By Lorin Marchese
Coordinator, Strategic Educational Alliances
I am so blessed because I have a family that I know loves me no matter what – and I believe that I show them how much I love them too.
This is wonderful and frankly easy when everyone is being kind to each other and being the best person they can be. But what happens to a family when that isn’t happening?
My Family History
My parents divorced during summer 1999. I was 19. My dad had made some poor choices and ultimately decided that he no longer wanted to be married to my mother. And needless to say, this was a huge blow, not only for me, but also for my family.
This was tough because it was the first time in my life I saw my parents as people – people who aren’t perfect and made mistakes! The truth of the matter is that most of the time we expect our families, especially our parents, to be perfect. I think that we forget that they are human.
Think about it: Your parents have a whole story that occurred before you were born. My parents were 23 and 27 when they had me. I will admit that as a teenager I didn’t really know much about their pasts, but since then I have gotten to know more.
I believe that they loved each other, but both were running away from their homes. They were each broken (in different ways) and in their brokenness made choices. It’s not an excuse for my father’s behavior but in some ways helps me to understand choices made. I am able to have more compassion for them as my parents and as fellow humans.
But I would not have this understanding if I had not asked questions. I would encourage you to do the same. When you meet a new person you ask them questions about their past, right? Why not do the same for your parents?
Since the divorce, there have been additional changes in our family. My brother met and married his wife and they have two children. Plus, my father remarried in 2011 to a woman who also has two children and grandchildren. Since marrying this woman, my father and brother have not spoken.
For Thanksgiving 2012, my father expected me to travel with him and his wife to New Jersey to visit our extended family. I didn’t want to because my mom was coming to visit from Atlanta, and it was the first Thanksgiving after her mother (my beloved grandmother) had passed away. I explained this to my father and expected him to understand where I was coming from, but instead he became mad at me and treated me horribly when I spoke to him on the holiday.
We have not spoken since.
Embracing God’s Love
I want you to notice that the main word being used above is “expected.” I believe that we tend to place higher, and sometimes unreasonable, expectations on our family.
Think about it – right now for you as teenagers, you have spent the most time in your life with your family and you all know each other the best. Your family has seen you at your best and your worst, and you have seen them at their worst and best. You have seen the good in them so you know what they are capable of, and I think that’s when we are hurt the most by them – when we see them making bad choices or decisions (or what we perceive to be bad choices or decisions).
This is why communication is super important – you have to be honest with people and let them know what your expectations are and when they don’t meet them.
The reason that my father and I have not spoken in four years is because we have not sat down and spoken about why we were so upset in 2012. I have not told him how he hurt me then and how he has hurt me with his actions since. This has also led to not speaking to members of my extended family – my grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins – because they have ideas of what happened. They have heard his version, but don’t really know where I am coming from. I feel like the expectations my father has for me are unfair, and I probably have unfair expectations for him too. I am expecting something from the person that I want and remember him to be.
But that is not who he truly is now.
This is where we really need to turn to God and be more like Him. He loves us unconditionally, just like we love our families unconditionally. I still completely love my father, and I always will even though I am not happy with the choices that he has made and the expectations that he has set out for me. The Lord may not always like the choices that we have made, but He still loves us no matter what. He will meet us where we are and will love us as we are – no matter how flawed we are.
We need to use this example in the way that we love our families. We will be called to be Christ for others – not just for those who are non-believers, but for those who are believers and just might need a reminder of how much are God truly loves us.
1 Corinthians says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” In this situation, we are to called to embody love. We are to be patient and kind and protect and trust and hope and persevere.
As I said, the communication with my father and my extended family has been difficult. I have wanted to tell him things and wanted to clear up misunderstandings that have occurred. It has been suggested to me in the past by my mom that I should write letters to my father to explain where I am coming from and to apologize to all of my family for the things that I have done wrong. I have not been perfect; I have made mistakes and in some ways I am partially to blame. This is true for all of us – like I said earlier, we are all human and we all make mistakes.
My Family Love Challenge
So for Lent this year, I am actually writing letters to my family. I am writing letters to my father, his wife, my grandparents and my aunt and uncle. And I know that these are going to be tough letters to write in terms of what needs to be said. Tough because I will have to find the courage to actually put the words down on paper. Tough because I have to be brave enough to actually send them.
In this situation, I am going to be very vulnerable, which is something that I don’t do well anymore having been burned many times – it’s a very scary thought. But I think that it’s something important that I need to do and I know without a doubt that the Lord will provide me all that I need to do this – both the courage and the words.
The challenge has actually become bigger because I wanted it to be part of my Lenten journey this year so I am actually writing 40 letters to family members and friends that I love and hold dear in my heart. And I am hopefully sharing God’s love with them as well.
If you take away nothing else from this, please remember these things:
- We are all human.
- Your family is just like you. They may also feel broken and sad or be struggling with something in their life like you do.
- Try if you can to communicate with them and be there for them.
- Be Christ for them, even when it may be difficult.
- Help them to know the Lord and His love by seeing you and seeing how you love them.
And please don’t forget that you are love unconditionally by a beautiful Father in heaven. That relationship and His love should be the example of what you want to be for others – not only your friends and classmates, but also at home with your family.
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