Brothers & Sisters

Meet Aliif.

At about three years old, he is the youngest of four—the long-awaited, highly-prized little boy in family that had already birthed three older sisters. It took about six minutes of observation to deduce that he was the apple of his mother’s eye, the pride and joy of his grandfather’s heart. Their playful interactions endeared them to my heart. I have often found that the love and affection we feel for our children, serves as its own form of universal language.

Although definitely developmentally-capable, he seemed not to be speaking yet. This was less surprising as time progressed and it became obvious that Aliif’s screams and tantrums produced much more expedient results than any intelligible words he might attempt to produce. My initial observations led me to the quick conclusion that parenting styles and expectations in the West differed dramatically from those of parents in this country. I watched in my “forward-thinking,” Dr-Phil-philosophy-influenced horror, as little Aliif spent the noon meal throwing chicken bones at his grandfather, with no negative consequences. Instead, his bad behavior was often placated with a glass of soda. I found myself quite indignant, when Aliif, not satisfied with his own tea time snack, scarfed up his sisters’ as well, with no intervention from any of the adults. And my heart broke for his five-year-old sister, Hana, when little Aliif’s playful banter took a sudden turn for the worst and he slammed her head into the tile wall, with no form of apology or any sign of remorse.

two north african kids sitting with a lady in a living room

I wondered what it would be like to grow up in a house, subject to the terrible reign of my little brother, doubting my own worth when my parents never came to my defense—what kind of woman would I become if from my childhood I was made to believe that I was less valuable because of my gender? How would that impact me? What kind of love would be necessary to break thru the protective walls I would have to erect around my heart?

Or conversely, what of the tragedy of growing up in a home where I truly believed I was the center of universe; where my understanding and sympathy for the emotions and well-being of others only extending as far my own self-centered humanity? One where I could treat people as badly as I pleased, never being taught what it means to express guilt or remorse, and consequently to never receive forgiveness and with it the security of non-conditional love?

I left their small living room, littered with discarded chicken bones, and tea time crumbs asking myself, who is the bigger victim? What dramatically different forms the depravity of sin can take, and how explicitly manifested is it in the behaviors of small children!

As I carefully picked my way down the dark alley outside their home, making my way back to the house I was struck with a new, even more convicting thought: How far removed am I from either of them, really? Have I not been guilty of erecting walls around my heart to safeguard it in the name of self-protection, when in reality it’s a distrust of a Holy Father to care enough to protect me? And how many times have I been guilty of believing my own needs or whims or impulses were the fuel on which the world turned? Tears slipped down my cheeks as the amorphous “lost” of North Africa took on the form and precious faces of a little boy and his sweet sister with whom I found I had so much in common. How much more should that make me grateful for the redeeming work of Christ in my life! As I walked the streets of my new city, I no longer prayed for the generic Muslim neighbor I might encounter. Instead I whispered up a prayer for Aliif, and for Hana—that they may know the gentle, corrective hand of a Gracious Father, and the validating love of their Creator.