Nobody in my family has spoken with my twin sister in 5 years. For reasons that I won’t detail here, she has decided to separate herself from all family and friends from her youth, including me.
When this estrangement first occurred, I disclosed my family’s strife to a few trusted members of our community with reservation: I was easily overwhelmed with sadness when discussing the loss I experienced, anxious that I would be judged, and protective of my family’s privacy around this sensitive topic. However, as the months and years of her separation lengthened, I felt a conviction to rely on our church for prayer and support.
I began to integrate prayers for her and my family into Prayers of the People on Sunday mornings. My prayers were heavy with tears but were met with solidarity, acceptance, and care from the church body.
It was around this time when I began considering a pilgrimage to Oregon, where she currently lives. Despite that I had a ritual of attempting contact with her once per month since the day she last communicated with my family, I had not tried visiting her. In actuality, my family wasn’t even sure of her whereabouts, but we had reason to believe she might live in Portland. And so, with my family and Daniel’s support, I began planning a trip.
I boarded the plane with trepidation on August 10th, 2012. I had attempted to notify her of my visit through letters, emails, and phone calls: “I’m flying to Portland for 1 day in hope that you’ll meet with me. I’ll be sitting alone at Stumptown Coffee from 9:00 am-5:00 pm. Please come!” – but as always, there was no response. When I arrived in Portland, two former Mountainsiders, Emily and Donovan Chandler, met me at the airport and drove me to Stumptown while I nervously chattered in the backseat.
As I walked through the doors of Stumptown Coffee I held my breath, and looked all around with hope and fear. I didn’t see her at first glance, but studied each face, wondering if perhaps I hadn’t recognized my twin sister after years of separation.
Slowly, I began to accept that she hadn’t come to see me.
And so, I waited for her. I held a warm cup of coffee as though to hold vigil, and sat.
With each hour that passed I watched customers nonchalantly come in, purchase coffee, and leave. At times I silently wept, quickly wiping away my tears so as not to alarm the baristas, wondering if she had ever visited this café or sat where I was seated.
Late in the afternoon, a sense of despair overcame me. I checked my email for information about my flight home, and noticed a message from Missy Griffin. “You are surrounded by the family of God who loves you dearly,” Missy wrote, “I hope that you sense that community and God’s presence at each step today.”
I felt divine peace at that moment, and knew that despite my physical isolation, I was a beloved member of our church family and a cherished daughter of God. This grace was a powerful awakening, and I felt deeply moved.
When I returned to our home in Monrovia later in the evening, I contacted a group of Mountainside women, inviting them to come to my backyard for a time of sharing about my journey. This time, I did not wait alone. Sitting in a circle on the grass, I poured Stumptown coffee for each of the women as a form of Eucharist, and told the story of her estrangement from beginning to end while friends nodded somberly. I grieved the loss of my twin sister and expressed my hope in the sisterhood of our church.
As I sat in the dark, surrounded by these caring souls, Kristin Ritzau suggested that the women place their hands on me and pray for me, my sister, and my family. During that time of prayer, I felt the burden of my years of mourning was lifted – a sensation that remains to this day. With stringed lights glowing around us, Kristin gently led the women in what she knew was my favorite song:
Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise God all creatures here below,
Praise God above ye heavenly host,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.