One thing I’ve learned from my sister

In a couple of weeks, I will be introducing my beloved baby sister, Caitlin, to you on the Mundane Faithfulness Podcast. I can hardly contain my excitement! We had so much fun recording together; so much, in fact, that I think our producer got a headache from rolling his eyes at our hilarious jokes (he hasn’t told me yet if he’s cutting our duet of “Jingle Bells,” which we sing while keeping our mouths closed—sooooo funny! Funny to us sisters, anyway…). Yet as much fun as we had recording, there was a big, fat elephant in the room—Caitlin was recording from her home in Germany. She lives in a small village with her German husband and four half-German children. I don’t have to tell you, dear friend, how much I miss her, how many tears I cry because my heart yearns for her presence, how my heart seems to physically ache during the holidays because she is so far away.

Caitlin is an extreme extrovert, like Kara. Caitlin is a people lover, like Kara. Caitlin is a gatherer, like Kara. And yet, God has called Caitlin and her family to live in this tiny town of 1,800 people. Of 1,800 Germans, which is simply to say, people who culturally don’t necessarily relate to how Caitlin interacts with others, who don’t always respond to her ways of reaching out, who may be confused by her understanding of friendship and community.

That’s not to criticize Germans in any way. It’s just to point out how hard it is for Caitlin. How hard it is for her to make connections and build relationships. Hard for my girl, who is the loveliest, friendliest, compassionatest, warmest woman in my entire world.

Caitlin does not have community. And it breaks my heart.

And yet, Caitlin does have hope.

A friend of mine is hurting today. Which makes me hurt, too. And as I’ve prayed for her and wondered how to show up for her, Caitlin keeps coming to my mind. How many hours have I spent praying—begging—God to bring her community…friends…one friend?

It’s been two and a half years that God has said no to this prayer. But he has said yes to so many other things.

I love this passage in I Peter 1 that reminds us that suffering draws us near to God, that He is with us, wanting us to revel in his embrace instead of withdrawing into our own hurt. In that way, suffering is a gift; the people I know who have the most intimate, beautiful relationships with Jesus are those who have suffered. Like Caitlin.

3-5 What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole.

6-7 I know how great this makes you feel, even though you have to put up with every kind of aggravation in the meantime. Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine. When Jesus wraps this all up, it’s your faith, not your gold, that God will have on display as evidence of his victory.

8-9 You never saw him, yet you love him. You still don’t see him, yet you trust him—with laughter and singing. Because you kept on believing, you’ll get what you’re looking forward to: total salvation.
— I Peter 1

Suffering is a gift that invites us to experience the love of God in personal, redemptive ways that will change us forever. Suffering is temporary but through it, we learn of God’s permanent love.

I wish I could save Caitlin. But I am not her savior. And she knows this well; on her hard days, she reaches out to me and our older sister Erin, not so we can save her, but so we can remind her who her Savior is. Caitlin is gracious not to expect us to save her—she wants to be reminded of God’s love for her, because the truth is, even if I could show up at her door and be her next-door neighbor and BFF, I can’t save her. I can’t satisfy every need she has no matter how hard I try. Only God can do that.

As sisters, Caitlin and I have walked suffering with each other many, many times over the years. Sometimes I lean on her, sometimes she leans on me. When I find myself in my dark well and it’s so dark I can’t see my hand in front of my face, I can feel her hand grasping mine. She can’t save me from my depression, but she can sit with me. She can’t lift me out, but she can support me. She can’t provide hope, but she can point to the One who can.

Through walking with each other in the hard of life, I’ve learned that entrusting my loved ones to God means trusting him with their hurting hearts, trusting that he knows best even if I don’t understand, trusting that goodness is coming eventually, even if it’s not this side of Heaven.

You might expect Caitlin to be bitter or sour or pessimistic after this time of isolation and unanswered prayer for community. After all, we are designed for community, relationship, friendship—community is where the gospel is lived out among us and how Grace penetrates our hearts day after day. And yet, rather than dwell in anger and resentment (where I would be tempted to dwell!), Caitlin chooses the gift of intimacy that Jesus is holding out to her, the gift of dependence on him, trust in our Father, hope that her suffering will be redeemed some day. She chooses joy.

As we enter the holiday season, I pray that I can learn from Caitlin’s example and lean into Jesus in the hard days of Advent. That I will recognize hurting people around me and move toward them. That despite grief and hurt, I will gladly receive the gift of Immanuel, God with us, and choose joy.

Have you ever expected a person to save you from hard? What happened? Was there a point where you felt like God was drawing you close to him? Did you lean into Jesus or withdraw into your own hurt? What was the heart struggle in that situation? What is an effective way for your community to encourage you to lean into Jesus when you’re hurting? In what ways are you especially looking forward to the celebration of Immanuel this year?