Smeared Mascara and Baby Steps

I have two younger sisters. The middle sis­ter is calm, shies away from conflict, and usually doesn’t care much about something if it doesn’t concern her. The youngest is hot-headed, unpredictable, and self-centered. One minute, she’s angry and rude; the next (literally, the next minute), she’s sweet and funny. I often became upset with her, mainly because she showed no gratitude for our parents, who are so good to us and have done everything possible to provide us with the lives they’d always want­ed for us. The years before I knew God, I would retaliate whenever she angered me. Yelling, cursing, smearing her makeup on her door, threaten­ing to hit her… once, I had even started to choke her before real­izing what I was doing. This wasn’t one-sided, and a few times I was the one being attacked, with hands suddenly wrapped around my neck. For the most part, I wanted nothing to do with her, and I made sure she knew it.

Things continued like this well into my adolescence, until I started believing in a higher power. I had always believed in a single God — the God of Jesus — but that was about the extent of my belief until high school, when a friend encouraged me to go to church with her. How­ever, there was no dramatic transformation in me. I de­liberately ignored what I considered to be the behavioral demands of God in favor of the pursuit of my own desires. But despite my unwillingness to completely commit to a Christian lifestyle, I began checking myself and asking if using fire against fire was really the best way to interact with my sister.

At first, I would physically shake with unexpressed anger and unshed tears trying to restrain myself from hurting her emotionally and physically. Alone in my room, I would cry, mad at God for hold­ing such high stan­dards and upset with Him for making me feel guilty when I considered revert­ing to the behavior of my former self. In time, I found that my emotions would need to change if I wanted to improve things with my sister. I tried to express my disapproval in a more level-headed way, tried to ignore her when words seemed inadequate, tried to remain si­lent when I knew she was provoking me. I wasn’t perfect. Sometimes I’d yell, curse at her, often telling myself that when she suddenly became apologetic, I wouldn’t forgive her. But knowing that forgiveness was essential to show­ing God my faithfulness, I let it go and waited for the next time she would inspire intensely negative feelings within me. That waiting definitely wasn’t forgiveness, but it was as close as I could get myself to forgiveness at the time.

This trial-and-error approach went on for so long that I didn’t even notice that my relationship with her had slowly been changing alongside my relationship with God. During this period, I had become more serious and committed to my faith. Gradually, I discovered sincere joy and gratitude in serving a being whose love was insur­mountable and unsurpassable, someone who could accept my faults and my tears, who was patient and had hope for me, and who had lovingly given grace to those unworthy of it. My eagerness to serve God, however, didn’t mean that I was at all perfect in making changes with my sister. I think I was too caught up in the baby steps and my obvious missteps to notice how He was working outside of my awareness. I now believe that as I learned more and more about the nature of God, it became easier for me to be more patient with my sister, to let my guard down and not expect the worst, and to both forgive and forget when things got rocky.

I went home one break and realized that in an entire month, my sister and I had argued only once and eas­ily reconciled immediately after. At the end of the break, when I was helping her write her college essays, she told me she had already started writing one… about me. This was the first time she had made me cry tears of thankful­ness and love. She wrote of how she was amazed by my optimism, my ability to hold my head high and sincerely find the blessings in what I had. She saw a role model in me, no longer just in academics, but in who I had become. It dawned on me that while I was trying to change for her, she was trying to change for me as well. All those times that I felt frustrated, restrained, and helpless were worth everything, and looking back, I would never exchange those moments for easier alternatives. If I had given up on God, on what I felt would make me better in His eyes and better for others, I would have given up on my sister. By trusting in God, I was given the chance to learn just how kind and loving my sister really is and how great it is to be loved by her.


Pauline doesn’t know why she does what she does but she thinks it has something to do with her brain. That’s why it’s really helpful having God guide her throughout it all.

Photo credit: GaborfromHungary from

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