I had three younger sisters, so I relate hard to sister stories, especially when there is a sympathetic older sister. In The Lager Queen of Minnesota, by J. Ryan Stradal, we get just such a story. Edith, the older sister, has lived an ordinary life. She married Stanley, a hard-working man and her best friend, and she has worked making pies for most of her adult life–first at a nursing home and then for a bakery in a nearby town. She has not spoken to her younger sister, Helen, since Helen convinced their father that she needed the whole inheritance from the sale of the family farm to start a brewery. Helen promised that she would pay Edith back for the money she never got a chance to have, but although Helen’s fortunes rise rapidly, she can’t find a way to approach her sister, and Edith’s financial fortunes fall.
If this were simply a story of bitter sibling relations, I’m not sure I could have finished it, despite the lovely writing and interesting descriptions of brewing beer. But this is a story of character. At the heart of it is the question: Who are you? Not what do you do, or what is your passion, or what do you love. This story looks at what is at the core of people, sets that into motion, and watches it play out, making every single action feel inevitable and ring true.
Here’s my favorite quotation from the book, a review of the beer Edith makes:
“This beer doesn’t make any sense. It didn’t fill any obvious market niche, meet a known customer demand, or pursue any recognizable trend. This beer is merely the ultimate expression of its brewer, a seventy-nine-year-old woman named Edith Magnusson…What little exists about Edith online indicates that she may have worked at a nursing home in New Stockholm, where her pies were enough of a foodie fetish to turn the joint into a brutal Friday-night dinner reservation, but there was nothing to indicate any access to or even interest in brewing…hope remains in this specific bottle, because all of the chemists, focus groups, AI, and boardrooms in the world will never create a beer like Grandma Edith’s. This beer is flawed, wonderful, and strange in a way only a certain kind of individual could devise, and it renders every other beer on the shelf a faceless SKU. Grandma Edith was just making a beer that she wanted to drink, because it didn’t exist yet, and the result is not a beer in the sense you know it. It is the heart and guts and ignorance and beauty and dreams of Edith Magnusson, and that is all.”
I can’t get enough of people who just create something good because they want it to exist, or help people because the ability is there in front of them, the people who wrap their arms around their community simply because that’s what they do, and they don’t know how to be any other way, or they couldn’t live with themselves if they tried. You can be who you are in any job or lack of a job, and it’s living up to who you were created to be that is the important thing.
As the Bible says in James 2:26, faith without deeds is dead, and if I don’t live what I say, then I don’t really believe what I say. I know I’m sliding off when I feel my actions don’t line up with my values, and I have to realign, and put my eyes back on that which is most important. For me, that is Jesus, and keeping your eyes on what you say you are actually about is essential for letting go of worry and pointing life in the right direction.
For some people, like Edith, it seems to come so easily. Others, like Helen and Diana (Edith’s granddaughter), have to figure it out, and I probably like Edith the most because I have always been more like Helen and Diana, having to figure out how little all my worries mattered.
And that, at the end of this book, is what redeems both characters and people to me. Sometimes we hide awfully hard within the drama of our own lives. Sometimes it takes a long time to figure out who we really are, and a lot of unpacking and peeling back layers. But it’s there.
You may have a job you love or a job you hate. You may not have a job. You may be in a season of transition. You may have no idea what is coming next, and you may have never been able to identify a burning passion or anything that you like or are more good at than anyone else. None of this is the question.
Who are you at your core–the goodness, the curiosity, the open heart with which you were born? That is the question, and how you answer it makes all the difference.