What My Sister Taught Me

I’m firmly convinced our genius is at least partially coded into our childhood play. Want to get an idea of how those first graders will change their world? No need to read their spelling words. Just show up at recess.

But I don’t know about all that yet, because it’s 1985 and we’ve got the day ahead of us, no plans but the Barbie world. We huddle over the pile of pink goodness ready to piece out what belongs to whom today. I’m eight and it’s my big sister’s turn to pick first.

myquillyn and emily

I study her choices carefully – the pink cabinet, the blue and pink pillows, the cushy sofa. These three must be the top items in the pile since she chose them first. I end up with a lopsided table I don’t know what to do with. Barf me out.

Days later, it’s my turn to pick first. I know just what to do! Pink cabinet, blue and pink pillows, cushy sofa. Yes!

I look up at her after my clean sweep, unable to hide my victory smile since I obviously just chose all the best stuff. Instead of reacting, she ignores me, and picks the table with the uneven top. Wait, is she trying to psych me out?

What is this? No anger? No you just got all the good stuff lecture? Not only that, she just chose the worst thing in the pile.  The worst thing!

How am I supposed to know how to make my Barbie house beautiful if my teacher keeps picking different furniture?! How am I supposed to know the best stuff if she keeps changing her mind on what the best stuff is? I am having a total cow.

Look at her over there in her corner, busy setting up her awesome space. I lean to one side to watch her work and notice she has that crooked table looking just fine, using it as some kind of loft-like bed for Skipper. I look back at my first-pick choices and they don’t look so great now.

I vow to choose the lopsided table next time. But next time always comes and no matter how I try to catalogue and then copy her choices, it makes no difference. It didn’t matter what she has to work with. She will make it look great, no matter how imperfect the pile.

And while it may on the surface seem like an older sister’s evil plan to make her little sister crazy, I think it simply comes down to this: her gift is that she sees differently.

The Nester's House

That feeling of discontentment, of missing out, of not having something vital I needed to make beauty showed up during those long days of play. I blamed it on the lopsided table and my lack of first pick, but these weren’t my problem.

My problem was I didn’t yet know how to trust my own ideas, couldn’t see beyond the obvious, and wasn’t willing to take a little risk.

My sister had eyes to see the usefulness in the mess and the beauty in the lopsided. Part of her art, even back then, was her eyes could see potential.

As I’ve grown up, I’ve learned I can have those eyes, too.

Myquillyn didn’t immediately apply this to her real life. But it was always in her, this ability to somehow see beyond the obvious and envision something no one else could.

The Nesting Place

What my eight-year-old self would’ve have done to get my hands on some kind of guidelines for how to have a Barbie house I loved. If only she could have written down her secrets!

Well now she has. And the best part is, her secrets aren’t as secret as you think.

She finally wrote a book is for all the little sisters of the world who doubt they have what it takes to make home (or life) beautiful, waiting for permission and courage to create, take risks, and be ourselves.

Over the years I’ve learned these things from her, valuable lessons practiced in my own home that spill over into everyday life.

The Nesting Place Contentment

She didn’t teach me the best color to paint my walls. She taught me it’s okay to paint my walls the wrong color.

She didn’t teach me where to put my furniture. She taught me it’s okay to move my furniture around.

She didn’t teach me the right way to hang a curtain. She taught me there isn’t only one right way to hang a curtain.

She didn’t lecture me on the latest trends. She taught me how to discover what my own trends are, that’s it’s okay if they’re different from others, and it’s okay when they change.

She didn’t point out what’s wrong with my house. She taught me how every house has a silver lining and home is wherever we are.

homeShe taught me that my house isn’t just about a house. It’s about trusting yourself, making mistakes, trying new things, inviting others in. It’s about community and communion, healing and wholeness, memories and tradition, love and loveliness and hope.

The Nester's House

I truly believe what I said before, that hints of our personal genius hide in our childhood play, what I also like to call our art. I’m so glad my sister had the courage to hold on to hers, to listen to what makes her come alive, to ignore the naysayers who said she was doing it all wrong.

You have a genius art too, and it doesn’t have to be the e equals mc squared kind. It might be the relational kind, the insightful kind, or the kind that moves in the midst of fear. Whatever it is for you, it’s evidence that you are made in the image of God and the first step to uncovering that could simply be finding freedom in your own home.

The Nesting Place

This lovely book – The Nesting Place: It Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful – is finally available everywhere today! Get yourself a copy, your mom a copy, and don’t forget your little sister.

Love you, Sister Girl. So happy you said yes to writing this book. I don’t know how people get on in the world without a big sister to teach them things. I’m so thankful for all you’ve taught me.

nesting place


  1. says

    Oh, I love this! Love your relationship, love the way God made each of you.

    And I will confess to writing a post about Barbies after I heard that podcast y’all did with Tsh a while back ;). It’s just true: however you played with Barbies says so much about how you’re wired as an adult. That’s my new really scientific personality typing…framework…thing. :)

  2. says

    This is so exciting! It’s on the top of my list for Mother’s Day! Thankful for you gals who encourage and inspire us to latch on to who we are in Christ!

  3. says

    There is simply too much awesomeness in this post. And that picture of M at the bottom, with her hand over her mouth? It’s just perfect. Cannot wait for that book to show up in my mailbox this week. : )

  4. says

    I remember playing with my grandma when I was about 5. We had those little tiny dolls from South America, 3 cm of wire covered with cloth and some tiled coasters. I picked the coaster without any tiles missing, and she graciously took the coaster with the tile missing. Then it turned out that that the missing tile was the perfect place for the little wire doll to sit. I immediately wanted the missing-tile-coaster. My grandma swapped with me. I am sure it was her great depression era desire to use what was in front of, but I too remember the magic of seeing something imperfect become better than the “perfect.” So excited for this new chapter for your family, hopeologie.com & Myquillyn’s book!!

  5. says

    This brought me to tears.
    I guess because I am a big sister.
    And your sweet words honoring yours just choked me up!
    The way God meant it: to enhance one another’s lives by our differences.

    So beautiful. Your art together. :)
    God bless all His Art~~~

  6. says

    I can totally relate to that Barbie story! No matter what I picked, it never seemed as good as what my friends and sister picked. I didn’t trust myself and what I thought was beautiful. My focus was on what THEY thought was beautiful, because that was all that mattered to me. I’m still working on that … Your post helped me see it again. Thank you, Emily!

    Excited to get Myquillyn’s book too!

  7. Michelle Holland says

    Awesome! Awesome! Awesome! Congratulations to you both and continued blessings! Oh the artwork of our God!

  8. Melanie Miller says

    This is one of my favorite posts of yours. Such a beautiful example of the artist in Myquillyn and in you. Love you sisters.

    I was excited when the UPS truck stopped at my house 10 minutes ago… then crushed because it wasn’t delivering Nester’s book. It’s mean to tease that way, delivery man! So, I continue to wait for my special delivery, and then to carve out time later today to slowly peruse through the lovely imperfections. *sigh*

  9. Bonnie says

    Got my email from Amazon that my copy has been shipped! Eek! I’ve been waiting so long, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

  10. says

    I’m the older sister, and all of this brings such memories! My little sister walked out of our lives more than ten years ago, and I miss her so much. Posts like these make me long for those days when she was my dear friend.
    Thank you for sharing this Emily. I know I will love this book, because I am much more like you than Myquillin.

    Happy Birthday sweet girl. I hope your day is filled with abundant joy. Please let me apologize again for the payment thing. I’ve thought about it endlessly and am so very sorry. xoxo

  11. says

    I’ve been planning to get this book for myself, but it would make a perfect gift for my little sister!! She got married a year ago, and just bought her first house last fall. I’m definitely adding this to my gift list – thanks for the idea!

  12. says

    This makes me want a big sister…little sister…any sister! I love how you build one another up always. And I love seeing that book in print finally!

  13. Baileywife says

    Your sisterhood is beautiful. Have been reading my copy of the Nesting Place all afternoon, and loving it like I knew I would! I also have 3 sisters (I’m the baby), I feel every bit the same for each of them….
    ~ Kim

  14. says

    Oh my word. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!! What an incredible tribute and testimony to love, sisterhood, history & friendship. Love.

  15. says

    Reading this post gives me a perspective on my daughters that I am loving. They are so very different and wonder what I’ll do with two such different children…but now I’m thinking about what gifts they can give each other.

  16. says

    This -> “She didn’t teach me the best color to paint my walls. She taught me it’s okay to paint my walls the wrong color.” This summarizes what I have always loved about Nester’s style and sensibility.

    Your Honorary Sister
    (What? You didn’t hear????)

  17. says

    what a beautiful tribute to the relationship you & myquillyn share. :) made me think of my little sister…and about the relationship between my daughters.

    i received my copy of the nesting place yesterday and i’m so excited to dig into it on this cozy, rainy day in georgia!

  18. says

    This is beautiful. I love how you share your life, your relationships, and your art with us. I adored The Nesting Place. It sits with another of my favorite books about beauty in the home called Welcome Home by Emilie Barnes. Such inspiration!

    Deb Weaver

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