Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Bathroom

This image that Geoff captured of the bathroom is appalling but it is one of the two that were selected to be published in American Photography 30. I think that seeing my daughter in the picture is even more unnerving.  It stirs a bit of anger in me and rightly child should ever have to live in these conditions! And so, in the midst of all these posts, I want to stop and ask you know someone living like this? It is hard to know for sure, I know because they likely won't let you in to see. Maybe they never invite you inside, maybe their windows are constantly covered, maybe they are slow to answer the door. But are there children involved? I know it is easier not to get involved. What will happen if you do? Will it ruin your relationship with that person? Will the results really be better for the kids? I think if it isn't physical or sexual abuse it is easy to say that they are still safe. But please, I beg a voice for that child! They may not even realize things aren't right, more than likely they will never speak up about it out of fear and out of love for their parent. But they are being neglected in so many ways and will grow up with deep wounds if you just brush it off and say, "It isn't my business how they live."

Photo © Geoff Johnson

What kind of wounds you might wonder? The bathroom gives you just a glimpse into such things. The bathroom is a place that is home to so many things that should be showering, going to the bathroom, dealing with your menstrual cycle. And not only do you want privacy for those things yourself, but it can be embarrassing to see others in those same situations. However, when there is too much stuff stacked in front of the door for it to close even a few inches, you are left to do all those things with the door wide open. To this day I have no idea why my mom never put a shower curtain up to provide privacy while we bathed, but she didn't. When we were little we took baths and it wasn't a big deal. But eventually it would become a terribly awkward situation.

Behind the tub faucet the tiles and drywall had been removed and never replaced. Mom didn't want water to get into the walls so we were left to suds up and rinse. We did it as fast as possible because the door was wide open, and especially quickly in the winter because it was so miserably cold. It led to all sorts of shame and self consciousness and issues with my body image. But, the kitchen sink didn't work and neither did the bathroom sink so besides a flushing toilet, the tub was the only running water in the house. Bathing, teeth brushing, hand washing, lemonade all happened from the tub faucet. Eventually,  about a year or so after I moved out, the pipes froze and there was no more water in the house at all. That is what ultimately led Geoff to leave as well.

I never really thought much about it from Geoff's perspective until we went back to the house together. He was the only boy in the house with two females and a bathroom door that didn't close. He spoke of how he trained himself to almost ignore that the bathroom was there when he walked quickly down the hall.

The hall itself was just another place for stuff to get stacked, not serving much purpose other than for getting from our rooms to the front door. This picture almost doesn't do it justice because as a child I remember a bigger pile of stuff against the left wall that spread the entire length of the hall. It seems to me that most of it was newspaper, but I'm not exactly sure. And although I don't remember what all that pile contained, I do know that to me it seemed like a long skinny table that was about waist high and took up about half the of hallway leaving a small trail to walk down. It is also hard to tell from the photo is just how deep the pile of stuff is that lines the floor. You can get a better idea if you look in the lower right corner of the image and see the furnace return. It stood probably about 12-15 inches off the ground, but as you can see it is mostly covered with junk.

Photo © Geoff Johnson

I think the best way to describe it all is with the words a counselor spoke to me a few years ago. While some hoarders have piles of papers or stacks of boxes...there was no such order in our house. It really was like living in a garbage dump. Even so, I love what one of my dear friends said. She is one of the few that came into the house with me a few years ago and as she looked around she very rightly compared it all to the condition of our hearts. Full of junk...full of sin...anger, bitterness, jealousy, pride, fear, selfishness, impatience, an ungrateful spirit. And that is where we live, learning to survive around all the garbage and much like my brother and I as children didn't know any different, all of us are often unaware that things aren't meant to be this way, unaware that there is hope and life offered to us through Jesus Christ and that our hearts can be made clean!

Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: 
though your sins are like scarlet, 
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson, 
they shall become like wool. 
Isaiah 1:18

Read about Opening the Door here. 
Read about The Living Room here. 
Read about The Kitchen here. 
Read about The Dining Room here.  
Read about Geoff's Room here. 
Read about My Bedroom here. 


  1. Hi, Jennifer. I have been in several hoarded houses like this when doing home health a while back. No children lived in the homes I visited. Two of the three homes were heavily infested with bugs in addition to the hoard. In one of the homes animal feces littered one room. When entering these situations, I found myself just focusing on the tasks required for the visit. It was astounding, awkward, and uncomfortable to be in those situations for just an hour. The folks I visited were adults and were competent and functional in society. Thank you for sharing your story. I appreciate watching it unfold. I grew up in a home that was fairly spartan and strictly organized--it changed after the kids left, though, and now some of it is hoarded to a degree. It's something I have tried to help with, but have not made lasting improvements.

  2. Hi, Jennifer. I met you on the airplane to Omaha in January 2016. What grabbed my attention the most was the Oswald Chambers' book, "My Utmost for His Highest," placed on the edge of the sink. It reminded me of how my best attempts of righteousness, compared to His highest, is really just what the prophet Isaiah says: "filthy rags." I think your story could be framed by switching Chambers' title around: "His Highest for Our Lowest."