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.



A Perfect Tree

20121219-074608.jpgIt was a perfect tree. Unlike some, where the tree goes from thin at the top to ballooning at the bottom like a pear-shaped woman; or others, that were too round or too tall or too thin, this one was perfect. They placed it in the bay window of the Victorian style house, covered with little multi-colored and white lights. It was perfect. Everyone thought so.

But then December and the ‘holiday’ season became anything but magical, anything but excited anticipation.

Anything but perfect.

The collective grief and pain that was happening to them and around them was mind-numbing in its scope, eye-popping in its magnitude. There was death, betrayal, sickness, dysfunction, hurt, sadness, anger everywhere.

Suddenly the tree was not so perfect. In fact, every time they passed the tree they felt sick, nauseated. They wanted to purge themselves of all that they saw, heard, all that they felt and knew.

The sorrow alternated with the rage. The rage alternated with the nausea. The nausea circled round to sorrow until they realized that all of it could be captured in two words. Profound grief in the brokenness of their world.

The tree, normally a glowing symbol of a season they loved; a season that included tantalizing smells and tastes, gifts and giving, and a small baby, born to redeem, born to set “his people free” became instead a picture of grief and pain. They could hardly wait to remove it, and along with it the dead needles that were accumulating on the ground, evidence of a world that brought brokenness, death and decay.

But there were children. Children to care for and protect. Children that were too young to understand, too old to be immune.

And it was children who helped them to sit before the tree, that perfect horrible tree, and think about another tree that symbolized pain and grief. A tree that was used for death. And yet death was not victorious. Death and darkness gave way to life and light, life and light gave way to more life and more light.

The anguish and grief began to be covered with the redemption of that other tree. Could it possibly be that all of this grief and sadness could give way to light and life?

Around the tree their children snuggled close, enveloping them with warmth, 20121216-084620.jpgflannel pajamas, and sweet child smell. “Come thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free, from our sins and fears release us, Let us find our rest in thee.” the song played, slightly tinny, on a cheap CD player. The tears couldn’t be stopped. And then one of those oh so precious children, too young to understand but too old to be immune, looked up and said “Why are you sad? It’s a perfect tree”


Blogger’s note: I recommend this excellent piece from the NY Times by Russ Douthat called Loss of the Innocents. Here is an excerpt:

In the same way, the only thing that my religious tradition has to offer to the bereaved of Newtown today — besides an appropriately respectful witness to their awful sorrow — is a version of that story, and the realism about suffering that it contains.

That realism may be hard to see at Christmastime, when the sentimental side of faith owns the cultural stage. But the Christmas story isn’t just the manger and the shepherds and the baby Jesus, meek and mild.

The rage of Herod is there as well, and the slaughtered innocents of Bethlehem, and the myrrh that prepares bodies for the grave. The cross looms behind the stable — the shadow of violence, agony and death.”

Pint-Sized Miracle

There are times when we need miracles to ponder – to remind us of what’s important, to encourage us, to make us kneel in amazement. Lillian Trasher Orphanage in Assiut, Egypt serves hundreds of children and adults and is a place of many such miracles. My friends, Michele and Joseph, have a family connection with the orphanage and visit there often. The following happened just this week during their scheduled visit to Lillian Trasher.

The Big (Pint-Sized) Miracle in the Lillian Trasher Orphanage (Egypt) by Michele Rigby.

About 4 years ago, when we were visiting my in-law’s orphanage, we saw a little baby that had recently been brought into the home. She was literally at death’s door. Her mother died in childbirth, and her father kept her until she was about 10 months old but realized she was dying.

He brought her to the home and said, “She’ll probably die but we brought her here anyway.” She was in such poor condition she looked like a newborn weighing only a few pounds. This baby was tiny, dirty, in pain, completely malnourished and diseased with significant problems with her colon. I don’t think I took a picture of her while we were there because she looked so bad and it was a sad situation.

Last night we went down to the toddlers section and passed out chocolates. The 2-4 year olds were so cute and so fun, but one little girl really caught my attention. She looked familiar, but I wasn’t sure why. She threw herself into my arms and had the widest grin you can imagine. She was all smiles and laughed at everything I did.

She was “pure sugar.”

We went back down again tonight because I felt I needed to see her again. I asked the girls in charge of the babies, “What is her story?” I found out that SHE WAS THE BABY that we had seen when we visited the orphanage. I almost burst into tears. It took everything I had to hold the emotions back. It was a miracle before my eyes.

This beautiful, bright little girl must be God’s beloved because he saved her from death and she is thriving. Though she looks like 3-4 years old, she is actually about 5, so she is smaller than she should be. Regardless, she is well, happy–and probably the most joyful child there. When she saw me the second time, she came running into my arms. I wish I could take her home–I would in an instant if I could.

Truly God loves these children and uses them to affect me (and thousands of others) in a profound and lasting way–Nothing like a tiny child to bring you to your knees. I am praying that she has a long, beautiful life and brings many people to the knowledge of God through her story and her precious (and infectious!) smile and spirit.

pro-life or Pro-LIFE?

Note from Communicating Across Boundaries: Posts on CAB are rarely political. While they are often passionate and want to bring on different perspectives, I know politics can get ugly – and at CAB We hate ugly dialogue! But this Friday, Robynn brings a challenging post on Life with a capital L. We are pretty sure that wherever you stand you will be challenged; we are also aware that wherever you stand you may have strong feelings about the post. We invite dialogue! We know it’s best done in relationship, and better over tea or coffee, but we urge you to respectfully articulate what Life is to you. Thank you for reading! ~

My husband, Lowell, recently was asked by the Evangelical Environmental Network to write a piece defending their declaration that mercury poisoning of the unborn through the burning of coal is a pro-life issue. It seems an obvious connection to me but one that has come under attack by those who prefer a more tightly defined category of pro-life.

It’s got me thinking.

I worked for a year at our local Life Choice office. This was a distinctly pro-woman place where women in crisis could come. We provided information and counseling so these women could make an informed decision about pregnancy, abortion and adoption. It was a place of healing and hope. I loved seeing the women loved on and prayed with through deeply troubling circumstances.

I am pro-life.

But I’m wondering when the definition of pro- life became so narrow? When did pro-life come to only mean pro-life of the unborn child? It seems to me that if we are really truly pro-life we should be pro-LIFE! We should advocate for all issues surrounding life. Our voice should defend the lives of the immigrant, the migrant worker, the poor, the homeless, the elderly, the unemployed, the marginalized. We should valiantly love the woman in crisis.  We should cry out against injustice and exploitation. We should actively picket against toxins and pesticides, against mountain top removal and deforestation, against ruthless relentless drilling for oil. We should labour for clean drinking water, and safe agricultural practices.

But are we really pro-life? Am I?

A couple of weeks ago I had coffee with a friend. This friend and her husband have themselves adopted a child through that same Life Choice ministry. We have lots in common, including our pro-life convictions. She’s a safe friend to engage life with. I found myself wondering out loud about these things.

I wondered why the conservatives chose this issue to pivot on. What prompted them to decide to cast their vote behind this one concern seemingly sacrificing all other convictions? Why wasn’t it care for the elderly or for the poor? Why not concern for the foreigner or for the stranger?  If the Bible was their source of ethics or morality they easily would have had justifiable scriptural evidence to suggest choosing one of those.

But I also wondered why those on the other side of the political aisle, who seemingly defend the poor, the ostracized, the foreigner–why they seem to have turned a blind eye to the unborn. They hear the cries of the young woman in crisis but choose to ignore the cries of the infant not yet born. How did they decide to define life in terms of choice when it’s clear that the others they advocate for rarely have a choice? Like the illegal immigrant, the Unborn have no defense, no voice, nothing to stand on—they are silenced by choice. They are silenced by ease. They are silenced by personal pain and even worse, by politics. They have no advocate.

There seems to be so much inconsistency.

As we dialogued and debated and discussed I think we happened upon a possible reason.

For the conservative –It is far easier to love a faceless, nameless innocent child than it is to love the homeless man you see every morning pushing his cart full of water bottles and pop cans. It’s easier to stand up for someone you don’t know, someone you’ll never meet, someone who really affects very few of us than it is to stand up for the grumpy, nosy elderly neighbor who’s name you know and who you try to avoid and who you’re pretty sure doesn’t have health insurance.

For the liberal—It’s far easier to ignore the voice of someone who is silent. It’s easy to forget they even exist. They have no voice. It’s easier to ignore someone who can’t talk, who’s never been given that right.

I know that the unborn child is personally entwined in many of our stories. These babies, miscarried or aborted, bring grief and sorrow. They are little people we’ve never met, children we never carried. They do have names and they mean so much to us, their mothers, their sisters, their aunts, their grandmothers.

But for many it’s not part of our experience.

We’ve limited our definition of pro-life as a convenient way to keep it at arm’s length.

Not only does this slap the grief of our fellow women in the face who’ve personally dealt with this deeply poignant loss, it also requires a different level of personal response or responsibility from those who haven’t.  We don’t have to deal with it. I don’t have to decide whether to give money for gas to the man who knocked on my back door, or to give money to help cover the rent to the two women who rang my front door bell. I don’t have to figure it out.

I guess I’m imploring us all to look again at the broader landscape of scripture and society. I want to see the faces of those that others ignore. I want life for them. I want to stretch my definition of what life and living is. I really do want to be pro-life. I want life for that woman who yet grieves her loss. I want life for the uninsured, for the poor, for the unemployable, for the elderly. I want to care for those that mercury is silently poisoning, for those whose water is now contaminated, for those who live in environmentally devastated regions.

I want life for the born and the not yet born.

Perhaps the pro-life issue really is about choice. I choose to care. I choose to take responsibility. I choose life. I choose to be pro-Life! I’m pro-that –choice!

“Oops! I Just Need a Little Space….”

Fridays with Robynn – “Oops! I just need a little space…..”

Once when my Adelaide was 5, she brought her ‘daughter’ –her younger sister –to me and said,

  “Can you please look after my little girl for me?” I was quick to volunteer my services, “Sure, are you going out shopping?”

“No,” she replied, “I just need a little space!”

Of course five-year old ‘mothers’ learn that from somewhere!


School started here in our town this week. And where most moms were sad that the long lazy days of summer are over, that their time with their young darlings would now be dictated by school schedules, that their babies were being taken away from them….I was not! I was excited, relieved even. I’m just not one of those moms.

Don’t misunderstand me. I love my children. They are full of energy and passion. Each one of them is a charged up personality. They are all three articulate, competitive and opinionated. Each of them are growing into their own strong sense of self.  I love them deeply, keenly.

But I also love my space. I love routine. I love predictable rhythms. I love the freedom to write in complete sentences, to think full thoughts. I love quiet.

I cannot do that with my children around me.

For years I felt guilty about these things. Why wasn’t I more maternal? Why wasn’t I more warm and fuzzy?

Several years ago I read a profoundly personal book, Spirituality and the Mother Zone:  Staying Centered, Finding God by Trudelle Thomas. Thomas looks at issues surrounding motherhood that others aren’t honest enough to uncover. She talks opening about the loss of control, the occasional rages, the guilt, the resentment, the horrible feeling of not knowing what to do. She explores the secret topics of motherhood. I’ve always been an honest person, but I had never given voice to the niggling thoughts and relentless emotions (including, on occasion, the deep anger). Thomas gave me freedom to be me and the mother that I was created to be.

I guess I’m the best mother God intended for my children. I’m the one He chose for Connor, Adelaide and Bronwynn.  As I parent from who I am, with honesty and with joy, my children get me! With all my foibles and faults, with my frenzies and failings….my children get me.

I’m not likely to ever be up for Mother Of The Year, but I’m the mother here: year in, year out. And my children know I love them.

And they know I love having them back in school.

Last week after Sunday school, Connor’s teacher came up to me. She said she had told the kids that mothers are sad too that summer is over and the kids are all going back to school. Connor piped up, “Not my mom…she’s excited!”


And another article:

“Humbly Letting Go”

There are a thousand ways to humbly let go” Ann Voskamp ~ One Thousand Gifts

It begins the moment you see your newborn with the soft downy fuzz substitute for hair, the baby soft skin, the red marks showing the struggle of the birth process on their faces, and that new-born cry that only the mom and dad can soothe. You are vulnerable. You have begun on the path of vulnerability that is parenting. From now on people will have a weapon against you that was previously unavailable: that weapon of your children.

Insults to me? These may hurt, but insults to my children? Those wound. Criticism to me? I’ll think about it and weigh the merits. Criticism of my children? That’s crossed a line – unless I’m the one criticizing. Yes, children are an extreme weapon.

And yet the path of parenting is one that demands that I “humbly let go”. I am called to humbly let go of the control I so badly want and think I need. The control of their lives from what they will eat, to where they will go to college, to who they will marry. I am to humbly let go of the desire to make everything ok for them, set their paths straight.  I am to humbly let go of the hurts that make me want to stalk their friends and scream at them “Be Kind!”  I am to humbly forgive and let go of the times when these fruits of my womb hurt me.

There are a thousand ways to humbly let go – but it’s still so hard. How do you let go with humility and peace? This role of parenting is not a role that can accommodate big egos and selfishness. It’s a role that demands that I “humbly let go”.

How is parenting going for you? Where have you struggled to let go? This mom needs you today! 

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