Sister Mine

My favorite hymn is the one about leaning on everlasting arms. I got to thinking about this song today when I was sitting on the porch with my sister. We were both singing.

“Leaning, leaning,
“Safe and secure, from all alarms…”

My sister is a 33-year-old woman. She is beautiful. Funny. And she’s got a way about her. She’s meek. And you can just tell that she’s been humbled in her life.

I know a thing or two about being humbled. Which is a very different thing than simply “being a humble person.”

Being a humble person, for example, means that you don’t cut in line, take the last biscuit, or sing karaoke.

But being “humbled” (past-tense non-restrictive intransitive verb) is a thing that is done to you. Usually, without your consent. Being humbled is an experience that feels a lot like getting your head shaved.

I have been humbled a lot throughout life. In fact, I will be humbled as soon as I submit this very column when a reader with an English degree writes to me and says there is no such thing as a “past-tense non-restrictive intransitive verb.”

My sister has been humbled too many times for anyone’s good.

It all started when my father died in a traumatic way, an event I’ve written about enough. When this horrible thing happened to my family, my sister and I both quit going to school.

At the time, I was 11, and had no use for sentence diagrams dealing with worthless concepts, such as, to pick a concept at random, intransitive verbs. My sister, however, was in kindergarten when she quit school.

As a result, my sister didn’t learn how to read until she was 20 years old. She became highly skilled at hiding this. Some people never knew she couldn’t read.

When you get older, it gets harder to learn how to read. And once you miss your opportunity to absorb the grammar-school basics, it’s pretty hard to get the hang of it on your own.

I tried to teach my sister several times, but my sister is a very spirited person, and a tomboy. Reading lessons were so difficult that she usually ended up losing her temper and we’d get into an argument. Which is how I lost two rear molars.

I remember she applied for a job at Chick-Fil-A. My sister got me to fill out her job application. She got the job, and she faked it well. Her employers or coworkers never knew her secret.

Needless to say, my sister and I were close. Trauma has a way of making two very dissimilar people find ways in which they are similar.

One of our similarities was music. We always had music in common. Her voice was angelic. And it just so happened that I was a guitar owner.

So we passed many evenings wherein I played guitar and she sang. And in those gentle moments, usually seated outside on some bygone porch, we sang together.

“Leaning, leaning,
“Leaning on the everlasting arms…”

By the time she was in her 20s, my sister started going to the library a lot, reading books from the preschool section. She began reading Dick and Jane books, and books on how to sound out words. She stayed up late into the nights after work, trying to get things right.

“What have I to dread,
“What have I to fear?
“Leaning on the everlasting arms…”

And over a few years, she started to get it. My sister was soon reading billboards, reading auto manuals, newspapers, and magazines.

Then, one day, when my sister was at church. The preacher, who didn’t know my sister had been illiterate, asked her to read the scripture.

In that moment, my sister looked at me with that same look she’d given a million-and-one times in our lives. The same look I often wear. A look I still see whenever I look in the mirror.

It is a look that says, “Uh oh. They’re all going to see what I am. They’re all going to know how stupid I am. They’re all going to know that I am white trash.”

But my sister swallowed her fear. She stepped behind the pulpit to read the scripture. Word for word.

She stumbled. She stammered. But she did it. And she was unashamed when it was finished. She never knew that her brother, who was seated behind the piano, was weeping tears of pride.

After that service long ago, we embraced. And as we hugged, she leaned into my chest, and I leaned into her.

And that old hymn made a lot more sense to me.


  1. Tom Teigen - August 16, 2023 1:14 pm


  2. David in California - August 16, 2023 2:44 pm


  3. Lisa Chilson Rose - August 16, 2023 2:50 pm

    Love this.

  4. Melika - August 16, 2023 4:41 pm

    Thanks for sharing a bit about your special sister! It was such a joy to read about her. You both are so blessed to be siblings.

  5. Steve Leachman - August 16, 2023 5:07 pm

    There is such a thing as sibling rivalry and teasing but there’s also love. There’s also pride for our siblings when they accomplish something great. I can only imagine the pride you felt when your sister read that Bible passage in church.

  6. pattymack43 - August 16, 2023 6:14 pm

    I, too, lean on the everlasting arms. Thank you for sharing your life with us. Blessings!!

  7. Becky Bibee - August 16, 2023 8:08 pm

    Love this so much! It was such an honor to meet you in Chattanooga last week. I laughed the entire two hours. What a precious gift you have in your story telling!

  8. Junie Merkle - August 17, 2023 1:48 am

    Beautifully written.

  9. Christa Swartz - August 18, 2023 2:43 am

    What a beautiful hymn and story. Thank you for sharing and your sister for being so tenacious to learn and brave that day in church!

  10. Kathy Rodgers - August 25, 2023 6:25 am

    I taught children to read in elementary school for over 30 years. During those years, traumatic events happened in some children’s lives and I watched those children go into survival mode—not capable of “tuning in” to anything I had to offer. Leaning on the arms of love and loved ones helped many overcome the trauma, but many times this took years. I am so proud of your sister for eventually learning to read. Thankful for the bond of love that holds the two of you together.


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