The Birthday Sister

My Mom used to dress my sister and I up in the same outfits.  This looks cute on twins, but when you’re four years apart one of you is bound to look WRONG!  Case in point, a twelve-year-old in footie-pajamas and an infant wearing a belt.  Okay, it wasn’t quite that ridiculous, but it was pretty close. 

Today is my little sister’s birthday.  Whenever I think about her a few things (other than our wacky forced wardrobes) come to mind.  First, I think about how blessed we are that we did not grow up fighting.  I’m sure that we had our squabbles and  a few tiffs come to mind, but nothing major.  The lack of fighting left room for laughter and lots of good times.  I remember sharing a bedroom and staying up talking and telling stories.  One Christmas season we decided to change our pre-bedtime ritual into a singing contest.  We would each pick a favorite Christmas song and start singing it at the same time.  Whoever could get the other sister to start singing their song first was the winner.  It was a lot of fun and I have to admit that as the older sister I had the advantage.  You see, at the time my little sister only knew two songs all the way through–Jingle Bells and Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.  She always sang one and if I sang the other and sang loud enough she would always end up joining in.  Before you start thinking I’m the bad guy, I must confess that it took me several nights of singing “complicated” songs like the Twelve Days of Christmas before I finally realized I could save myself a lot of breath and time by simply singing one of her faves.

We did all the fun things sisters do, like playing dolls, playing house, playing Barbies (which is like dolls, but different), playing store, playing school and even playing adoption agency!  I know what you’re thinking, “WHO plays adoption agency?”  But you should keep in mind that it was at the height of the Cabbage Patch Kid rage thus adoption agency makes perfect sense.  Speaking of Cabbage Patch Kids…boy did we LOVE those dolls!  I remember when we got them for Christmas.  My Mom could only snag boy Cabbage Patch Dolls (the height of the rage remember) so my sister ended up with Ramsey and I had Peyton.  Hers came in a cute little non-gender outfit with short curly hair and, after attaching a hairbow, she immediately reassigned Ramsey’s gender and he became a she.  I on the other hand, felt obligated to keep Peyton a boy–after all he came in a sporty little blue and white sweatpant suit and was bald.  Nonetheless, we loved those dolls and took them everywhere.  In the winter we bundled them up in blankets and carried them around like real babies, in warmer weather they could be found tagging along to Grandma’s, the grocery store, etc… like real babies.

If you asked my Mom to share some of her favorite memories, I wonder if she would remember the time we were playing “K-Mart.”  Yes, we weren’t just playing store on that particular afternoon, we were playing “K-Mart.”  And when you play K-mart you must have layaway and of course, blue light specials.  We arranged the living room, and calculator in hand, we took turns being the shopper and the cashier.  We tape recorded the specials (trying to make our voices sound like the coolio K-Mart managers) and played them back all afternoon.  Oh, those were the days.  Purses full of fake money and the ability to “purchase” things we already owned.  We sure knew how to have fun!

In many ways my sister and I are very different.  She has loads of dark, curly hair and I have loads of lighter, straight-ish hair (that’s code for boring and constantly permed!)  For a little sister she ended up taller than me (a family curse where the eldest daughter ends up the smallest in the bunch.)  She has always had perfect teeth and long, slender fingers which I always envied.  She’ll pay money to see a scary movie and I have to turn the channel when a horror pic trailer makes its way onto a TV screen.  She truly LOVES children whereas I would say that I like most kids.  She is the favorite aunt, hip to all the new fashion trends, music and kid-slang and I’m the aunt who you’re not sure if you want to show up at your graduation (can you say group t-shirts and caricature signs!)

We’re also similar in my ways.  We both love comedies, Mexican food, the Donna Reed Show and to shop.  It’s funny how we’ll like the same scent of perfume without consulting one another.  We both try to “lay low” at family events to avoid getting picked on by our brothers.  We also know exactly when to roll our eyes and shoot a “here we go again” glance at larger, extended family functions.  And we both love to laugh.  As little kids we would  get the giggles and hardly be able to contain ourselves (even on the rare occasions when we were in church.)  As teens we laughed through the dishes and the Uno games that determined who was going to have to sweep or wash!  We laughed when our Mom called us Frick and Frack (I’m Frick), Ding and Dong (I’m Ding) or Mutt and Jeff (I’m Jeff.)  We could hardly contain ourselves the one afternoon when we decided to cover every photo in the house with post-it notes (adorned with a smiley face), all the while waiting to see how long it would take our Mom to notice when she got home from work!  (Ha ha, Mom, it took you a while….) 

So many good times.  I love my sister for all of these fun memories and so much more, but recently I’ve come to love her in a new way.  In the last few years I have seen a strength in my sister that makes my heart burst.  While she has always been a key figure in the lives our nieces and nephew, I saw her finally put herself first and  fight through a difficult personal situation…and come out the winner.  I know that she still has her good and bad days, and most people wouldn’t believe all that she’s had to deal with and the challenges that she’s been through.  Still, I’ve seen her take steps to become more independent, I’ve seen her change her course, I’ve seen her make realizations and discoveries that have deeply impacted her life.  I’ve seen her come from a place of brokenness and rise up to a place of responsibility and change for the better.  I’m so proud of her and all that she has accomplished so far.  I pray for her daily and I know that God has a wonderful future for her, one with promise and hope.  She is special and this birthday marks a tremendous turning point for her. 

So my darling, sister, here’s to a year unlike any other.  One with less worries and stress.  One with more happiness and success.  And one with courage and loads of side-splitting laughter and joy!  Happy birthday, sis…may God bless you today and everyday.  YOU ARE LOVED!

A sister is a forever friend.  Author Unknown

Just Say NO! (And Why Yes Can Leave You Feeling Blessed)

The key to keeping your balance is knowing when you’ve lost it.  Anonymous

Balance.  Very few have it, everyone wants it, and there are a zillion resources out there for how YOU can achieve it.  If only it were that easy.  For me the idea of a balanced life is like trying to catch the wind with a butterfly net.  I keep telling myself that things will all fall into place when I learn to balance my life more effectively.  Like millions of others, I just don’t have the time to make a plan, read all the books or the money to acquire a life coach.  Sometimes I feel like I’m swimming in a sea of obligations and commitments and not only do I not have a life jacket, I don’t even know how to swim!

For weeks now I’ve been whining (what me whine?  I know you can hardly believe it.) and complaining about being too busy.  I have a list a mile long of things that I “need” to do in addition to the things that I “have” to do.  I am weighed down with housework, parenting, grocery shopping, cooking, organizing, etc….  I am buried beneath books that I promised myself I would read.  I am surrounded by commitments I had made to my kids’ school and our church.  I felt pressure to eat right and get back on track with an exercise routine.  The days were getting longer and nights were getting shorter and I found myself moving further and further away from any trace of balance in my life.  I had so many good intentions, but I was losing the battle.  In sharing these thoughts with family and friends it seems this lack of balance had become some kind of common malady for the masses.  The real kicker was that I felt like I had created all of this imbalance on my own.  I felt like it was all my fault because I hadn’t mastered the art of saying “no.” 

“Just say NO when the requests come.  You can do it,” I kept trying to tell myself.  You don’t have to make cookies for every school event.  Every birthday party doesn’t have to be a big blow out.  You don’t have to get it all done in one day.  No one said you had to be perfect.  I began to think that the key to finding balance was to guard my yeses and carefully weigh my noes.  Simple right?  I was certain that I had stumbled across the answer of a lifetime.  The ultimate trick to achieving balance.  In my mind’s eye I  could picture the scale coming into perfect balance.  I was a genius.

My genius was short-lived.  It wasn’t long before I was back in the pit.  I hadn’t guarded my yeses enough and I weighed only one “no” and that “no” was rebuffed.  I hadn’t thought about that.  I naively thought that if you told someone “no” that they would politely back off.  Note to self–that’s not always the case.  

I was feeling pretty low and right on cue, the guilt crept in (and sometimes that’s the worst part.)  The guilt that reminds you that you have everything that you need and so much more.  The guilt that says stop bellyaching and look around…you have a home, food, money in the bank, good health, a wonderful husband and family, and great friends.  The guilt that prompts you to realize that your life is better than so many others and that you have NOTHING to complain about.  The guilt that says maybe they asked because you can….  Uggg!  Now I was completely out of balance and racked with guilt. 

I was starting to feel nauseous.  I can’t win here.  Life started piling up.  Can you plan the class party?  Can you bake cupcakes?  Can you organize this?  Can you volunteer for that?  Would you mind doing (fill in the blank)?  It was getting to the point where I wanted to stop answering the phone and venture out of the house only in disguise.  My life scale wasn’t just unbalanced, it was on the verge of collapsing.  And that’s when it happened.  Right on time and in His time, the weight began to lift.  I saw the whole situation with fresh eyes. 

I had burdened myself with countless projects and obligations and I asked God to help me honor my commitments.  I asked him to forgive me of the pride that fooled me into thinking I could take on so much.  The Holy Spirit put into my heart a reminder that I “can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  I clearly need His help and I needed to ask for it.  I prayed for discernment and that God would help me weigh my yeses and noes.  What I received was something that I didn’t expect.  In every project that I had dreaded or wished that I had said “no” to, I found God’s love.  In my commitment to teach, I found willing and joyful students.  In my commitment to lead, I found dedicated and giving volunteers.  In my obligation to help a friend, I found time to talk and share life stories.  In mundane office work, I found community.  In tedious organizing, I found a renewed sense of purpose.  In class, I was reminded that God calls us to serve.  As it turns out, I was blessed when I said “yes.” 

My house is still a disaster.  The laundry pile grows in the dark.  I dread making dinner every night.  I’m still not sure that I want to answer the phone.  Obviously, as I write this my life scale remains lopsided (I am human after all.)  But I’m beginning to wonder if the idea of balance is a box we chain ourselves to or an imaginary oasis we’re not meant to find.  In the meantime, I have resolved to keep one eye on the scale, the other eye fixed on God, and my hands ready to serve…when asked.