Sunday, December 1, 2013

Holiday Gatherings and Redeeming Family Dysfunction

Thanksgiving's just past and if you spent time with family, chances are some raw pain resurfaced.

My father, 74, is on his fifth wife. He flew in from Vegas to spend five and a half days in Ohio, accompanied by his 17- and 19-year-old daughters from his fourth marriage.

Yes, my family is complicated. 

I have 1 full-blood sibling, a sister two years my senior, residing in Oregon, whom I haven't seen in 9 years. I also have 5 half-siblings: 1 from my mom's second marriage, a brother with whom I grew up but haven't seen in 9 years; 2 from my father's third marriage, a brother and sister with whom I've had little contact in the past 2 decades; and 2 from my father's fourth marriage, both sisters, with whom I've had little contact in the last 8 years.

If your own family is more complicated than that, surely you deserve a hug. 

Here is it: Squeeze

While my father and two half-sisters were here in Ohio we saw them once, which was today, despite not seeing my dad in the last 4 years. He has a sister and a brother still living, and nieces and nephews who live here too, all of whom he spent time with. Today, however, my dad and sisters came for lunch and my dad paid little attention to my children, who are at times desperate for a grandparent's love. My half sisters, very sweet-spirited, loved on my children, thank goodness.

A grandparent, like a parent, must be sacrificial to fill a child's love cup. Children are precious and lively, but playing their board games is not always fun. Spending time with them just because it would bless them and not because it promises to be fun, is what we all hope for in grandparents for our children.

Grandparents don't bless with their money, although some try that. Really, they bless with their time.

Love is a verb and an investment...with no reciprocal promise. It's a risk and a sacrifice because it involves time and heart and saying no to other possibly more attractive choices. My heart aches for someone to come along and decide that my children are a worthwhile investment--because Jesus asked us to love as he did. Sacrificially.

My children are not perfect, being a tad too bouncy, but they're sweet and fun. They'll almost always sit still for games and art and stories. There are ways, if someone's interested, to curb their bounciness.

Each time my mother comes (her husband, my step-father, stays home in Oregon when she visits), or my father appears, my hopes for my kids are dashed. My mother and my father both, on visits here, put my kids last, after fun activities with their siblings, such as going out to dinner, shopping, visits to neighboring states, etc.

The most intimidating people to me are always those with seemingly perfect upbringings. People who were seriously invested in, intimidate me because they have so much going for them. It's not a jealousy thing so much as an inferiority complex.

Somehow--and I don't quite understand it--our self-esteem suffers for a lifetime when our parents make dysfunctional choices during our upbringings and beyond. I guess our minds think...if someone was invested in, then they must be worthwhile, right? If we, in contrast, weren't invested in enough, our minds assume we weren't worthy of anyone's time or heart. 

It's all subconscious thinking, however, so it's hard to combat.

We usually manage to forgive our parents or guardians, if necessary, sometime in our thirties, but this doesn't mean their past and present choices cease to hurt us.

In our thirties we usually have children of our own; we have an inkling about how hard parenting is. Aware of our own mistakes, we're more capable of forgiving our parents' mistakes. We may know what perfect parenting sounds like and looks like, but in our humanness, we can't achieve it. We never will.

So our love for our own imperfect parents becomes a sacrificial love...a forgiving love. We love them not because they deserve it, but because Jesus loved us when we didn't deserve it. We love them in Jesus' name.

I'm not fond of my dad. I hate his dysfunction, which even at the age of 74, persists. But when he came today, frail and slow-moving because of a past stroke and kidneys working at just under 30%, I had to forgive him, even as he failed to love my children right before my eyes. When the old get older and weaker, we manage a deeper layer of forgiveness as we witness their decline.

When parents can't love as we wish, we can do little about it, except what Jesus does with our imperfect love for Him. He keeps on forgiving, keeps on loving, with no reciprocal promise.

Tonight, I hope all of us with familial pain and disappointment choose love. The best way to redeem the past is to love more. Dysfunction comes from too little love, too little sacrifice, too little forgiveness.

We can do better for our own children, burying for good dysfunctional patterns of old in our family line--not achieving perfection, but progress. For example, we can stay married, despite the trying times. We can be sacrificial and choose not what we want, but what will bless. 

Reminder to self: You want to build a legacy of love, so live like it.

~ Every day, choose love. It is a choice.

~ Every day, ask for the Lord's counsel and comfort, knowing earthly love, from anyone, is not enough.

~ Every day, say no to your desires and yes to your children's hearts.

~ Every day, look upon your mate graciously, remembering that when you choose to love him, you are also loving your children, who need him and want him, and need you to love him.

~ Every day, speak to your children of their Heavenly Father's love--always perfect, always enough.

~ Every day, get on your knees, praying your children's way through, and your way through.

~ Every day, pick yourself up when you fail and get back on the horse, because tomorrow is a new day.

A new chance to say yes to love, and yes to a godly legacy.

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