Storm and Story: A Tale of Two Sisters

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by Tasha Burgoyne | @tashajunb 

It was the voices that woke me that night. I imagine they woke me the way a middle-of-the-night summer thunderstorm wakes. The voices—my parents’ and my sister’s—must have been spoken like light rain at first, barely audible to my six-year-old mind still sound asleep and full of dreams. The voices with words like light rain must’ve grown into words that bump against each other like hail pelting a rooftop and threatening to break through. But it was the words like thunder—angry and booming from our Tokyo expat kitchen—that jolted me fully awake and wide-eyed in my bed.

I slid slowly against the wall of our hallway towards the voices, as if my pace could slow down everything that was about to take place. Finally, at the doorway to our kitchen, I stood peering at my family with my little heart thumping; my senses tried to gather up all of the words and sort them like a puzzle with all the wrong pieces.

“I’m going to go back to Indiana to live with my dad!” my sister lashed out.

Thirty-one years later, it’s the only clear sentence I remember in the aftermath of all the words strewn about that night.

Up until that point, I didn’t know my sister and I had different dads. Up until that point, I didn’t know it was possible to have or be a half-sibling. I knew I was 100% American, because I lived in Japan and the first sentence I learned in Japanese was, “I am American.” And yet, I didn’t know where Indiana was.

Up until that point, I didn’t know a sister could leave or families could have layers of stories strong enough to make life-altering storms.

By the time my family realized I was standing in the doorway listening, I was a mess of tears, questions, confusion, yawning, begging and pleading. My Dad took me back to bed and tucked me in for the second time that night. He left me there with love, but no answers that I understood. I prayed to God, who I didn’t know yet. I asked God, if he was there, to please not let my sister leave, over and over again, until I fell asleep.

But the storm had passed through. The wild wind and water had seeped into everything I thought was supposed to keep our home dry and secure. The lightening had struck, and just like that, our family had split. It was only a few weeks later that my big sister boarded a plane and moved back across the ocean.

After she moved, I went into her room. Her walls were still covered in Duran Duran posters. I sat on the floor next to her bed and stayed in there longer than she’d ever allowed me to be in there. Like a little detective I inspected an assortment of things left behind: an old sweatshirt, cassette tapes, books, and a school notebook. I looked at these inanimate objects and held them, at first as treasure and then as objects of my anger. I wanted them to explain why she had to leave and when they didn’t, I wanted to break them.

When my sister moved away, seeds of hurt and fear tucked themselves into the soil of my heart. When asked about my sister, I explained what had happened without emotion. I told friends that, “Yes, I miss her,” but I was fine. Then I would quickly add something like, “She’s supposed to come visit soon,” whether she was or not. I wanted to distract them from their response, the dart of disappointment in my eyes and the color of shame on my cheeks.

Would they find out that I wasn’t enough to keep things together? Would they want to leave too? How long would it be before I would be completely alone? 

As a six-year-old girl, I prayed to God and hoped God was real. I wanted God to answer. What I really wanted was for God to be a fixer and keeper, a genie in a bottle, a magic wand and a happy ending. I wanted God to tell me I could be enough for someone to stay.

***

Last month, my sister and I met for lunch. We live in the same state now, just over an hour away from one another. Over kimbap and kimchi, we laughed about how many loud, long and feisty voicemails our mom leaves each of us. We are half-Korean, half-sisters. We are women connected by storm and story, we are a sister-story that God is making whole.

To this day, I wouldn’t have chosen for her to leave, but because she did, I began looking for God and asking questions. I wanted God to be that magic-maker. Instead, God let me wrestle through storms and wander through story after story—my own and the stories of those who came before me—to find God’s Story interwoven with mine.

God’s story was bigger. It was too big for quick fixes, staying small and safe, genie bottles, magic wands, and cute quotes on mugs. The ending is still in motion, but now I know that the ending means His Kingdom come.

I still wrestle. God’s perfect love answers.

God says, “I AM.” And that is enough for every story and every storm, including the unfinished story of my sister and I.

______________

About Tasha:

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I am a wife, a mama, hapa, a French fries lover, a writer, a dreamer, a coffee-drinker and kimchi-eater. I was made to walk where cultures collide on dirt roads and on carefully-placed cobblestone streets. Jesus is my heartbeat.

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