by Shannon Lee

“Let’s hit the road”, I said to my mom and sister.  It was a warm day in southern North Carolina as we checked out of a little motel near Interstate 74.  Nervously grabbing her car keys, my sister let out a deep sigh, “Ok, well let me get my stuff and put it in your truck.”

As we walked outside the first floor room, the sun blazed down, the glare making my eyes tear up.  Ah, sunglasses.  I need my sunglasses. 

Much better.

I head back out, making my way across an old, cracked parking lot, hurriedly shuffling my feet.  I do not like long car rides.  I had just driven 11 hours the day before from Ohio with my mother in tow to bring my sister home.  I also do not like driving for long periods of time and this day makes two in a row, only now we’ve added a passenger, my sister.  Ugh, and I’m pretty sure she’s still high at this moment.

As I walk over to her car to help transfer her things to my truck, I can’t help but think about all the times she’s messed up.  I mean, this girl has been in chaos since I can remember. 

She better not take this chance for granted!  After all, it isn’t my fault she’s homeless and living out of her car, addicted to drugs.  The only reason I’m doing this is because my mom is so upset and I couldn’t live with myself if my sister died from this lifestyle and I had not at least tried to help her.

Compassionate, huh? 

I didn’t want to feel the pain of regret.

Several weeks prior, I found out my sister had been hospitalized.  She had a life-threatening withdrawal from fentanyl after eating fentanyl patches for months and then running out.

I knew it!  I knew she had a drug problem.  I mean, the signs were all around!  But you know what?  This is her issue and her choice.  She could choose to turn her life around any time and have a relationship with me if she wanted, so not my problem.

But then my mother.  My mother was so shaken by this news and I couldn’t stand to see her in such pain, so when my sister agreed to come home and go to treatment, we knew we had to go get her.  But nothing could have prepared me for the morning we were about the leave the motel and bring my sister home.

Standing by the rear of her car, my sister opens her trunk, revealing the remaining possessions of a 40-year-old drug addict.

  • Victoria’s Secret tote full of old shoes
  • Ripped suitcase with dirty clothes inside
  • Dried up washcloth wrapped around a bar of soap
  • Cutting board that used to belong to my grandmother
  • Tattered but beautiful book about Buddha
  • Canvas satchel stuffed full with papers
  • Broken lamp

I can’t exactly explain why, because I certainly do not equate belongings with a person’s worth or accomplishments; but when she calmly unloaded each item, one by one…naming each item and why it was important to her (even the broken lamp)…I lost it.

In an instant I realized something very scary to me and became overwhelmed with painful emotion.

I realized that moment, I had failed at loving my sister.

I wasn’t afraid of the pain of regret.  I was afraid of the pain of love.  

Because you know what?  It’s hard to love someone who’s messed up (and aren’t we all, at least a little bit?).  They may not appreciate your love.  They may not turn their life around with your love.  They may even take advantage of your love.  This is what makes it painful.  And I used these excuses to not love my sister, all these years.

The moment she opened her trunk, I knew my actions toward my sister were in no way aligned with the God I claimed to serve.

Jesus never said, love others when it is easy, convenient, safe, predictable or tidy.  I think we all know this.  Heck, I know this!  But for some reason, I justified my actions because somewhere in my life I thought keeping her at a distance was somehow good for her, when in reality, it was just good for me.

By keeping my sister at arm’s length, her problems, differences, opinions and shortcomings would not have an effect on me.  I saw all her complications as something making us so very different and therefore why we couldn’t be close.  How judgmental of me!  These are the very things we actually have in common! 

We are both human beings with problems, differences, opinions and shortcomings.  Both with the same basic need for love.  Real love. 

Not the fake “love” that doesn’t require me to get to know you.  Not the “love” saying I must point out all the ways you are wrong in order for you to see the truth.  Not the “love” saying I must abandon you in your weakness so you learn your lesson.  Nope.

Real love hurts because it means I have to let your differences affect me.  It means I lean into the things about you making me uncomfortable; things I do not always understand.  It means I strive to see your perspective and your pain; not because it’s politically correct, but because I want to learn how to accept AND celebrate you right now.  Today.  Just as you are. 

Just like Jesus did for me. 

Today, my sister is about 5 months clean.  We did get her home, she did go into treatment and she is still there, taking it day by day.  I am so proud of her and it gives me pure joy to watch as hope for a future grows in her heart and mind, little by little.

I never thought the trunk of a car could change the way I love, but it did.

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