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I went home the other weekend to visit my family. My little sister, a senior in high school, was submitting an application to BYU, reading to us from the application form the extracurricular activities check-off section.
“Have you ever,” she read to us:
“Received a national award or talent scholarship for artwork? Held a management position for two or more years supervising five or more people? Served as a student body president? Placed in the top three in a state -wide individual math/science/computer science contest?”
And on and on and on . . . .
I think about my kid sister who looked all overwhelmed at her lack of check marks. Though she spends her school days and weekends dribbling a basketball or hitting a tennis ball, as well as practicing piano and working at Papa Murphy’s to help pay for college tuition, my sister knows that she can only check off so many check marks without running into state-wide or national attention.
I think of Lissa, small as she is, weighing barely over 100 pounds. I think of her moving from Oregon to Idaho in the middle of her junior year in high school. Of her new tennis coach asking the first week of practice if anyone wanted to challenge a spot on the team, how she raised her hand even though no one knew who she was. When her coach asked who she would like to challenge, I think of how my little 5’4″ sister had said, “The number one single,” and won.
When our dad lost his savings after the market crashed, my sister learned to make homemade bread. When our older brother almost died on the other side of the country, my 17-year-old sister stayed at home with her two little siblings and a working dad, while her mom was away for over a month. She learned to cook meals and clean and run errands and pray even when her heart and lungs and throat hurt.
There is a small box of awards from over the years, a few certificates and plaques and ribbons, collecting dust in the back corner of our garage. Some of these awards are from my sister’s varsity basketball seasons, others from tennis, gymnastics, which she did as a child. There are a few participation certificates from piano recitals, in which she never did stand out too much, though she still plays us Christmas hymns in the winter. She tried volleyball, she tried track, but there are no ribbons for her trying. Neither are there any awards for unpublished articles in the school newspaper or for non-participation in a district math contest, though math is her best subject.
There are, however, a few rough sketches of flowers and trees in an art book on her nightstand, beside the Bible she reads every night. I know this because my sister offered me her room while I visited. Though she has never won any award for any of these sketches, she continues to draw what she sees as God’s prettiest creations. Her flowers and trees and mountains and rivers are tentative, always lightly drawn with pastel colored pencils, as if my sister will not force her hand into God’s.
I think, how do you check off this—a girl with a pastel colored pencil in her hand, who spends her weekends making pizzas, making bread, making ends meet, making a bed for her older sister to sleep in? She will sleep on the ground, where she will also kneel, whispering thank you for flowers, thank you for trees, thank you for the new house and for the brother that’s alive and for knowing she’ll be okay with or without the check marks.