By Dave Palcsak

“Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.  To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?  For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 2:14-17).

I have always loved these verses. On Thanksgiving Day this year, I realized just how profound they really are. I wasn’t considering writing about my experience because, on the surface, it seems self-aggrandizing. During a long conversation with a brother and dear friend named Brad, I knew I had to share. I thank him for the encouragement. Following a brief bit of background, you will see very clearly that this is about God, not me.

I’m sixty-four years old. I became a Christian about fourteen years ago. I raised my daughters (all three are grown now) to be very anti-Christian and did too good of a job. They are wonderful women and I’m blessed to maintain great relationships with all three. They are in Columbus, Ohio where I lived most of my life. After converting to Christianity, following a lifetime of agnosticism, I felt very strongly from the Lord that I had to move to Denver so I could pursue Him fully. For a variety of reasons, I have been limited in my travels back to Columbus since then. But I have managed to see my kids and grandkids nearly every Thanksgiving. For the most part, the gatherings have been close family only. This past Thanksgiving though, my oldest daughter hosted my ex-wife, two former sisters-in-law, one former brother-in-law and a number of others. When my ex and I split up, it was far from amicable. I perceived that I was wronged, and I was not shy in proclaiming that. I started looking into Christianity shortly thereafter and eventually the Lord showed me that I needed to forgive her because I certainly fell short as a Godly husband and had no right whatsoever to hold any grudges. Since then, I’ve seen her several times and we have no problems being together with our kids. Other than one wedding several years ago, I hadn’t seen my in-laws for many years. I wasn’t worried about seeing them again, but I was to a large degree a different person from the man I was when I was married. I was the raucous, loud, heavy-drinking, life of the party, type. Now, I’m the tee-toting Christian. I was fully anticipating a bit of awkwardness on Thanksgiving.

I arrived back in Columbus for my yearly visit the Monday before Thanksgiving. I’m not going to provide a blow by blow of the entire week, but I think this is significant: It was my middle daughters’ 40th birthday and we were throwing her a surprise party. Obviously, she didn’t have a clue, not only about the party, but also about me being in town. The surprise and the party were both awesome, but that’s not my point. Before the party, I spent the day at my daughters’ house as Teri (my ex-wife) and my youngest daughter prepared for the gathering. As I stated, Teri and I had no proximity problems, but we also weren’t exactly chummy. We would happily occupy the same space for the sake of our kids but that was about it. Both of us have seen what feuding divorced parents can do to family gatherings, and neither of us wanted to be the cause of that. Ever! I had a keen interest in civility but no interest in any type of friendship. After what transpired, I can now shamefully state that I very erroneously looked at myself as being heroically “tolerant.”

As we spent time together Monday, I started to become aware that we were very much enjoying each other’s company. It wasn’t because Teri had changed. And it certainly wasn’t because of any change I had consciencely made. It was altogether something else. Christ was working in me. I now realize I wasn’t growing as fast as I probably should have been up to that point. Thankfully though, we know He doesn’t desert us, as Philippians 1:6 promises: “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in us will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Christ has been with me from the beginning and for me, becoming “tolerant” was definitely an improvement, but I realize now that I still had a long way to go. If we diligently pursue our relationship with Him, He can work through us in ways we don’t immediately perceive. I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and although I have been working on my walk with the Lord since my conversion, it has taken me a long time to truly understand the miraculous gifts He gives us. In the rear-view, I can see that Teri never had an issue with becoming my friend. She was absolutely more forgiving of me than I was of her. What changed? The funny thing is, until Thanksgiving I really didn’t know. Leading up to Thursday (Thanksgiving Day), everything went as well as could be expected. Other than having a surprisingly good time with Teri, nothing seemed particularly illuminating because I didn’t yet understand the Holy Spirit’s role there. I’m always very happy visiting my children and grandchildren so there was no reason for any trepidation before Thursday. However, that wasn’t necessarily true regarding other guests. Let me explain.

I was particularly worried about Teri’s youngest sister, Nita, who very sadly has been dealing with early onset Alzheimer’s. She, along with her husband, and Teri and I, used to spend quite a bit of time together, but I hadn’t seen either of them in years. Nita was not afflicted the last time I saw her. I knew from my daughters that she has been deteriorating rapidly, and I wasn’t even certain she would recognize me. To be honest, in a very real sense, she didn’t. She knew who I was, but I could tell by the way she immediately reacted, that it wasn’t me she was actually responding to. I know that’s a poor explanation, but I really don’t know how else to put it. This leads me to my point. It was me, but it wasn’t ME. It was Christ in me she was seeing! Nita was immediately drawn to Him in me! We talked quite a bit. We hung out together with my two youngest granddaughters. I sat with her at dinner and kept her calm with the help of my other former sister-in-law Donna because crowds and noise are very difficult for Nita. When she was leaving – and this absolutely broke my heart – she begged me to stay and move into her house to take care of her. Nita wasn’t the only one who was drawn to me. I sensed many in that house were attracted to the fragrance of Christ in me. I firmly believe they saw the light of Christ emanating from me. I had never experienced anything remotely like this in my entire life before that day. I was married for twenty-two years and most of my social life in that time revolved around Teri’s side of the family, all of whom, I also considered to be my family.

It’s important that I explain my perception of the different dynamic, as I perceived it, among my in-laws, from the last time we interacted until now: that was at the wedding I mentioned earlier. My former nephew, whom I’m very close to, got married and I was invited. It was a wedding. Lots of drinking and partying; the sort of arena I used to “excel” in. Not this time. I felt like an outcast. Understandably so. None of them had ever seen me at a party without a drink in my hand. Usually, several of us would get together before the “get together” for pre-party drinks. I have to admit, I felt completely out of place as a sober Christian. Brief, relatively awkward, but polite exchanges took place with folks I had partied with many times in the past. It wasn’t necessarily unpleasant, just a bit uneasy. This illustrates the journey Paul tells us about in Philippians: “Being confident of this very thing; that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6). I was on the road, just not far enough along. That was about three years ago. I was reading my Bible and I was secure in my faith; but obviously, I wasn’t yet where I needed to be. I lacked sufficient confidence, or more accurately, comfort, as to my identity in Christ.

This no longer affects me and that is because of the Holy Spirit. I don’t blame my in-laws, or for that matter, anyone else from my “former” life. I was ill at ease because I wasn’t completely comfortable as a child of God. Now, I have an ease and calmness I formerly lacked. Instead of feeling like I have to prove myself, I’m assured – as His son – so I truly appreciate “the peace that surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:6). That’s the kind of peace you can’t experience apart from Christ. This past trip to Columbus, others noticed and felt the indwelling of Christ in me (whether they knew what it was or not). In fact, I didn’t fully realize what was happening until I put their behaviors towards me together with my reactions. It wasn’t work for me to comfort Nita. It was an absolute joy to help her. It wasn’t a sacrifice to get along with Teri. I had a great time. I could go on and on because I could feel Christ in me during virtually every conversation. The fragrance of Christ that Paul describes in Second Corinthians 2:14 was operating through me. It’s an incredibly awesome blessing to be used by Him! I had never come remotely close to realizing my potential before having the indwelling of the Holy Spirit! It took longer than it should have for me to appreciate what God has made available to me. And it’s there for you too. If you have yet to experience it, that’s ok. If you aren’t where you feel you should be, don’t despair. Trust your entire being to Him and understand that every one of His promises are true. Also know and realize that you must play your part by believing Him and reading and obeying His Word. As I struggled to remember specifics about my trip, this came to mind: “And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.” (John 21:25).

Writing this article about Christ’s indwelling and how I experienced it, helps me better understand what John said. I certainly mean no disrespect by comparing my experience with what Jesus went through; but we are called to be members of His family, and as such, wouldn’t He open up to us at least a taste of the joy (and suffering) He experienced? If you doubt that we are called to be His sons and daughters, think about it as you read Scriptures. You will see this everywhere. I’m sure that Jesus Christ profoundly affected virtually everyone He dealt with on a daily basis. I felt that in Columbus, and I know it was Him much more than it was me. I can’t even recount all that happened in a few short days. It’s not a comparison because, trust me, I’m acutely aware I fall well short there. But He doesn’t. That’s the point. I strive every day to be worthy as a son, no longer a servant. Understand this: being equal with God is not the same as being equal to God. I, you, all believers are called to be members of the Holy Family of God! There is no greater honor.


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