At the end of a gravel road in Arkansas within walking distance of the Missouri state line is Loydsville. The place where my family lives. It isn’t on any map, and it isn’t recognized by any state or federal authority. But it exists. It lives, breathes, and renews itself in my mind and memory every time I visit. Mom and Dad still live there. As does my brother, his wife, and grandchild. My nephew has bought up the other properties and rents out the houses previous owned by my paternal aunt and her daughter. The place is flat. Unexceptional. Without the few houses, it would be just another stretch of rice fields, formerly soybeans, or cotton. But the houses now peak above the flooded plain.
Like any other community, it has evolved. The land has been cleared, planted, harvested, flattened, raised, broken, and healed. The land has served as a source of shelter and substance. It has witnessed new arrivals and a few departures. Generations of the Loyd family replenishing itself, perpetuating legacies of love, giving, and perseverance.
This is the Loyd story from the perspective of someone who lived there. Me. I’m the youngest son of James and Helen Loyd. My mother gave birth to me in her fortieth year. According to my mother, I was my Dad’s idea, as she was perfectly content with the three children she had. I was the third son, and fifth child. Before my sister was born my parents lost a child, a girl, to a crib death. Then eventually I came along. I’m grateful that my mother and father were not so discouraged by their grief, that they quit trying to add life to their world. An admirable lesson in persevering even in the most difficult of circumstances.
In attempt to understand myself, it is important to understand my family of origin. Like most children reflecting on our biological underpinnings, there are significant portions of my family history that I wholeheartedly embrace as my own, as it strongly resonates with my current trajectory. Likewise, there are many events and memories that put me at odds with where my family is today. I think all of us understand these feelings. A sense of belonging and understanding is what we want, what we desire, what we seek in the boundaries of our families. We find this, to greater or lesser degrees depending on the circumstance.
Unless mired in dysfunction, which all of us can relate to at least in relative terms, we desire for our family experiences to be rooted in kindness. Kindness, as Karen Swallow Prior points out, “rightly understood, can include all sorts of disagreeableness. Kind comes from the same root from which we get the word of kin. To be kind, then, is to treat someone like they are family. To possess the virtue of kindness is to be in the habit of treating all people as if they were family…If kindness means treating someone like family, then kindness must include all the varieties of ways that family members show love for one another through the entire rage of circumstances, conditions, and situations they find themselves in. Sometimes loving a family member requires gentleness. Sometimes toughness. Often forbearance. Always honesty and truth.”
Honesty and truth are difficult to come by for some families. I get that. If we revealed the truth about all of our disappointment and pain, and were honest about all of the difficulties that still plague us today, for some, it would mean that there might be very little to celebrate. But we should celebrate. We should intentionally seek the good. We have to look for joy while it may be found.
And perhaps in attempting to understand, in the act of remembering itself is where we find the solace that we seek. The joy we want to celebrate. In the lives, faces, eyes of those who share our name, our origin, perhaps we can catch a glimpse of our future. I’m convinced that God doesn’t reveal much if anything of our futures to us, because if He did, none of us would do anything out of fear. We would live in the paralysis of fear, rather than in the hope of faith. So we continue to meander along, groping for what is next, like we are in some darkened closet searching for a splinter of light that may illuminate the entry way into a different reality. Our past informs our present. Our present creates our future.
And as “Beloved children we become imitators of God.” (Ephesians 5:1)