When we meet new people we often have to clarify our closeness. We finish each other’s sentences and laugh at jokes that others around us don’t get. We see eyes dart with questioning looks and have to qualify it with, “Oh, we’re sisters” and then we see them nod with understanding.
My sister’s favorite thing to ask people next is, Who do you think is older? Most of the time my wrinkles give people the impression that I am the elder sister, though I am actually four years younger.
Truth is, I show most of the characteristics of a firstborn—structured, cautious, and controlling. She has all the fun-loving, outgoing traits of the lastborn. Over the years we’ve each taken on the role of leading the other, following in each other’s footsteps.
It hasn’t always been this way though. There were times I thought I had it all figured out when I really needed to humbly learn from her.
When I became the first follower of Christ in my family at 14, I plunged into a rule-based faith like my very salvation depended on it. I think my motivation was right—I loved Jesus and wanted to follow God well. But I separated myself from the world and my family. I alienated those who loved me best.
I was defensive and self-righteous, intent on “saving” my family. I created a divide between us when I should have loved and served.
I know I wounded my sister deeply in those years. I called out her sin (ignoring my own unloving, prideful spirit). I picked fights over creation and evolution. I did all but call her a heathen.
Yet she met me with forgiveness. The sister who followed the Savior who modeled ultimate forgiveness held a grudge against her lack of faith. The one who wasn’t ready to embrace Jesus acted more like Him than I did.
When I fell from faith in college, she never mentioned the hurt I caused. She was right there—the best friend I had known as a young child, never questioning my faith or my lack of it.
In those years, she gave me something that I never gave her: the room to search.
We stood elbow to elbow at the stage as the crowds pressed against our backs. The bass pumped through our bodies as we sought together at concerts and clubs.
In a much thinner crowd, we stood not touching and not daring to look at each other. We each stared at our tiny, flickering flame. Silent night, holy night. It was a whisper, a question. We sought together in the hush of Christmas Eve, in the unasked questions between us. Could we still be us if one of us believed and the other didn’t? Could I believe again and not judge?
She was there when I questioned.
She was there when I found Jesus again and learned for the first time how to live in His grace, how to live out of love and compassion.
I sat with her in the synagogue where we stumbled through the Hebrew neither of us knew. I bought her the Torah that she poured over with her questions.
She sat with me in the echoing sanctuary of the church where I worked, sang hymns with me even though she wasn’t yet sure she believed their words.
Today we still sit elbow to elbow. In Bible study. Praying together. Serving together. Finding Jesus together.
We sit side by side in our local writing group, stumbling through words about faith and hoping our stories inspire someone.
When I first believed, I took on that role of leader, a role I so naturally gravitate towards. I had it in my mind I was going to lead her to faith.
Instead she taught me how to walk side by side towards faith, how to meet someone where they are at instead of where we want them to be. Meet them in their brokenness. Meet them in their questions and doubts.
She showed me it’s not your job to fix others. It’s your job to be in it with them, to love them through it all; without an eye on the outcome, but with an eye on the heart, on healing. Leading through serving. Loving through believing in people.
This is the legacy of my sister.
I had faith. She helped me learn how to live it.