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I was 12; my brother was 8. We rarely got along.
We lived in a big house, which my family had converted into a mission chapel in Grand Island, N.Y.

Sometimes, my brother and I played together – or tolerated each other, at least – for a while. “War” was an ever-present threat.

I was the bossy older sister. He easily earned the label, “The Pest.”

I was still mad at him for demolishing my doll collection when I was 6. He’d done a lot since then to aggravate me, too.

We weren’t allowed to hit, but sometimes we’d shove each other a little. Mostly, we just argued, becoming quite adept at “murder by sharp tongue.”

Later, as a chubby teenager, I discovered that the best way to control his pestering was to get him down and sit on him until our parents arrived.

He got home from school before I did. I didn’t like the fact that I had no control over what he did to my “stuff” for an hour or so each day. He delighted in the opportunity – as long as Mom didn’t catch him.

Walking home from the school bus stop one day, I could see that my bike was moved from where I’d left it the day before.

“The Pest” had been at it again! How dare he ride my bike!

Mad, I flung open the front door. My mother was playing the piano in the “sanctuary” (our large, extra living room set up for chapel services).

“The Pest” was standing near her. Startled, they both looked up as I began my tirade.

Suddenly, without a word, he walked toward me, thrust something in my hand and quickly left the room.

I looked down and opened a card he had carefully made in school that day. Inside were scrawled the words, “I love you, sister.”

Speechless, I looked up and silently shared one of those memorable moments with my mother, who was looking at me with teary eyes. I was a changed person.

Today, as I continue my Lenten pilgrimage toward Holy Week, this childhood memory prompts my reflection on God’s transforming love.

Throughout history, we mortals have given God a lot of reason for dismay. We treat each other badly, and our endless complaints to God are self-centered.

Yet, amazingly, God’s response to the dark side of our humanity is always: “I love you. After all, I created you. You are my beloved.”

We mortals are sometimes able to change our outward behavior because of a strong will or external forces.

But those who are enlightened know that real, lasting change is always internal. It is the transformation of one’s inner self that brings serenity to one’s soul.

Recovering alcoholics speak of serenity as the difference between being dry (living without alcohol through determination) and being sober (experiencing internal release through surrendering to a higher power).

Only God’s expansive, overwhelming love has the power to transform us completely, from the inside out. Christians speak of this process in a variety of ways: sanctification, spiritual growth, redemption and conversion, among others.

God is not only loving, God is love (1 John 4:8).

Ultimately, it is only to the extent that we fully realize the depths of God’s eternal love for us that we are able to become thoroughly changed persons. “What wondrous love is this, O my soul …”

Naomi K. Walker is music/worship pastor at Immanuel Baptist Church in Frankfort, Ky. A version of this column first appeared on her blog, Worship, Music and Beyond, and is used with permission.

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