To My Sister, With Love:
Unconditional love is rare. Real, merciful, grace-filled, come as you are, forgiving, reliable, always showing up, covering, to the core unconditional love. It’s really heaven coming to earth and I am thankful to have experienced it multiple times in my life.
I vaguely remember her arrival on this earth, but the exact day was July 6, 1976, 40 years ago today. I’m sure she rocked my world being that I was about to turn three and had exclusive princess status in my family. I wish I could remember more. I wish I could go back to the first day we met. What I do know is that every picture that I have of us together as youngsters we are hugging, and cuddling, and smiling, and there is joy, joy that was caught in a moment of time, in an old snapshot, that gives me a glimpse into our early years together.
The middle years, while much a blur, were probably pretty typical. Fighting in the backseat of the car. Yelling over clothes that were borrowed without permission. Mentally torturing one another, okay, mostly me torturing her by telling her that her “epidermis is showing” or using the nickname that I know she loathed “Jennivine”. But through the fighting and torture we were always sisters and usually friends.
As we matured and left home, our friendship continued to strengthen. We had bumps in the road and growing pains as we found our identities independent from our childhood and parents and each other. We grew apart and together. We grew differently and often disagreed. We moved geographically and had to learn a new way to be together. We made choices that brought us closer and choices that drew us apart. And through this time of growing up and changing I finally understood something about my sister. No matter how far away, no matter the choices I made, no matter how painful the situation or words, her love was unconditional.
Today, as she turns 40, and I want to honor her with words and let her know how much her love and life have meant to me. Her unconditional love is a constant in my life and reaches back to my earliest memories. She has always been there for me and genuinely and fiercely loves me. She doesn’t just love me when I’m doing what she wants or I’m in a good mood, or she’s getting her way. She loves me always. She loves the ugly me, the childish me, the selfish me. She is quick to forgive and meets my anger or hurt with mercy and grace. She shows up for me whether via phone, plane or automobile, distance never keeps her from showing up. She has walked with me hand in hand through deep loss and pain. And she believes in me. She often thinks more of me than even I think of myself. She encourages me and pushes me and tells me I am special and I can do anything. Her support and admiration have always been a catalyst to make me want to do better.
So, Jennifer Nicole Manning, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for all of the joy you have brought to my life. The childhood snaphots of smiles and laughter made an imprint on my heart so many years ago and the joy still continues. You are an absolutely beautiful person both inside and out. You have such a positive outlook that radiates to all who know you. I know that I am not the only one who has experienced your gift of unconditional love because I am not sure you know any other way of loving. I have absolutely loved watching you over the last couple of years as you married the love of your life and birthed your sweet son. You are literally oozing joy each time I look at you. I have never seen you so happy and I could not be happier for you. I hope you know how proud I am of you and all you have accomplished. I admire you for following your dreams with such grace and hope and tenacity. 40 years ago today a little piece of heaven was sent down to me on earth and my life has never been the same. I can’t wait to see what the next 40 years has in store.
With all my love and admiration,