Chapter 9: Miracles (Family)

People say that God, like Love, is a verb.  I think Family is, too.

My very first moment of existence fractured my family, the one posing with the Doberman in front of the tiled fireplace in an old Spanish-style bungalow in LA.  Because the man holding me on his knee, the one who thinks he’s my dad…isn’t.

My biological dad was probably enjoying cocaine with Charlie Sheen, he isn’t in those pictures…yet.  I am the product of an affair between two high school sweethearts who may have been more love addicts than sweethearts.

Visible cracks must’ve appeared years before the paternity test, because we sold the bungalow when I was five, Ellen three.  Daddy moved to an apartment where my younger sister and I shared a sofa bed.

When I think about my own five-year-olds having to say good-bye to David or me I want to reach back into the photograph and beg the two humans in charge to get therapy and/or go to rehab.

Reconcile with the traumas of your adolescences so I don’t have to deal with mine eventually in rehab and therapy!  I don’t want to ever say good-bye!  It’ll never get easier, ever.  I’ll just get angrier and sneakier and more aggressive!  Please!

My mom, who used lots of loud words and belts to discipline me, moved to a small house on Ozone Street in Santa Monica with a skinny one-way strip of street separating us from a park with a swing.  A man with kind, bright eyes started to tear away at the photo with visits to the tiny abode.  He took me to the swings across the street.  He used to do cocaine with Charlie Sheen, but Jesus met him somewhere in Malibu and he stopped.

You’re not my dad!  Except he was.

At seven, a handful of days or weeks or months after their wedding under the sycamores, my mom fractured me further by revealing that the man with kind eyes and depression was actually my father.  I could keep calling him Pat though, because nobody would ever replace Daddy.


Then Fiona and her turquoise eyeballs joined the mess.  Six months later Ellen—wait, does that mean Ellen isn’t my real sister?—got sick.

Because of the dying little girl nobody had time or energy to make the divorce any yuckier than it was by definition.  When you’re not sure if each Christmas will be the last, you spend almost no time fighting about who gets her on holidays, and you just make one big feast for everyone to enjoy at the table.

Somehow, civility never left the frame.  All my parents could exist in a room and function well enough.  Thanks God.

Daddy remarried, too.  She had a lot of energy and a lot of fun family members and a lot of love for us and her golden retriever.  She painted a Tigger mural in Ellen’s bedroom at Daddy’s new house off National Blvd.  There’s a Ross right there at the offramp where Daddy would buy my clothes, except I was a large child who kept getting larger and the kid’s clothes didn’t fit me, so he bought women’s sizes and I felt like such a failure because I had two chins & flowy flowery pants that my teachers wore, too.

And just past the Ross, a Vons.  That’s where I bought the Easy Bake Oven WITH MY OWN MONEY.  Ellen and I listened to Shania Twain and “What a Wonderful World” on the drive back to the house that would never feel quite like a home.  Then he got divorced again.

Sean, my youngest brother and a fellow bastard, was conceived just like I was; but instead of a high school sweetheart it was a worship band member at our church.  That’s why God blessed him with musical genius.

For fifth grade Mama made the single best decision of her life and put me into private school.  When she tells the story she uses both hands to illustrate the two paths, one leading to drugs and jail and an early death.  The other leading to Hillcrest Christian School.  She didn’t know that eventually even the Jesus path would lead to drugs and social services and a nearly-narcotic death.

Jesus is in all of that too, though.

Hillcrest became the home my address never felt like it could become.  At Hillcrest they didn’t hit me, and they didn’t get divorced, and not a single human there had brain cancer.  Nobody ever called me a “bitch on wheels,” and even though I was fat they made room for my body and my pain.  I don’t think God ever intended one woman to serve as her child’s only mother, and at Hillcrest I had a handful of women who held up all my filleted pieces.

They reminded me that no matter how many times a dad left, I had a Daddy who specialized in restoration, a Daddy nobody could replace.

And my friends were family, too.  We had twelve in our graduating class and most of us had been together since sixth grade.  Sarah, the tumor-namer and cutter-of-hair, whose family sustained me in every possible way.  Shanen still has perfect eyebrows and is a perfect soul mate for me.  And all the rest of them who let me ask year after year after year that they please pray for Ellen because her brain is broken.

I don’t know if it’s relevant, but I do know that the fact that my mom and biological dad have been married and divorced three times is worth noting.  Between all my parents rest seven divorces, a graveyard of Goodhardgood.

Family is the fracturing and the act of stitching back together.  It’s the ripping apart before the hot-glue-gunning.  Family is the people pictured in the photo, and those who choose to show up for them when it has all hit the fan.  Family are the in-laws who help rewrite every old story you ever told yourself about True Love.

It’s the community of people singing and yelling amen behind the big open doors of my church, where  big stained glass windows help us all see the humanity in each other on Sunday mornings.  My brothers and sisters at Denver Community Church Uptown welcome my sorry as AS IS. They’ll welcome yours too!

Later this afternoon we’ve got a big party planned to celebrate the end of summer, and my family is in town.  Daddy is here, like he always has been—steady and supportive and mildly dissociated.  Aunt Fi and her giant blue eyes flew in and did puzzles with the big girls before watching Project Runway with me.  Mama will be here too and I finally found an identity outside of her, which means I don’t have to explode.  Pat won’t be here because I don’t want rejection for a fourth time.

Also in attendance:  Arm fulls of people who’ve helped Jesus hold up and stitch together the carnage that family can cause.  Lots of family-ing going down today, and I cannot wait to keep partnering with God in the redemption of it all.

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Steps 11&12: Tattoo



11:  Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him/Her, praying only for knowledge of His/Her will for us and the power to carry that out.

Lay flat, in darkness, in silence.  Alone.
Close your caffeinated eyes.

Now imagine a wall full of light switches.  Each switch represents a thought you must shut down before accessing the deeper, divine Self.

The friend who did the thing.  The election.  The election.  The election.  (Sometimes it takes three tries to make sure it’s all the way off.)  Your child whose butt stinks.  The child whose heart hurts.  The Cheerios on the ground.  The brown grass.  The neighbors thinking about the brown grass.  The neighbors.  Project Runway.  The coloring books plastering the dining room table.  Etc. Etc. Etc.

Until you’ve got none left to flip.

Now imagine Jesus’ back yard, or front porch, or wherever.  Jesus isn’t your thing?  Imagine someplace where Love flourishes and Light pierces and all the energy of Life spills out in a wave of peace.

Remember that place you once met God?  Go there.

Got it?  K.

What does it smell like?  How old are you there?  What do you see?  What can’t you see?  Reach out and feel something, what do you sense?

Now what does God want to show you?  Where is Love leading?  Follow.  Trust.  Keep breathing.
Wait until it’s over.  Wait until you’re not afraid, wait until you have permission to leave.


Exhale.  Exhale.  Exhale.

Open your eyes.  Write down what happened.  Or don’t.  But I always do.

This is called a Resource—it’s yours.  A tool, a prayer, a meditation that can (and does) take you near to the heart of God, the heart of Love.

Once in a Resource Jesus pulled out flashlights from a man-purse He was wearing and massaged my throbbing legs with their warm, reddish-blue healing light.  I came out of the meditation pain-free & able to smile.

Months ago, I saw a Lion (who was a representation of God, duh #Aslan) resting at the base of Mt. Sinai.  I searched His mane, not knowing what I looked for, until I found it.  The name of every soul tattooed on His flesh.  This image helped me the other night as I watched a brutal, Good, bewildering, and hard election unfold.

Donald Trump’s name is tattooed on God’s flesh, I saw it.  So is Hillary’s.

Sometimes I sit on the grassy, warm shores of the slow-moving Still Waters mentioned in Psalm 23.  I rest in the waters and relax as liquid pass under my naked, weightless body, anchored by some large, smooth river stones.

“What were you doing in there, Mama?”  My children ask me as a smile-stumble from the dark master bedroom.

“I was talking to God.”

Resourcing helps me not whack my kids, and prevents the venom from spewing out of the mouth.  It’s where I go for help with a husband, or a reminder of my Goodness.  Once Jesus let me hold a friend’s unborn baby, and eat apple pie with my deceased sister, Ellen.

It doesn’t matter if it’s real or not.  Though the unborn baby came, the pain was healed, and my heart for Trump softened.  It just helps—a lot.

Maybe it’ll help you.

Which leads me the final, 12th step:  Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics/addicts/everyone, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Once, years ago, I went to rehab.  And there, God showed me how deeply S/He adores humans, even the really fucked up ones.  The 12-steps teach us how to find serenity in this spinning world, how to accept (or maybe even love?) humanity, and they encourage us to extend that serenity and love to others.  All in the name of a Higher Power.  God.  Love.  Light.

It’s a gospel, a Good News.

I can’t stop talking about it.

Where is God?  Right there.  Where is Heaven?  Right here.  Where are you?  Tattooed onto the deepest layers of Love’s flesh and bones—forever.  And so is everyone else.

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Step 10: I Can Fix This

To The Man Who Maybe Totaled My Car On Tuesday,

You’re lucky I’m in recovery, because you really messed me up.  The tenth step reinforces the discipline of continuing to take fearless moral inventories, and I’ve done dozens on you in the last two days.  Each time I reach the conclusion that I’m behaving fearfully:

I’m afraid the whiplash will cause permanent damage.  I’m afraid my kid’s necks won’t get better.  I’m afraid the body shop and insurance company will decide to total my Pilot.  Knees, please stop clicking.  How much money this will cost us?  I know, his insurance will cover it all, but what if it doesn’t?  And I DON’T HAVE TIME TO FIGHT INSURANCE COMPANIES.  I’m afraid I’ll ask a doctor for oxy if the pain doesn’t get better.

Lord, “Do not be afraid” is the most repeated verse in the Bible.  So I’m gonna try real hard, real hard, to be strong and courageous.  I’ll try and remember that You’re the God of cancer, chronic pain, infertility, addiction, abuse, and car accidents.

You’re a God of Too Much.  And a car accident on Tuesday morning was Too Much.

To The Husband Who Won’t Pick Up The Girl’s Hair Clips Deep Under The Clawfoot Tub,

You’re lucky I’m in recovery, too.  Actually, I am lucky I have you.  Thank you for all you do, for all you hold, for all you bend over to retrieve for me.  I’ve stared at the hair clips for over a year; I know you don’t see them though.  Finally I decided I was done holding it over your head, or over my own head rather.  Like when I used to have to tread water holding gallon jugs above the water’s surface in water polo practice.

It’s so tiring.  It’s Too Much.

I finished the inventory while sitting on the toilet the other day, staring down at the purple plastic edges peeking out from under the porcelain tub.  Turns out I was dishonest (Babe, could you please come and reach these clips?), inconsiderate (I don’t care if he doesn’t want to pick these up, and hasn’t in over a year— I want what I want, right now), and fearful (What if I bend over too far and my sciatic flares up?)

Lord, forgive me for holding those gallon jugs for so long, the weariness was self-induced.  I’m sorry I blamed David.  I’m sorry I forgot just how capable, effective, generous, and loving I am.  I could’ve picked them up; it was my Next Loving Step that I refused to take.  And my marriage suffered for it.

To The Presidential Candidates In The 2016 Election,

You guys are hurting my feelings.  I know, I’m afraid.  Waiting for the result of the election is like waiting for a PET scan to confirm or deny the existence of active cancer cells.  Does America have cancer or not?  Who wouldn’t be afraid of cancer?

Could we try a little harder to resemble decent humans?  Is that Too Much to ask?

Lord, just so we’re clear, I belong to You; not Hillary or Donald.  I fight for Love, not reformed tax law.  My birthplace has nothing to do with my citizenship.  Eden all the way.

To The Biological Father Who Walked Away,

First of all, hi.  It’s been a while.  Your granddaughters asked what happened to you today, and I told them, I don’t know.

Second, I know you are wounded, not wicked.  The inventories don’t always work on you, because it’s hard to figure out what role I played in you abandoning us all—again.  Sometimes I land on dishonesty, because I know I haven’t reached out to try and redeem & restore.  But then I remember the fruits of my honesty in the past, and so I think I’d rather keep my pearls to myself, thank you very much.  And my therapist.

Lord…I don’t even know…I have no clue…It’s Too Much for me to begin to solve…take it and make it Good…

To The Giant Trucks Parked Outside My House,

Oooooh you know how to press a Mama’s buttons.  I’m hot & flushed just thinking about all that premium space your behemoth vehicles hoard.

Inhale.  Exhale.  Too.  Much.  Inhale.  Exhale.

But I know I behave selfishly.  I WANT AT LEAST ONE SPACE!  We have a 1-1/2 size lot, there should be something for Claire and her four babies.  I see the fear, too.  And I suppose it’s inconsiderate of me to expect my comfort to cost you yours.

Lord, Help me remember that you breathed into the truckers holy, body clay, too.  You called them Good.  May I breathe before cursing them under my breathe.  Maybe they have needs, too?  Maybe they even need to park in front of my fenced property?  Maybe the problem is that I think it’s “my” property?

Maybe I need to chill the hell out and remember that I can’t control anything except how I choose to respond to the distracted driver on Colfax, the husband who tries so hard and the politicians who don’t try hard enough, the wounded, invisible patriarch, and the Chevy drivers.

When a day feels like Too Much, the 10th step helps me remember what I can fix—myself.
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