Letter to My(self) Younger Sister

My Marine FMLSMy little sister graduated from boot camp as a United States Marine last month, so this month she enters combat school to continue her training. I am thankful that God gave me a love of writing! I was able to write her several letters while she was in boot camp (she told me she got more from me than she did from anyone else), and I am undertaking a just-as-intense letter writing regime to support her during combat school.

This weekend, as I finished my letter to her, I realized that much of what I’d written was really stuff that I had recently learned that I wished I’d learned sooner. Stuff about God and people and life. It was a letter my younger self would’ve needed.

I decided to copy the letter into a document and save it. But there are so many “younger sisters” out there…

Dear Sister,

I don’t really know what’s going through your mind this weekend, but I want you to know that, this Valentine’s Day, you are very loved! By me and by many people in your life! I realize that you are probably not getting as many letters in combat school as you did in boot camp from the people who swore they were your forever friends, but don’t let it get to you.

First of all, recognize that your life is like a tapestry. Some people in it are the consistent border threads that run through all of your life, and some people are the brilliant flashes of color, threads that are only in one part of the tapestry. All of the threads make you unique, make you who you are as a person. You wouldn’t be you if any of them were non-existent, temporary, or permanent.

Bohemian Tapistry FMLS
Bohemian Tapestry

Second of all, if people tell you that they’ll always be there for you and they’re not, it’s their loss, not yours. It has to do with their personal character, not yours. It’s not that you’re not worth their time or that they don’t love you or that they don’t think of you ever; it’s simply that they haven’t had the maturity and the circumstances necessary to cultivate true loyalty and commitment, two traits that I remember you saying were planted and developed in you while you were in boot camp. Extend to these people the grace of a second chance. Give them other opportunities to learn to be loyal and committed. Let them still be in your life so you can be a model and a teacher of these two character traits for them.

Finally, grab for God. Remember that leap of faith swing you told me about on the challenge course? Going through life with God is a lot like that sometimes; you leap and grab, realizing that He’s there, that He’ll hold you – but you don’t get to see Him or what He’s doing or what He’s planned all of the time. I hope you still have the camo Bible you wrote all over. You should look up Job 23:8-10: “I go forward, but He is not there, and backward, but I do not see Him. On the left hand when He is working, I don’t see Him, and when I turn to the right, I don’t see Him there, either. But He knows the way that I take; when He has tried me, I will come out as gold.” This verse captures how I feel about God a lot when I look back on my life.

You’ve got to remember all that He’s already brought you through. Look back on your boot camp experience and reflect on the times you were so sure that you weren’t going to make it, when you were standing on those footprints in front of your drill instructor’s door at night, hand raised to knock, question, and quit, but you didn’t. You just didn’t. Maybe you thought it was all you, but know that it was all God. He wants you right where you are right now in this moment.

You know, God’s really a Marine; He lived and died by Semper Fi. You can call Him that when you talk to Him because He is. It’s great to have a personal name for God.

The reason why I write and keep journals about how God came through for me in the past is because those situations show me His character, and His character never changes.You can hold onto His character and re-claim verses and remember situations because He doesn’t change. He’s the loyal, committed, consistent thread in your life that holds you together, ever if you didn’t ever see Him in the past, or you saw Him presented the wrong way as a child.

You can hold onto His character and re-claim verses and remember situations because He doesn’t change.

Since my four year meeting God date just passed, I’ve found myself considering where God was in the jumble of childhood and challenging life circumstances. Accept that you didn’t see Him, accept that you didn’t always know where He was or what He was doing in the You-Are-Loved-MGmiddle of the action, but don’t ever believe that He wasn’t there.

So Valentine’s Day …don’t be lonely because you are loved.

Love, your older sister

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Meeting God

The Creation of Man by Michelangelo Sistine Chapel
The Creation of Man by Michelangelo Sistine Chapel

On February 7th, four years ago, my older sister introduced me to God in our college cafeteria.

I thought I’d already met God, but I was wrong.

As a child, I tried to be a good, obey my parents, and do whatever the occasion required of me to make people happy. By making my parents happy and by making others happy, I was making God happy. If I made God happy, he showed he was pleased by making good things happen; if I did not make God happy, he showed he was displeased by making bad things happen. I felt like those ideals were what I was taught, so my philosophy of God didn’t go much further.

We attended a couple different churches when I was a child, and also, spent some time church-less.

At the end of a service one Sunday, my mom asked;

“Don’t you want to go to heaven?”

Of course I did if it would make her happy with me.

“You should go up and pray. Do you need help?”

I was embarrassed, but proud. “No. That’s ok.”

I got down on my knees in front of the read pew and devoutly closed my eyes:
I’m making my mom happy.

That’s all I remember about the moment that I would hear fed back to me as my “salvation testimony.” I couldn’t remember God crossing my mind that day at all.

God crossed my mind most often on the bad days, when everything went horribly wrong, and someone was mad at me, and I was hurt and scared.

I would go and curl up in the corner of the yard next to the back deck, sitting on the rocks, frightened begging, and ask God:

“I tried so hard to make You happy. Why don’t You love me?”

I always gave God a second chance to change his mind about his feelings toward me:

“I don’t know what I did, but I didn’t mean to make it happen, and I’ll never do it again if it makes You this unhappy. Can You just come down and hug me? Please?”

He never did.

I stopped asking. I stopped going to church, and I stopped trying to make people happy with me.

Not too many years later, I’d slipped far, demanding of my older sister, an amazing strong Christian who consistently set a high standard and a good example;

“Why should I even care what some stupid man did 2,000 years ago?”

I hated men. Honestly, I hated everybody. I’d formed my own brand of religious philosophy:

I hate everybody, and everybody hates me.

My “church service” became doing whatever I could to take care of myself and protect myself because no one else would.

God never struck me dead for hating him, so I believed in his indifference.
I didn’t reject God’s existence; life doesn’t make any sense without understanding a supernatural force is behind the world. No, I just assumed that any God floating around out there had no interest in me. After all, whoever God was, he or she or it hadn’t been into me when I was good nor when I was bad.

I was worse than miserable, and my older sister convinced me to leave home for college.

Skip ahead to the college cafeteria with my older sister, talking about something she’d learned about the creation of the world in one of her doctrine classes.

And God came into my mind.

In my mind’s eye, I saw the world suspended in space, and a hand, two fingers, reaching out to smush it like a grape. I could feel the great and good desire behind that hand, aching to destroy it and start all over again. Like the way artists feel when they paint a masterpiece and some bystander purposely smears it.

But God held the world gently, never crushing it.

World_in_God__s_hand_by_Code_Scythe
“World in God’s Hands” by Code Scythe

I formed two concrete beliefs about God in that moment; God is love and God is forgiveness, but not the way I’d known love and forgiveness.

Love means self-control.

If you truly love someone, you control your needs, desires, wants, and rights when you are around them for their benefit, even if it puts you in a hard, hurtful position. God loved me because God controlled the desire and the right to crush me. For my benefit.

Forgiveness means double-hurt.

When you forgive someone, you can’t just throw the words, “I forgive you” at them. You forgive them by not only accepting the hurt they’ve inflicted on you originally, but also by absorbing your desire, your “right,” to avenge yourself. In essence, you take what they did to hurt you, and you let it hurt you again. You pay for the fact that they hurt you.

I’d wounded Love, and then, I’d stiff-armed Forgiveness.

I realized how rare love and forgiveness are when I saw their true meanings. The realization helped me see God, not as myself or anyone else, but as completely Other.

God is not a man.

The world’s presentation of God as a man confused me as a child. I perceived God as some kind of superman figure: incredibly strong, able to read minds, invisible, full of superpowers, capable of blessing and cursing everyone.

But God isn’t. God isn’t even some ultimate perfection of what mankind would look like at the peak of righteous faultlessness. God is completely Other.

Grasping a handful of the Otherness of God freed me to throw away the motherload of ideas I’d held about why God hadn’t seemed to love me and be around for me. God didn’t operate on my time schedule, and I couldn’t compare God with my dad or my mom or any other person I’d ever known.

God is Love.
God is Forgiveness.
God is Other.

In less than a minute, I knew three things about God.

It wasn’t even like I had a choice whether to accept or reject God. I never remember thinking, “Now I can accept God, or I can reject God.” God was suddenly in my mind, and everything was suddenly different.

“Help me!” I panicked, grabbing my older sister’s hand. “I just met God, and I don’t know what to do!”

Somewhere in my childhood I’d learned the Romans Road and John 3:16, but I couldn’t remember a single verse.

My older sister was so excited. She was jumping up and down and crying. I was crying. Something felt different, but I couldn’t even put my finger on it. We prayed together, but I can’t even remember what I said.

It was the week before Valentine’s Day, and I felt incredibly loved.

You-Are-Loved-MGI only knew four things about God, but I had a feeling that the quantity of things I’d learn about God would grow inexhaustibly.

“Going to heaven” never even played a role in my real introduction to God. I mean, what kind of genuine relationship starts just because you’re so pumped to see someone’s house? Heaven didn’t occur to me until several weeks after I met God, and then I was, like;

“Oh yeah! That’s right! Now I get to see heaven.”

It’s kinda like the sprinkles on top of the frosting already on my cake.