Sisters and Broken Barbies

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” 1 Peter 4:8

When my daughter was about six years old, my mom brought out an old crate of Barbie dolls for her to play with. Not being much of a Barbie doll person, Maggie ignored the crate and played with her older brother and the Legos. I ran my hand through the crate, looking at the old, battered dolls with matted hair. Some of the dolls had legs that had been broken off and attached with definite deformities, others had grime and dirt embedded in their skins. Most of the clothes were frayed, missing a button, or stretched out. The accessories were strewn across the bottom of the crate, often with no matching glove or shoe. These dolls were the shared history of three sisters. I couldn’t recall which doll belonged to me or which dressed belonged to my sisters. I didn’t have any clear memories of us playing together, I just knew this crate represented my history, and I felt ashamed and relieved. Ashamed of my history and relieved my daughter was not interested in my castoffs.

March is Women’s History month and I think it’s important to use this month to celebrate women. I have written in the past about the community of women that have helped me and continue to shape the woman I am today. These include two aunts who I featured as my Sheroes last March and, the previous the summer, three lifelong friends. When thinking about the women who have influenced my life, I would be remiss if I didn’t include the two who have known me the longest: my sisters. They were my first friends. They have been at all my important events and are often the first people I text or call to share important news. They also share a unique history with me, our childhood. And even though we have different perspectives, we all agree it has shaped us.

What does it mean to be sisters? It’s a question I have been uncovering the answer to since I was a two-year-old crawling into my baby sister’s crib, trying to play with her. It was me playing with dolls, putting powder in their diapers as my mom did for my sister. It was me two months shy of five, going with my grandmother to drop off a paper bag of clothing for my mom while she was recovering from her c-section with my premature baby sister. It was me reading to my little sister, not because I was some sort of saint, but because I loved to read and hear the sound of my own voice. And then it’s a lot of murky memories of a childhood that was marred with abuse and trauma. I can look at pictures and vaguely remember family vacations, playing Barbies, swimming at the quarry, and riding the bus together. But how we interacted with one another feels a little unclear. I know that I was bossy and overbearing at times. At other times, I know I felt protective of my siblings. And I know much of the time I was lost in my own world trying to grapple with dark secrets. I have learned that childhood trauma often distorts your memories, robs you of your innocence and changes the natural dynamics of your familial relationships. And this rings true in my life.

To add to the challenges of our childhood, I felt like a bit of an outsider with my sisters. I didn’t share the same DNA as they did, which explained my shoe size, different bone structure and why I didn’t look like them. Yet, if you had asked me as a child to describe my family, I would always say I had two sisters and a brother. We never used words like half or step. We were just a family.

I have a few friends who have hard relationships with their sisters. For a myriad of reasons, those relationships are full of long, hurtful histories that often resulted in strained relationships or, in some cases, no relationship at all. Even in the Bible, there are examples of sisters with tough relationships including Rachel and Leah, which was based on jealousy and wounding. Then you have Mary and Martha, whose relational challenges were due to priorities and bitterness. My friends and the Biblical sisters are real examples of how hard it is to be friends within a family. It’s hard to maintain a lifelong relationship when you were forced to share a room, share your possessions, and play together.  When you add in the difficulty of navigating childhood trauma together, it seems almost impossible to have healthy relationship with your sisters!

                My sisters could both easily share times I have hurt their feelings. They can share times where I have made them feel less than, or times I have ignored them. The truth is that they have seen me at my worse. They have seen me when I have been judgmental, jealous, and full of bitterness. We were not the best of friends as children. We were three separate people, with different interests, temperaments, and passions.

                But despite the trauma and challenges, somewhere along the way, my sisters and I became friends. I can’t pinpoint when that happened, but I can tell you it did. I see it in the string of texts we sent each other last summer to encourage one another in our journey to better health. I see it in the ways we show up for one another at important events. I see it in how we celebrate each other’s accomplishments, pray, or offer words of support to one another in a crisis. I see it when we laugh about our childhood basket of unmatched socks. I see it in the way we disagree or have conflict but are vulnerable enough to reach out the other person and make amends. I see it when all three of us showed up for my uncle’s funeral grieving the only decent father figure we had and going home knowing we will never have a real father to grieve. I see it in the fact that they both have made plans to be at my daughter’s wedding despite Covid-19 and high gas prices.

I have probably rewritten this post more than any other one I have ever written. How do you accurately portray three women who have risen above broken and bruised Barbies? How do you honor your friends who have difficult relationships with sisters while celebrating your own relationships? How do you share that these friendships borne out of sisterhood and trauma have been a journey not a destination?

Sisters by birth and friends by choice, they are amazing women. They love their families well, are passionate about their work and volunteer commitments, and have overcome some hard obstacles. And most importantly, they have invested in my life in ways that I can’t measure. I am still learning what it means to be a sister, but I want to close with a few lines of poetry from an 19th century poet that echo some of what I have learned.

Root Out the Weeds

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” Hebrews 12:14

A year ago, I was dealing with a medical issue. I thought it was just a lingering virus, but when things didn’t improve, I called my doctor. After a lot of testing, including a colonoscopy, I was diagnosed with another auto-immune disorder. Although the disorder is not life threatening, when in a flare, it can make my life rather inconvenient. On the phone, the nurse recommended me treating it with an over-the-counter medication or possibly getting a steroid. I feel those solutions are just treating the symptoms. Instead, I am waiting to follow up with my doctor, hoping to maybe examine my diet to see if any foods are contributing to my problem.

In many ways, treating the symptoms to a problem in my life, without examining the root of issue, has been my answer to both physical and emotional issues. I took pills to deal with my headaches, instead of making sure I got enough sleep. I applied more moisturizer to my dry skin, instead of making sure I was drinking enough water. I harbored resentment towards people who rejected me instead of finding my worth in God. Although my symptoms might go away for a little bit, the underlying issues continued to wreak physical and emotional havoc!

In the summer of 2020, my husband and I were counseled by dear friends to “wrestle well” with a decision we needed to make. The phrase referred to the time when Jacob wrestled with Lord all night until he received something from God. God blessed him and Jacob’s life was forever changed. We spent that time seeking God and asking Him to illuminate the areas in our lives where we were not right, often leading to repentance. We did a lot of heart work, examining what our longings were and reorienting them towards God. We treated the root causes of our problems, which ended up resulting in making a healthy decision.

But even though you make a healthy decision for yourself, it doesn’t mean that everyone involved understands or supports your decision. Recently, I was faced with another consequence of my “wrestle well” decision. The details are not important, but it reopened a wound that I thought had closed and healed. And once again, I had to do some heart work, and reorient myself to God. Part of heart work is reminding myself that I am not the saint in this situation. I, too, just like the people involved, am human, full of imperfections.

It sounds easy as I type this, but honestly, a lot of tears have fallen. I’ve confessed to a few friends how hard this feels, and they have prayed with me for peace. In the past, I have ignored the heart work, and tried to move on, but seeds of resentment and bitterness rooted in me. Like weeds, they sprang up when least expected, hurting people I love. But this approach never leads to abundant life.

Tree of Heaven photo credit Shutterstock

We have two beautiful Rhododendron bushes growing on the side of our house. Late spring, they bloom with purple flowers, enticing hummingbirds and bees to gather nectar. Unfortunately, we also have a weed ironically named Tree of Heaven growing amongst the bushes.  Our first summer in our home, we noticed this weed, indicating that it was already a problem.  It is considered an invasive species that is difficult to kill after its second year of growth. Late winter, Terry tries to cut it down as far as he can, but it always comes back stronger and bigger.   Throughout the summer, we are forced take our clippers and attempt to cut it back, so it doesn’t take over the bushes and the roses next to it. In reading about the properties of this weed, the only way to get rid of the pest is to dig up the bush around it along with its own root ball and then separate the two.  The experts indicate that this might kill the weed, but there is no guarantee.

The writer in Hebrews in Chapter 12:14 says, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy.” The word for “make every effort” in the Greek means “to pursue.” Pursuing by its very definition implies a level of intensity. The writer goes on to say in verse 15, “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” This verse is addressing the church, that we should create an atmosphere of grace so that bitterness doesn’t affect the body.

Like my gut issues, I am learning to address bitterness right away. I owe it to myself, my family, my friends, and to my church body. When I practice grace and address the heart issues, it helps me to respond to others with more grace. It leaves me in a place where beauty can be created, and that is my heart’s desire!

Fitted Sheets and Martha Stewart

“Is not wisdom found among the aged? does not long life bring understanding?” Job 12:12

Besides Sundays, Terry and I love one day of the week more than the rest. It’s “clean sheet day”, the day we strip the bed, carefully remake it with fresh sheets, and place all the decorative pillows on neatly. That evening, we love crawling into bed with the crisp, fresh sheets. I am convinced that we sleep better, dreaming of warm breezes, Italian villas, and gelato. But as much as I love clean sheet day, I hate folding the cumbersome king-sized fitted sheet! I once watched a Martha Steward video on how to fold sheets properly. Her folded sheets have neat corners that stack beautifully in the linen closet. Something went terribly wrong in my attempt to carefully follow her steps. I ended up with a puffy, misshapen lump that was, if possible, worse than usual. I now leave sheet folding to the capable hands of my husband.

Photo Credit by Shutterstock

I recently heard an old podcast of an interview Martha Stewart did for Cherry Jubilee, a food conference for women. Until this podcast, I had never paid much attention to Martha, only occasionally flipping through her magazines, looking at a few recipes, and, of course, my failed attempt at sheet folding. This interview opened my eyes to the world of Martha. She’s an incredible entrepreneur who created the whole idea of lifestyle branding. Her hand is in every area imaginable: recipes, home décor, wedding planning, crafting, fashion, and even tips on having a hobby farm. Despite being eighty years old, she is still witty, still relevant with all her social media presence, and still looking to develop more businesses!

I was so inspired by this interview that I talked about Martha incessantly to my family and friends for several days. It wasn’t just that the interview was funny or insightful; it had to do more with how her life resonated with me. Her insatiable curiosity, desire to capture beauty around her, perseverance, and willingness to give back helped me to crystalize my thoughts about how to approach my fiftieth birthday, as well as life beyond it.

 Martha believes that her curiosity is the most important key to her success. She is always looking for ways to be inspired and to learn. She insists on sitting in the front seat with her drivers so she can get a clear view of the world around her. She doesn’t want to always go the same route, because different streets are opportunities to see something new. This curiosity is reflected in other areas of her life as well, from wanting to learn about photography to raising chickens. It even explains her unique friendship with the rapper, Snoop Dogg.

Not only is Martha curious, but she also loves to cultivate beauty around her. Aided by her landscaping team, she has a clear vision for her award-winning gardens. Her website is full of articles on how to create homes that are comfortable and esthetically pleasing. Her recipes highlight certain ingredients wanting to make them shine. Her products are not only beautiful but priced to be accessible for the average consumer. Although she has some mad perfection skills with ironing and organization, the spirit behind them is to eliminate the chaos around you so that you have space to see beauty.

In the interview, Martha referred to a major incident in her life as “financial troubles.” In 2004, Martha was convicted of insider training, resulting in her serving five months in a federal prison. For many people, this would have been the end of their story. She could have easily gone back to her home in Connecticut and quietly lived out the rest of her life in obscurity. Instead, Martha came back, relaunching her brand and building new businesses!

Finally, Martha believes in the importance of giving back. She has created a nonprofit charitable foundation with her daughter. She also cares about her world and wants to be a responsible human by promoting composting and sustainable living.

By no means am I saying that everything Martha does or supports aligns with my Christian worldview. But I do think that there are some take-aways from her life. I think those who know me best would agree that I have already cultivated an insatiable curiosity. But I think I will take Martha’s advice and continue to look at things from different perspectives to keep me inspired. I also think its important to cultivate beauty in my world. Beauty helps reduce stress and adds joy to my life. And despite the setbacks we have had in the past, I will look to the latter half of my life as a time when, with God, I can still make an impact. Finally, although I am unable to contribute on the same monetary level that Martha does, I can still serve my community in tangible ways to improve the quality of life for others!

In the interview, she shares a tip on how to make the most incredibly fluffy scrambled eggs. It involves her award-winning chickens and a $5,000 espresso machine! Although her eggs sound amazing, and I wouldn’t mind owning an espresso machine, I believe my scrambled eggs are as good as Martha’s. I use Happy Eggs, a whisk from my mother, and cook them slow on the stove.  Maybe I should start my own lifestyle brand!

My scrambled eggs with veggies and goat cheese, photo credit to Margaret Collins

Unlikely Trio

“All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord.” Proverbs 16:2

I started this blog almost three years ago as a way to address transitions in my life. I set some boundaries for my writing: to be authentic, to encourage, and to point others to the goodness of God. Although I have always been opinionated, I didn’t want my writing to just add noise to the hot button issues on social media. Instead, I wanted my blog to be a place of beauty and transformation. I can only speak for myself and how the blog has transformed me. It has helped me be more grace-filled, and kinder and gentler to others and myself. I had a different blog that I was intending to post this week, but I felt strongly to go in a different direction. This post addresses a current world issue, a visit, and a sermon. They all intersect in a place where only God can connect the dots.

The first situation is being updated in real time as I write. Like so many of you, I have been heartbroken to see what is happening in Ukraine. I had a semester of Russian history in college with a great professor who gave a comprehensive history of the breakdown of the former Soviet Union and the emerging countries like Ukraine. But since then, I have continued with my life and not given much thought to the second largest European nation. In January, I heard about the Russian military build-up on the border of Ukraine. But again, I went on living my life, not paying attention to world news. That changed last week when Russia invaded Ukraine. All platforms showed actual footage of the attack and of people fleeing their homes along with clips of President Zelensky’s resolution to stay and fight for his country. I have been following the situation, paying special attention to some missionaries of my faith that have chosen to stay to minister to their congregation! No words can adequately describe the situation that is unfolding for thousands of Ukrainians. Its heartbreaking to see mothers carrying their babies desperately trying to find a place of refuge.

The day prior to the invasion, I visited with a sweet older couple that are members of my church. By most standards, they don’t have a lot. Their apartment is small and filled with simple treasures such as cards and artwork from a friend. Due to some health issues, they live on a fixed income. They have no children but have invested their hearts into a great niece, giving her space in their spare bedroom filled with mementos. They take care of their neighbors by gathering their mail and bringing extra food. The man spends time making crafts for children in our church, while she looks for ways to minister to others. She regularly sends me texts letting me know she is thinking of me and praying for me. I left their home on Wednesday humbled by their generosity and faithfulness.

 Although I had been blessed by my visit and my heart was heavy for Ukraine, I still went on living my life like always, until Sunday. In his Sunday morning message, one of our pastors challenged us to examine our motives.  Do we serve God for the blessings, or do we serve because he is God? Pastor Dave asked some hard questions, including if God gave me nothing else in my life, would I still serve Him? I left church with some heavy thoughts about my own intentions and agenda.

 Sunday’s message, my visit with the couple in our church, and the invasion of Ukraine seem like an unlikely trio with no connection. But all day, I have been on the verge of tears whenever I think about all three experiences. I feel like they are all hitting the same place in soul. It is a place of raw honesty and self-examination. Who am I if blessings stop flowing? How will I react if faced with a situation where I must choose safety or service? And will I remain generous when it seems apparent to others, I don’t have much to give?

 It’s easy to give a shallow answer and say that my motives are honorable and self-sacrificing. But how many times have I grumbled about helping some else? How many times have I given the leftovers rather than my best? How many times have I chosen comfort over sacrifice? The answer is far more than I want to admit. Which then leads me to address the motives of my heart. Do I give for the good endorphins I feel when blessing someone else? Do I look for ways to receive accolades? Am I only generous out of my abundance?

If I was going to give myself a report card, I don’t think I would receive a passing mark when answering these questions. But this is where the grace of God steps in. He is not looking to beat me over the head and make me feel ashamed of my shortcomings and my selfish behavior. Instead, He gently encourages me to repent, reaffirm His sovereignty and remind me of Calvary. This is not an effort to change my behavior in the hopes improving my report card, instead it’s a reminder that He gave it all that I might have life. And I have nothing worth offering, but to be a living sacrifice.

There are major moments that forever change the course of your life. Some of these major moments are based on your decisions, such as a move, choosing a certain career path, or agreeing to go on a date with someone to a bookstore. Some major moments are out of your control like your family of origin, a rejection from someone you cared for, or an unexpected health diagnosis. But some major moments take place when situations collide that unexpectedly reveal something in your heart, prodding you to change.

I want to be a person who is truly generous. I want to serve without any expectations of gratitude. I want to give all that I have, not just out of my abundance. I want to choose serving over convenience. I want to stand strong when my faith is challenged. I want to empty myself of all that is me and let God flow through me. But this can only happen if I am honest with God and am transparent.

I am grateful for seasoned saints who are examples of Christian faithfulness. I am grateful for pastors who are not afraid to ask hard questions. And, for Ukraine, saying I am inspired seems so juvenile and insensitive to what is taking place. The missionaries and President Zelensky are examples of true self-sacrifice. They model this by choosing to stand for what they believe and stay, potentially giving their lives for the people they are entrusted to serve! And all I can do from my corner of the world is pray for their safety, well-being, and their sacrifice is not in vain.