This is my father’s son. He is a myth to me. But as fate would have it, I was sent to serve on an island in the middle of nowhere overlooking a remote stretch of beach. It’s barely visible, far off into the horizon, but it’s home to an orphan whom I now call brother.
A myth because when I was young, my father joked about adding another boy to our family who endured poverty in a small fishing village. Said he was just like those kids on the commercials where an old bearded white guy asked for monthly donations to feed them. Like one of many pictures pasted on my principal’s door of a child clasping a bowl of rice, stomach bloated, an insect stuck to his right eyelid. We could save him my father said. I thought he was just trying to make me feel guilty for being chubby and spoiled. We never talked about it again.
I can’t believe I’m living on this island. I fling my phone onto the bed frustrated with the 18th text message I just received; same person, not even 24 hours has past since his first text. It’s from that brother I finally got to meet 3 years ago in a chance encounter in Manila. Not worth mentioning here. He needs money for new fishing nets. I’ve already sent you money! So he changes his story. Wants to buy a boat so he doesn’t need to keep searching for one to rent everyday. I get even angrier at the request. He tries a different tactic. Hopes to feed the village with a pig for an upcoming fiesta. Nonesense I tell Amy. Then he pokes at my heart. My kid is sick, help me brother. So I send money.
I consult my friends in Manila and in the States who support poor family members. He’s not being responsible, just taking advantage of you they warn. Watch out, you’re enabling, making things worse. He’s just a gambler. They have nothing to do out there but waste money on nothing. I get more texts from my dad’s kid. How annoying! But he’s just checking to see if I’m doing well, hoping I’m getting enough rest from my teaching responsibilities.
I ignore the text, head to my next class to teach poor kids how to read. I ask them where they’re from, who their fathers are, what dreams may come. It wasn’t but a few months ago that I wanted to rip their heads off for teasing my dog, sitting on my motorcycle parked out front, yelling for me to come out. I befriend them and they teach me about their way of life. God tells me to be compassionate, to persevere in generosity and kindness. I love them now, though it’s tough. Today, they’re learning about Jesus. I learned that their fathers are fishermen. Along with farmers they are the poorest people in the Philippines. Squatters in Manila make more money. Fishermen only work to feed their families, nothing more, usually less. My dad’s abandoned kid is a fisherman.
Why don’t you go to school? Why can’t you read? They tell me it’s because they have to work to help buy rice for their family. There’s no time. Why don’t you have good manners? You’re always yelling out my name, calling my wife and kid Amerikano or whitey. Why did you buy candy with that change I just gave you? Save it! How come your parents don’t properly budget? I saw them trying to purchase food for a birthday party. You guys are poor! Use common sense!
God speaks to me again. I calm down. Then this picture arrives – the one with my dad’s kid leaning on a boat. My heart breaks and I want to cry but I’m not honest enough to do so. Amy helps, knows what we need to do.
On Thursday my brother is going to travel almost 2 hours to pick me up in his new, second-hand boat. Thank God for my parents’ help in purchasing it. I’m going to see what his life is like, what it means to fish in the middle of the ocean from 5:30pm until the morning sun rises; lie on his mat and try to nap in the middle of a scorching, hot day before heading out to sea again; attempt to buy enough food for a family of 6 with less than 3 dollars; learn what it feels like to be abandoned, never having seen his own father until decades after his birth, and then try to establish a relationship with that father’s other son…the son that was the reason his father never came back in the first place. I want to open my eyes.
There’s nothing in this world that soothes me better than being in the midst of just living with family. Sometimes constant doing drains me. Actually, I think it’s more living without those closest to me. This week I have actually done a lot of doing. The church my parents planted in the fall of 2006 is having their first Kid’s Camp, which will run for 2 days a week for three weeks. After Edwin went back to California (tear), leaving me with my family (yea!), my mom and I got straight to work. Working with her is like working with a part of myself. I imagine she would say the same.
Coincidentally, while Edwin was here I found myself noticing more and more of the things I do like my mom. Not only do people mistake me for her over the phone, but they see her in my mannerisms. I think more of her has come out in me since being married, because now I have a constant (wonderful) someone to dote on and, unfortunately, at times, control. Ah me, I have not intended to be controlling, but I guess there is more of my mother’s type A in me than I ever realized. And then, there’s my being a woman. As I work on a message on relationships, based in the marriage model of Ephesians 5, I am pondering the depths of the womanly urge to control relationships, and I am ever more thankful for God’s command to submit (although the prideful part of my nature strives against it even when I say it!). He knew me and other women far better than we know ourselves (I’d hope so, he created us), when he fit that little, yet monumental, command neatly into the command to love and respect. But this is actually getting off the point and while I could be on a roll I want to return to the heart of my first few words…family.
While I have certainly followed the admonition of Jesus to be willing to forsake all others to follow Him (proved in my moving across the country and soon all the way to the Philippines, against the urgings of my loving and well-meaning family), I have not been called to truly forsake them, for which I am eternally grateful, for they are my birth and my likeness, both inside and out.
While Edwin was here I introduced him to many of my mom’s side of the family. They reside (and have my whole life) in Northeastern Mississippi. He met my great Aint (yes, AINT) Sara, the one whose birthday is the same as my Mamaw’s, although a few years apart. They were none alike but the greatest pair of sisters I ever knew. Edwin went home knowing a little more about me that night.
Sunday I had the privilege of singing in church, something I don’t get to do in my large church which has more than enough singers and doesn’t need me. It was like being back in my childhood, when singing in church was at least a bi-monthly ritual. Then, at the end of the song, my dad said, “Amy, stay up here and just take a moment to share what’s on your heart.” He put me on the spot, and I loved it. I shared about holiness and how Christians need to own up to our identity…we are saints, not sinners, and we ought to live like it. He calls us to walk into him, never fully attaining his perfection but striving to walk in it through his empowering Spirit. Sigh. If Christians walked that way then the world might actually know just through our actions who Jesus is.
I am the most blessed woman in the world. I get to do children’s ministry with my momma and preach with my daddy, and live a life of ministry with my husband. But these last two weeks I have experienced the adage, “Your greatest ministry is your family.” For yes, I would say this is indeed true. Family is where you are your most raw, and family, in its intended form, is where you will always be accepted, loved, coddled, challenged, and grown. I don’t think growing up in a family ends after adolescence (or, since that term is a bit ambiguous these days since people live with parents now sometimes all the way through their 20s, the time you leave home), but it lasts a lifetime. I am still growing in my family. Perhaps I’m growing into them. And they into me, as I anticipate and pray for the day God will grace us with a family of our own. My mom, my dad, my mamaws and papaws, my brother, and my cousins, aunts, uncles, in-laws, nieces and nephews, will all be forever in me, living in some way or another.
When I got home with my parents on Sunday, my brother, Jeremy, and his wife, Sarah, and kids, Will and Macy, met us for lunch. I presented Macy with her baby quilt that I started in California and Mom helped me complete here. I passed along to her a piece of my Mamaw and Aunt Rhoda, who made me my “blanky,” which was my soothing companion into my teens (I tucked it away under my pillow for years).
Later, Will and I played slip and slide, and then I propelled him in his favorite swing up into the clouds, where he saw jets, occupied by various family members, including me and Edwin (I’ve been told he prays for us in his nightly prayers…he’s 3 1/2). It was just us, Aunt Mamy (sadly, no longer my name; he outgrew his toddler misconception of my name and just calls me “Amy” now) and Will, soaring through the clouds on a hot Mississippi evening.
And that place high in the clouds is where I’ve experienced more spiritual healing and calm in a long long time. I needed him, little Will, to minister to me there. He took me to the clouds, and left me to meet with Jesus, who has nodded his head and shown me the ministry of family.