Thank you for raising me with high moral standards and a sense of manners. During my sojourn in Memphis, many of the nurses commented that most people born with disabilities don’t show consideration for others, and they all attributed my thoughtfulness to your influence on me. I agree. You instilled qualities in me that have made me the kind of woman I had always wanted to be. You deserve much praise for how I turned out.
I also thank you for allowing me to live as normally as possible. The college education you gave me may not have landed me a lucrative career, but I enjoy writing, and I cherish all the memories of my days at Dominican. Thank you for all you did to make college possible for me.
Additionally, I’m grateful for all the travel opportunities that you gave me. Wales, of course, was the most exciting trip I ever took. I remember how you practically pushed me onto that plane, determined that you would not let me miss such a glorious opportunity! There are no words to thank you for that precious time in my life!
Over the past few months, I have been thinking about a conversation you and I had in the early 1980’s. You probably don’t remember this at all, but it’s a conversation I would like to revisit because I gave you a very inadequate answer at the time. Ready? Here we go…
E___ B___________ had invited me to a play at her church, and you were feeding me dinner before she came to get me. As we were eating, you asked me what it meant to be a born-again Christian. I forget what I said, but I made it pretty obvious to you (and to myself) that I really didn't know the answer.
In the last few years, I have learned what spiritual regeneration means from a Biblical perspective, and I wanted to give you a more educated answer to your question. Maybe I’m more of an adult now, and can reason a little more adeptly. So I want to begin with a Scripture passage that introduces the concept of being born-again.
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life,
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. ~~John 3:1-18 (ESV)
Nicodemus was a Pharisee, which means he was highly educated in the Jewish Scriptures, and thought he knew what God wanted of people. But Jesus pointed out that merely keeping God’s commands (which nobody could possibly keep anyway) wasn’t enough to make him suitable to be in God’s presence. Nicodemus, as well anyone else, needed the Holy Spirit to make him an entirely new person.
Let me tell you how that happened in my life, and perhaps it will become a little less abstract.
I had been reading the Bible, wanting to know if what I felt for a certain boy was “true love.” As I read, I came across the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. One of the beatitudes said “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Then I looked up 1st Corinthians 13 -- the love chapter -- only to read the phrase, “love is not self seeking.” Those two verses confronted me with the fact that I was unworthy to spend eternity in God’s presence. I knew that was going to hell.
Two weeks later J______ told me that Jesus had paid the penalty for my sin when He died on the Cross. When God raised Him from the dead three days later, the resurrection signified that God accepted His sacrifice. Those who believe in Him, trusting that His shed blood is the only acceptable payment for their sin, and the only basis for them to enter eternity with God, will be raised to eternal life. Immediately I knew that if Jesus died for me, I owed it to Him to live for Him.
Quite admittedly my transformation has been much slower than it should have been. I’ve often considered myself “spiritually retarded” because I have continued to live in ways that don’t reflect my Heavenly Father’s character. But over the past 2 or 3 years, I have been allowing the Lord to change me as I’ve applied the Bible to my personal life.
Do you remember how I started this letter? I talked about how you instilled character qualities into me. By my behavior, the nurses in Memphis knew what kind of woman you were, and they all commented on your good character. Similarly, the Holy Spirit did something in me back in 1971 to make me God’s daughter – I was born again. As I now read the Bible and learn my Heavenly Father’s character, I begin to exhibit that same character in my daily life. Do I do it perfectly? In my dreams! But I do see steady, and remarkable, change as I keep submitting to Him and imitating His ways. Just as I was born of you physically, and exhibits many of your characteristics, so I am born of Him spiritually.
I hope this letter explains what being a born-again Christian is. I know that Jesus died for my sins, and that He was raised from the dead so I will be raised with Him to eternal life when I die. He has given me faith to believe these things, and that faith enables me to turn from things that displease God, so that I can do the things that honor Him. Even in this, I cannot take credit for doing what is right – His Spirit in me empowers me to trust and obey Him.
I don’t know how much of this makes sense to you, but it’s a spiritual matter that cannot be fully explained in human terms. I just hope that it is a more adequate explanation than I gave you that night before E___ came to pick me up. I know that if the Lord allows you to experience this new birth, He will give you a fuller understanding of what that means.
Finally Mom, I want to thank you for encouraging my relationship with John. So many of the qualities that attracted me to him are qualities that I admire in you. Even though this marriage has separated me from you (the one thing I haven’t liked about being married to John), I have never been so happy or so fulfilled in my life! I know you’ve been happy for us, and I appreciate the love and respect you’ve shown John.
I love you, Mom. I love your humor, and often entertain people with funny stories about you, or stories that you have told us about yourself. I love how lady-like you are, and wish I could be that lady-like. (Oh well…you can’t have everything!) I love your caring concern for your children and grandchildren as well as all our friends – no wonder so many of our friends call you “Mom.” I love your uncomplaining attitude, and the way you enjoyed life to the fullest. You inspire me, but you also inspire everybody that knows you. You are one amazing woman, and it’s my honor to be your daughter. I love you so much!
With much love,