I have two spiritual heroes, and neither of them have theological degrees. They haven’t written any books, nor do they have huge social media followings (or even Twitter accounts, for that matter). Their preaching isn’t known around the world because, well, they don’t preach. In fact, they aren’t even men. Amy and Beth—my aunt and grandmother, respectively—are my heroes in the faith. Amy is a part-time medical professional slash full-time mom of boys, and Beth owns a little store and a herd of cattle (full of spoiled cows she’s given names!) in the country. Though, in this world, these two women live what some might call mundane lives, I expect to see them highly honored and crowned with unspeakable glory in the world to come. Amy and Beth are warriors for the gospel. They would never describe themselves in such terms, and if you commended them for their faith they would humbly inform you that their faith is terribly weak. But these two women are far from frail in the Spirit. For two decades, long before I believed in the truth they cherish, I witnessed these women continually clothe themselves in the Lord Jesus (Romans 13:14) and live lives that are worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27).
Amy’s infatuation with Jesus always baffled me—until I came to share it, that is. I grew up in the Bible Belt and was plenty used to people “having faith”—you know, that religious stuff you believe but keep to yourself. Nearly every person I knew believed the Bible was God’s Word and that it described Jesus accurately as the Son of God and Savior of the world. But they didn’t talk about their beliefs much on a day-to-day basis. Their faith-life was confined to the four walls of the church they attended semi-regularly. Amy was different, though. Her faith was continually visible. She was never pushy or over the top, but she talked about Jesus a lot. Like, a whole lot. She always had a Bible or some book about the Bible within reach and would jump at the chance to tell you about what the Lord was showing her in her reading (she still does this!). Any time anyone had an issue—including “behavioral issues” among us kids—she would stop whatever she was doing and audibly pray about it. I saw her pray for people constantly. She prayed for me constantly. I could not, and still cannot, think about Amy without thinking about Jesus, too.
Beth’s life has always been characterized by simplicity—her faith being no exception. She is one of those people that I would describe, in a non-critical way, as having “blind faith.” She so quickly and firmly believes whatever God says! If she reads something in the Bible, then it is as true as the sky is blue, and an angel from heaven couldn’t convince her otherwise. Over the years, I remember Beth telling me numerous times that God is responsive to prayer and faithful to his promises. She can’t articulate the doctrines of grace or define theological terms like “soteriology,” but her faith in Jesus Christ is something she has always walked out in her daily life. She believes God loves her, and she entrusts herself entirely to him.
I have yet to experience a lovingkindness so pure and unwavering as that which pours from the hearts of these two women toward me. When every nook of my life contradicted every cranny of their Christian faith, neither flinched in their affection for me. I began partying hard and engaging in homosexual behavior in 2008. They didn’t approve of my behavioral patterns, but they continued to express both their love and their faith to me.
Amy and I never had a conversation explicitly about my sexuality and lifestyle choices until after I converted to Christianity in late 2010. But because I unashamedly broadcasted my life through social media, she was very much aware. She would send me messages on MySpace, telling me that she loved me and was continuing to pray for me. She encouraged me to pray, as well. She gently, but often, reminded me of the goodness of God and said living for him is the best way to live.
When Beth learned that I had exited the closet, she called me and asked me to come to her store so we could talk about “all the changes in my life.” I drove over there reluctantly, dreading the awkward and possibly contentious conversation that awaited me. When I walked in, she welcomed me with her usual warmth and kindness. I was expecting her to preach at me, but she didn’t. She allowed me to talk freely, and even asked some questions about the guy I was dating at the time. I remember her saying he sounded like a nice young man. But at the end of the conversation, she echoed the words of Amy and told me that living for God was the best way to live. Before I left, she asked me to remember one thing: if I ever decided I wanted to turn away from this way of life and live for Jesus instead, I could. She said God would gladly receive me and work mightily in my life. Her words stuck to my heart like glue. Though I didn’t consciously choose to do so, I did remember that “one thing.” All the time, I remembered it.
When I think back on the last two and a half decades, I can now see how much these two women played a role in the development of my personal faith in Christ. Though I didn’t believe in Jesus until I was twenty-one, I was continually confronted with his reality because of the visible faiths of Amy and Beth. Though my childhood was riddled with pain and dysfunction, the love of God was tangibly present in my life through the love of Amy and Beth. Though I plugged my ears to biblical teaching in my young adult years, the truth and mercy of God were regularly communicated to me through Amy and Beth’s presence in my life. These two women are heroes—they are my heroes.
The world doesn’t necessarily need more big name preachers or televangelists or even vocational ministers (though more of those wouldn’t hurt!). The world needs more everyday spiritual giants like Amy and Beth. The Kingdom of God doesn’t advance primarily on the backs of those who stand on well-lit stages but on the backs of everyday folks who aren’t ashamed to let their lights shine (Matthew 5:16).
I hope that my sojourning through this world will be half as fruitful as the lives my aunt and grandmother have lived (and are still living) for the glory of Jesus.