Every first Sunday of the month, my church has a sharing session. Instead of the usual sermon, anyone from the congregation can stand up and share whatever it is they want to share.
This past Sunday, my 19-year-old sister, Karen, stood up to share. It was her first time. She started out by sharing how, two weeks ago, she had an allergic reaction that restricted her breathing and how, instead of calling me for help which is something she usually does, she chose to handle it herself. She took her medication and when that didn’t help, she desperately tried to calm herself down by praying to God. Eventually, she said, her breathing returned to normal.
And then, in front of the whole assembly, she started to cry.
If you’ve met my sister, you’d know that she is, in all seriousness, one badass chick, and I mean that in the best way possible. She was only ten years old when she first slapped a boy across the face for throwing insults at her. (I realized then that I wouldn’t ever need to worry about protecting her from jerks and douchebags.) And although she’s the youngest among us siblings, she is without a doubt the most mature and responsible one, probably the scariest one as well. She has no problem telling you off if you’ve done something inappropriate or disrespectful. She does not hide her anger and annoyance, especially when they’re toward people who do not know how to treat others properly. The only thing she does hide is weakness. That she will only show to the few people in her innermost circle.
So when my brave and strong-willed sister broke down in front of everyone in church, it was as if I was looking at a whole new other person, like someone I know but didn’t know.
Through tears, she shared how, in the past couple of weeks, she felt lost and empty. She would pray to God but she felt like her prayers were lost in a dark void. God, it seemed to her, was too distant to hear her.
One of my best friends, who was sitting beside me, turned to me and asked, “Did you know about this?”
Did I know about this? No. No, I didn’t.
I’m with her every single day. We talk every hour of every day, and it’s not just how is your day’s and what have you been up to’s. No, just the day before, over breakfast, we talked about what we wanted our future to be like, what kind of guy we wanted to marry and what places we wanted to see. Over the years, Karen and I have shared more moments than I have with anyone else, even with my own twin sister. She has become my second twin, my best friend.
So as she was speaking, I knew, in the back of my mind, how I was supposed to feel. As her sister, as someone who’s constantly with her, I should have felt ashamed, incompetent. How could I not notice that she was hurting all this time? I must have done something wrong for her to not tell me anything. But watching her bare her emotions, seeing her struggle to keep it together, I did not feel ashamed nor incompetent. I did not think of myself a terrible sister. I did not think of myself at all.
I just thought of her and I felt… proud. Of her.
I felt proud of her for choosing to handle it on her own, for not giving up on herself, for not giving up on her faith, for overcoming her dark moment. And most of all, for standing in front of a large group of people and speaking about it. It takes courage to confront weakness; it takes even more to admit it.
She concluded her sharing by saying that she’s in a much better place, that she doesn’t feel like God’s a stranger to her anymore. After the service ended, I approached her and casually told her that I was proud of her. There was no reason to be serious – she was already smiling. I was too.
But since that day, I sometimes catch myself looking at her, wondering what she’s thinking of, what she’s feeling. There have been moments when she’d say something and I’d find myself reading into it, analyzing if there’s a hidden meaning behind it. And then I realize what I’m doing and I scold myself.
My sister doesn’t need me to worry about her. She needs me to allow her to make her own decisions, to let her fight the battles she needs to fight on her own, to stand silently and firmly in her corner until she asks me for help, and to trust her to know when she should ask for help.