My Sister, Joy—and Me

Regular readers are often curious about my younger siblings. Half of my siblings have come of age and left the nest, and the other half of them are still at home. Those who are grown have chosen a variety of different paths. Sometimes I’ve pitched in and helped a sibling out with leaving or getting started on their own, but the process has generally been fairly smooth, both because my siblings have been given a solid academic foundation and because my parents have not been vindictive.

But I want to take a moment to focus on one sister in particular—Joy.

Joy is quite a bit younger than me, and was still a child when I left home for college. Today, Joy is so like I was at her age that many have found it uncanny. I’ve heard her called Libby Anne 2.0, and my parents frequently mix up our names—as do grandparents, other relatives, and family friends. Oh sure, you’re thinking, in a family of that size of course people switch up names. But not like this. This is different. We two, we are switched, and when we are in the same house people get our names backwards as often as not.

How is Joy like me? For one thing, she is like me in belief and passion—Joy believes just as adamantly in creationism, wifely submission, and fatherly authority as I did at her age. She plans to be a homeschool mother to a large family and live off the land, with chickens and extensive gardens—this was my life plan at her age as well. For another thing, she is like me in temperament. She is just as fiery and outspoken as I was at her age. She doesn’t back down or save punches, and she makes no apology.

It may seem rather odd that I both embraced a belief in female submission and was fiery and outspoken, but it is nonetheless true. I knew that I didn’t measure up to the quiet, gentle female ideal, and that worried me. I was afraid I might not be able to find a husband or fulfill my God-given role in life. But the fire inside of me was part of who I was. My grandfather used to say I had grit, and he meant that as a compliment. Joy has that same grit, and I suspect she is as conflicted about it as I was.

More than that, though, I sense an underlying tension when I am with Joy. I think that deep down she is afraid that she will follow my same path. I suspect she would deny that she feels this way, and I am sure she has sworn not to follow me to perdition. But every time our names are switched, and every time she is referred to as Libby Anne 2.0, that fear has to be there, somewhere. She likely responds by determining  even more strongly to do things differently, to show everyone that she is not me, to prove that our uncanny similarities do not set her destiny.

I’ve been thinking for a while about how to say this to her, but I would really like her to know that she is not me—that she is not bound by fate to follow my path. I don’t want her to feel defensive, like she is growing up under a foreboding shadow. She is not me, and she has nothing to prove. I want to know that she is free—free to be herself, whoever that may be.

Some of you may think I should do more to open her mind to broader possibilities. But for all that I’ve just said that she is not me, I know her better than she might want to admit. Trying to push her in any one direction would backfire. I remember. I’ve been there. She wouldn’t listen any more than I would have. Joy has to set her own path, make her own choices, choose her own directions. This isn’t something I or anyone else can do for her. I wish sometimes that I could help her, that I could smooth her path and keep her from making things harder for herself. But I can’t. All I can do is be there for her if she comes to me.

Joy is now on the cusp of adulthood. Where she will go next or what she will do I don’t know. But honestly, I’m not all that worried. Joy, you see, has grit, and I wish her all the best.

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