When John Mayer released “In the Blood,” I listened to it on repeat for two weeks straight and, man, did it resonate. Telling the story of the dysfunctions and limitations from which he came, he’s asking what we all want to know:
Could I change it if I wanted?
Could I rise above the flood?
Will it wash out in the water or is it always in the blood?
In other words, are we destined to repeat our histories, to stay sedentary in learned or inherited behaviors, to remain guarded to life because of the hurts we’ve lived through? And my questions on the matter extend beyond what two verses, a bridge, and a chorus will allow. In our attempts to parent well, will we sabotage our own efforts by establishing our values in what we vow never to be or do as opposed to what we are actually called to? I don’t know, John. I’m pondering right alongside you, well … technically right alongside a bowl of popcorn and my two sons watching Captain Underpants, but you know what I mean.
My grandmother lived to be ninety-one years old. At her funeral, we heard a fuller version of her life than the one she had shared. She grew up in a family that lost everything in the stock market crash. They were dirt poor and owed everyone they knew. Her parents were big drinkers who eventually both became ill. She and her sister ended up in the care of an older half-sister who eventually sent them to live in a Episcopal girls’ home in New Orleans, where she grew up receiving letter after letter from her parents who promised they were coming for her soon — and never did.
She went from the girls’ home to LSU in Baton Rouge where she met and fell in love with my grandfather. They grew one of those love stories that ended with them dancing together in the living room until they were so old they could hardly walk anymore, the same living room where they raised six kids and welcomed countless grandchildren and great-grandchildren. All we ever knew her to be was happy. As far as her childhood went, all she ever offered about her parents was that they loved her. You would have been hard pressed to hear her utter an ill word about the two people in the world a child should be able to count on, although she never really could.
It left me thinking about steps.
Steps out of the darkness and into the light. I’d love to hear the song John Mayer would write if he wrestled a little with this idea of redemption — the idea that broken things can still be made beautiful, can serve purpose, can be part of a victory instead of defeat. It’s the story of God and us; Christ on the cross. So … true for the Creator of the universe and us, His beloved? I’m thinking true for the story of my life — as a mom and as a person. The takeaway? Even the dysfunctions and limitations in our lives can be breeding ground for good, if we are willing to take steps forward.
Read it in the book of Ruth. She married a man who died soon after, along with his father and brother. Living in a famine, she was left in complete despair and with absolutely nothing. This was a time when being left without a head of the household meant no sustainability or protection to speak of. But when the rubber met the road, she chose to stick with her also-widowed mother-in-law, Naomi. “Where you go, I will go…your people will be my people and your God shall be my God.” They returned from Moab to Naomi’s home of Bethlehem.
Ruth was in a place of severe and desperate limitation. But her story is one of simple steps forward. Gleaning in the fields, approaching Boaz, waiting to find whether he could marry her as next of kin although there was one kinsman closer—steps that in her time required a great deal of obedience, courage, and perseverance; steps forward that eventually led to a family’s name and lot being totally redeemed. Totally redeemed. Ruth and Boaz married and had a son named Obed, who had a son named Jesse, who had a son named David from whose line Jesus Christ was born. Talk about bringing something out of nothing.
Redemption Himself was born from the line of a woman in total and utter despair. I read the story and I’m struck by the fact that the fullness of the redemption for this broken family was the continuation of the line. The children. The fact that God brings life and light from broken vessels like you and me in the shape of perfect little babes never ceases to amaze me. The story of redemption is playing out every day in your motherhood.
And that’s the story that you and I live in; a story in which all we have to do is keep taking simple steps forward—steps out of the sin that we’ve lived in, the hurt that we’ve spent our days responding to, the limitation that we’ve acquired along the way. That’s what my grandmother did. She took steps forward; not into a perfect motherhood. We still have our fair share of dysfunction (doesn’t everyone?). But we are one step further out of the darkness than she was.
She never uttered an ill word about her parents because she didn’t have to. Her life was her response. She made the choice to stay present to her children and family in simple, everyday steps forward: vegetable soup and graham crackers and a song for every occasion. Not because she was determined not to be like a mother she disavowed. She never did that. She took her steps forward because in her heart that’s what she knew she was being called to do. Because of that I’m here and I know that I am very deeply loved. And that changes everything for future generations.
For those dysfunctions and limitations that inevitably remain in every family and situation, I cling to a God Who I know is able to redeem. I take steps forward in faith and growth, in awareness of my self and my capacity to love. And I hope and pray that my children will do the same for their children. And I think in that way, the answer to John Mayer’s question is both — some of it will wash away and some of it is in the blood. But none of it is beyond God’s vision or His ability to redeem.
My grandmother grew up more or less alone in an orphanage and died in a warm home surrounded (and I mean surrounded) by a very big family who adored her, with so many pictures of kids and grandkids and great grandkids nailed up on the wall you could hardly see the fading blue-flowered wallpaper at all. But she knew and loved each one of us, deeply and with her presence. And we are all better for it.
Copyright 2017 Kelly Pease