I am the baby of five. But most who know me (with the exception of some childhood friends) only know of four siblings. My in laws are my only sisters now. They have never met Karen. They have heard few stories. They have seen few pictures. It’s not that we wish to erase her from our minds. It’s that she has erased herself. Sometimes it seems unreal to recall her. Was she really ever there?
My sister has been absent from our lives for over thirty years. We have not heard her voice, seen her face, or touched her, in decades. But, trust me, she is real. She shared my childhood room. She gave me the gift of sharing a bed with a bed-wetter. (This just might play a large role in why our girls never, EVER had to share a bed.) She made my passive brother so angry that he punched her in the nose while my grandfather watched (only responding with, “If you made him that mad you must have deserved it.”) She stole my mother’s engagement ring. She is the reason there was a patched hole in my drywall (caused by an enraged brother hitting that rather than her as she berated my mother, again.) She is the reason I studied psychology. Maybe I could figure out what was wrong with her? Maybe I could solve the riddle of how one sibling could be so very opposite everyone else?
But I could not. She was (and most likely still is) broken. She repeatedly ran away, literally, from a family that many would have loved to join. She lied compulsively. She tried drugs. She experimented with casual sex. She drank. She skipped school. She failed classes. She didn’t wish to work or follow rules. She was the antithesis of all that my parents taught and modeled.
And yet, she is part of us. She helped shaped our outlook. She tested our love. She pushed our limits. She sabotaged grace. She spat upon mercy. She blamed everyone and everything for her troubles. She broke my parents’ hearts.
And she is forever a part of me.
She taught me that the world is grey. The black and white boxes we’d like to place everything in are figments of our imagination.
Good families are messy too.
Lost people sometimes know the way and simply choose to ignore it.
Running sometimes feels safer than staying. Even when it is not.
Love is not a magical, fix-all elixir.
I confess that I had times when I resented the effort given to my sister. I hated her for stirring tensions and hurt everywhere she went. I kicked her when I rolled over onto a cold, wet spot in my sleep. I resented admitting that she was my sister at school. I enjoyed tattling on her. I thought my parents weak for giving her so many chances. Poor suckers.
Their hearts broke with every defiant word. Their stomachs knotted with every hurt brought upon their other children by this untamed beast. Their bibles stained with bitter tears. Their lessons, scoldings, and love, fell with a thud on her deaf ears. They felt ashamed to be relieved when she left home. The tension vanished. Mom’s stomach pains whisked away. Dad’s sadness lifted. But still, an ache sometimes stopped by to visit.
It’s all about free will. We are all free to make bad decisions. We are all free to turn our backs on family. We are all free to kick those who love us. We are free to stubbornly walk toward our destruction. We are free to judge others. We are free to hate. We are free to spit in the face of our creator.
I am not advocating that any of these things are good choices. But, I am saying that we need to stop shaming others with memes about how good parenting is the answer to all societies’ ills. It is not. Loving parents still have limited reach. Each time we blame everything on parents, we slap my parents and others like them across the face. Parents of wayward children didn’t choose that path for them. I could not completely control my children’s actions even when they were toddlers. Could you control yours?
We need to stop kicking the addict that continues to fail. Stop posting and forwarding memes of how they don’t deserve mercy for something they consciously chose. Did they? Have we lived their lives? Have we seen the pain (or just plain bad choices) that started their addiction? What good is served by us declaring that they got themselves into that situation and must get themselves out? Have you ever tried to fight your way out of an addiction? Have you ever tried to use reason and logic with a foggy brain? Have you ever tried to rebuild trust while no one trusts you? Do they deserve death because they have a battle that you don’t understand?
Yesterday I witnessed a baptism of a man who struggles with addiction. His fight is not over just because he found faith in Christ. My heart beamed as our pastor announced that this man will be leaving for rehab soon. He openly acknowledged that this man has a fight ahead. Love won’t fix it. Faith won’t fix it. They are both powerful tools in his healing. But they are parts in a complicated whole.
Stop trying to make life black and white. There are Christian addicts. There are good atheists. There are empty wealthy people. There are joyful and content people living in the depths of poverty. There are gay Christians. There are faith-filled people who struggle with depression, worthlessness, and suicidal thoughts. There are kind people who have racist leanings (and don’t recognize the disconnect). There are people who fought their way out of poverty who despise the poor. There are proud people who feel inadequate. There are clueless people who feel proud. There are Christians who are nasty and hurtful. We humans are very complex.
Think of how much kinder our world would be if we actively looked at the people we see every day. Have you looked into the sad eyes of the man who smiled and said he was doing fine? Did you see that? Did you ask again and give him permission to admit he’s struggling? Have you watched the chronic pain sufferer walk, move, sit, stand? Are they battling to maintain that smile? Do you look at your coworker when they think no one is watching? Does their expression sink and shoulders droop? Have you checked in with the single parent to see if they need a break? And then offered to take over while she goes for a walk? Have you wiped away tears of someone broken by their own poor choices and not scolded? Simply loved? Simply helped pick up the pieces?
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3-10, otherwise known as The Beatitudes)
We are to care for our neighbors, our sisters, our brothers. That is an all inclusive list. No exceptions noted. No excuses given to release us from this duty.
And let us please start by refusing to play the blame game. Let us help wherever others are at. Messy. Ugly. Broken. Angry. Wherever the need is. Let us walk toward it. Because God likes to turn our expectations and desires on their heads. Christ loved the unlovable. Christ touched the unclean.
Acknowledge the grey. Admit the contradictions. Hold hands instead of pointing fingers.