Sistering Is a Verb

Carrie lived seven doors down on the opposite side of our street. We met on the first day of school at Baywood Elementary, and we were six years old. The boy who sat between us, Bill, threw up into his desk. Carrie’s eyes met mine with shock and horror, followed by six-year-old giggling, which got both of us sent to sit in the corner of the room.

We became fast friends. Walking home from school that day, we laughed and talked about how gross Bill’s barfing was, and we made a pact to stay vigilant and warn one another if we ever thought it was going happen again. When we got to Carrie’s house and realized we lived right up the street from one another, it felt as if a miracle had occurred. Nearly every day for the next three years we played together.  I don’t remember ever having a fight with Carrie. There was nothing to fight about. She had one brother, and I had one brother; we became the sisters we didn’t have, and best friends. Innocence and joy bound together were a powerful connecting force for us. 

Three years later when we moved from San Mateo to Los Angeles, I cried and cried. I remember my mom telling me I would make new friends and it would be okay, to which I sobbed, “There will never be another friend like Carrie.”

I was right.

The innocence and joy that bound us together as six-year-old best friends was special, and in the resilience that was required of me as we moved again and again, some of that innocence and joy were lost. I discovered that my heart was going to need protecting; the world was not just full of kind girls who would offer the safety that bound Carrie and me together.

Forging friendships that embody depth, joy, honesty, and safety is not for the faint of heart. It was easy when Carrie and I were six and our deepest fear was whether Bill was going to barf in his desk. 

Watching my own four daughters figure out how to sister with one another has been a good lesson in healthy female relationships. Unlike Carrie and I, who although we felt like sisters were not actually sisters, my girls have navigated the real world of growing up together. Sisterhood has not always felt like the fantasy world of BFFs.

I have learned from my girls that healthy sisterhood means speaking your truth, taking up space, saying hard things, laughing in the midst of fighting, learning to be loyal, returning to one another, saying you’re sorry, and choosing one another again and again. 

The reality is that most of us don’t have too many adult female relationships where all of that lives and breathes. We like to talk about “sisterhood” and “sistering,” but rarely is it experienced in all its depth and goodness because it takes risk, commitment, and hard work. 

Webster’s Dictionary defines sistering as “close by: contiguous – being in actual contact: touching along a boundary or connected throughout an unbroken sequence.” In carpentry, sistering is used to help strengthen a piece of wood that has become weakened. 

Sistering helps to restore strength and integrity.

I think that true sistering is for grown ups. 

I was with friends recently, women I have known for twenty-five years. The relationships have lasted because we have successfully navigated sistering. Feelings have been hurt, disappointments have happened, we’ve changed and grown, and it hasn’t always felt good. In fact, sometimes it has felt downright painful. Yet we have chosen to return to one another, have the needed conversations, and remain loyal, and that has deepened the bond and sustained the sense of safety and security.

The innocence and joy of my six-year-old sistering with Carrie is a sweet memory. The fortitude and staying power from the women in my life with whom I experiencing sistering is a life-giving reality. 

DSC_0512Tracy Johnson is a lover of stories, a reluctant dreamer, and the Founder of Red Tent Living. Married for over 34 years, she is mother to five kids and a pastor’s wife. She loves quiet mornings with hot coffee, rich conversations, and slowly savored meals at her favorite restaurants. She is awed that God chose her to mother four girls having grown up with no sisters. She writes about her life and her work here.