Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Sisterly Conversations

What Boundaries?

Fake power exercises ruthless control
In vain attempts to nurture sisterly virtues

Bible-grounded communication floods my ears
With thou shalt and thou shalt not

Beleaguered sisters throw group loyalty to the winds
In favor of loyalty to one’s fragile female self

Being docile sometimes becomes a stand-in for
Being truthful or angry or distressed

Like cookies born of one cookie cutter
We stare at our unknown selves in consternation

Who we are together remains a mystery
As we strain to survive apart from each other

I’m aware of being watched by Daddy night and day
Without so much as a polite knock at the door

Driven to precarious survival techniques
My heart and stomach drown beneath anxious fear

During the past week I reviewed dated notes I kept when I began working with a psychotherapist in the early 1990s. I was in my late 40s, drowning in depression. One of my first tasks was to connect with my three younger sisters.

By then we were scattered over the USA and beyond. What we knew about each other personally was fragmented at best. We were aware of the large outlines of our adult lives. However, we didn’t have an informal network for safe, sisterly communication.

I never talked with any of my sisters about the rules in our family, or our father’s corporal punishment doled out regularly to enforce the rules. Nor had we talked together about who our father favored, or why.

Sometimes life felt like a war between sisters. I could deduce which sister was the favorite of the day. I also knew I was a favorite target for ‘Let’s get Elouise in trouble.’ No sibling likes to have the oldest sister designated as the parental stand-in.

As you might guess, we weren’t there to console or encourage each other. We were focused on staying out of trouble or deflecting attention to another sister’s behavior.

I began my adult work on boundaries with telephone calls to each of my three sisters. Would you be willing to talk with me privately (no reports back to Mom or Dad) about our experiences living at home? I was starving for sisterly conversations. Each of my sisters, in her way, helped me come out of my lonely closet of indirect communication, depression, and denial.

My next hurdle wasn’t nearly so easy. How would I name and maintain adult boundaries with my parents? Stay tuned!

Thanks for your visits and encouragement. Tomorrow I have tests to determine how much damage peripheral neuropathy has done to my feet and legs.

Praying for calm in these troubled days, here and abroad.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 October 2021
Photo taken by JERenich, Easter Sunday, 1953

For Children Only, from Diane

1958 Victory Drive, Diane, Judy and neighbor3

Neighbor, Diane and Sister #4, Summer 1958

Many of you know that Diane, my Sister #3, lived with ALS for ten years before her death in 2006. I’ve already completed a series of Dear Diane letters as part of this blog. I did it because I was starving for sisterly conversation. The kind not allowed in our house with four daughters and no brothers.

I’ve missed that interaction with Diane, and have wondered how to fill the void. I believe her voice is important. She has a strong and somewhat different angle on Telling the Truth.

Near the end of her life, Diane gave me access to most of her writing. I haven’t begun to uncover all the gems—and may never be able to do that.

However, along with her writing, she gave me a set of cassette tapes. You know. The old-fashioned kind.

The tapes were recorded at her church every Sunday. On several Sundays, when the pastor was away, Diane was the minister for the day. That meant she welcomed people, gave the pastoral prayer, and, most fun for her, gave the children’s sermon. At her church they called it ‘Down Front Time.’

The church is large and well-attended. Their sanctuary has a semi-circular seating area. The large, curving platform holds the choir, organ and piano, and seating for ministers and the pastor, with plenty of room to spare. Steps curve from one end of the platform to the other.

When children are invited to Down Front Time, they come and sit with the pastor or minister on the platform steps. Whoever leads Down Front Time always has a bag. The children know there’s a mysterious object in the bag–the key to the topic for the day. There’s also a bit of friendly banter, sometimes for the benefit of adult children in the congregation.

I transcribed most of Diane’s Down Front Times a few years ago, but haven’t been sure how I might feature them. I’ve decided to make use of them via excerpts that get to the heart of each children’s sermon. Possibly one a week as I did with her Word for the Ones I Love.

Diane loved children and they loved her. Her quirky sense of humor and down-to-earth approach to life pulled them right in, along with all the adults listening in.

From this distance, what catches my attention most is that Diane is talking to herself, not just to the children. She’s doing her own spiritual formation work in front of them—with the simplest or strangest of objects. Yet the content isn’t simple or strange. It’s the content of life—all the things that matter most, reframed and restated for young children.

I want to be a young child listening to her along with you. So look for this soon. I’m already working on the first of her Down Front Times.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 7 July 2015
Photo credit: JERenich, Summer 1958, Savannah, GA

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