Being a person, for me, has been a lonely endeavor. Although I haven't always enjoyed this element of my life, I have lived long enough to watch the good ways that it has shaped me, the creativity, the ability to accept and celebrate the unique in others, the closeness with the Lord.
When I think of the hours I spent, reading and writing and learning about the Bible, at home, not at school. The games I made up with my brother, taking us through the stages in the life of a plant (it was called "Seeds"). It is easy to focus on what I didn't have, on the people I wanted to play with and the conversations that I longed to have. But I'm learning, now as much as ever, that life is often more about what isn't there than about what is.
It was into this space, then and now, that several wonderful women stepped. They were, and are, the big sisters I wanted, the mentors I tried to seek, with little success, a part of the cloud of witnesses in which I stand. I wanted to introduce them to you, perhaps you will find as much encouragement, challenge and hope in their company as I have.
I recently received an email which said, in part: "you write a lot in your blog about Lauren Winner." Guilty as charged.
I will never forget "meeting" Lauren for the first time. I was browsing in a local bookstore. My family was all there together (this was before I could drive, so I didn't go places as often, or as spontaneously as I do now). Girl Meets God had been recently published. I picked it up and read the back, intrigued, I read the first bit. I replaced it on the shelf and promptly requested it at the library (I never buy a book before I've read it, except in very special cases).
I walked with Lauren, through her journey of finding Jesus as a Jew. We walked together through the church year (long before I knew that liturgy would become so important to me), through making bread for the Eucharist, through Mudhouse Sabbath (still my favorite of her work), her engagement, the way that she missed her roots, her Jewish-ness and found ways to remember and enrich her Christian life (and mine). We walked through Real Sex, which was assigned at my college, but I read for pleasure, since I wasn't in that class. We walked through community, and "how far is too far?" and chastity. More recently, we walked through Still, and her divorce, her mother's death and the ways that God is still strong, still enough, even when it's not felt or we are not anywhere near those words.
We are still walking together. Her books are all in my bedroom (which is as high in my book-ranking system as you can go). Mudhouse Sabbath is right next to my bed, because I often find myself thinking about something from it and paging through, reading a bit here and there.
Emily and I "met" at the library. I am a sucker for birds, and on the cover of her book Grace for the Good Girl she has a lovely little bird perched on an open cage. It was enough, I picked it up.
There are those books that hand you a rope and give you something to hold onto as you pull yourself up. This is not one of those books. This is a book that takes you gently with strong arms and pulls you up. The effort comes in allowing it to shape you, believing it. Her book is also right next to my bed.
After reading the book, I started reading Emily's blog. There are few posts that I don't connect with, that I don't bookmark to revisit later or share with a friend.
Recently, we've both been walking through transition and just what it is that God has for us. Emily is a wonderful companion for the way.
Addie, like me, is a former "Jesus girl." She grew up, as I did, in the heart of the evangelical Christian subculture. Honestly, I'm not even really sure how I found her, but her writing makes me nod, and cry, and pray.
In her blog, and her forthcoming book (review coming soon!), she writes about the past, and the struggle and the pain. She writes about the mistakes.
In her writing, I sense a hand on my shoulder. "It's okay to go to counseling," "it's all right to ask the questions even if you don't know the answers," "it's okay that your life doesn't look like you thought in would in your youth group days." And, perhaps most vehemently: "I don't want you to learn it all the hard way, like I did."
As she walks beside me, in her life now, she reminds me about balance, and the way the past sometimes reaches for us, and that God is all.
A bold, kind, Canadian with a piercingly clear voice, Sarah has taught me so much about being truthful while also being loving. We've walked together and I've watched her pick her battles, be herself and fight the battles she chooses, as herself.
She also makes me cry, a lot.
She walked with me, mentioning that maybe being a feminist wasn't about what I'd always thought it was about. She was just as excited as I was when I told her that I wanted to be a feminist, the way she was a feminist.
She shows me that I can talk about hockey and Downton Abbey in one breath and talk passionately about God, community, and peace in the next.
She is hopeful and humble and excited, and she reminds me that I can be too, that I can choose a different path from the one everyone else takes.
I have never met any of these women in person. I know them through their words. They have discipled me in the distance. They are the big sisters that I prayed for.
There are other women who have walked with me in my life, older women, than these. I'll be doing another post soon about my "Aunties" in the faith, in life.
Emily, Addie and Sarah are all welcoming new books into the world this fall. As you may imagine, I will be posting reviews here. If these new words are anything like the words coming before, they will be lovely. You'll want to put them on your list.
Do you have any big sisters (or brothers)?
[photo credit, remix by Cara Strickland]