‘sombrita, sombrita, mi sombrita’

she’s happy again, her words suddenly flowing from the hard shaped sounds of english towards spanish. wood colored, her hands soften the ends of the couch, neat and neater. she’s making the house ready.

i am, hands against my mouth, watching for her darkness.

glass in hand, she’s walking around the room, checking it for her secrets. trailing her hands across the tables, all the papers flutter behind her. all numbers and red that run wild on the pages.

the curtains part to her hands, red-sea rising, light comes in telling tales.

her voice paints the world, softens the edges of the room. grass, green as prayers, hopeful as light, is echoing sun’s happiness into the room. dust planets whirling, cobwebs dream of castles, she’s building us forts instead of breakfast.

eyes closed, head tipped back, she drinks light from her glass. and sip by sip, the shadows eat her smile. sun slides by, hesitant and ghosted. branch from branch, light falls into the room.

she is sleeping.

she’s wrinkled into the couch, skirt to knees, hand to face.

finger by finger, we pull the blankets back. across the gap, alder’s eyes are watching.

‘is she… sleeping?’

‘can we..?’

‘shade, i’m hungry!!!!’

cairn’s interruption decides us all. grabbing hands and swinging, we race for the kitchen.

it’s a race, against her glass, against her sleep.

‘here, take this.’

she hands me the measuring cups, one for us each. and we are sitting on the floor, circled in the pantry. the smiling man’s head is opened between us.

‘look what i found! taste this, you’ll love it. open your mouth.’

we all bird-like open for hope, open for secrets.

‘close your eyes’

and she puts a lump into each of our prayerless mouths.

dark and light exploded inside my mouth, all the words came unglued. maybe this was the glory of g-d everyone talked about happening. maybe it wasn’t coals of fire g-d put in the mouths of those he loved. maybe it was this. maybe it was just sweet light and dark melting all the edges of hunger.

faithless, i wish communion were like this.

instead of tasteless pieces of fear and pale purple juice. it comes in little glasses, and preacher reminds each of us what sinners we are. and every time my prayers race forgiveness. bread and juice, they collide inside my mouth. i outrun death.

this was purely light and hope. alder was our preacher, and she only gave good, only gave light. today she held light, today she was better than g-d.

i want more.


the baby is crying again.

night has stretched out into the room. we are head-toe-head next to each other on the bed. blankets fluffed, sheets pressed into the corners. alder had even said the ‘our father’ prayers over our heads. night would not eat our dreams, she promised.

‘don’t get up, you know what will happen. she needs to learn.’

alder’s right, we know the rules. there is to be no crying after bedtime. and river, river was old enough to know better.

‘I’ll have no crying tonight. You are old enough to know better. If I hear you cry one more time, I will be forced to discipline you. Don’t think I won’t.’

she shut the door, and said, ‘She’s got to learn. She can’t have everything her way. Babies are born little liars, sinners. They cry and cry when they don’t need anything. She does not run this house. I will not have a spirit of rebellion take root in this home. Now go, get ready for bed. I’m tired of you all.’

i pull the blankets over my head, i started to count. between the 1 and the 5, her cries broke through. down the hall, through the doors, i heard her. i count harder, pulling all the edges of the room around me.

‘we have to wait.’

alder’s eyes are brown too, like river’s. they hold so much night, so much good. we know alder’s our boss, we know. like water falls, like words have sense, alder is the one who knows the words to use.

and i love her.

alder makes sense of the world. she’s the one who explains my sins so i can understand, how much they have to work to make sure i’m good. she promises me that if i work very very hard, she will like me more too. so i try.

but tonight i hate her.

her hands are strong, and moon has lifted back night’s eyes. the stars forgot how to shine, and alder will not fall asleep.

alder and i, we wait.

we wait for silence, we wait for the door to open.

the baby still cries.


the music has only just stopped its ringing.

chorus to chorus, the barrage of old-new songs fell like fire between my hands. we’ve the words, they are so easy each time. written for knowing, for singing, for belief, they are tattooed into the cracks of my hands.

i hold the table, i hold the ground.

coffee burning my skin, tongue to teeth, mouth to cup. i’m drinking the darkness like communion. it’s the only kind i can stand now. the oil black of the coffee flits across the surface. serene heat, heavy with doubts.

here, i drink it black. there is no grace to soften my unbelief.

steam curling, rising, we are again turn and turning backwards. circling around these thoughts. white leaves, flimsy ghosts, these are the small prayers i never meant to whisper. wild, they fly from my mug.

i swallow faster, burning the prayers into my body before they betray my faithlessness.

willing, unwilling we have come. circled to the table, ready for the learning and the leaning, the agreeing and the needing.

lent came running this year, and i dreamed myself ready. so ready for advent to be over, so ready for the season to change. with the colors of the curtains adjusting to reflect some other portion of the bible, i was hopeful.

maybe things would be gentler again. maybe i could sit still longer, maybe the words wouldn’t cut quite so deep. maybe belief would come like spring, new-found and grass-green.

the icon has stopped circling ’round us, the chr-st still gazes out, triangle borne, heavy handed to the cross. even the softened edges of the beautiful colors can’t hide how much pain there is.

it grows harder to look at.

i can almost read the expression on his face. it reads unending pain, when the stories say he could have gotten down. i fail to understand. i would have run. f i could have run, i would have never stayed.

i am still running.

and he turns to the verses we are to hear tonight, it is to be j-sus in the wilderness. his voice gentles as we begin. j-sus is caught in a sifting desert, dry, exhausted. and then satan appears to tempt him.

i have heard this a hundred times at least. j-sus, son of g-d, is tempted and resists. be, believe, obey.

i wait for the hammer as he pauses.

‘what kind of temptation is this, if j-sus is all g-d and all man? which part faces the temptation? notice what you’re feeling right now. notice it.’

and i do, i notice.

in between the accusing, the shifting sands of my faith, i notice.

g-d is not supposed to be temptable.
g-d, infinitely perfect and good, cannot sin.
j-sus is supposed to be g-d’s son.
j-sus could not be tempted.

and i am eustace, again, peeled down to the barest of scars and darkness. but there’s no grand beauty of grace and forgiveness, there only is this. each word pierces. until sharp like light, truth shines down. all the lies come raining down, they shatter about my feet.

‘it’s a fake,’ i can’t stop the words from coming out of my mouth.

they fall into the silence between other voices.

he turns to look at me, ‘what was that? what did you say?’

i lack the cohesion, all i can do is repeat, ‘it’s a fake. g-d can’t sin.’

the thoughts race through me, burning up the ground.

j-sus cannot sin.
i am made of sin.

and in my failings, all the punishments were mine every time. there’s no room here for grace, for the sweet kiss of hope. there is only the ever-deepening night that holds every sin.

and i see, these were the lies that painted the inner rooms of my belief.

never, never could i live up to the good of who j-sus is. there is no grand succeeding, no winning of the light. faith is faithless, unwilling to be found. and belief mocks my heart. there is no good enough with these words. there is only failure.

i run from failing.

i run from belief.


night scrapes across the bed, it is all sharp teeth, dripping fears.

lark, she sighs. i hear music in her, even when she sleeps. alder, lined neatly, sleeps too. head to toe, she and lark make lines in the bed. blankets mussed, moon’s light falls soft on their dreams.

i’ve found a spot, just behind the bed. wall and blankets, i am waiting. i wait for the lion, with roaring shadows. it always walks. sidestep slowly, heavy feet down the hall.

moon and sky, all the stars have flung themselves high. against dark, they are white sparks of love, distant gleamings. 

one time he let me look, hands fast to the telescope. and all the planets arrayed, in quiet singing arcs, hiding heaven’s secret door. so every night i send my prayers, folded and folded, up into the deep.

someday, they will fly. true, white, clean, to heaven’s door. word for word, g-d will read my every wish. all the sorries would be known, and forgiveness would come. wing-light, quick-step, heaven would no longer hide.

for every step to step, i count the our fathers. my shepherd’s prayers, my deliverances all fall short. but every prayer is only half-folded.

guilty, deceitful, my heart always ruins the good.

the window’s edges sharpen themselves bone-deep against night’s little hopes. prayer by prayer, verse by verse, they are caught between the coming and going of light. until at last, night bleeds sadly to sun’s return.

light slices through the room, a knife of truth. it is dividing, dividing. always comes the truth, forever comes the stalking hand of g-d. everyone knows, the lion that walks the night is g-d’s own conscience. it seeks, it summons, it eats the sinful.

and the lion stands, heavy-hearted the wind sings into the room. squares and squares, numbers to the edges, they all tip sideways. light from grey, white to dark, he’s eating all the dreams.

i am still counting my sins.


he sits folded under my arm.

he’s wrapped into the music. words flowing by us both, falling on our ears. he’s getting old enough to hear the words. i see it in the way he leans into the harmony, the way he holds my hand.

he is blue on blue, eyes to sky.

sun’s breaking the clouds, sifting light from reason. by habit, he finds the rough spots, and traces them. without thought, without comment, we are here.

note by note, we find the sacred.

i used to care when he traced my hands, i used to hide the marks. i’d distract him with another toy, another word. i’d hold his fingers still, trying to hide the marks.

my hands, they won’t ever be pretty. they are marked, knuckles, fingers, bones. most of them have faded, most of them only i can see. they stand out, signposts to the past.

but one is as bumpy and raw as the day it healed. and he traces that. it curves under my first knuckle, almost an inch of shame. sometimes i still feel the burning.

there are so many things i have not told him. because he is light on light, hopes and dreams. because he is too young, and the darkness is not his to hold. and yet, i have these scars that i cannot hide.

and we hear the words:

I smoke these haunted memories every night 
While i think about the scars from another life’

he turns to me, ‘mama, what are scars from another life?’

and fingers on my scar, i finally have some words.

‘this mark, is when i was someone different. this was a long long time ago, when i used to get a lot of scars.’

eyes serious, knowing, clear, he says, ‘no one’s hurting you anymore, right?’

he pushes his head a little farther into my shoulder’s hollow. his elbows all triangle pointed, knees gangled and bent, it’s enough. i can shed these yesterdays, i can name their shadows, scars.

secret by secret, i can leave these scars behind. until they are only rough spots marking the boundaries of hurt. my now is studded with shadows and light.

and he, he is part of my light.

Leanne – guest post

when i started writing, i wrote and hoped i was not alone.

i wrote and feared i was alone. and then i started to hear.

little by little, word comes in of things survived. they were your whispers, secrets, half-spoken words.

and i read.

we were there, our secrets are real. your secrets are real too.

today’s post is by someone who wrote to tell their story.

Leanne’s family was involved with the Institute of Basic Life Principles, and bill gothard for most of her childhood. from there, she was sent to another family involved in the same teachings. the abuse she suffered there left her vulnerable to a predator.

if this were even the only case, is it worth defending gothard’s teachings? is it worth even one child’s pain, hurt, fear?

i don’t think it is.

Leanne’s Story


[continued from unclean]

“‘What have you done, what sin is this you have been hiding? You’re unclean. Now I know why no one loves you. Get out of my sight.’

now i am filthy rags, cast into the dark.”

i washed and washed, until the night grew old.

i washed until there was no more soap. i washed until the hot of the water had burnt red into my hands, my skin. until the cold from hell had come to eat my bones. i washed.

there was no cleansing. there was no light. only the vast deeps of shame.

the furious explosion of sense had come down. the broken nights, the shattered edges were g-d judging. he had, in the end, been the one standing there every time.

i’d been truly weighed, measured, found wanting. and g-d now had come to judge. everyone knew that mr. gothard spoke for g-d.

‘unclean, unclean’, the words haunted.

but it’s the last day, finally. and the words have painted themselves black upon my skin.

i’ve the wall again, holding all my secrets. every burning sin-stripe pressed into the cool of its strength. and i pull the dark around me.

if i could pull hard enough, the shadows would hold all the shame, the secrets. i could hide my uncleanliness, i could just be one more girl sitting in the row.

but with every side-shift and little glance, i could tell. they knew. somehow, they knew my secrets. maybe i hadn’t cleaned up enough, maybe they’d seen.

i pull the darkness harder about my skin, and walked the cold edges. i want the end, i want the judging to be done.

but mr. gothard keeps talking, and talking. until my sins scream within my bones.

then, the music’s playing, my guilt abounds. g-d is eating all my bones, and burning into my soul. i am unclean, unclean.

‘If you’re here today, and you haven’t made a decision for J-sus, we are here. If you’re sitting here today, and you have ought that you need to confess, we are here. Come, come down to the front. Make your decision for G-d. He will not leave you alone. He will redeem you, there is forgiveness for anything. Just come and confess.’

there is no forgiving, not for a thing like me.

i have been cast out, i only wait for the end. there is no more light. finally, finally, all the prayers have been said. finally g-d is silent.

finally, i can leave.

she’s waiting outside, angled against the light. sun breaks through the clouds, but i wear darkness.

‘Well, Shade? Did you learn your lesson? Did you? Did you repent? I’m so tired of this mess you’ve dragged us all through.’

all the words freeze behind my teeth, my tongue broken, i feel my edges fray further.

she sighs.

‘Well, I suppose it was too much to ask for. You’ll never learn, will you? You’re hopeless.’

my face is burning, the sun has exploded.

then i’m watching the sway sway of the lines, while every blocky shaped building has risen harder against sky. they are breaking up the blue. we’re driving, driving, home to the darkest of all.

moon hangs sad on the horizon, torn by the city’s teeth. but moon is fingernail clinging, hoping the vasty dark won’t eat the light.

but light is gone, there is only the dark of unclean.


[continued from gothard, gothard-2, at least, and is part of the shunning series. i was 12, and what happens here was my normal. and so, it didn't stand out at all, until now.]

i have the wall behind me, cold and silent.

faithful, it holds all my secrets, cools my back. and day upon day, the words and pages are burning into me.

day passed night, and all the numbers, the lessons, they etched themselves into my skin. each verse, each explanation of who and what i am. my uncleanness wells up with each prayer, until i cannot move.

‘Hello, what are you doing still sitting here?’

everyone had gone.

his shoes shone in the light, pants creased straight like a preacher. i could still hear his voice, when checking my work on his shoes.

‘You can tell a man by how his shoes are shined, by who he allows to shine his shoes. And, Shade, I can tell what you are. You missed a spot, here, here, here. These are pathetic.’

these shoes held little stars in each corner, one for each prayer i’d forgotten to pray while listening, one for each unconfessed sin. because in between the learning and the praying, i’d fallen into sleep.

‘Sir. I haven’t any friends.’

i counted them on his shoes, the stars, so i wouldn’t look up. just in case it was truly truly him. in case it was gothard.

‘Well, we can’t have that. Are you sure there’s no one waiting for you? A pretty little thing like you can’t truly be all alone.’

it was him. it was i knew who he was now, i didn’t know what to call him. his voice sounded softer without the microphones, but it still echoed in my bones.

i’d heard them talking sometimes late at night. french fries, cokes, and sitting with him on his couch. and the praying. they said he was very nice.

‘It’s probably better this way, you’re not busy filling your head with the nonsense that most girls are at this age. You, I can tell G-d has something special in mind for you. You’re so quiet and modest. Your parents must be so thankful to G-d for giving them such a daughter as you.’

without thought, my eyes wing to sky. but the auditorium’s lights reflect back to me the nothing that i am. i’ve been busy counting all the sins, wondering just what sin they’d committed to be given something like me. but mr. gothard’s smiling at me. hand outstretched, his eyes are laughing.

he thinks i’m a gift.

everyone knows he is close to g-d. maybe he knows something my parents don’t. maybe he will fix this, and everyone will know i’m something good to have. maybe someone will love me.

‘Shall we go and talk for a while, about G-d’s plans for someone like you? What’s your name again?’


‘Well, Shade, do you like french fries? Coke?’

and he is hands around my shoulders, holding me into his side. warmth steals inside the cold dark. the world stops spinning and all my sins go silent.

so i follow him, down the hall, to his office.

‘Come in, come in.’

the click-snick of the door’s lock are no surprise. locked doors, rooms, are the way we live. all my days are measured by the doors’ opening and closing. windowless is how faith is born, and in the dark runs the red g-d.

‘Come over here and sit down.’

the couch is stretched in between the door and the desk. long and soft, i’m certain no one ever cried into its cushions. lamp’s lighting the corners of his eyes, all soft wrinkles. they promise kindness.

and he’s sitting next to me. all the couch lingers, pulling away from him. we are cornered side by warm side.

i cannot move.

‘Now, Shade, let’s talk about G-d’s plans for you. There’s no need to be shy, you know you’re special. And I’m here to help you learn how to best utilize that. Why don’t we pray before the food gets here?’

his hands have reached down, down. reverenced, i am pressed into the couch. and he has shaped the corners of his knees, holding in the holiness of his words. he is praying.

my hands, they are little bird still, we cannot break the cage of being. his faith is so strong.

and i’m counting the edges of the cushions, one by the next. if there are 3, will i become clean? if there are 7, will grace be the word that lets me go? but there is only the endless 1 of being, the 2 of breathing.

my shirt, it had started out as white as white can be. even though it lies about my g-dliness, it was white. but it took 2 layers of white to hide the underneath. striped across my back, until it stuck into my sins.

he can’t stop praying, even as the words lift from my skin. white on white, the couch is holding all my sadness. my prayers cannot fly, they are choking my breath.

and i am air on skin, light in the water, a nothing that can be. even hell can be just warm enough to hold back the dark. until the prayers begin.

‘What have you done, what sin is this you have been hiding? You’re unclean. Now I know why no one loves you. Get out of my sight.’

now i am filthy rags, cast into the dark.