Even now, over 20 years later, it is hard to tell the story of how my sister Nana and I became estranged.  It all began one Christmas when I realized that Nana had been sending Christmas gifts to my sister Clare’s little daughters, Jane & Julia, but giving nothing to my son Nick.  This made no sense to me! I had always given presents to all my nieces and nephews when they were small, even when I was a poor student.  Why would Nana do such a thing?!


I am ashamed to say that I not only put our mother in the middle: I lied to her, telling her that Nick was hurt by this slight (when, in fact, he knew nothing about it).  Nana answered my accusation with a legalistic argument, saying that she had picked Clare’s name in a family gift drawing that had happened years before these children were even born.  She also mailed a letter addressed to Nick, who was only 5 years old, explaining why she was not giving him Christmas gifts, and enclosed a small plastic cross.


I was outraged! Was I really supposed to read this baffling letter to a little child? I threw the cross in the trash and hoarded my grievances.  Nana wasn’t sorry, so I could see no way to forgive her.  We were both passionately convinced of our positions, so there was no opening for discussion.  But the prospect of a lifetime of separation from Nana broke my heart.


Dear Nana, who was 9 years older than me and 11 years older than Clare, was truly our Big Sister.  As a child herself, Nana had welcomed little sisters into her life by becoming our second mother.  Memories of Nana reading to us under the fluffy quilt we called The Puff, taking us for walks, joining in elaborate games of make-believe, and singing with us in the kitchen flooded my heart.  I thought of the mockery that estrangement from my own sister made of my faith. 


Heartsick and hopelessly stuck, I went to God in prayer.  “Father, help me!” I cried, instinctively turning to God the Father because I needed the help of a parent.  I had lied to my mother, but I could not lie to God.  I had no doubt that God loved Nana and me equally and knew the whole story.


And then, I heard God’s voice answer my prayer!  From within, I clearly heard these words: “You can’t go through it.  You must go over it.”


God knows I am a visual problem-solver and had given me an image I could understand.  I saw, from above, an obstacle in my way that I could not go around or through. 


God was telling me that this conflict could not be resolved head-on.  Perhaps it could not be resolved at all.  It could only be fixed by hanging on to love. God was showing me that I could rise above my anger and continue on the other side.


I resolved that I would not argue with Nana or hope for an apology.  I would just pick up our relationship wherever I could, whenever I could and go over this, like climbing a mountain I could not pass through.


So, gingerly, tentatively, Nana and I began to talk again.  Sometime later (but not right away), Nana chose to send presents to all three children.  We never worked it out, but we did go over it.


I have always been grateful to God for hearing my prayer giving me an answer.

—KD Burnett