both of us completely lost track of time! We broke into hysterical laughter and quickly tried to air out the room before Mom showed up.

A few minutes later, Mom knocked on the door and I got into her car for our girls’ outing. But she left the car in park for a moment. Do you know what she said? The same question my dad asked me moments before!

“Michele, what’s going to happen if I don’t make it through this time?”

In God’s beautiful timing, after twenty years of prayers, I was having the same conversation with both of my parents just minutes apart! With total confidence in God’s hand upon me, I calmly asked, “Mom, if I were to get on a plane and leave here today and you died, would I ever see you again? I need to know if you’ve accepted Jesus and that you trust him so you can go with me to heaven!”

She responded, “I have and I do!”

After more weeping and more snot, huge smiles broke across our faces. We spent the rest of the day talking about her questions about heaven. What will our bodacious new heavenly bodies look like? What is the book of life and will our names be in it? It was a long, good day. And even though the path ahead for Mom was painful, God redeemed it in one swift moment. Everything was going to be okay.

Mom lived another twelve months, and then I had the priceless experience of ushering her into heaven after a long day of storytelling around her hospice bed. She was in total peace and without fear as she journeyed toward the Savior’s open arms.

After Mom’s passing, Dad was brokenhearted despite their divorce years earlier. Ultimately God used a couple of Dad’s dreams, along with a book called Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, to bring Dad to a point of accepting Christ a year later.

No matter how long you have prayed for that indifferent or antagonistic family member, don’t give up. God is moving behind the scenes in ways you cannot imagine. Step out boldly and share the good news of Jesus’s atoning death and resurrection with someone you love. May you find him right there with you. Just be careful not to burn the onions!

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