Finding family.

(Photo taken of a Russian icon I brought back from Jerusalem)

(Photo taken of a Russian icon I brought back from Jerusalem)

This afternoon I had a challenging phone conversation with a woman I met at a shelter several months ago. She has struggled to find stability, moving from shelter to street to couch-surfing and back again. She has done many of the things women do to survive on the edge, including hooking up with men who promise to supply basic needs – food, shelter (sometimes of the most rudimentary sort) and protection. Any given week is sure to look quite different from the last, though the basic underlying challenges seem largely unchanged.

Today the scenario had changed again, having taken several turns in the past couple of weeks. No solution these past months has seemed to take hold for any length of time.

“My brother is in town. His big brother has promised to give us a place to stay. He has lots of room and wants to help.”

“Your brother?” (This is the first I have heard of a brother.)

“Yes.”

“And his big brother has offered to help?”

“Yes.”

“But his big brother is not your brother?” I ask. “I am just trying to follow.”

“Well, my brother is not my blood brother. He’s someone I’ve gotten to know. We met several weeks ago, and he has become like a brother. He cares.”

My friend explained that she expected to be housed by evening or the next day at latest. When our conversation came to a close, I told her I love her and that she’s in my prayers. That my prayer for her is for safety and stability.

As we said goodbye, I wanted to slip into judgment. That would be easier than imagining life on that particular edge. Groping to find family. Struggling to create a system of support. Struggling to scrape by one more day.

I wanted to rest in that comfortable place of judgment, but then I recalled my morning, spent at a hospice with a family friend who has little time left. This dear one says that my father has been a father to him. “He lost his father at a very young age,” his bride tells me, letting me know this is not insignificant.

We are creative, resourceful, resilient creatures. We need family. When ours is limited or somehow not working for us, we seek out surrogates. We are gifted with surrogates. Even Jesus suggested that our family is rooted in something deeper and more enduring than blood when he pointed to his disciples, saying: “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:49-50)

We continue the dance, finding our way to what it means to be fully human. When our blood family is unable or unwilling to journey with us, God provides alternate possibilities. Some may be better for us than others. But we do our best with what we have, no matter how limited.

As we keep reaching, as we keep striving to connect, we find ourselves part of an enormous, messy clan known as the human family.

About Mother Beth Tjoflat

Episcopal priest, urban contemplative, playwright, lover of hounds, American of Chilean-Norwegian-Moravian descent. Interests include transformational ministry with the forgotten and marginalized; church planting and congregational development; 12-step spirituality; Hispanic ministry; radical hospitality, and spending time with dear friends.
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