Wednesday, November 1, 2017

When She's No Saint

As always, Halloween overshadows All Saints' Day. I'm sure many kids are ricocheting from last night's candy. Still, I love this day. My congregation will celebrate All Saints' Day on Sunday. The particular way we celebrate is decidedly Protestant. The Roman Catholic Church reserves November 2 for All Souls' Day, remembering all who have died. All Saints' is reserved for named saints, those who have achieved the beatific vision.

Long before I was a pastor, Protestants collapsed the two into one day on November 1st, when we remember all who have died. We especially remember those who have died within the last year.

This year, two of my aunts have died. Well, one aunt and one woman who was for all intents and purposes my aunt. She was married to my uncle at one point, I think, and they have a son my age. She's been around all my life. So has the wife before her, the only one with whom he had two children. Yes, you may have guess that he's that uncle.

The other aunt is the one who is the squeaky clean, played piano in church aunt. The skeletons are well hidden in her closet; not so with the other one.

My partner gets very confused when we talk about this branch of my family tree. The years of brokenness pile up to form my knowledge; my mother has told me the portions that extend beyond my memory. There's no way he could grasp the full brokenness. I don't know that I can either.

Because the truth is, it's overwhelming. The parsing of it all would take pages upon pages. If I were to write about it, would I begin with addiction that carried on to the next generation? Or prostitution to support that addiction? Would I talk about cancer caused by those choices? Maybe it's the pieces I've collected to realize that cousin who is my age was born addicted to something. He suffered a stroke last year resulting from his own drug habit; I'm told he can now walk pretty well.

There are all sorts of places in those stories that something could have helped--mental health services or effective drug treatment programs. Maybe foster care and the agency running it could have broken the pattern if those systems were better.

Not surprisingly, we weren't close, this sometimes aunt and me. I've looked for her obituary over the last few days, but haven't located it yet. She requested to be cremated and no funeral, so there's no rush on an obituary. I had to spend some time figuring out her last name in order to search. Many broken relationships, including at least two marriages, are part of her story. Although she was living with my uncle when she died, that was not the name she'd most recently chosen.

Her story is not unique. My story on the other side isn't either. I've sat with more people than I care to count who are worried about their children or their cousins or their parents. They don't know how their loved ended up where they did; it's a painfully common story.

On this All Saint's Day, I remember well the phrase, "She's no saint." Of course, it may also be, "He's no saint." Either way, it's shorthand for someone who has made a series of bad choices, creating their own problems. The clich├ęs are many. Maybe someone is reaping what they sowed. Or maybe the made their bed and now they have to lie in it. There are more ways than there should be to condemn someone.

Many people would say of my aunt, "She's no saint." I'm guessing they'd be right. I know far too much and I'm guessing it's the tip of the iceberg. In some ways, I barely knew her. The things I do know mean there has to be far more.

Still, she is a saint.

That is the deepest promise of All Saints' Day. She, too, is a saint. She, too, is beloved by God. She, in all her brokenness, will be welcomed by God. The many afflictions of her life will not follow her into death. Somehow, all of the terrible will be better.

"...for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to the springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." (Revelation 7:17)

Blessings upon all the saints, both known and unknown.


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