Adam and I have had our differences over the years. I think I ought to thank him for the ultra-competitiveness I have come to embody, that which spurred on all of my athletic pursuits. All I wanted when we were young was to be as good as the boys. That’s a lie. I wanted to be better. I wanted to show him and his friends I could not only hang but win. That I could not only win but be the best. I imagine I wasn’t exactly fun to play with, which explains why I almost always had to force the invitations. Or convince you and mom it was a good idea for me to play with Adam and his friends. Not sure how often I succeeded really.
Moving into high school, our age gap probably secured the potential of the relationship we have today, as the high school Adam and the junior high Lauren pretty much lived out a boxing match most of our days. Days for which I have had to apologize several times. I was more a third parent than I was a sister. Adam pursued things that my mind at the time couldn’t possibly understand a desire to pursue. I was hard hearted and stiff necked. I took up the perfect child mantle and ran with it in spite of him. Making sure there was no doubt who you and mom liked more out of the two of us.
This is merely a glimpse of the story, and it is more than enough to justify Adam being ashamed of me as his sister. There was no trust between us. Zero. And for good reason. I wasn’t in the habit of confiding in you, dad, and mom about things deep in my own heart, but I surely would have gone to you or mom if Adam, for some odd reason, decided at the time to divulge any information with me. I did not stand by the sibling code. Nor did I really want to be associated with him. The young Lauren who only wanted to play with her older brother turned into a teenage Lauren who couldn’t distance herself enough from him. I see, now, that these two Laurens aren’t so opposite as they might appear. The young Lauren wanted to play to be better and the teenage Lauren wanted to distance herself for what purpose? To be better, indeed.
It wasn’t until college the depth of my betrayal manifested itself to me. The Lord revealed my manipulation of the people close to me to validate myself and my own abilities. It was a lie I was using to fuel the illusion I could be good on my own. I didn’t believe you were competent to take care of me, dad, so I gave up being a daughter. I fashioned myself into an elite athlete and prosperous student. Using the failures, flaws, and shortcomings of others to pet my pompous ego and explain away any hint of insecurities.
Adam had every right to be ashamed of me as his sister. Yet, Jesus calls me His sister?
A crowd seated around him told him,
“Your mother and your brothers and your sisters
are outside asking for you.”
But he said to them in reply,
“Who are my mother and my brothers?”
And looking around at those seated in the circle he said,
“Here are my mother and my brothers.
For whoever does the will of God
is my brother and sister and mother.” [Matthew 3:32-35]
Jesus, the Christ, is not ashamed to call me sister? Not only not ashamed but went to the cross, dying a horrible and humiliating death, that I may be adopted as a child of God and be with Him in His family?
I was ashamed of our family for a long time, dad. It is gut wrenching thinking about it now. How merciful the Lord has been to change my heart and open my eyes to how precious family is. Even with my mistreatment and lack of gratitude for my own family, He invites me into His own. God, through His only begotten Son, invites me to be with Him again. And when I stray, He invites me again. And again. I used to resent the Prodigal Son [Luke 15:11-32]. I empathized with the older brother who stays faithful to his father and feels bitter when the father has a celebration for the son who returns after squandering all the inheritance. I see more of myself, now, in the returning son, as well. Considering how I squandered the gifts of my own family. Thinking myself better on my own. Have mercy, Lord.
This isn’t even the worst of it, I dare say. The Lord Jesus Christ made a way for me to be a daughter of the King of the Universe, My Creator, and His (Jesus) very sister, yet I am often ashamed of the family I am called to be a part of. I am often ashamed of the Gospel and the good news of salvation. Considering how being a part of this family frequently means laying down my own self and my plans, getting used to different, embracing suffering and being open to and accepting the unexpected. Doesn’t seem so inviting, does it?
But then I think again on you, dad, mom, and Adam. I remember moments I had to lay down my plans. When mom needed help taking care of you, and I had to put my selfish ambitions to the side. I couldn’t see it at the time, but there was goodness. I think of our handicap accessible van I was so embarrassed by but allowed you to come drop me off at TCU before the fall semester started. The only time you would be able to see the place where I would eventually call home for six years of my life. Goodness. I think of all of your suffering. All of our family’s suffering. I remember talking to you on the phone one afternoon my sophomore year. You asked me to stay on the line after we finished our weekly conversation. The fear in your voice was palpable in my dorm room a thousand miles away. Something was wrong, but you didn’t know what. And you were alone at home. One of the last conversations we would have. How do I accept that unexpected morning of your death?
“With great joy.”
No, I am not crazy (well maybe a little but for other reasons). Yes, I do love my dad. How in the world can suffering and loss be accepted with great joy? There is no way in the world. That I have found, at least. The way is not in the world. The way is Jesus Christ. The way is the reconciliation of God and man. The way is the redemption and salvation of the world. The way is remaining a daughter of the One Father.
Jesus is the only way I can reconcile joy and loss. No one can or will ever replace you, dad. But your death continues to be fruitful in my life. How? How can death be fruitful? Does that make it good? No. But it is light in the darkness. After you died, so many fathers have shown up in my life. Each reminding me of you in some way. Each coming into my life at a time I really needed a father. Each reminding my that my Father is faithful. While He permits suffering and loss in this world because His immense love operates in freedom, He does not abandon us to it.
God allowed His own Son to die a horrible death, so we may not be troubled. That we could have peace knowing He has overcome the world and provided the way for all of us to be in His family. That suffering and loss do not just end in suffering and loss. This is the triumph of the crucifixion. The Resurrection. Jesus defeated death. He defeated my dad’s death and redeemed it, so I can go on living and loving. And can take courage, embracing suffering if and when it comes, with great joy.
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes… [Romans 1:16]
Lovingly and JOYfully,
PS- “with great joy” comes from a dialogue between a woman named Gabrielle Bossis and Jesus in her book, He And I. She asks Jesus how He, in all His omniscience, power and Glory, could come to people in a small piece of bread and drops of wine. Our Lord responds, “with great joy!”