Being stuck together with your family for a year is quite a feat. When I say “stuck” I don’t mean the staying in the same house for 18 years kind of “stuck” (because I already did that). I mean really stuck. For a whole year as we traveled around the world, we shared the same food, slept in the same beds, used the same bathrooms, fought for the same computers, watched the same TV shows, and all suffered the invasion of our private space. But being “stuck” is also what brought my sister closer to me. This trip not only gave me back a sister, but also a friend.
Joani is like any other little sister. She eats my chocolate, bothers me for fun, and plays with me when I’m bored. She’s fun and caring and I enjoyed playing with her and my brother whenever I got the chance. However, after I entered 8th grade in MSG my life got steadily busier. I had homework and projects, hung out with friends, and joined many extra-curricular activities. Often Joani would come into my room to say “Hi” or ask me about my day, but I was too busy to give a proper answer. We had good conversation from time to time but it just wasn’t enough. I think she often felt lonely, neglected and misunderstood and soon all these things added up to the typical teenage “outbursts”. It’s not easy to transition from being a “Chinese” kid to being an “American” teenager. But most importantly, I wasn’t there when she needed me and soon she shut me out.
Even on the trip, she tried to shut me and the rest of my family out. We would have fun, talk and laugh while we were touring and seeing new things, but the second we got back to our hostel, she would turn on the wifi, put on her earphones, and try to get into her own world. When we asked her what she was doing, often she would snap back at us and tell us to leave her alone—we weren’t involved in her life before, so why should we be involved now?
Finally, one day while we were on a train in India, it really got to me. I woke up to find both my parents on the computer typing away, my brother was nowhere to be found, and my sister of course was on her iPad with her ear phones on. I tried to make conversation with my parents but all I received were curt replies, then I thought I would ask Joani if she wanted to do devotions with me. I was hoping for a nice “sure” or even “maybe”, but what I got was a big and loud “NO!” as she yelled back at me. I was hurt. The reason I came on this trip is to spend time with my family and to get to know them better, but no one was responding. I felt like I got a cold shoulder from every side. Before I knew it tears were rolling down my cheek. That got everyone’s attention. I told them that I was a bit disappointed—Dads goal for this trip may be to know the Middle East better and to pray through the nations, but mine was to spend time and invest in my family. Just because we were stuck with each other doesn’t me we know each other or that our relationship is growing. But it was so tiring and hard to feel I’m alone in this. How do you grow a relationship if you are the only one that wants it? As my family heard my spill, they came around comforting me, reassuring me that they want to too, and came up with different ideas in how we can spend quality time together, but my sister remained silent. As I saw her, I knew a storm was brewing inside of her.
I asked, “So what do you think Joani?”
She shrugged and muttered, “It doesn’t matter. No one cares anyways.”
“But I do! Joani, more than anyone here you should know how I feel. I know how much you wanted to spend time with us when we were in Kunming. You tried to do family time and to get people together, but we didn’t always respond and I am so so sorry…”, I cried as tears rolled down both our cheeks. I realized how hard these past 3 years have been for her, how hard she has tried, how hurt she felt when no one responded, and finally how she finally gave up on us as she concluded we weren’t worth it.
I continued to talk to her, “Joani, you’re worth it. This is why I’m here. I’m here because I want a second chance. I may not deserve it, but I want it. Do you think it’s always easy to be here when all my friends are starting college? If I really wanted, I could have gone to college too and not go on this trip, but I did. I did because I want a second chance with all of you. I want a second chance with you. Will you please give me another chance…?”
“ Yes… I’ll try” she choked up and that was all I needed.
Then she proceeded to tell us more about how she felt, why she was so upset at us and how disappointed she was in Kunming when no one had time for her. Even though it was hard to hear these words, those moments were one of the happiest moments of my life—my sister is talking to us again; she finally is willing to give us a second chance. She is letting me back in.
After our breakthrough on the train, Joani really opened up and started to talk to me more. I learned of her struggles with peer pressure, desire to be more patient with family, and doubts about a God that speaks. Through our conversations, I fell in love with a determined, sensitive, enthusiastic, and funny Joani who carries such a tender heart for people. My only regret was knowing that I won’t always be able to be there for her, but I knew God could. Thirteen was the age when God became real to me and I hoped it would be the same for Joani. So I tried my best to encourage, to pray, and to do devotion with her regularly.
Things went on pretty smoothly until the storm hit. Egypt was a hard place for us in many ways. All in one day, my brother’s newly bought camera was stolen, Joani’s flip flop broke, my watch stopped working, and we all became rather depressed. Then even worse news came: our beloved cat who has been with us for 11 years became suddenly ill. Zoe, our cat, wouldn’t eat or drink and can barely support herself. It was with this kind of mood I saw Joani write down her prayer request: “For my baby Zoe, that she will get better and feel good and start eating and live forevermore.” I thought to myself: this is the chance for God to show Himself to Joani and to erase all the doubts Joani has for God’s intentions!
But I did not know God’s plan as well as He understood His own intentions. Unfortunately, Zoe only got worse every day, until one day we had to skype in, see her for the last time and say our goodbyes. It was awful. We cried and cried as all the hard questions popped up: “Where is God? How can I trust Him? Why couldn’t we have been there at least?” Joani took it the hardest and I didn’t have answers for her. However, as I prayed I felt God telling me that before Zoe died, she wanted us to know that she knows that we love her very much and she only wishes that we know she loves us too. I told Joani that and we cried some more together. Then we held a “funeral service” where we watched a slide show of different pictures we had of Zoe and shared all the memories we had with her whether it was good or bad—we celebrated her life. Strangely, or rather miraculously, after the “service” we all felt much better. It was as if the clouds lifted and we knew that Zoe was in a good place and it’s okay. God never did send down a magic scroll to answer all our questions, but we all received comfort whether it was through family, or His gentle yet strong presence. Even though Zoe’s death was a hard blow on Joani’s faith journey, it was incredible to see how she pulled through or rather how Jesus pulled her through it all.
On December 28th I experienced another one of the best moments of my life as I witnessed my sister get baptized in the Jordan River. As she said “yes” to the questions “Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God and the Lord your savior?” and “Will you serve the Lord for the rest of your life?” I almost teared up. I waited for this day for so long. I was there when she hated God and when she changed her mind. And now I get to be here to witness her finally setting hear heart on Christ the Lord. I was so privileged to be there on that special day. God gave and took away, but through everything He was there: He strengthened our family, He and Joani experienced one more hardship together, and He brought a new member into His eternal family.
Joani and I have gone through thick and thin together whether it was sleeping side by side in the same tent below negative degree weather, balancing the roles of being student, teacher, and sisters at the same time, or grieving the loss of Zoe, but little did we know there was much more to come. It would seem as if overnight as Nathan grew a head taller, so did his hormones. Suddenly he was an infamous “teenager”. When my dad asked him to pass the chopsticks he would widen his eyes and say indignantly, “Only if you say ‘please’”, or when we knock and ask if we could share the bathroom all we hear is a cold reply, “Occupied”. Perhaps it was because my dad was the head of the household, or he was the only male figure in the family, he bore the brunt of Nathan’s “rebellion”, just like he did with my own uprising and Joani’s explosions. I know he has been trying so hard. He has tried his best to treat Nathan fairly and with love, but sometimes between communicating and understanding something comes short.
So when I read through my dad’s blog about Zoe, how he didn’t know how to comfort Nathan: “I missed another opportunity to show my love to Nathan”, I teared up. I pointed out that line to Joani and told her how hard Dad has been trying and sometimes he feels misunderstood. He has worked so hard with me, with Joani, and now Nathan. But he isn’t getting any younger! Then Joani suddenly asked me when was the last time Dad laughed? I thought hard and reminded her the time when we watched Fresh Off the Boat in Egypt. Now she was near tears. He’s only laughed once? Has he not laughed since we were born? For some reason we couldn’t remember the times when my dad heartily laughed and 3 times was the best we could do at that moment. But we were already down the rabbit hole of tears and remembrance and there was no turning back.
I mentioned how Dad has to take off his glasses now when he read things, and Joani talked about how stress Dad is to make everything work and plan the trip, and then I told her how mom wants to connect with us too but it can be difficult and sometime she feels like all the time and effort she gave us when we were small doesn’t count. It went on like this with us recounting different things, about our parent’s love for us, and how they are growing old. We felt a bit ridiculous to be waterfalling like this by ourselves. It must have been a strange sight for them to walk in on us hugging and crying like there’s no end and to tell them, “It’s because of you!”. Afterwards Joani, at age 13, was even tempted to write a “resignation letter” form being a teenage, especially since Nathan was ready to take her place. But in between our tears and chuckles (for how ridiculous this all is), we supported each other as we realized we’ve grown up. It was these moments that brought our hearts closer together and these memories that marked our sisterhood.
Not everyone gets a second chance, but I am so thankful that I did. Through the roller-coasters of this year I got to understand Joani better, enjoy her silliness as well as her thoughtfulness, stand by her when we lost Zoe, witness her being baptized, and grow up together through tears and laughter. I love her so much. Joani is my sister, my “bestie”, my second chance.