Lately I’ve been working on my third memoir, an account of two years in India during the late 80s. The first part ends when we left Mumbai to renew our visas, unaware we were leaving for good. The portion I’m writing now picks up the story 17 years later, when I finally returned with Daniel, the son we adopted just before leaving. We traveled so he could meet his birth family and see his birth country– a once-in-a-lifetime journey.
But it’s been hard to write. Unlike the first part of the book, where I rely on my own impressions and memories to carry the story, this part is really Daniel’s story. Meeting his birth mother for the first and only time, along with four half-siblings, was overwhelming. She was dying of cancer and the trip was sudden. Mumbai, especially in monsoon season, was a shock for someone whose childhood memories of third world living had faded. (Daniel spent his first six years in Africa, but has forgotten most of it.) We were experiencing India in two different ways, and it’s his side that most interests me. But as an overwhelmed teen, he was hard-pressed to articulate what he was feeling, and still finds the experience difficult to relate. I’m left wishing I could climb inside his head, organize his memories, and write from there!
This relates to the passage we’re hiking today:
By faith Moses, when he had grown, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his reward. (Heb.11:24-26)
I trust that in heaven we’ll get the full picture on all our faith heroes, especially the details about Jesus’ earthly life. Are you as curious as I am? The Bible tells us all need to know, but the writer in me wants more! And Moses’ backstory, the years between his adoption and his decision to turn his back on his Egyptian privilege, is another story I’ll be eager to view.
I have so many questions. How much contact did Moses have with his birth family as he grew up in Pharaoh’s court? He seems to have maintained a relationship with Aaron (and possibly Miriam) as he grew. Did he ever visit his parents? Did he struggle, even as a child, with the disparity between his privilege and the Hebrews’ hardships? Or was he shielded from seeing how the Hebrew slaves actually lived?
Was Pharaoh’s daughter a good adoptive mother? Did she have other children? Was she proud of Moses, or disappointed by his choice to return to his people? Did she encourage him to explore his roots, or was this something he did secretly? Did he look and act more like a Hebrew than an Egyptian? Did they ever discuss his struggles with identity? Was it a struggle, or did he always know where he belonged?
The account in Exodus 2 suggests a fast but radical transformation: Moses checks out his countrymen, witnesses an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave, then furtively kills and buries the taskmaster. The next day, he intervenes with two fighting Hebrews and ends up running for his life to Midian. Twenty more unrecorded years pass before the next big change.
Of which I have even more questions.
But the essence of Moses’ decision is revealed in Hebrews 11:
He refused to be known as a grandson of Pharaoh.
He chose to be mistreated with God’s people.
He regarded disgrace for Christ’s sake as of greatest value.
As Christians, we’re to imitate these choices in our own walk with God. A push-pull should be taking place, not between two ethnic cultures, but between two kingdoms: the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light. If we’re saved, if we’ve repented and been baptized into Christ, we’re already in the kingdom of light (see Col. 1:13). We’ve already made momentous decisions to refuse and to choose. But the decision making never stops.
Try saying these things with me: I refuse to be lured by Satan. I refuse to follow his ways. I refuse to let sin rule in my body. I refuse to take the easy path, the wide road. God knows how hard it is to fight these temptations every day.
I choose to be hated by the world. I choose to suffer whatever persecutions come my way. I choose to spend my life serving Christ, not myself. I choose disgrace and dishonor over the approval and acceptance of the world. God knows how hard it is to keep our hearts and motives pure, to let ourselves be maligned and misunderstood when we crave respect.
These are not one-time-only decisions, but ongoing choices to keep swimming in the opposite direction. To spend our time and our lives differently, because we serve a different master. To devote ourselves to spiritual disciplines that are mocked by the world. To be identified with others who bear the name ‘Christian’, even if their hypocrisy, self-righteousness, and compromise reflect poorly on the rest of us.
Moses must have felt the same. The people he was chosen to lead were not great examples of faithfulness. He threw off the prestige of living as an Egyptian royal, only to represent a couple million former slaves who were fearful, rebellious, unbelieving, and perhaps as worldly as the people they were fleeing. Yet he chose to be despised along with them, and to cast his lot with their fate.
This is a hard one for me. I’m embarrassed by Christians who support Trump’s xenophobic policies, who claim that wealth is their God-given right, who attempt to marry religion and politics, who uphold worldly values as godly virtues. I cringe at the so-called Christian leaders who encourage their flock to ignore social distancing measures as we collectively battle COVID-19, even holding services in the midst of our global emergency.
In fact, the hardest part for me in becoming a Christian was being identified with believers who seemed locked in a narrow point of view, with little interest or concern for the lost sheep of the world. When I found fellow believers who cared, who shared their faith and wanted to understand how others lived and felt, I was elated. Perhaps a similar curiosity led Moses to explore his roots. When he saw their pain and oppression, he couldn’t help but act.
As for choosing and refusing with my memoir, I’m choosing to press on—with my son’s help. I’m hoping he can fill in the blanks and color the pages, sharing his side of an emotional journey of love, reunion, culture, and identity— themes I recognize in Moses’ story. And I’m hoping, with my son’s permission, to someday share that story with you.