Broken family.

I’ve heard this phrase slung around since I was a kid. It was always said in hushed and judging  tones. “Well, no wonder that happened. She comes from a broken home.” “What can you expect? He comes from a broken family.” But nobody ever explained why the family was broken, who broke it and how they broke it. There was just this horrible feeling of un-redeemability that surrounded the whole idea along with the idea that any bad thing that happened could and should be blamed on the broken state of the family.

My first divorce was pretty horrible. It broke me for sure.  But there were no children involved, and only a few years of memories and dreams to be destroyed. This second round, wow!  Unbelievable destruction. Children, friends, extended family, finances, dreams, past, present, future, all  shattered beyond recognition.

In my healing journey I came across the idea of Kintsugi.  Val Jon Farris said, “In Japanese, the word Kintsugi means “golden rejoining,” a 15th-century oriental master craft dedicated to the restoration of fine ceramic pottery. The essence of Kintsugi is the practice of focusing one’s intention on life’s hidden beauty and power. In the case of this ancient art form it’s about the power of transforming broken ceramic pottery into beautifully resurrected masterpieces.” And if you go to almost any kind of empowerment or healing retreat, you’ll probably participate in a craft to simulate Kintsugi. It can be a powerful and therapeutic experience to shatter something and then put it back together again. Not in a way that tries to hide the damage, but in a way that highlights the change that has taken place and honors it.

Our family journey towards healing has been different than my individual journey towards healing. It is so complicated to try and keep tabs on and manage the fragile emotional state of four very different, strong willed individuals. Sometimes we do okay and most of the time we don’t. We’re just bumbling through life, bumping into each other and others, hoping we can figure it out without creating too much more damage. It hasn’t been easy. In fact, much of the time we super suck at life.

A few months ago things really escalated into what I fondly refer to as a shit storm. The younger boys had been struggling, the older boys had been struggling, mom had been struggling.  When I downsized I got rid of a lot of my things, but I did keep some items that I really love. One was a beautiful red platter made by potter Shane Christensen.  On this particular morning the younger boys were really fighting getting ready on time and I was grumpy and tired and stressed. I was in my bathroom trying to cover up the dark circles under my eyes when I heard a huge crash come from the computer room. I knew what it was before I went in the room. The platter.

To say I didn’t handle it well is a gross understatement.

I was frickin’ ridiculous. It was one of my most horrible parenting moments, full of triggered regression to a childlike tantrum, shame, anger, and other icky, victimy horrors. There was screaming, crying, mean words and bullying, abusive behaviors. It was awful. We all left for our day feeling like unloved failures.

While I was at work, I felt my therapy training kick in and take my brain back out of monkey-mode. How can I reframe this? How soon can I apologize? How do I learn from this? How can I help my boys do the same? And the image of Kintsugi came to my mind. I knew that this was the answer. I wasn’t going to throw those pieces away and pretend this never happened. I was going to ask my kids to help me fix that platter so we could display it proudly. Just like our family. Broken and put back together. Acknowledge and honor. Accept and move forward. Whether it’s an accident or someone else’s choices that bring your vessel crashing to the floor, the effect is the same. And you get to make the choice. Own your story or it will own you. This is one of the only reasons I write about my life in this blog.

So we put that platter back together. And it wasn’t some spiritually transformative experience. It took a long time. It took patience. There was complaining and quitting. There was humor and humility. We finished it and looked at it and said “meh” and put it back up on the shelf. But it feels better. It feels true. And then I knew I’d make a painting from it.

The painting is not quite what I’d hoped it would be. I’m still really rusty from over a years’ time off in the studio. So I may revisit the subject someday, but for now, it’s done.

That’s us. Perfectly imperfect. Broken and put back together. And I think if people were more honest they would say that’s them as well. I have had a few people request a Kintsugi portrait of their selves since first posting progress on this painting. So let me know if you’re interested. I don’t take many commissions right now, but this subject interests me.

We hear it so often that it might become cliché, but it bears repeating. “The wound is the place where the light enters you”, Rumi.  Or, if you’d rather, from the Book of Mormon, “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”

I don’t know if we’re strong yet, but we certainly are being given the opportunity to shift through the rubble and see where the light is coming in, which pieces we want to keep, which we want to throw away. And we have certainly been brought to the depths of humility and have become real partakers of grace. That will have to be enough for now.