This week I’ve been writing about women who have influenced my life and the way I live it. For today’s final post in the series, I’m writing about my sister, Dr. April Westbrook. I don’t always use a person’s title to identify him or her, but my sister worked so long and so hard to complete that degree that I take special pleasure in using it to celebrate her accomplishment.
If you were meeting my sister for the first time, you’d see an accomplished professor of Old Testament studies, a woman who is known for her ability to see the truth and speak that truth without hesitation. At times I’m sure her students wish for a little less truth and a little more fudging the details, especially around the end of term when grades are given. She is also known for her dedication to her students, relentlessly encouraging them to completely inhabit their potential and abilities. What you learn as you get to know her is how transparently she lives her life before God. Socrates may have thought an unexamined life wasn’t worth living, a sentiment I agree with by the way. My sister shows with her actions that a life unexamined by God has not been fully examined. Not to imply that God is some kind of all-powerful taskmaster, constantly on the alert for the smallest mistake we make. Just the opposite. God is always available to help us understand who we are, what we’re capable of, and how we can live our lives fully as we were created to do.
If you’d met my sister as a child, I don’t think you would have predicted what she has accomplished and become today. Even as a baby, she was generally quiet and shy. She was small, with blonde hair and blue eyes, and she reminded me of Tweety-Bird (although without his brassy personality!). She was born two and a half years after me (to the day, I like to point out). She was a thoughtful child and in the family we said that she was so tender hearted, if you directed a harsh expression in her direction, you’d make her cry. She loved Stuart Little, Laura Ingalls and Lucy Pevensie. One thing that was evident from an early age, was her desire to know God and to be known by God.
I was lucky enough to spend several of my young adult years sharing an apartment with my sister. During this same period of time, I taught a class of first and second graders in the education department at the church where my sister was the Education Pastor. So you could say she was my boss, which was exactly what I said to my class. The kids all thought of her as the equivalent of a school principal and were consistently brought to giggles by the thought of me being sisters with the “principal.” But then, my sister has always been able to make people laugh. She has an amazingly quick sense of humour, and there isn’t anyone I’d rather trade movie quotes with (our favourite quotable movies include “The Princess Bride,” “Galaxy Quest,” “Roxanne,” and so many, many others).
When I think of the ways my sister influences my life, I’m immediately drawn to the Marcus Aurelius quote: “The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.” For me, she embodies this description. Her habit of meditating with God is the foundation for keeping an untroubled spirit. Her habit of living transparently strengthens her ability to look at her life with clear-eyed honesty. Watching her live her life this way encourages and challenges me in my own efforts to live a well-examined life. My life is enriched as a result.
I hope these quick sketches of some of the women who have influenced my life are inspiring you to look for the influential women in your own life and celebrate the gifts they’ve given you. The other posts in the series will tell you more about why I’ve focused on these women, about the woman who taught me what it means to be a survivor, about the woman who showed me how men and women can partner together, and about the woman who inspired my sense of purpose. Let’s celebrate the influential women in our lives, and let’s be an influential example for the women and girls around us.