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Perpetual antagonists - that is how one aunt would have summed up the first twelve years of my relationship with my older sister. She was the eldest. I followed three and a half years later. What set our antagonistic relationship in motion, I am not sure. It could have been the usual sibling rivalry. Perhaps she resented sharing her place in the family with another girl. Or maybe she was given too much responsibility for my care. The subject has never been discussed. So the viewpoint I share is my own biased best.
Through the eyes of my childhood, I perceived my sister as the golden girl. With her blue eyes, white blond hair, fair skin and rose bud mouth, I thought she was beautiful. She was outgoing, seemed fearful of nothing and had many friends. Moon-struck little boys would follow her around. And she was smart according to her report cards. In contrast, I was quiet, fearful and far too sensitive, leaving me quite vulnerable. She took advantage of my lack of confidence and reinforced the differences between us. In my innocence, she had me believing that I was adopted and unwanted – an ugly duckling at best. With my dark hair, olive skin and full lips, there was little to visibly show that through blood line and biology we were kin. I lived in fear of being abandoned by her, or worse, adopted out again. At times she would tease me mercilessly until I howled in outrage or in misery. Yet despite those unpromising beginnings, our relationship did gradually change.
It was during my adolescent years that the first signs of change appeared. I became my sister’s dress up doll and thrived on her more positive attention. She was very creative and had a special interest in designing clothes and accessorizing. Given a box of hand-me-down, she would have the old pieces picked apart, recut, and sewn up into something smart and contemporary in a very short time. She had a fantastic wardrobe. In her most generous moods, she would dress me up in her clothes and do something special with my long dark hair. Sometimes she would braid it and weave daisies into the plait. At other times she would curl it and dress it with matching ribbons. It was wonderful to graduate from the role of that bothersome little tag-along sister to live doll. Over time, I became more.
With the mellowing of antagonisms it was easier to share confidences. Sharing a room facilitated that change. As the years wore on, when night would come and cover us with its comforting blanket of darkness, we would whisper our day’s happenings and share our growing dreams. In those quiet hours, our relationship became stronger even as slumber silenced our voices. Those years flew by far too quickly. Too soon she was grown up, engaged and planning her wedding.
I graduated from high school the June she married. Strange how her wedding day stands out in my memory and graduation is but a remembered moment of an overcrowded and overheated gym. Her wedding was beautiful, set in the rich greens of June foliage and the inviting summer sun. Though I was merely a bridesmaid, I felt like a princess wearing a dress in a rich satiny fabric of palest yellow with a full circle skirt that swished around my ankles. It wasn’t until that night, as I returned to our room alone, for the first time forever, that the implication of her marriage became real. The emptiness weighed heavily, and unexpectedly I was awash with tears at the knowledge that a chapter of our relationship was over. I felt lost without my identity as “little sister”.
Over the next nine years, it became apparent that my identity as “little sister” had not been lost. Even though at times geographical distance separated us, my sister was the one I turned to as I made my transition to adulthood. She encouraged me when I was ready to give up my studies. Struggling through the complexities of relating to men, she became the voice of wisdom. When I moved out on my own, she advised me of the practicalities involved in setting up a household. In planning my own wedding, she helped me create the dream day I desired for that special occasion.
Our relationship grew stronger still as we gave birth to our first sons - seven weeks apart.
It was as if our time lines of experience merged at this point. Between visits and phone calls, we kept each other up to date on the latest joys or challenges of being new mothers.
Four years later, my second son was born. Within three months she gave birth to twins. As women with similar values, it was wonderful to have someone to talk to about the realities of raising children, keeping our spouses happy and maintaining a home. It was during these years that our friendship matured. When our sons were half grown, we both returned to school. Our lives expanded, changed, opened up into different circles. Yet as our lives expanded outward, it seemed that we shared a need to move inward, too.
One moment stands out above the rest, in the transformative process of our relationship. It was early June. My sister and I were sharing a cup of tea on her front porch. It was as if we had reached a place of soul connection in which we began to appreciate the strength of a shared history. We could go back in time and talk about experiences that no one else could even comprehend, and reflect on how they had shaped our lives. In retrospect, it was as if a divine plan were at work to prepare us for what lay ahead. For it was only a few days later that our mother, in prime health, died very suddenly and unexpectedly. Reeling from the shock waves and overwhelmed with grief, there was great comfort in knowing we could turn to each other, each understanding the tremendous impact of our loss. Moving beyond the bond of blood line and biology; becoming more than closest friends; our antagonistic beginnings have gradually been transformed over almost five decades to unite us in mind, heart and soul.
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