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Friday, January 18, 2013

Number One of a Thousand Gifts: SISTER

We have not lived in the same zip code, nor in the same city, not even in the same state for 20 years.   We are not twins, but we have been mistaken for twins our entire life.  Except for the time a few years ago when an old lady at her church asked if I was her mother.  Her mother. I am two years and four days older than she.  My loving sister laughed through the entire worship service while my sweet, compassionate brother-in-law tried to make me feel better by informing me that he was pretty sure that lady was a heavy drinker. 

I have been re-reading Ann Voskamp's A Thousand Gifts.  She urges us to open our eyes wide to see His gifts and to live a life of gratitude even for the seemingly insignificant, but assuredly grace-filled moments of the everyday.  It can be hard.  Hard to offer thanks for dishes and dirty clothes and needy children and beeping/ringing Iphones.  I think I'll make it easy on myself and start my list today because exactly 42 years ago today and only four days after my second birthday, God gave me a gift that will never cease to be one of my most treasured.  He gave me a little sister.  So the list begins here because when the screen illuminates with her name, I offer thanks for one of my very first gifts. 

We talk on the phone almost everyday, so this gift, this girl? She is truly an everyday blessing.  And now, I'm going to tell you some things about my sister and me because it's her birthday and I've had writer's block all week.  When I thought about her though, the words came easily.  Too easily.  It might get long.  Like really, really long.  And the font's all weird and small and really annoying for some reason.  But it's my blog, so there.
She calls after she drops off her kids at school and there is a pattern:  
Step 1:   I answer the phone and unless something earth-shattering is happening we go to:    
Step 2:  “I’ve got nothing”, one or both of us says, which is to say, “I have absolutely nothing important to talk about.  Nothing is our favorite subject, but the point is if one of us needs to go and doesn't have the time for nothing, we can pretty much hang up on each other. 
Easy peasy.  There are no hurt feelings.  There is no "you haven’t called in x number of days."  There is no "you never listen to me."  I’m too busy, she’s too busy.  But in the midst of our busyness, we do find ways to waste time talking about nothing on the phone for hours.  Actually, it is not wasted time.  It is time when I know she has my heart and I have hers, inextricably linked in a bizarre way.    A way that is crucial to my everyday, to my very being.  Because if one of us has "got something"?  Well, the world can wait. 
Like I said, we kind of have that twin thing going on.  Years ago we were pregnant at the same time.  Our babies were due one week apart.  During that time I was eating stuff that maybe I hadn't eaten since I was a child.  Cheetos?  Kentucky Fried Chicken fake mashed potatoes?  Canned pineapple?  You name it.  I probably gave it a try.  

She called me one day  when we were both very pregnant and said, "Hey, guess what I'm eating?" 
I replied that I had no idea what she was eating but that she should know that at that moment I was eating iced animal crackers and that she should be aware that iced animal crackers were HEAVEN.

Do you know what she was eating?  Iced animal crackers. 

One time I had a weird dream about a kid from high school that I hadn’t thought about since high school.  She called me a few days later and said “Guess, who I had a dream about last night?”  I guessed.  I was right.  Same kid. 

I know I sound like I’m completely coconuts, as my friend, the lovely and talented Mrs. C., would say, but those are true stories and they happen a lot, but not all the time.  The other day she texted me asking when the last time I had a Little Debbie oatmeal cream pie was and she was pretty sure I was going to text back that I was eating one at that very moment.  But I wasn't and she was really bummed, so see?  I'm telling the truth.

(And I am completely coconuts, but for other reasons.) 
When we had our babies only 10 days apart, I was on baby #2 and she was on baby #1.  I flew to Dallas to visit her with my 2 year old and my 7 week old baby so that I could see her and meet my newborn niece. We hung out at my parents’ house and oohed and aahed over the cousins and then it was time for both of the new babies to eat.

Clearly, I was the experienced older sister with the crucial advice on all that was motherhood including nursing.  Here’s the deal:  Much to my dismay, if there was a nursing competition, I would have barely earned the "Participant" ribbon.  I wholeheartedly believed in the superiority of nursing and I wanted desperately to be good at it, but for me,  it was  Still, I didn't give up.  I did it. 

I knew the enormous pressure that my little sister would feel from all the other mommies, the nurses, the parenting experts, etc. on how important nursing is for the baby's health and for the bonding with the baby, etc.  I reached deep into my wealth of knowledge to tell her with my best older sister condescension encouragement how it would be difficult, really, really difficult, but to not give up, to believe in her mothering instincts and to not worry if she felt she had to pump and feed the baby from the bottle, which is pretty much what I did around the clock. 

This is how it went for me:  I had to put my hair in a ponytail, so that it wouldn’t get on my nerves.  I had to have a stool for my left foot and I had to have my right leg curled under my butt, but first, I had to shed my socks because my feet would sweat like I had just run the Marine Corps marathon.  I had to have my giant Kappa Alpha Theta cup from college filled up with ice water sitting within arm’s length distance because when I nursed I got so thirsty that I felt like I was wandering around in the Sahara.  I had to have that stupid boppy pillow arranged perfectly in front of me and a pillow behind my back.  Also, it was a good thing my dad wasn’t home that day because I had not mastered discreet nursing at all.  This nursing thing for me was a serious production and there were lots of steps and I had it all figured out. 
Once I got myself settled and caught my breath, I looked over at my inexperienced, younger sister to see if perhaps, she needed me to tell her where to place one of the pillows or her stool or if she needed me to toss her one of the six ponytail holders I had around my wrist. 

My sister and my newborn niece were a picture of serenity.  The girl could’ve been piloting a 747 while she nursed.  I was stunned.  It really ticked me off.  That's all I have to say about that.
My sister makes me laugh harder than just about anyone about things that no one else on the planet would find funny.  One morning as I was watching the Today Show, I found something so hysterical that I could not believe it was only 5:00 in the morning in California and I would have to wait three full hours to tell her a story that involved Ann Curry, a guy cutting down trees with a chainsaw in my neighbor's yard and a newlywed bride who went missing from her honeymoon on a cruise ship.  You can’t understand how any of that is funny on its own much less together in one story, right?  Well, I was positive that my sister would understand and that she would think my story was hilarious.

Finally, she called and I told her my Ann Curry/chainsaw/missing bride story.   I could barely speak I was laughing so hard trying to tell her.

There was silence on the other end of the phone. 

For a moment, I thought, “Oh, no.  It’s happened.  We’ve lived apart too long.  She doesn’t get it.” 

Oh . . . but then . . .  I realized the silence was due to that holding-your-breath-type of laughing where no sound comes out.  I waited and waited, crossing my fingers and . . . there it came:   a massive gulp and intake of oxygen and she burst out laughing into my ear from all the way across the country.  Thank God.  She gets me.  Every. Single. Time. 
One night years and years ago when our kids were very small, she couldn’t sleep.  She was worrying about something and she couldn’t call me in the middle of the night, so she wrote me an email.  It was a long letter, a conversation in the dark in which she poured out her worry and her concern and her fears.  At the end of the letter she said something I will never ever forget. 

“Thank you for listening to me.  I feel like we are so connected that sometimes when my heart is so full of burden and worry that it is about to spill over, if I just tell you about it then suddenly your heart holds some of the pain for me and then my heart becomes lighter.” 

Isn’t that the best thing you’ve ever heard?  That girl should write a blog or something.

So today, as I start my list of a thousand gifts, I think of a line from Voskamp's book where she reminds me of what "CS Lewis argued:  that the most fundamental thing is not how we think of God, but rather what God thinks of us" . 

My God thought of me and my God loved me so much that he gave me this sister. This specific one.
This one who always hears me, no matter how long I talk. This one who knows that I tend to see things as black and white, right and wrong.  This one who talks me through those things and with clarity and calm, teaches me about the places in-between.  This one who shines compassion and empathy and strength.  This one who, though she lives on the other side of this country, walks through this life with me.  This one who makes me laugh so hard, I just about pee in my pants.

When I put my pen to the paper this morning, even if the ink were to suddenly run dry after I finished writing number 1, I will still know that this one gift is more than I deserve:  God knew who I needed in a sister. I needed this one.  This one whose heart I will forever hold and who holds mine, too.

Happy Birthday.  I love you, dude.

A PS to my brother:  Remember what a bummer it was when you were little because your December 28th birthday fell during the Christmas week?  Yea, it happened again.  I took a long blogging break during Christmas week and you didn't get a sappy essay on how much I love you.  But I do.  I'm proud of you.  I adore you.  I miss you.  And I just have so many Will Ferrell references to jot down that it might take me awhile to finish writing about you.  Happy Belated Birthday.  Shake and bake.

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