My mother-in-law wasn’t wild about the idea when Peter, my now husband, and I started dating. She had fair reasons, one of which that I was not a believer. As her and her husband work in ministry, they had seen this story before, and often the outcome had been the believer in the relationship falling away from faith rather than the unbeliever stepping into it.
This woman did not fit my perfectly put-together, touchy-feely, overly-smiley Pastor’s Wife Pigeonhole. She’s a cuticle chewing, no-nonsense engineer whom no one would dare describe as touchy-feely, even by English standards.
Needless to say, when I met her as Peter’s Unsuitable Girlfriend I found myself intimidated.
Intimidated and sweaty.
But she surprised me.
Despite her concerns about her firstborn’s involvement with me, she was open and honest, never smothering. The first time I experienced an answer to prayer she was there to listen, helping me understand what was happening. She graciously invited me into family life and I got to witness the immense respect her two sons and her husband have for her opinion, even as they incessantly quote the Simpsons over her dinner table.
I tried to worm my way into her affections by helping her prepare Sunday lunch, surely the grandest of British traditions. This is a high stakes meal that has undone many a chef. Timing is everything – overcooked meat, uncrispy potatoes, flabby carrots and lumpy gravy are all real and present threats.
We peeled potatoes and talked about all kinds of lighthearted topics: how we can repent of fear, the nature of generational sin, prophetic dreams. Our conversations and my faith grew as we stood side by side in that kitchen. And of all the things she taught me, one of her most valuable lessons was how to correctly roast a parsnip.
Eventually I became a believer and also married Peter. Most Sundays I would cook a full roast lunch for whatever random bunch of guests I could muster. Believers and non-believers would sit round our table; friends fresh from church, friends staggering under a hangover, friends weighed down with heartache, work, or loss.
It became a place for people to come and be, to gather together. We met each other there, with all that we were carrying and a mutual appreciation for the parsnips. Even though many of them are still far from God, they all fondly remember Sunday lunch in our flat and often ask after the new friends they met at that table.
Sometimes I find myself waiting for a program or scheme or at least a brochure to be presented to me before I commit to investing in the lives of others. Yet Jesus tells us to make disciples “as we go” (Matt. 28:19). My mother-in-law, quietly going about her life, with neither program nor brochure — armed primarily with the love of Christ and a fabulous roast parsnip recipe, poured into my life and in doing so has empowered me to do the same.