My sister and I have been estranged since Thanksgiving of last year. I have not called her – although I have wanted to many times – nor has she made any attempt to connect with me. Recently, I sent her a couple of text messages about some information I found which I thought might interest her, but doing something even that simple created a struggle within me.
Your thoughts reading this may be the same as mine, “She’s your sister and scripture tells us to “turn the other cheek.” I’ve told myself over and over to “turn the other cheek,” but what if turning the other cheek results in damage to you, your heart and your soul? You see, I am the oldest in my family and I am ALWAYS turning the other cheek or taking the high road, but this time, I felt I had had enough. Always being the first to overlook offenses or initiate the “talk” was too much for me to cope with this time, so I dug in my heels and refused to budge.
Last week was the blessing ceremony for my newborn niece. My brother and his Laotian wife are Buddhists. Although I am a Christian and we don’t share the same beliefs, they are my family and I try to support them as much as I can, especially when it involves my nieces. This ceremony would mark the second ceremony I have attended since their marriage. My brother tells me that being a Buddhist is similar to being a Christian, and while some of the beliefs may be similar in intent, the differences in practice are too stark for me!
I was greeted by my sister and my mother when I arrived at my brother’s home. Although my mother spoke to me, my sister said nothing beyond giving monosyllabic responses to my questions. While we were being seated for the ceremony, I bumped into my sister-in-law’s cousin whom I remembered from the previous ceremony. We had immediately bonded then, and this time, she overflowed with love and generosity of spirit towards me. I introduced her to my mother and sister whom she’d never met (I was the only member of my brother’s family she had met). She smiled and hugged and chatted for a moment. We are both very animated speakers and she always makes me smile. As the ceremony was about to begin, I took my reserved seat amidst smiles and greetings from those with whom I was acquainted. I was seated on one end of the sofa and my mother and sister were seated on chairs at either end and separated from me by another guest. My sister sat on the end closest to me.
We sat in silence. When the monks started chanting, I could see how uncomfortable that made my mother and sister, who are also Christians. They were there to support my brother and his family, but how does one reconcile being in a place that contradicted the First and Second Commandments? I turned to my sister and told her that during this part of the ceremony, I always close my eyes and pray. She smiled and nodded. As I closed my eyes and began praying for my brother and his family and anyone else on my heart, I don’t know if my sister did the same, but I think that my sharing my coping mechanism with her relieved some of her discomfort. During the ceremony, I tried to share whatever knowledge of the impending rituals I had from experience to prepare her for what was coming – I told her of the yarn or thread that would encompass her, and of the water that would be sprinkled on her (similar to the aspergillum sprinkling of holy water, except they used dried Bermuda reeds and lustral water). When the time came to eat in the ceremony, I was whisked away by my sister-in-law’s cousin who was also my food- tester and kept me away from the spicy foods! Have I said how much I like this woman?!
After the meal and the final blessing of the ceremony, came time for socialization and I reached out to my nephews to discuss their summer plans while admiring his senior year picture proofs. I also asked my sister about her summer plans and…she came over to talk to me! As she sat down, I said “you know I’m still angry with you for not calling to apologize for how you treated me.” She said she didn’t remember the offensive actions, but apologized anyway. That was it. That was all it took! All I needed was recognition and an apology. And, while I may have still initiated the conversation (so much for digging in those heels), the important thing is that the conversation happened.
What did I learn? Up to three days prior to this ceremony, I had given up hope of my sister and I ever having any type of relationship for the rest of my life! Yet, here we were – I had my sister back and we can start working on strengthening our relationship.
God works in mysterious ways. Here we were, at a ceremony that made us both uncomfortable because it seemed so far removed from where we’d expect to encounter God…but He showed up! He ALWAYS shows up! No matter what and no matter where. He was there to help heal the estrangement between my sister and I; which reminded me of Psalm 139:7-10:
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me. (NKJV)
Just when I was about to give up hope of the possibility of reconciliation and a relationship with my sister, He was there!
Keep the faith, my friends! Keep the faith, because no matter what, no matter where, He will ALWAYS be there!
Zanetta Holley is a former Special Assistant to the Inspector General and current Special Assistant for Investigations with a law enforcement agency in D.C. Prior to that, Ms. Holley worked on the Hill advocating for funding for the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), the nation’s largest and most effective minority education organization. She attended Jackson State University, a historically Black College and University (HBCU) in Jackson, MS. Ms. Holley works with several groups advocating for social justice and against racism and oppression. She is also CBE-Voices of Color’s Vice President for Allied Partnerships and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org