After yesterday’s post, I decided I needed to expand today on the details I mentioned about my younger sister. (So if you haven’t read that post about my older/younger sister, you might go back and read that first.)
When my sister Nadja died, I was 6½ years old. Hers was the first death I’d encountered in my short lifetime and it took me some time to understand the permanency of death.
Over a period of months, I slowly came to the realization Nadja wouldn’t be coming home to us. One night during our family devotions, the full impact of that realization hit me: our family − once composed of six unique individuals − was incomplete. As much as anything, that void was most obvious because my brothers had companionship with each other, but I had no one. (Sorry, this is how my mind interpreted things at the time.)
Aloneness. As this concept penetrated my brain, I remember crying inconsolably. My parents tried to comfort me and to understand what was the cause for my suddenly overwhelming grief. Given the months already gone by, I don’t know that they identified my weeping with my sister’s death, but I know I didn’t have words to adequately explain it. I could only sob profusely.
Some time afterwards, I listened to a Billy Graham Crusade on our television. I don’t remember exactly what he said nor scripture verses he might have given. In his crusades, Graham had a tender way of communicating two things that stood out in my memory: (1) God cares for our sorrows and (2) God answers prayer. What I remember above all was the assurances he offered that − even at my young age − I could “… draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, [to] receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16) And that’s exactly what I did.
From that moment, I began to pray for another baby sister … and to know with assurance that God would answer my prayer.
Does it strike you as simplistic? Of course, I knew nothing about the birds and bees. It didn’t matter. My faith began to deepen. As I considered the situation, I believed God had set this yearning in my heart and he alone would provide the fulfillment.
Doubters might suggest God had nothing to do with it, that my parents were directly involved in orchestrating a plan that would “answer my prayer.” But I never actually told anyone about my prayers until the day my sister was born. Before that day, God was the only one who’d heard my prayer.
Doubters might also suggest the birth of my sister was simply a pleasant coincidence, the convergence of a natural (and perhaps predictable) event that occurred in concert with my prayers. I know I can’t disabuse you of that notion; I just know otherwise.
Tamara Joy Stricker was born on July 12, 1957, and it was a day of rejoicing for all! I remember my daddy whispering her name to me that day: Camera? What a silly name! I told him. But then he said the name aloud for all to hear … and to correct my mis-hearing.
I can’t speak with great knowledge about what it’s like to be a child some would characterize a “replacement baby.” She was never that to me, and I know my parents gave Tamara all the love and nurture they devoted to the rest of us. In the sense of replacing Nadja, I don’t think any of us believed Nadja could be replaced. At the same time, we recognized Tamara’s unique place in our family.
But it was natural for all of us to dote on Tamara, to beware all dangers that might befall her, to cushion every stumble and slip. With all of us still operating on high alert, Tam couldn’t cough without someone giving her a thorough going-over. Considering the level of our solicitousness (and overbearing supervision?), Tamara’s early years could be characterized as charmed or nightmarish, maybe both, depending on the day.
One of these days, I’ll have to ask my sister which was harder: differentiating herself from a sister she’d never known, or distinguishing herself from the sister she knows. Even with nine years separating the two of us, I know I often cast a shadow that was difficult to escape, unfortunately.
When I think about my sister Tam, I think of her as a gift from God. She is that and much more to all of us who know and love her. Psalm 68:6 tells us: “God sets the lonely in families.” I love that verse! My own experience affirms what a blessing it is to be part of a family.