I salvaged this coffee cup from a mountain of belongings left on the curb across the street after the family who abandoned the house two years ago came back to empty their overstuffed garage.
Neighbors and strangers alike later culled through the piles, unearthing DVDs, furniture, a laptop, entire bags of clothing (some with tags still on them), boxes of dishes, half a case of beer with a long-past expiration date, overdue library books (one conscientious kid said he’d return them), and so much more that the garbage truck people scheduled a personal return trip with an empty truck.
At first I wasn’t going to touch a thing, especially after roaches scattered when I picked up a box. But this cup caught my eye. I like anything with words on it, and the red cup with the lowercase lettering in a simple font said love.
But wait. Maybe I didn’t want the cup. Sure, the cup says love, a nice enough word, but the family who owned it didn’t know its meaning. Every time I would sip my coffee, I’d probably think of that family and the thoughts weren’t good.
The family was a living object lesson for the word dysfunction. Us neighbors had witnessed police cars, crying, raging, out-of-control teenagers, and the street-side gossip about the strange people in that house.
This was no ordinary family. At the risk of sounding politically incorrect, let me just state the facts. The head of the household was a middle-aged African American lesbian woman, a physician at a local hospital. The spouse was a white woman, a professional with a master’s degree who taught psychology at the community college. The two children were adopted as infants and were now teenage girls. Police were called on several occasions because of domestic violence and teenage misbehaviors. The family abandoned the house when one spouse couldn’t take the abuse any longer; either that or she was kicked out, I’m not sure. I hadn’t seen them for a few years until the garage cleaning day.
After they left, the free-for-all salvaging began and now I own this cup.
I decided to keep it, but before I could drink out of it, I made up my mind that something needed to be done about my word association with the family. It’s the love cup, after all, not the crazy cup or the trash cup or the guilty cup.
Did I mention guilty? That was my part, and it came from this question: why didn’t I share the love of Christ with them while they were still here? Was there something I could have done to help that family? Ours isn’t the most sociable of streets, and to my discredit, there’s only a handful of neighbors who I regularly speak to. The D.F. (dysfunctional family) wasn’t one of them, although if we were both outside at the same time, I’d say hello and share pleasantries with whoever happened to be getting the mail.
But I never invited them into my home, never invited them to church, and never shared anything deep. Like the love of Christ, for example.
The overwhelming, far-reaching, dirt-washing, guilt-cleansing, overcoming, tear-wiping, powerful love of Christ.
The same love that snatched me from the pit of drugs and partying and all of that emptiness back in the 80s.
The same love that reconciled my family after divorce threatened to split us apart.
The same love that sustains me on the path to eternity when I feel like giving up.
Meanwhile, I really liked the cup. But I really disliked its roots.
I live with my own dysfunctional people, and as school let out for the summer, I had made a personal decision about something unrelated to the cup. This summer was going to be different. My teenage daughter and I have this mother-daughter-tension thing going on, and we can rub up against each other like a wet cat and a pit bull, and I’m not saying who’s the cat and who’s the dog, but neither is flattering. Having her home for the summer while I work from a home office means much less productivity and much more potential for the clash of claws and paws. That’s why I had made that personal decision; declaring my own theme for this summer.
And that’s when I accepted my new cup with gusto. I have assigned it a new meaning, and it’s the first cup I grab if it makes it out of the dishwasher in time for the morning ritual. Every time I see it, use it, wash it, and put it away, I think of that family, then of my teenager, then of my summer theme decision, and that’s when I recommit to living a life of unconditional love.