The Importance of Being Siblings

I went to boarding school at an early age – 6 years old to be exact. I have selective memories of these early years; most are happy and laced with grace. Others are poignant and bring up the expected sadness caused by an early separation of child and parent. Some memories are sharper when I read through letters written home in a child’s uneven script. Letters that my mother kept through the years.

20130326-212906.jpgEvident in those early letters is a concern for the welfare of my younger brother, Dan. As youngest of 5 he was still at home with my parents. The letters reflect a zealous, sisterly concern for his welfare. I want to know ‘How is Danny? Is Danny lonesome? Does Danny miss me? Is Danny having fun with the kitty? Say ‘hi’ to Danny. I miss Danny”. Every letter holds a sentence or two specifically about Danny, the importance of Danny.

And today Danny – Dr. Daniel Brown – turns 50.

It’s been a long time since those letters. A long time since the small cares of childhood turned into the big concerns of adults. Years since that first grade penmanship that crafted words into sentences into letters home was checked and rechecked by hawk-eyed teachers, deeming it worthy of the eyes of parents.

The sibling relationship is one of the strangest relationships in our world. We grow up with these people called ‘siblings’. Eat at the same dinner table, are loved and nurtured, disciplined and scolded by the same parents. We sit around Christmas trees or Eid feasts, go to churches, mosques, or synagogues with family. They hold similar features, characteristics, and memories.

But we grow older and often apart. And we’re left wondering what happened. When did the ease with which we communicated, laughed, and fought turn into difficulty trying to figure out what to say to each other? When did a solid relationship turn sketchy and strained?

Sometimes, but not always, we figure out this new relationship and move forward – tenuously at first, but then with more confidence.

And that is what has happened with all of my brothers, specifically in this context – Dan.

It’s impossible for me to imagine what my life would be without him. From my concern for his welfare as a little boy to watching him enter his 5th decade of life, I am profoundly grateful for his friendship. He has wisely walked me through crises, soundly rebuked me when out of line, and shared his family and home with ours for years.

He is brilliant, stubborn, and wise. He is a husband, a father, a pastor, and a professor. He writes books of his own and edits those of others, all with a quiet humility.

While I am loud and opinionated – he is quiet and equally opinionated. While I am dramatic – he tends toward the practical. And while I am short – he is tall.

Sibling relationships have always been complex and perplexing. And my guess is that they will be complicated until the end of time. We have only to look at Jacob and Esau, Isaac and Ishmael, and Joseph and all those brothers to know we have excellent company in our struggles.

But as I look at my children and at times despair at the sibling ‘stuff’ – I have great hope. For blood is thick and family ties are strong, carrying with them an innate recognition of the importance of being siblings.

Because somehow in the life journey siblings matter.

Today, thousands of miles away in his new home in Istanbul, Turkey, my youngest sibling celebrates 50 years of life. With the 21st century ability to communicate I will be able to talk to him, to wish him a happy birthday. But it’s not enough – not the same as being in person. And so in a week and a half we will head to Istanbul to celebrate birthdays, siblings, the skyline of Istanbul, and Turkish coffee.

Because there is an importance to being siblings.



33 thoughts on “The Importance of Being Siblings

  1. This reminds for of elementary school at Murree when we were required to write letters home. My brother and I 13 months between us) entered boarding school together (2nd and 3rd grade) and have been together for the most part since came to the same college in the states. This May represents us beginning to move our separate ways as I head to graduate school.


    1. I still remember what it was like to have our letters scrutinized! I ended up moving away from all my siblings as well. It’s hard – the whole boarding school thing with siblings can be awkward when there is a large age gap. When you’re young you ache for them to acknowledge you but sometimes it’s too hard for them to pay attention to younger siblings when surrounded by peers. I’ve been wanting to write about that for awhile now as well. Here’s to hoping you’ll find many times to reconnect as you head off to graduate school. Where will you be living? Thanks so much for coming by, more so for ‘getting’ this post so well!


  2. Raising our own TCKs… but I’m not one. Have two boys- who are SO CLOSE! This post reminds me to pray that they will always find a way to be best friends. Toying with the idea of more kids (already have boys 6yo and 4yo).. how was having a big family overseas??


    1. I actually really liked having a big family overseas. It was interesting to see reactions of Egyptians to our big family. When I got pregnant with my 5th our upper/middle class Egyptian friends were appalled! I wasn’t expecting that kind of reaction and really struggled. But having a big family overseas felt so much easier than having a large family in the U.S. I remember particularly a trip to Turkey with 4 kids – all under 7. We went on every mode of transportation imaginable and I felt my confidence increasing ten-fold throughout the trip! I remember thinking I traveled as a kid, I traveled as a teen, I traveled as a young adult – and now look! I can do this with 4 kids – one at 3-months old. So that’s a really long answer but I would love to hear more about your experiences and thank you for coming by!


  3. I am the oldest of four girls and was always the protective, bossy big sister. As I’ve matured (a bit, at least!) and we’ve all grown up, I value their friendship above most others. It truly is a unique relationship that we share as siblings and one I’m very thankful for!


  4. Absolutely touching, brought tears to my eyes. My brother and I, while presently on opposite sides of an ocean, will always share a special bond. We have recently made time to Skype at the same time once a week, and I’ve noticed that this has become an unbreakable commitment in our very different lives. It is exactly as the cliché states, blood is thicker than water. Blood is what reminds us of who we really are underneath it all, what brings us back to the source of our true selves. Thanks for writing and sharing.


    1. So good to have tools like Skype, Google hangout etc. I love the way you describe ‘coming back to our true selves’. When family is functionally dysfunctional it works that way doesn’t it?


  5. Marilyn: Your letter home reminded me of a letter we received from your cousin Kristine; it was required by the summer camp she was attending as an 8 or 9-year-old. One sentence said: “I like it here, I like it at home, too. I think I like it at home better” I seem to recall thatl things did improve as the week wore on. BTW, Dan is just six months behind our Linnea, age-wise.


    1. Ohhh! I have a few boarding school letters like that! That home is missed is evident. Yay for pen and paper letters right Aunt Ruth?! What history will we have in this generation.


  6. And such joy it brings to this mother’s heart to know that all our children have grown up to like each other! I’m so glad you & Cliff can go to Istanbul, just wish I could tuck myself into your luggage. Thanks for this, and for your memories.


  7. So great! The photo is the best:) AND excited for your trip….anyway I can mail you a small letter today or tomorrow for you to tuck in your luggage?


  8. As the oldest of the eight in my “family bush” (the fully biological, the steps, the halfs, and the adopteds), I have no one with whom I have this bond…and that is hard. When I look at aging parents, I wonder who will share the load of decision-making, etc. When my mom died, I felt very alone as the “strong oldest girl.”

    But I watch my two kiddos – only 12.5 months apart – and see what you describe. I am so glad for them. They have their own way of talking without saying a word and would rather be with each other than most others their own age. As we walked the campus of Baylor University yesterday, I was quite convinced that they will be there together in Fall 2014.

    This is a great piece – thank you so much for sharing it!


  9. LOVE this! My sibling closest in age to me, most different in personality from me, has been the source of great great comfort, steadiness and encouragement to me this past year ~ the most difficult year of my life. How strange that the one I clashed with most often and most severely God has used to bring me great hope and assurance.
    As an aside….my youngest sibling, and furthest apart in age, just went to Istanbul ~ a first for anyone in our family ~ and loved it!
    The picture of you and your brother is precious!


    1. That’s exactly how it was for me – it was a gift to have him walk beside me. And I don’t take it for granted. I know many can never forge the adult relationship comfortably so I am grateful. Fun that your youngest sibling went to Istanbul. It is a great city – we went twice years ago and looking forward to going next week. I’ll post pictures!


  10. Such a timely post, as often happens! I have been giving thanks in multiple measure for my siblings as we have ‘circled our wagons’ around one in our family increasingly weakened by cancer. What we would do without one another, I’m glad I don’t have to learn. And while we rarely agree on everything present (and the rebellious Irish disagreements have sometimes been fearsome!), my four siblings and I know without question we are all in this life together to love and support one another. What a blessing they are to me! I LOVE the photo you posted here!


    1. I have loved hearing stories of your Big Irish Family through the years – especially when the stories combine with John’s Big Italian Family!! I love this photo as well. It’s actually of the whole family so I need to post the whole picture, not just this part.


  11. I’ll call my brother Neil today. Thanks for the reminder to press through and learn to relate to and relish in the love of siblings. Happy Birthday Dr Dan!


    1. Loved the post Marilyn, as usual. We didn’t know Dan was in Istanbul. We were classmates at MBI. John is heading over in April. Can you put us in touch?


      1. I would love to put you in touch. I owe you a couple of emails anyway :( – he Winter of Life has really taken over but spring is coming.


    2. Always loved watching you and Neil together when you were younger – you actually always reminded me of Dan and myself – I think the age difference may be similar!


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