When I was a little girl, my cousin and I were as thick as thieves. She’s two years older than me, but when we got together to play at my grandparent’s house we had such a wonderful time. As children, we played at the pool, walked down to the old movie theater, played dress-up with our grandma’s clothes, and spent many a lazy summer day just hanging together. Sure, we had our cousin squabbles, but they didn’t amount to much–just typical kid stuff.
As we got into our teen years, we still loved hanging out together, it’s just that we were slowly moving towards very different life paths. The music we loved, the hobbies we engaged in, our belief systems all began to look drastically different from the other. We were just becoming who we were and it’s only natural that we wouldn’t like everything exactly the same. As time went on and we graduated, our paths went in totally opposite directions. Where we once could connect so easily, each passing year made it harder and harder. In many ways, it was terribly sad for me, because where she had once been such a close buddy, she no longer was anymore.
Into our twenties, we still kept in touch through email and, to make a long story short, there was a big family blow-up over one particular email. I’m not going to cast blame or make excuses, but that one email severed all connections between my cousin and me. There were hurt feelings on both sides and accusations slung around the digital realm and, in very short time, we both were done with each other. Done with a capital D. We didn’t write, talk, and if we did happen to see each other at a family gathering, we barely spoke. It was awful.
In my self-righteous anger, I felt very justified at that time in removing her from my life. We were two very different people and we just didn’t click anymore. How in the world was I supposed to hang out with someone so diametrically opposed to everything I stood for, anyway? Yet, as time went on, in my heart, I missed her. Sure, we had little to talk about, we hated everything the other believed in, but I missed her. There was a time when we giggled under bed covers and walked my grandparent’s town enjoying an ice cream treat while talking about this, that, and everything. There was a time when all that mattered was that it was cool that we were cousins and we loved each other.
She and I used to write each other all the time. We had these silly pen names: Clara and Margaret. They were our “old lady” names. We’d write each other under these names and “talk” in old lady voices through the page. So silly, but it was so fun at the time. This past February, our grandfather passed away. Sadly, he passed away on her birthday. For the first time in years, I sent her a birthday card. She was close to our grandfather and I knew his passing would hurt her deeply. The day of his funeral, I got to the funeral home fairly early. I looked for her, but she wasn’t there. When she finally showed up, she went and sat down in the front pews with her daughter and mom. Even though we hadn’t seen each other or spoken in years, I wanted to talk with her, so I apprehensively walked down to her. I tapped her on the shoulder and to my great surprise, she rose and embraced me with so much love. We both cried, but our hugs were full, total, and very healing. In that instant, all the hurt of past years melted away and it felt so good to be near her during that sad time.
Back at the church after the funeral, I sat and talked with her for a bit. We are still two very different people and our lives look very different from each other, but I think we both reached a point of forgiveness. As she got ready to leave, we hugged again and she said in my ear, “I love you, Amy.” “I love you, too,” was my natural response. It felt good to say that to her. It felt so good, because I do love her. She is a player in my life, she is a big part of my history, and she is my blood. I know that we will never be the best of buds like we were when we were kids, but we have at least built a bridge across the chasm that divided us.
My husband once said to me, “One day, I just started looking at people as my people, which helped me to see them as God’s people. When I started seeing them as people that God loves just as much as me, it was so much easier to love them, be near them even when they are very different than me.” I’ve watched my husband over the years grow in his ability to be around people who are very different than him. He doesn’t have friends that are an exact replica of him. He befriends unbelievers and those that are more liberal in their thoughts than him. His example really helped me to see that I was putting a stipulation on my love for my cousin: If she wasn’t going to be just like me, than I couldn’t love her. But, not loving her, was hurting me inside. I didn’t feel good about myself and I hated the distance between us. I guess I needed to learn to love her for her. I need to love her not because she does everything perfectly (’cause I sure don’t), but because she is a valuable person deserving of love. This doesn’t mean I have to agree with everything that she does or believes, but love doesn’t require that. Love means that I always “will her good.” Willing her good means showing her love even if it’s hard or difficult.
Look around you. We are literally tearing each other apart. We have all picked our camp and we are sticking to it. I get it. There are things that cannot be condoned or accepted, but that doesn’t mean love has to leave the building. All of us–ALL OF US–need to work on our charity and humility. We cannot will the good of another while cutting them down and trying our hardest to make them feel small and insignificant. Each of us has a reason and a story as to what has shaped us and formed our belief systems. We can challenge each other’s thoughts and beliefs, but, for the love, can we at least attempt to do it in a way that doesn’t make us all sound like the bully on the playground? You will never make anyone see the light by trying to destroy them. My husband tells our kids, “Work to get others on your team.”
I have to work on this constantly. I know I will for the rest of my life, because it is our human nature to look upon those that think differently than us with contempt and disdain. It’s our human nature to pick our camps and self-righteously hold others outside our fortified fortress. We enshrine our hearts with barbed wire, dig a big ole’ moat around it and stock it with alligators, and refuse to let “them” cross the bridge. I did that with my cousin and it not only hurt her, but it hurt me, too. It’s only when we open ourselves up to seeing all people with dignity that we free ourselves from a lot of hate and hurt.
I did not arrive at forgiveness for my cousin on my own. It took years and years of prayer and God chipping away at the hard callous on my heart. One thing that I noticed was that over the years my prayer went from “God, help her to change” to “God, help me love her like you.” He answered my prayer, because no matter our differences, I found that, yes, I can love her even if she’s not just like me.