Family Matters #2
Something I have become increasingly aware of since I left my parent’s home for college seven years ago is that family matters really do matter. In fact, my relationships with family and entire upbringing, for that matter, affect e-v-e-r-y-thing about the way I view the world and the people around me. What I didn’t realize as a high-schooler was that while I could wish away the days under my parents’ roof, I could never escape the lasting imprint my childhood environment would have on me. I could have moved a million miles away and still be affected by my relationships with family. So, because my childhood would inevitably impact me for the rest of my life, I resolved that this impact would be as positive as possible. However, what I didn’t quite realize was that this goal required coming face to face with all the junk I spent most my adolescence trying to escape. And as silly as it seemed to go back to the beginning when I was trying to move forward, my 18-year old self painstakingly began to put the puzzle pieces of my personality, feelings, and passions together with the events and people that had significantly shaped my perspective.
Those events in a nutshell: I lived in a home of four until I was five and my parents divorced. My dad received custody, rather unconventionally, of my brother and me. We were a party of 3 for only a short time before Dad met my stepmom and her three kids and was married, making our family a family of 7. We quickly moved to a new city and began our life as a new family there. Before long, 5 kids became 7, and our life continued to get busier and busier. My dad was not around a lot throughout my childhood as he was busy building his medical practice; moreover, as the only neurologist in our town, he spent most of my childhood on call overnight at the hospital. Therefore, my stepmom – who was practically a stranger to me – raised me. I quickly learned that I received positive affirmation when I did chores or helped out my family in some way, thus instilling a habit of people pleasing and a seriously flawed understanding of love. I also quickly learned that if I didn’t complete my chores perfectly or to my stepmom’s exact specifications, my character would be ripped to shreds. Therefore, until I left for college, my understanding of love was almost exclusively conditional: my parents do x for me, so I must do y for them, although y would still never be enough. So basically, I spent my young life doing all the things to try and please my parents, but never doing anything well enough. My life revolved around my family to the extent I had little to no social life outside of school and family obligations and began to dread every day and became so incredibly bitter.
What I’ve come to find is that broken things on this Earth can never quite be made whole. My “blended family” would likely never operate like a full-blooded family. (aka Jesus can restore us to His righteousness now, but we won’t attain perfection until it is given us in Heaven.) Even as well-intentioned as my stepmom may have been to treat all us kids equally, it never really happened that way. We all received equal material stuff but there was a clear divide between my stepmom’s kids and the rest of us. That really messed with me subconsciously and created this I’m-screwed-up complex that shows up in my life from time to time even now. The void of unconditional love that I experienced in my life made me long for a relationship with my biological mom more and more, especially because – despite her faults – she was the only person that made me feel loved for who I was. However, my parents shielded me from a relationship with her, censoring every conversation I had with her and telling me how horrible of a person she was. I was lucky if I saw my mom twice a year growing up. So basically, I spent most of my young life feeling so deeply alone, unknown, and radically unworthy of love.
As a middle schooler, I sought to know the Lord and poured all my emotions into a relationship with Him, but I wasn’t really sure what it meant to have a relationship with Him and didn’t really see that modeled well in my life. Therefore, I expended tons of energy into learning all about Him and instead of knowing Him, ended up becoming super legalistic and self-righteous. I was looking for something to make me feel good enough and prided myself on not doing the “sinful” things my classmates did. Likewise, I thought if I took advanced courses and elevated myself academically, I would find my worth. But even with my self-righteous cloak, I still felt so terribly lonely and unworthy.
It took separating myself from my family and having friends in college to call me on my self-deprecating, people-pleasing crap for me to step back and realize just how screwed up my perspective really was. But to fix the issue, I had to get to the root of it, which was first and foremost my sin but compounded by my family issues. I began to compare and contrast the love of the Lord to the often hostile and conditionally-loving home I grew up in. I also had to get over the guilt I often felt about despising my family situation when so many people grew up in unimaginable, abusive home situations. Just because I didn’t experience trauma in my family, doesn’t mean it’s not worth reflection and even counseling. Now that I have taken the time to think through my family issues, my friendships are better because I now know my tendencies and defense mechanisms. More importantly, I can love my family better because I understand them better, and I’m no longer trying to avoid them in anger.
I think the Lord is super cool for putting me in the situation He did, namely because I may never have known Him if it weren’t for my stepmom’s Christian influence on my family. My father was agnostic before he met my stepmom, and who knows where I would be today had life taken a different course. Growing up in a Christian elementary school was such a gift, and I am endlessly grateful for my knowledge of the Bible that I have and understand today, even if I didn’t truly get it back then. I now have a thriving relationship with my biological mom, and I am endlessly thankful for the grace the Lord has given me to share with her. Moreover, I am endlessly grateful for the fruitful conversations I have had with my stepmom throughout my adult life because I have forgiven her and am now able to love her like Christ. Lastly, I am thankful for feeling lost and alone for so long because it enables me to fill the void with the Lord’s perfect love and appreciate His kindness in a way I may not have had I had the picturesque family (but what even is “picturesque,” really?).
So shout-out to the Lord for His kindness and for knowing all my ways. What a deep kindness it is that He keeps us and to think that I can’t escape His presence or His love. And shout-out to my incredible people, most of whom are in this Body, for your grace as I work out my family issues and for your encouragement to press into the hard and the ugly for the sake of healing and growth. I am truly indebted.
I wish you ladies a deeply discerning spirit and a supportive community as you seek to know and understand yourself the way the Lord does.
O LORD, you have searched me and known me!
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.
5 You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
13 For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake, and I am still with you.
19 Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
O men of blood, depart from me!
20 They speak against you with malicious intent;
your enemies take your name in vain.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with complete hatred;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
24 And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
**I must give credit where credit is due: my recent and short-lived binge-watching of This is Us and exposure to the Enneagram have most certainly contributed to my most recent enlightenment regarding family impact.