How to Clean a Toilet

Chose your words carefully

Remember both your predecessors and antecedents

While neither should define you, the latter may constrain your rightful impulse towards flight

Because sometimes silence

Because…sometimes silence

Hides terrible things.

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A Letter to “Family,”

I was born into a traveling family. Growing up I struggled with issues of identity and loss. What was home? What was this nagging sense of displacement?

I remember traveling in Italy as a young child and looking for the face of my grandmother in the crowd–despite my knowledge that she was not there. There was no chance that my middle-aged grandmother had jetted off for a Roman holiday in the spring of 1977

I had family members who I loved who did and said and believed things I did not. I found their beliefs deeply painful. How could I love them but not their way of seeing the world?

I settled on loving them but not the faults in their world views, and uneasy, precarious compromise, and one I have not much improved upon in all the years since.I struggle with disappointment in the collective institution of “family,” just as I have with “church,” “friendship,” “community,” and “club.”

People fail each other in big and little ways all the time, but Jesus never does. He is this extraordinary voice for justice, for love, for honor, for hope. His family resemblance marks the best of us.

Jesus does not look like a white guy in a flowing robe. He does not look like any of the famous pictures we have of him.

What he looks like is Love. Love that protects. Love that shelters. Love that never fails.

And that kind of family resemblance is hard to miss…when we find it among us in this broken world.

Matthew 12:48-50

1 Corinthians 13

Why Would I Leave the Sea?

Two kids on a borrowed dock, I push away saying going to look for turtles who should be there, noses just visible, green leaves breathing in and out. Can’t find them today-swim back, watch leaves drift tiny rafts on water cups the sky, reflect the blue sky, deep green water you laugh, lift your head back, river-legs-dock-children-trees-hill-home.

He speaks to us in parables

I leave the shower curtain on the living room floor and the little boy who does and does not resemble us takes it up, exclaiming, the periodic table! with the remains of his little boy voice.

Later, after forgetting and days of heavy gravity, I lift the curtain and pierce each hole again, arms growing heavy-diagonally, the way trees grow.

Admire the way they have been ordered each in their brightly colored boxes. Iron, gold, carbon, oxygen, and the exotic ones we seem to have conjured to fill up the empty places.

  • There whether we see or not.
  • Unchanged by our indifference.
  • Three or more dimensional even if we only see them flat.
  • Elements and symbols for when full words seem to be not enough

He speaks to us in parables.

The Relative Conversation

It happens sometimes. He encounters people with functioning extended family–they exist in movies and television. They pop up at the occasional birthday party.

He asks, do I have cousins? Or uncles, aunt, grandparents, depending on the occasion. And I find myself staring at the rock wall of truth.

How do you explain the FBI definitions of rape to a kindergartener? How do explain the way humans can run like roaches when confronted with the concept themselves? Or worse. There is always worse.

So I take time to answer, starting with the easiest part–You have cousins. You played with them before. You just don’t remember.

He makes an expression of mild exasperation. Why can’t he remember them?

I tell him he probably would if he saw them again. I tell him I will show him pictures.

You have pictures? he exclaims, as though I have been stashing chocolates.

Yes. I have pictures. And memories too. They are pretty lovable kids.

And this is the part I have yet to frame into words, into pictures on the wall of who we are–

If you love someone, and that loved someone gets hurt, badly hurt, it is your job to stop the hurt. Your job to stand up for that love. Whatever the cost. Whatever the monsters

If you don’t, you can’t call it love.

Darling, I am so sorry, it was our own family who taught me that.

Losing people

A few days ago I received an email from a family member–normal right?

I could tell this person’s email account had been hijacked because s/he and I do not have a family relationship anymore. S/he joined the ranks of friends and family who were so chagrined by me that the relationship could not be repaired.

Close relations of crime victims often inflict terrible secondary wounds.

They are ashamed of me and my story and to preserve their “normal” life they do really wretched things.

Friends can be equally painful. They stop being friends, shrinking quietly into the shadows, not calling, not inviting our family to events. That familiar blanched look of fear…silence…gone….

I had a friend who was a sister to me. Unlike many she stuck with me through the shock, grief, and early period of survival, but she deeply disapproved of my public efforts to draw attention to what happened to us. Too public…to noisy…

She is gone. It hurts.

The list gets longer and more erratic after that–people who make their money from shepherding other people–gone or worse–cruel.

You start to rethink people. The world seems increasingly lonely.

Yesterday the Christian Post asked if it’s readers experienced loneliness. A bunch vehemently denied it–

Never! I have God! Ditto!!! Double that!

But of course I have to be the lone dissenter. I said,

Jesus experienced loneliness, why shouldn’t I?

That is my motto and I am sticking to it. But I won’t lie to you–I wish I had kept my mouth shut for my children.

They had a shot at “normal,” if it weren’t for my big mouth.

The truth will set us free…no one said it would make us look normal.

Normal is the lie.

For all of us…not just mouthy me.

Hypothetical Family

In the fall of 2009 our family as we knew it imploded in a fierce burst of awful. This was after years of maintenance strange and two years of ascending chaos as our adopted daughter burst forth into mental decline. Epic mental decline. Followed by the revelation that her biological brother was a pedophile. Then things got worse…

Actually, not worse. Safer and blindingly honest. Grandparents punished the victims and rewarded the perps. Uncles were cowards. Aunts were um, not helpful.

The nuclear families that my husband and I had been born into were destructive forces. I think that the stigma of being in a relationship with the victims of sexual abuse was too much for them to handle. They blamed the victims. It was like an acid bath. They said terrible things.

I drew a wall around us. There were months of fasting and debilitating heath problems. There was our children’s grief. There was the cost to our marriage. It was enough.

We skipped a wedding. We cut off our phone. We changed. Our family became orphaned not just from these near familial relations but also from a church we had served for years.

Our older children remember. Our young ones do not. They do not know their aunts or uncles, their grandmothers or grandfather. My son knows that my father died the year he was born. He knows that we live on a small island of ourselves. He sees these relationships played out on the children’s shows he watches. Dora has a cousin named Diego. Word Girl has a cool grandfather. Every so often one of us will refer to the missing uncle or grandmother he does not know. His eyes will light up as though we are discussing Christmas–I have a grandfather?!. He will ask incredulously.

Yes, I say.

Then his face grows serious. Oh, but he is not safe for us, right?

Right, I say, he is not safe.

The loneliness and loss in his face is the reminder: the ghost of hypothetical family.