My sister and I sat cross-legged, waiting to learn about meditation.
Someone filled the little porcelain cups with steaming green tea; they grew warm in our hands. I looked around the makeshift temple in what looked like it used to be a gas station. Bars on the windows reminded us we were in the heart of the city, but inside, the peaceful atmosphere wasn’t threatened by the outside world.
I smiled at my sister, my eyes wide. I had asked her to come to the Zen Center with me, part of research for a college paper that asked me to step outside my religious background. I knew she would jump at the chance to explore a new experience, not for the sake of a grade like I did, but for the mere knowledge of it. This was her way. Together, we had been everywhere from Hindu temples to dingy rock clubs, from synagogues to Bollywood movie theatres. The world lay open before us.
Not long before, though, we never would have sat knee-to-knee like this.
In my teens I had found Jesus and alienated my sister. I shut people out who didn’t fit the mold I thought my life should fit. That’s when I started seeing my sister—who had been my best friend my whole life—as “other,” an outsider in my new community of faith.
Suddenly her music was deplorable compared to my Christian rock, her dark poetry not nearly as holy as my Bible reading. Talking about boys together? Not even possible!
“You’re going to wait until you get married? God says you have to do that?” she asked.
“Oh, I am going to earn the right to wear white on my wedding day, thank you!” I quipped back. I could have just slapped her right across the face. My condescending intolerance was invisible to me, but she saw through my legalism.
My senior year, I thought I had done the right thing breaking it off with a guy I was dating who didn’t share my beliefs, a mutual friend of ours and a great guy. She asked me why I had ended it, a look in her eye saying she already knew the answer.
When I explained, my sister looked at me like she didn’t know me anymore.
“Are you going to break up with me next?” she demanded.
Her words cut deep. I wasn’t so sure anymore if this faith that wounded more than it showed love was something I could hold on to. My certainty began to waver.
If it was hard to overcome the hurt I had inflicted, my sister didn’t show it. She kept reaching out to me, spending weekends with me when I went away to school.
A few months into college, I found myself standing somewhere I never would have imagined: a dimly lit tattoo studio.
At that point, my faith was tenuous; I’d started stepping over the religious divide I’d created. Even though my heart still loved Jesus, I stumbled in the dark to find a way to love Him and my sister, too.
Earlier that day, I’d talked a big talk about getting a tattoo with her, agreed when she suggested it and was excited when she drew up the design. But when I stood in front of the guy with flaming dice inked across his neck, I wasn’t so sure.
Going first, she made it look easy. Then, I crouched in a fetal position for what seemed like forever, exposing the small of my back to the waiting needle, losing feeling in my feet. The one thing I could feel was her holding my hand, my white knuckles bearing down on the pain.
The matching suns contained Japanese letters that we chose, not because of the language but because of the unique juxtaposition of words. Her sun contained the characters for “older sister” and mine for “younger sister.” Put the four characters together and they created the word for “sisters.” We each had half of the puzzle, but were only whole when together.
Family has a funny way of throwing together those who are alike and yet so different. That black ink on our backs felt like a statement of faith in each other.
In the eyes of the girl I had tagged along after all my life, I now saw a friend. It felt like my faith grew tenfold that year, becoming my own as I found ways to love Jesus and my sister, too.
Now, as the light shone in the barred windows of the Zen Center, I peeked out the corner of my eyes at my sister quietly meditating beside me. Our eyes met and we giggled at the serious meditators next to us. I closed my eyes again and took a long inhale of sweet sandalwood as I said a silent prayer of thanks for the common ground we’d found and the Christ-like love I learned in the most unlikely places.