03 Nov

Then Laban said to Jacob, “See this heap and the pillar, which I have set between you and me. This heap is a witness, and the pillar is a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, to do harm. ~ Genesis 31

I tried to reaching out to him again.

Estranged brother of mine.

Looking for resolution? Reconciliation, maybe? Renewed dialogue? Or just a more positive closure?

My brother lost his only son two years ago.

I offered to be on the next plane and bring the whole family. He said, “No, don’t come now. And when it’s time I just want it to be you. Can’t handle more than you.” It was a hard trip and weekend when time for the funeral came. What words are there for such a time?

Flying home after the funeral, I tried connecting by phone each month. Hard calls, each one. Processing uncontainable grief over the phone. I felt helpless, impotent, distant. His anger starting flaring at me for not calling enough, not doing enough. We’ve never had a highly functional relationship, he and I. Periodic calls discussing movies and favorite shows, but rarely going to deeper places. Now he was needing more, and I frankly didn’t know how to give it. After he vented at me I started calling weekly. He almost seemed annoyed. Then he stopped answering my calls or responding to  voicemails when he wouldn’t answer. Then a midst other plot complications, he cut me off in an email. “You are cruel. Do not call or write.” Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, I was rapidly descending into my own journey with cancer and chemo. I needed a brother myself and could not look there. An “adopted” brother and several “adopted” sisters became family on a whole new level of experience for me.

I made the journey, but not alone.

Cancer and chemo are the ultimate detoxifier of personal and relational BS. So I have found. So being done with chemo (though it is still clearly not done with me!), I reached out to my estranged brother. And after a brief email exchange, he laid a litany of charges of neglect on my part that seem to be insurmountable in his eyes, but he wished me peace and happiness in my journey.


A new word to etch over “You are cruel. Do not call or write.” If I choose to.

I thought briefly of producing my own litany of charges to demonstrate just how dysfunctional this relationship has been. I could have started at age five – one my earliest memories. Crying out in pain with him covering my mouth so mom wouldn’t hear. I could see her in the other room, but his hand stayed clamped over my mouth. She never heard. I could track forward five more years to when he watched his friends beat me up and did nothing to intervene. Okay, I had asked for it by slugging one of his tough friends’ arm after being told not to because he had just gotten a shot (I have always been a bit of a brat – those who really know me know that). But still, he watched.

Then I could track forward to when my daughter was fighting for her life on an operating table with brain surgery. He didn’t come, as he said a true brother would do. He sent ice cream. And he chewed me out for not calling him frequently enough with updates.

Yeah, I can produce a litany of my own. But these are my eyes, and he has his own. His eyes see and weave a radically different tale. And to what end my own litany? To add more to his own load of grief to which I have evidently already made plenty of inadvertent deposits? Would it be to find a new beginning? Or merely an effort to “set the record straight,” to justify myself and let him take the stand to respond to my charges?

I opted to simply take the word “peace.”

My last words to him in reply? “And to you.”

And I saw Galeed.

Galeed is the “heap of witness” – the pile of rocks that Jacob and Laban made to mark the resolution of their own terribly dysfunctional relationship after accusations and counter accusations flew like solid shot from the cannons of opposing forts. There was little they could agree on as they rehearsed their own litanies. Finally they agreed that they at least could make a pile of rocks together and they agreed on a name for the pile – though they named it in their own languages (Hebrew and Aramaic). It was a heap of witness that God was watching between the two of them (and would ultimately be the judge of their dispute) – and that neither would pass that heap of stones to do any harm to the other.

“And to you.”

Sometimes, this is the best we will find in our broken relationships. Sometimes. And it is good. Not optimal. Not even all we could hope for. Limited. But still good. A pile that enabled both to return home and move on with life.

Much reconciliation will be left for other shores.

The sooner we come to grips with that and build our mutual Galeed (if we are so fortunate to have a mutual Galeed – sometimes we just have to build it by ourselves), the sooner we can be freed from our own internally rehearsed toxic litanies and solid shot, and truly move on.

“And to you.”


Posted by on November 3, 2012 in musings


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13 responses to “galeed

  1. Nick Wade

    November 3, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    Is there a misconception on the word Mitzpah? I have seen heart shaped jewelry like those best friends wear with each bearing half a pendant. I have often thought of it as the Lord watching over both Jacob and Laban because of disconnect and dealings they had with one another. I certainly hope that there will be a time where your galeed with your brother is instead of being made of stone is such of new beginnings loving experiences that heap abundantly.

  2. Stephen Parker

    November 3, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    Mike, thanks for baring your soul again. My older brother and I have had a long and difficult relationship, even though now we are trying to become friends again. I don’t know what the future holds, but I now have another bit of perspective on the situation. Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. Jon

    November 3, 2012 at 11:11 pm

    Thank you for this post. Very soulful. I, likewise, have had a strained relationship with my brother. It began only three years ago and shows signs of new life, but still a thorn in my side.
    So hard to just love each other sometimes. Forgiveness and acceptance
    cannot be overstated.

  4. Gloria Houting

    November 3, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    So many people I know have an “other sister” or “other brother,” one who seemingly doesn’t “fit in” with the rest of the family and is often estranged or angry with someone in the family. I have one. There are times when I just shake my head because she doesn’t get it….i.e. our 16-year-old daughter was having chemo and, while vacationing in Chicago, my sister went to a mosque to pray for her (she’s a Christian)….or when our mother came home from the hospital after major heart surgery and she sent balloons (not food, not offering to help care for her, no monetary assistance) despite the fact that she’s the only sibling living near our mom.

    Long ago, after many tears and much prayer, I had to sever ties with my sister simply to keep my sanity…..I still send cards, make occasional phone calls, but that’s about it. I no longer get emotionally involved. I have learned to accept her feeble attempts at helping, I try to honor her when she does offer assistance for our home-bound mother, but, mostly, I just rejoice because she at least keeps in contact with our mother now, after years of estrangement.

    I appreciated your honesty regarding your brother. I found it refreshing to know that you struggle as well and chose to accept his words/offer of peace and happiness…..and replied in kind. Acceptance. So wise on your part. Thanks for sharing your heart with all of us.

  5. wordhaver

    November 3, 2012 at 11:27 pm

    Amen, Nick! That’s an excellent way of looking at those stones…

  6. wordhaver

    November 3, 2012 at 11:28 pm

    Thanks Stephen! May you both be blessed with wisdom and grace as you back into that future! :o)

  7. wordhaver

    November 3, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    I never cease to marvel over how excruciatingly hard flesh and blood relationships can become! So much accumulated STUFF. So much stumbling and fumbling. Oy Bless you in your reviving walk with your brother, my friend. 🙂

  8. wordhaver

    November 3, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    Thanks, Gloria. And I am so blessed that you are doing well! 🙂

  9. Chad Estes

    November 4, 2012 at 12:55 am

    “Much reconciliation will be left for other shores.”



  10. wordhaver

    November 4, 2012 at 12:58 am

    Sigh indeed… Perhaps we can downgrade that to some. Some reconciliation. Yes. Let’s have a bit more faith…

  11. Chad Estes

    November 4, 2012 at 1:01 am

    I’m not sure how to have faith for this. Mostly what I experience is unrealized expectations (which comes with its own hurt.). Reconciliation on this side will surprise me as I only have faith for that on the other shores.

    Thank you for writing and sharing, my brother.

  12. wordhaver

    November 4, 2012 at 1:06 am

    You’re welcome Chad. I love your guts, brother. I truly do. And you know that… How about I hold on to some faith for this for the both of us? Maybe that at least is one way. It was the faith of four brothers who lowered the paralyzed man through the roof to Jesus…and the paralyzed man danced home that day. I can dig it… 🙂

  13. retroillini

    November 6, 2012 at 10:43 pm

    Once again, thank you, Pastor Mike. Family is an incredibly challenging practice (some call it a “yoga”) for some of us. I appreciate and often use the buddhist terminology “unskillful”. Think of it often as I watch my own behavior and observe others’. Thank you so for sharing the real thing. I’ve just watched a dvd by a classmate just behind me in school who told her mother’s story of battering and death. “As sick as our stories”, comes to me again and again [Kathleen Norris]. As we head into the holidays, deep thank you. So easy to feel everyone else’s families are perfect. Shalom.


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