Parents or God? Must We Choose?
My mom is a neat” lady. In fact, she’s probably the most “together” woman I know. Even though we are geographically 2,000 miles apart, and even further apart theologically, if you asked each of us individually who was our best friend, we’d probably name each other.
Mom taught me to believe in God when I was just a child. She even taught Sunday School at our synagogue. I remember her standing in the kitchen, washing dishes while I dried. Through the steam and clatter and suds, she would tell me stories—about Noah and the ark, the miracle of Hannukah, the beautiful Queen Esther and wicked Haman, and how God redeemed our people from the land of Egypt. I liked hearing how baby Moses was put into the river in a basket and rescued by the Egyptian princess. I also remember the glow of the Sabbath candles she lit on Friday nights as we recited the blessings in Hebrew and English. Then we would eat our Sabbath dinner of specially prepared foods at our table that was covered with a snowy white cloth.
Mom and I were very close. Sometimes she would ask, “How much do you love me?” I’d stretch my arms as far apart as I could and say, “This much!” But to this day, she says that her favorite answer is the time I replied, “Mom, I love you from the sky to every house!”
One winter night when I was seven and my grandparents were babysitting me, Mom came home with some bad news. I knew it was bad news because they were all crying. When I asked my mother what had happened, she said my dad had died. I didn’t really understand, but I was sad. She handed me a pair of mittens with rabbit faces on them and said he had bought them for me before he died. Later I realized that she had bought them herself. Somehow, in the midst of her grief, she had thought to give me a remembrance of my dad.
After that, sometimes I would walk into the living room in the middle of the night and find Mom crying. I’d rub her back and tell her that everything would be all right. And we’d sit close in the dark, drawn together by our loss. Together my mom, my sister and I picked up the pieces of our lives. Then Mom began dating Robert, a widower with two sons. I liked Robert. Sometimes he would bring my sister and me presents.
One evening Mom said, “Girls, I think Robert will ask me to marry him soon. What do you think? Would you like him as a new daddy?” Our eyes grew big with a sense of adventure and childlike acceptance. “Oh, yes!” we chorused. That winter “we” were married to Robert, with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all crowded into the rabbi’s study for the ceremony. I thought I was the luckiest girl in third grade to be able to carry a bouquet and throw rice at my own mother’s wedding! Later I would understand just how fortunate I really was, to be part of such a unified, loving circle born from the fragments of two families that had been shaken by grief.
I remember riding in our blue Buick with my new dad. I was eight years old, and he was driving. 1 sat in the back, squished between two relatives. “Robert, I mean Father, I have something to tell you,” I called from the back seat. “It’s hard to switch from ‘Robert’ to ‘Father,” I confided to my aunt.
“Lori, ‘Father’ is so formal. Why not just call him ‘Dad’?” she suggested.
“Robert, I mean Father, I mean Dad,” I cried, “listen to my story!” For several weeks, he was “Robert, I mean Father, I mean Dad,” until I finally was able to call him just “Dad.”
Dad opened his home to us. When we moved into his house, he decorated bedrooms for my sister and me just as we chose. He kept a kosher Jewish home and attended a Conservative synagogue, so we received the benefits of kosher brisket as well as a quality Jewish education. Dad opened a new world of commitment to Jewish values and tradition for me. He also provided my sister and me with two new brothers ages 18 and 12. More than that, he gave us himself. Dad loved to take us places like the zoo and baseball games. He even took us to Florida twice. He was proud of his two girls, and liked to show us off at his office. I remember someone saying more than once as they looked at me, “Robert, she looks just like you!” He would smile, wink at me and graciously reply, “Why, thank you!”
Finally, when I was in the fourth grade, Dad took our whole family to a courtroom. There we underwent a legal adoption process whereby he adopted my sister and me, and Mom adopted my two brothers. I couldn’t wait to get back to school, where I practiced writing my new last name. “Lori Baron, Lori Baron,” I wrote. “I like the way that sounds.” Dad had given me his name, and, as I would later understand, the legal rights and inheritance of a blood relative. I was legally his daughter, and I could enjoy all the benefits of his home, his name and his love as my own.
Mom taught Sunday School at my new dad’s synagogue. Soon she became the preschool director. I was also becoming involved in our synagogue and in Jewish studies. But as I became a teenager, I began to question our beliefs, our traditions and our faith in God. I wanted to know if there really was a God, and if so, was he the God of the Torah? If he was, how did he want us to live? When I didn’t get sufficient answers, I became rebellious and angry, and I drifted away from my childhood faith. Instead, I sought answers in philosophy and literature. I became sullen and disrespectful toward my family and their values, and my mother was very concerned. Soon we were barely able to communicate with one another.
I moved out of the house and pursued my college degree out-of-state. The situation didn’t get much better. Every time I came home, we would argue, and the closeness that we had once had seemed like a lifetime away. I questioned and belittled Mom’s values because I had none of my own. I was searching for meaning in my life, and I was angry that no one seemed to have answers or cared to look for any.
Then, about two years ago, I became a believer in the Messiah. It was right after Mom had accepted an esteemed position as Executive Director of our synagogue. I knew that my newfound peace and joy in the Lord was the answer to my search for life’s meaning. After receiving God’s forgiveness, I no longer harbored resentment and anger in my heart toward Mom. But I also knew that despite the new love I now felt for her, she would not receive my new discovery with the same joy I felt. In fact, I was quite sure it would drive a permanent wedge between us. Nevertheless, I longed to tell her of the Messiah’s love and grace. If only she could see that the God she had told me of in my childhood was more than a Sunday School lesson—that he was real and alive—in Yeshua!
A few months later, I did tell Mom of my faith in the Messiah. I knew that I must tell her of God’s love, in spite of the high risk of entirely losing our relationship. I knew that she would feel that I had betrayed my Jewish heritage, my faith and my family. That night we were up until two in the morning, hugging, arguing and crying. For me it was a nightmare, because while Jesus had given me a new love for Mom, it was also because of my faith in him that I felt separated from her.
Over the next few months, in an effort to make me “change my mind” about my faith, Mom tried to get me to talk to rabbis, psychologists and even deprogrammers. Out of fear, desperation and love, she would send me books and magazines, trying everything she could to “bring me back” to Judaism. She wouldn’t listen as I tried to tell her of God’s promises to our people about the coming Redeemer. She really did not want to hear that Yeshua was the fulfillment of those promises, and that believing in him meets our need for an atoning sacrifice. It was frightening to her that I believed in something so alien to my upbringing. She still feels that way.
I believe that Mom is hurt because of what she perceives as a betrayal of my Jewish roots. If only she could see that I have found a relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob because of Yeshua! If only she could see past the traditions and rabbinic teachings to find the real meaning of Torah and its fulfillment in the Messiah. But she is afraid—because it’s so different—because of her own lack of knowledge about it—because it just might be true.
My dad is hurt, too. It’s been nearly a year since he has spoken with me, nearly a year since I told him that I believed in Jesus. He is hurt by what he sees as my betrayal of Judaism and our family values. I was the “apple of his eye,” and now I have joined what he sees as “the other side, the persecutors of our people.” He, too, is hurt because of what he does not understand. So we live 2,000 miles apart in silence.
I underwent many struggles in my first year as a believer in Jesus, especially in trying to reconcile my faith in him with my Jewish heritage. I knew that according to the Scriptures, they fit together so beautifully. Why, then, was I made to feel guilty about my faith, as though I had betrayed my family and my religion?
One day, while examining the Scriptures, my eyes fell upon some verses that helped me to understand my new life in Yeshua and made it more real to me.
But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law. To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God bath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba Father (Galatians 4:4-5).
Suddenly I understood. I saw the striking parallels between my relationship with my dad and my relationship with God. Just as my dad, through no merit of my own, had given me the rights and privileges of an heir, God had given me the right to become his child and to call him “Dad.” And just as my earthly father had sealed our relationship by adoption, God, my spiritual Father, had reconciled me to himself by the sacrifice of Yeshua. No longer a slave to the law and in bondage to sin, I was his daughter by the New Covenant. His Spirit in my heart cried out, “Abba, Father,” the most intimate expression of love toward a caring parent.
Some might wonder why I allow such a terrible schism to occur in my family if I really love them. Why don’t I merely “change my mind” and go back to my former belief to bring peace and harmony to my family? That simply is not an option for me. I have been adopted into the family of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob through my faith in the Messiah of Israel. Like my dad, my Heavenly Father from whom I was once estranged gave of himself to make me his own. He gave himself—the life of his Son—to make me his daughter. And that adoption can never be annulled!
My dad’s silence has brought my mom and me closer together, and for that I am grateful. So I will continue to pray for them both, that my life and my walk with Yeshua will reflect to them his truth and his reality. I pray that God will awaken a spiritual hunger in them and cause them to seek answers, and that in his mercy, one day both my mom and my earthly father may cry out as I do, “Abba, Father,” to the One who longs to adopt them.