I first learned of the skeletons when I was a teenager. The ugly pile of unsightly bones came tumbling out of the closet. It shocked me. I'd grown up thinking Grandpa was a cool dude; a stinker of a man, yet tough and no-nonsense.
But then I found out.
Mom shared the family secret. It rattled my image of the man. It wasn't just Grandpa though. There were others, and I used to fantasize (or maybe they were dreams?) of pulling out a hand gun and threatening these abusers in the act. I wanted to go back in time and protect my mom, my aunts and uncles; the foster kids. I wanted to yell at Grandma for not protecting her kids. Where were those who would stand up and be advocates? But then, those were the 50's and 60's. Not many talked openly of such horrors.
Two winters ago I was watching the movie American Crime for my Literature Into Film Across the America's class at Webster University. I felt the blood leave my hands and I wanted to run out of the classroom as the cruelty and torture of Ellen Page's character intensified. The ideas were too close. Thankfully, in my mom's side of the family no one died (physically, that is). There wasn't torture per say, but there were some similarities. The movie was just too historically personal.
I cried in the hallway one day when I learned of the relentless physical abuse poured out on my uncle. It seemed he caught the most of Grandpa's rage growing up. Why? Why was he so angry? Why did my uncle have to suffer because of it?
"He tried to take my virginity," Mom had said to me during those pre-adult years, referring to angry Grandpa. My aunt, one of my mom's sisters, remembers him touching her inappropriately when she was just two years old. Another sister said she used to "kick him [Grandpa] where it counts" when he tried similar approaches.
The stories could go on and on.
One night, I was sitting in the car, waiting for my husband as he pumped gas and picked up a few goodies at the station. I think we were in Tennessee. It was the middle of the night and we were traveling to my folk's home in Georgia. A stunning thought passed through my head. Grace had gone there. Gone to that ugly and sick place, and I was amazed by that idea. It was as if I could truly see it for the first time and realized how astounding it truly was. The beauty of hope and light and God's relentless love was not afraid of the darkness. The skeletons were no surprise to him.
When my mom was 11 years old Grandpa made a decision to become a Christian, as did she. These post-Christian years were far from perfect, nor did they fix many of the deep struggles and sin patterns. For that I place a majority of the blame on the church and the hands-off approach to community that is all too common in America, especially among Christians.
Mom recalled a time when Grandpa, in the very act of his usual temptation, begged Mom to pray for him to overcome it. Still so much blackness, yet the tiniest streaks of light poked through.
Grandpa died when I was three years old. He was killed in a snowmobile accident. Only memories remain. Some good and many bad. From those ashes, my mom has grown and flourished as a believer and I think about the incredibility of fruit coming from such a place.
When Jesus walked the earth he really didn't have time for good people, but for the evil of his day: the prostitutes, murderers, thieves, etc. He came to call sick people, not the ones who had it all together. Religion is afraid of these types, but not grace. It runs right towards the muck. It knows the One who can beautify those ugly wounds; those bones.