catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 2 :: 2009.01.16 — 2009.01.30


Lights and darks

I had a few thoughts after reading the “Cohabit” issue, both because of my current cohabiting situation and my interest in learning more about intentional communities. I have to admit that I feel a nostalgic ambivalence about the whole experience, as maybe some other people do, too, to varying degrees. There is an old saying that goes, “Never air the dirty laundry.” There’s a certain respect in that and I am incredibly loyal to each member of my household (only I am allowed to poke fun of them, thank you very much). Still I don’t think that any real cleaning can take place in the dark, so in that spirit, I hope no one will be too offended if I put a couple of socks on the clothesline…

My story in a nutshell: I am 28, the single mother of a three-almost-four-year-old and living at home with my parents for what will be four years this February. In my lifetime, I have left home many times and each time I said I would never come back. Sometimes I ran away and sometimes I was thrown out. Even away from home, I had trouble leaving. Sometimes I took home with me as I made both good and bad choices about lifestyle and relationships. Sometimes home came back to break down my door that I had locked and bolted-figuratively and literally. In the last few months, I’ve wondered if I’ve ever really lived in a “home,” despite cohabiting in some very nice houses.

When I realized I was going to be raising my baby on my own, everyone said I would have to move back home, that I couldn’t do it on my own. And much as my pride fought against it, I had to admit I needed help, and I had to take it where it was being offered. And so, back through the revolving door I went. God has been good both to me and to my family and these years have been some of the happiest-and hardest-of my life. I’ve been learning how to accept forgiveness and admit my own imperfections (and they are many!). I’ve loved the daily chats with my mother at the end of a long day’s work, and my father has grown quite fond of the granddaughter who loves to jump into his arms. My parents have been especially gracious about not charging me rent, and have provided some assistance with the responsibilities of buying food, preparing meals and childcare. My daughter has formed a close attachment to my mother and my dad.  My two brothers have helped to close the gap in terms of a father figure. Living with people has benefited us.

Through my mother, I inherited a strong sense of commitment to family that has allowed me to gladly give up my single girl freedoms for the joy I receive in watching my daughter grow. Through spending time with her, I have re-visited the good parts of my childhood and it has given me a greater appreciation for God’s amazing creation, and for spending my time and energy on the activities and relationships that promote Life (my definition of simplicity). I have begun to create my own definition of “home” through the freedom that God’s grace is giving me to love her and learn how to be her mom.

Yet as time goes on and circumstances prevent me from leaving home to gain my culturally-sanctioned “independence” (I have health issues that limit my ability to work full-time), I find myself re-discovering the bad parts too. I type this on my father’s computer because mine is broken, and the child inside me can’t relax and let go for fear of breaking or damaging “his” things. This child is so busy fighting the lie that I have no rights and I own nothing in this house that it’s hard to hear my own adult voice get a word in edgewise. My daughter interrupts me and I am impatient with her because I am having trouble carving out my own space to think. And on these days when my illness is really acting up and my patience is wearing down, I feel how deeply the weight of angry words could crush her little spirit, and I fear what kind of legacy I may have inherited.

How can I stop the cycle from continuing, from the “sins of the father” being carried out upon the next generation (giving new understanding to troubling verses like Numbers 14:18)? And how can I do it in the midst of my current cohabiting situation? I am humbled from my “I-can-change-the-world” idealism of a few years ago and realize how truly hard it is to be a generous human being, let alone a parent. I now understand “original sin” as the debt we inherit by virtue of being brought up by imperfect people, who themselves were brought up by imperfect people-a debt that is incurred by harsh words (and sometimes hands) that break tender spirits (and sometimes more) through messages of conditional acceptance, guilt and shame. And I think the answer to my question is simply that I can’t pay back this debt. I can’t be a generous human being. Not on my own. And maybe not even by living on my own.

When we cohabit, we live not with people but with persons, each of whom is handicapped at loving to some degree. What can I find that is redemptive about living in an environment that falls short of my dreams for “community?” How can I learn to live in the tension where good and bad, health and disability, joy and sorrow are all mixed up together? There are a million unanswered questions in my mind, and an almost unbearable yearning to be free of this debt. I know Grace and Forgiveness fit in here somewhere, but what does that look like day by day? I have moments of peace and moments of turmoil, times when I tell the truth and times when I quietly walk away. Some days I just laugh at the ridiculousness of it all-good, hearty, belly-busting laughs that are hard to stop once they get started. I have realized that it’s more important to tell my daughter “I’m sorry” than to be a perfect parent, and I’m learning to say I’m sorry even when no one is saying it to me. I’m usually too tired at night to pray, but I do believe that God knows the dreams in my heart and He has good things in store for my future. And maybe some new persons to meet-even live with-too.

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