She always wanted to be a princess when she was little, but as she grew, she put her hands to work. She can sew, embroider, cook, bake, garden, paint, fix things, teach, sing, play the oboe, piano, guitar, mend, launder, sweep, and make her home into her castle. My sister, Helen, celebrated her birthday a couple of days ago and I wanted to honor her with a post. A post as a toast!
My parents served as Lutheran missionaries in Brazil from 1962-1980. I was six months old when they took the boat down (literally), and Helen and Charles, my brother, were both born there. I am the precocious oldest, my brother the troubled middle child, and my sister, the spoiled rotten baby of the family. At least, those are the stereotypes about birth order and in our family, they do have a grain of truth.
Our environment growing up was surrounded by people and creativity. We learned that God is good, the Jesus loved us. We laughed until our bellies hurt and played freely and ferociously. We fought and were taught to negotiate our own disputes. I was often outraged by some injustice or another, Charles was allowed to be Daniel Boone to his heart's content, and Helen learned to be the peacemaker in a quiet and joyful way. I remember being thrilled when she was born. I would have someone to play with! But, she was almost five years younger and I soon lost interest and became annoyed with her tagging behind me, getting into my stuff. And, as she grew a little older, her friends tended to be younger than her while mine were older than me which increased the age gap even further. Charles and I shared more adventures (called "getting into trouble") together while Helen was Mommy's girl.
It would take many years for us to become true friends. I remember the day it happened. Dad had said something critical to me when I was visiting them while I was in College. I went upstairs, sat in a corner and let the tears fall down. Helen came up and sat beside me and said, "I don't know why he says things like that to you. But, I think it is because he loves you the most..." Who knows what really lies in the heart of a parent? But, from that day forward, my sister had a new place in my heart. A place I protect, a place I treasure.
When I look back on our old photos, I see a little girl that is joyous, happy, giggly, full of love and sometimes, filled with solitude. I wish that I had gotten to know her better back then, but I was too involved in my own friends and projects.
Helen grew into a beautiful, capable woman. She is a princess to us. This photo of the two of us, taken a couple of years ago, says a lot about who we are. I think it is pretty obvious that we are sisters, but do we have anything in common? I think about our skills. We are so similar in our abilities that there must be a genetic predisposition in what interests us. Although we grew up under the same roof, I left home when I was 15 and we matured in completely separate environments. However, our abilities translate into night and day results. The princess decorates her house with lace, floral wallpaper, and would love a romantic night in a Victorian bed and breakfast with her prince, David. The hippie's house is all tribal, full of boogie-eyed carvings, bold textiles and she would shrivel up and die in that romantic get-away.
Several years ago, Helen said, "Ummmm.... I don't want to offend you, but I'd like to return all the tribal things you've given me over the years. They bother me." I wasn't offended at all. We are different, to be sure. Yet, in that difference there is such a comfortable place, a knowledge of safety, a welcoming. I can tell her anything that is in my heart and know that it will be heard and that prayers will be offered up for me. In thinking of family as a quilt, my parents successfully sewed us together. All five us, Mom, Dad, Charles, Helen and I are each so different from each other but our stories come together in this blanket of love. We do share many common threads. Even though Helen and I are so different, I know that we could easily live together again (if we had separate decorating spaces, heh, heh). We always have plenty to talk about and even like some of the same books. The biggest thread that holds this family quilt together is the knowledge and acceptance of God's love. We can't debate theology or politics. Rotten fruit would fly quickly. Instead, we rest our eccentricities, lay down our weapons, and say, "Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest...." Then, when the whole family is together, we go outside, play croquet and all hell breaks loose.
Helen has her own family now. Neither Charles nor I will have blood descendants. She will be the story keeper of our roots. Our common memories will some day fade away as they should. Somewhere in the vast history of time and life, this thread of sisterhood and family will remain tied into a firm knot. Our threads will tie themselves to others, spinning a new story, creating that great tapestry of life.
My birthday wish for you, dear sister: May you always have people you love at your table!