[Editor’s Note: God made us relational beings, to live interconnected lives. But we don’t always do that well. We want to explore how our faith shapes the way we love the people God gives us. Join us as we consider what Jesus has to say about #relationships.]
Childhood memories of my sister and me being together are sparse. I find it painful to not have a lot to remember. My sister grew up mostly in Canada, while I grew up mostly in Asia. No, our parents weren’t divorced at the time. No, we weren’t twins separated at birth. Yes, it was complicated.
Our Dad wanted us to be experts in two cultures. We were both born in Canada. When I was only six months old, my sister was six and my dad wanted to move our entire family back to Asia and start his career there. A few years later my sister was sent to Canada to live with relatives for a year then back and forth between two continents, while I went when I was 8 and she was back to Asia. We kept missing each other. All of this came with a cost- the imperilling of our sibling relationship.
The times we did spend together were sporadic. But when we were together, I remember following her around wherever she went. I always wanted to wear matching clothes with her. On our few family vacations, I would often fall asleep on her lap. Those were some of the most cherished vacations we have had.
Then our parents separated and divorced, and we didn’t see each other again for over four years. That felt like the longest time of my life. I can remember crying in bed a lot. I missed my mom and my sister. But no one thought to comfort a lonely nine-year-old. I never brought it up with my dad. He is not the best at talking about emotions.
I saw my sister again when I was 13. My dad drove me to the airport, and I couldn’t believe that this was really happening. I waved goodbye and wished he would come along. I sat on the plane with my favourite bear in my arms. I was so scared, because it was my first time flying by myself. Thankfully, the flight attendant was there to assist me. The moment I landed and got out of the luggage area, I looked for my mom and sister. I was so excited. As soon as I saw them, I ran to them and held them as long as I could. I wished that moment would never end.
When my sister and I visited, it was only for a few weeks at a time. Whenever I had to leave, saying goodbye was painful. I didn’t think I could live without them. I didn’t know when I would see them again. I would cry every time, because I knew it would feel like an eternity before we were together again.
Once, when my sister came to visit Dad and me in our apartment in Asia, her demeanour had changed. We sat in my bedroom. It was dim––the afternoon sun poking through the window. I was sitting on my bed, and she was in a chair facing me. She had learned about God recently, and wanted to tell me about it. She told me that God loves me, and he had a wonderful plan for my life. I was in awe of that idea. Someone out there loved me, and that someone was God. I felt like my eyes were open to a new possibility. That there was hope. My sister asked me if I wanted to invite him into my life, and I did. She led me in prayer, and I followed along. After I started to know and follow God, we grew a lot closer.
A few years later, university graduation was a pivotal moment for me. I knew I would be going to Canada to see my mom and live with my sister for a while as I planned to pursue graduate studies. I was most excited to meet my new baby niece. I couldn’t wait to see my sister in action as a mom. And a new chapter was beginning, where I didn’t need to hide my faith or worry about being scolded for believing in God, as my dad did not approve of my faith. His rejection led me to feel sad, but also free from the obligation to be a certain way. It was time to find new perspectives to base my life on.
Living with my sister in Canada was one of the best periods of my life. God was healing our relationship. I felt safe and understood. I learned about boundaries and how to resolve conflict. I felt hope about what my future and our sister relationship could become, regardless of our complicated past.
Soon after that, I got married and began having children of my own. I knew I didn’t want to repeat the same patterns of my parents––both in their child-raising and their marriage. But it was not easy. In parenting, it felt like my own childhood was unfolding before me. I made sure that my son learned to apologize when he was three. I taught him to say, “I am sorry for ____. In the future I will ___. Would you forgive me?” I had ever learned how to deal with conflict as a kid. I never saw my parents deal with conflict in a calm way. I wanted to make sure my kids knew how—to bring understanding to what went on, and to know that relationships can be mended.
After I had my third child, I started to understand what it would have been like to have a big sister growing up. The first time my eldest held my youngest was so precious. He loved her right away. He didn’t want to let her go. Now, watching my girls play together every day makes me wonder what it would have been like to grow up with my sister. We would have had so much fun together. We would have shared laughter and tears. I would have felt less alone. We would have had each other to lean on when times were hard. I wish we hadn’t been separated as siblings. I wish there was a different story to tell.
When my kids hurt each other, I can easily get so mad. When they don’t love each other, I’m tempted to lecture them about how thankful they should be to have each other, because I didn’t have that. But I know it wouldn’t be fair to relive my life through them. They are their own persons, and God has a different story for them. My pain and my sorrows are something I need to work through.
Still, I am amazed at what my kids can understand. When I get hurt, my middle child often empathizes with me and says, “Mama, I am sorry you got hurt. Are you ok?” My youngest wraps her arms around me. I am grateful for my kids when I look at their relationship; so much of it is God’s grace, and so much of it is repetitive mundane hard work. So much reconciliation and healing together as a family.
Even though my sister and I had a difficult upbringing, we were able to find healing. God has continued to bring us closer together by both having multiracial families, doing the same work, and having similar parenting philosophies. We get each other and we are best friends. Every year, I look forward to our big family vacation with my sister and her family, where we see our kids bond as cousins. When the kids are in bed, we can talk for hours––solve all our problems, or just hear each other out.
Never a dull moment with four adults, six kids, and a dog on vacation together, that’s for sure!