Tammy Perlmutter is the genius mastermind behind Mudroom, a place where true and messy stories are told. If you don’t yet know The Mudroom, then check it out. She has a way of creating a space at her table for everyone, a generosity of heart. She is one of the few people I know that I want to use the word ‘inspiring’ about – because I see the work of Jesus so clearly in her life, and because she has endured so much, with such grace. I’m honoured to host her story today:
**Trigger warning – contains mention of sexual abuse**
I started falling apart, from what I can remember, when I was four and a half. There was a weekend spent with relatives when my mom failed to return from apartment hunting. Whispering, phone calls, forced smiles, police. That week my brother and I were in another home. They called it a foster home. It wasn’t home for me. I showed up with a social worker, a paper bag of clothes, and double-digit amounts of cavities.
The windshield protecting my heart was smashed the day she didn’t come home. It buckled and cracked, caving in, putting pressure on my lungs, leaving less room for oxygen, more room for panic.
The second time my heart was crushed was the night I realized my mother was never coming back for me. She had promised me. But there would be no rescue, no happily ever after. It was a brutal broadside collision. I was knocked sideways and battered by the impact. The cracks deepened, there was a quiet squeal when glass-on-glass shifts occurred. The heart-shield held, the safety glass did its thing, but really, was a spiderweb network of broken glass more merciful than death on impact?
There was another home, this time with middle-aged, silver-haired, child-free parents. The memories from that placement are muddled and smeared, but some stand out in their starkness: the denial of dinner, the belt, the punishment chair, the loneliness.
My brother and I attempted to run away but we were caught when I went back for my Mickey Mouse piggy bank. One night I awoke to yelling and shouting and crying and a tumbling down stairs. My brother had forgotten to take out the trash. These infractions had serious repercussions, like verbal assault and a broken ankle. He ran away, again and again, until nobody could find him for months at a time. I was proud of his bravery, enraged by his abandonment. I cried and cried, afraid he would never be found, but I was jealous that it wasn’t me who ran away. This brutal blow to my brittle, under-sized ribcage threatened to crush the life from my bloody pulp of a heart.
The mother got sick and I was placed in a temporary group home. There were other kids there, a boy who was 14 lived in the cellar and a girl who was 6 shared a room with me. The home was loud and bright and peaceful. I felt seen and cared for. We were allowed to watch cartoons before school. I thought maybe this is what a home felt like. They bought MAD magazine and Nancy Drew books for me at the Amish flea markets. The older daughters made me a cassette tape of the Godspell soundtrack. We walked to Burger King and I was allowed to have the crown.
I went to bed a little later than the younger girl so she was asleep when it was my turn. I laid down and turned over. The dad would come in and sit on the edge of my bed. He would rub my back. Until it wasn’t my back anymore. He would pull me by my shoulder, his hands going places I knew they weren’t supposed to go. I froze and pretended to be asleep. He used me in other ways, ways I can’t say out loud.
That shattering was violent. The safety glass was obliterated and the shards found places inside like the shredding of shrapnel. The glass became part of me, jutting out from my organs, muscles, and bones like the bumpers, kickers, and slingshots of a pinball game. Each new experience, emotion, thought would tumble through the maze of glass, bouncing off, veering and zigging and zagging, tinkling with each graze of glass. The shards would dislodge, find their way through bloodstream and ligaments, finding new homes to nestle into. The scraping of glass on glass was excruciating, the high-pitched screech deafening, and I would wait until the traveling pieces would settle in. Until the next spring-loaded quake would threaten them all again.
The broken pieces sometimes still tear me up inside, when seismic shifts displace them and the tesserae shower down through my ribcage like stars and all I can do is wait until they are worn down by the tides of blood spinning them around, the edges growing softer and duller. They gather in my stomach, jostling to find their place. When I walk they scrape against one another, when I lie down they tumble like marbles out of jar, when I am angry they vibrate and threaten to shoot off like fireworks. The pieces fall like guillotine blades and I wait as the blood drips, to sift what is left inside.
These remnants only tell part of the story. They are the ragged beginnings of a tale, stuttered and faltering in its telling. They are waiting for memory and time to kick in, stringing colors together for sense, creating a mosaic of meaning.
But God was there, at the edges, in every one of these homes. I couldn’t always see him straight on. He was in the neighbor who gave me safe harbor, the sister who prayed with me, the teacher who called social services.
All the odds were against me, against my survival, but God kept showing up. He would not stop pursuing me, even when I stopped pursuing him, when I let the darkness wash over me and stopped believing in a God who saves, or really, a God who saves me.
He was relentless in his pursuit, touching all the shattered pieces in my heart that caused me to wince. He traced the slivers in my lungs catching my breath, the powdered glass dusting my skeleton, running his fingers over them as he saw the story behind each puncture, crack, and stress fracture. He told me that the brokenness of the glass would cause me to see in a way others couldn’t. I would see the prisms and the shadows, the reflections and refractions. What small visions I glimpsed through my brokenness would draw others who would need help navigating their own brokenness.
He told me the pieces inside me would be ground and sanded into radiant artifacts, like glass washed up on the beach. It’s been tempered and tousled and tossed by waves and scraped across sand bars and coral reefs until it washes up, washed, on the shore. The worn and weathered glass still sparkles and shines in the sand until it finds its home in hands and pockets, jars and shelves, tiny ebenezers for others to infuse with hope.
Thus far. Thus far the Lord has helped me. I am carved on the palm of his hand and that scar, that one with my name on it, promises me that my scars were never for nothing.
Tammy Perlmutter writes about unabridged life, fragmented faith, and investing in the mess at her blog Raggle-Taggle. She is the founder of The Mudroom, a collaborative blog making room in the mess. Tammy writes flash memoir, personal essay, and poetry, leads writing groups, and preaches on occasion. She lives in Chicago with her husband, Mike, and daughter, Phoenix, who has been called “the most interesting girl in the world.” She is the force behind Tammy’s blog series: Life Along the Spectrum: Weird and Wondrous Tales of Everyday Autism
“The windshield protecting my heart was smashed the day she didn’t come home.” – @tammygrrrl for @tanya_marlow:
“The denial of dinner, the belt, the punishment chair, the loneliness” – @tammygrrrl – God at the Edges:
“He would rub my back. Until it wasn’t my back anymore.”- @tammygrrrl’s God and Suffering story for @tanya_marlow:
“God was there, at the edges… I couldn’t always see him straight on.”- @tammygrrrl’s story for @tanya_marlow:
“All the odds were against me, against my survival, but God kept showing up.” – @tammygrrrl for @tanya_marlow:
“I am carved on the palm of God’s hand, and that scar…promises that my scars were never for nothing.” – @tammygrrrl
Over to you:
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…” – Isaiah 49:15-16a, NIV
- As you look at your own scars, how do you feel about the idea that God has carved your name on the palms of his hands?
- The image of brokenness and shattered glass is a powerful one. To what extent can you relate to this in your life – the sharp pain of shards of memories staying with you? How have you experienced God’s sanding down the edges of those hurts?
Have you downloaded your free book yet? To get your copy of Coming Back to God When You Feel Empty, click here