Marti was 15 years old and where she shouldn’t have been, trying to run away from the expectations of being the youngest child of a pastor. She didn’t know how to express her frustrations at being compared to her older sisters and brothers.
She rebelled by hanging out with people whose dangerous and criminal behavior she normally wouldn’t want to be around. She told lies to her parents, and they didn’t know how to handle her, as none of the other children had acted in these ways. Then, her oldest brother, Ellis, came home from college for the weekend.
That evening, as the family sat down to dinner, Ellis sensed the tension in the room, and his baby sister was missing from the table. He asked, “Where’s Marti?” Everybody looked down at their plates, and he perceived the disgust and shame radiating from each one of them, especially his father.
His father finally responded. “We have lost control of her, Ellis. She’s mixed up with some bad kids, and no matter how I’ve tried, beatings and withholding privileges, she just won’t listen to me or your mother. None of us can get her to do right. Your mother is about to have a conniption!”
Ellis left the table, put on his coat, and went looking for the baby sister with whom he had always had a special bond. He never judged her, accepting her as different from the rest of the siblings. He liked her eccentricities, and he knew that she suffered much emotional pain living in a small town where people value conformity and hate those who refuse to mold themselves in its image.
He walked the streets of the town, accepting the greeting so people who admired the “good son.” But, his focus was on finding his baby sister. He asked the young people he met, “Have you seen Marti?” And finally, someone told him where she was.
He went to the house and knocked on the door. When the door was opened, he looked in and saw her. He didn’t wait for an invitation to enter. Marti saw him coming towards her, and she looked down so she wouldn’t see the disappointment and disgust in his eyes. He was the one person she never wanted to think bad of her.
He spoke softly to her, “Ready to go home, Baby Sister?” He didn’t make any demands, for he had learned in all of those days caring for her when their mother was at work that she didn’t respond well to being coerced. He just held out his hand, just as he had done when he used to pick her up from school.
She saw his hand outstretched towards her, and she looked in his eyes. There was no judgment, no condemnation, no disgust, just that same smile in his eyes that signaled acceptance of her. Tears of shame that he should see her in this place smoking and drinking flowed down her face, and he bent down on one knee, took a tissue from his pocket, and wiped her tears away.
He smiled at her again, and she took his hand, and together they walked out of the place. As they walked home, she poured out her heart to him, relating all of the pain and suffering of being compared to the others and him and coming up short in the process.
He hugged her and told her, “I love you just as you are, but endangering your health and causing pain to our parents aren’t the answers. You can’t let others’ thoughts of you cause you to hurt yourself or change who you are. People fear difference, but that is their problem, not yours. I don’t exonerate them from their ignorance, because this is how they were taught.”
He continued, “But you’ve got to survive here until you leave this place one day and find a niche where people will accept you as you are, and it exists somewhere out there. For now, thank God for making you different, and when people compare you to others or try to place their expectations on you, just continue to be who you are, knowing that being unique makes you valuable to the world, and one day you will find your place in it.”
When they arrived home, she tearfully apologized to her parents and told them all of the stuff bottled inside her. Her mother and father promised to not compare her to her brothers and sisters, but told her they did expect her to obey them until she was grown enough to leave. She agreed, looking at the big brother whose love saved her and would sustain her in moments of turmoil and strife.
I wrote this story to remind someone of how Jesus loves us and accepts us as we are, with no condemnation or judgment. It is a love that feeds me and sustains me daily and allows me not to worry when people hate me for being different or think I don’t meet their expectations.