Circles of Family
Ding. The elevator slid open to the second floor of the hospital where a waiting room loomed full of family members anxiously awaiting news of their loved one’s wellbeing This was where I found myself sitting this morning, with my step dad on my right side, and my daughter on my left, waiting for my mom to come out of surgery to find out if cancer has returned.
Two weeks ago, my feet were padding across packed, wet sand, as waves lapped up against my ankles. I swung my sandals in my hand, as the wind whipped through my greying hairs. On vacation, my morning ritual has been walking the beach as the sun peaks over the horizon. Conversations with my Lord flow from my heart to His and back again, much like the tide surging in and out with ease, which is why I treasure these moments.
We came on this trip with two other families, all from very different cultural, ethnic backgrounds, a total of fifteen people sharing a small, three bedroom beach house. It was amazing to experience us all pull together, cook meals, love on each other, share some heated discussions, worship, wake up with bed hair and bad breath, and learn a swing dance arm in arm on the beach in the rain.
Turbulent waters, churned by thunderstorms each day of our retreat, caused white crests to appear long out into the sea, bidding me to step a little further into the high waves. One morning the dark clouds encircled my daughter and I with flashes of lightning illuminating the sky, as we ran towards shelter. No matter how dramatically threatening the sky appeared, each day, the sun rose despite the storms. Walking back from my second morning out, “Papa” began to speak to me about family.
My husband and I have always put a high value on the family that God has given us, but more than that we have dreamed of helping other families to grow healthy as well. Oftentimes, we’ve been barely able to pull out of the rip tides that have threatened to pull us under the raging sea. Somehow though, God has walked us through many troubled waters and taught us to keep looking to the horizon above the waves.
Growing up, I never saw myself as a big dreamer. I couldn’t even envision myself getting married, much less having children of my own. It was beyond my comprehension that someone would fall in love with me and want to spend their life with me. Even so, deep inside, my one dream, my one longing, was to one day have a healthy family, a home where we would accept each other for who God has made us to be. More than that, a family that would provide a safe place to grow and mature. The Bible says that God will place the homeless in families.
Though I had grown up in a family and a home, it was not a safe place. My family growing up was shrouded with fear, hidden secrets, evil intentions, and repetitive abuse. We also moved constantly, so as soon as I’d find myself connecting with others at school, church, etc., we’d be moving on, and I’d have to disconnect again. The relationships that should have been safe were toxic, so I had no grid for what healthy family looked like. As I got older, I sought refuge at friends’ homes, so as a teenager I began to experience healthy family life. Some of my greatest struggles as an adult have been to feel connected to my own family, to feel safe in those relationships, to see myself as a safe person, and gain the ability to love and be loved. It’s been ironic to me that the one area I often feel like the biggest failure in is the area God chose to highlight as a place for us to minister.
My most heart breaking moments as an adult have been when promises have been made for family, commitments made of we’ll always be there for one another, and then promises aren’t kept. I’ve watched the enemy come in and tear up family, separating people, with selfishness, or fear of being vulnerable, or other times just the need to be right. The list of “whys” is long. Just thinking of the many friendships I’ve lost through the years makes my chest hurt. It just hurts. Separation hurts. Divorce hurts. Sometimes it has to happen for people to be safe from abuse, and sometimes God must reposition us in friendships for greater reasons, but it was never God’s intention for the family to break up. It takes courage, forgiveness, and intimacy to walk-out well the whole meaning of being family.
There are times when conflict does arise. In my personal family, with two teenagers and one preteen, all of which are girls, that could be every hour, depending on the amount of hormones coursing through their bodies on any given day. I have found it’s super easy to to judge the intentions of each others’ heart, and then to hold onto that offense, but that only leads to division and heartache. In a healthy family context, communication and vulnerability are huge keys. We as the parents could force obedience with the “obey me or else” model. Honestly, when they were younger, there were times they needed to learn that they must obey quickly and without question, because that could mean their safety.
As our children have grown older though, the need for communication and vulnerability has become imperative. In order to thrive in a family model, we need to have freedom to share our hearts and not feel we will be judged or manipulated into something. On the other end, offering understanding and a true listening ear to hear the heart behind the action, goes a long way. Being quick to listen and slow to speak also prevents us from making quick judgements, and gives us the ability to foster relationship. A model that demands respect and obedience, without respect and love being offered from the one in charge, just ends up being a dictatorship. In fact, in my opinion, if parents or leadership must demand it, then something is already broken in the family.
Ephesians 4 and 5 gives the recipe for healthy family relationships, and clearly talks about submitting to each other. It’s mutual submission, out of love for one another that brings unity. Family doesn’t thrive in a dictatorship; it thrives in love. Hearts respond to love, not judgement, not to being pushed away for poor performance. Love doesn’t hide offenses, but it forgives, and then doesn’t hold it against us. If we have no room for mistakes, then we have no room to grow.
As I talked with my maker on the edge of the ocean, leaving footprints behind that would soon be washed out to sea, I looked back to see if Jesus left footprints beside mine. His presence felt that real. As his words rang in my heart, my eyes filled with tears. This is what I perceived Him saying to my heart that day.
He whispered in my mind. “The structure for my children to live by is family. I began with family in the garden with Adam and Eve, and it will end with family. That’s what I have wanted all long. The Israelites wanted distance, a go-between, a king, because they didn’t trust Me. They lacked the intimate relationship with Me.”
He continued, “Intimacy demands accountability. You cannot have one without the other. Family looks messy. It is intimacy, accountability, acceptance, love, fluidity, a circle structure, interlocking family units together as one, humility, a place to grow, mature, spread wings and fly, safe, community, reproduction, fruitfulness, and belonging. It’s what all long for, but most have only experienced family in and through brokenness. Every system was supposed to have been centered around the family unit, family structure. When you remove this structure, you have dictatorship, hierarchy, control, manipulation, exclusivism, entitlement, and a welfare mentality. Kingdom is family. Family is kingdom. All play. All are valuable. Every voice is important in a family. Father and mother lead and guide the family, but they are not more valuable than the children. This is reproducible, teachable, circle centered, woven together family, known by love.”
As He finished, I saw a picture of circles intwined creating cellular structures, membranes, and then a body. Each of them interlocked with one another, building a healthy structure, life flowing together in life like fluid between the cells. I believe this is what His body, His bride, His church should be, family. In this structure, we will be known by our love for one another.
In a family structure we will be able to provide a safe place for each other to be who God created for us to be. We will build one another up into the body He intended for us to become. In the end, this what I believe we are all looking for, a family, a place to call home, and Jesus is the center from whom that life flows from, drawing His children home.
Brokenness has marked my relationship with my mom. I came today to offer her some comfort, some presence that I’ve not been able to offer for a long time, because of my own process through pain. With the comfort He has comforted me, I can now offer that to her. I don’t have answers, but I was there to just “be” for her, to be present. Now I can reach out to her and maybe begin a healing process between us as well. I don’t know, but maybe part of being family is just showing up, just offering a smile, or a tear, or a hug and a prayer. It’s saying I’m with you no matter what, because we belong together in family. This is what I believe God created us to be.