Finding Family: The Broken Road Home
You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.
I’m not sure if it’s the fall weather encroaching or the fact that I’m becoming more nostalgic with age, but something has been at the forefront of my heart and mind as of late and I can’t seem to shake it. I don’t want to shake it. It’s beautiful, complex, frustrating, exhilarating, heartbreaking, fun, weird, grounding, dangerous, and safe all at once.
Everyone has it on some level and have been seriously impacted by it, undoubtedly. I believe we must somehow, either literally or figuratively, leave it at some point in order to honestly choose to love and enjoy it in the end. This thing is called family.
Longing for Camelot
What comes up for you with the mention of family? Is it sadness? Regret? Longing? Love? For me, this slow and heavy wave of gratitude washes over. It wasn’t always like this as my journey of self-exploration and wholeness have taken me through some dark stretches of distance from my family. Of course there were disappointments due to impossible expectations, yet what I am learning is that many of those expectations are really for myself, not my family. Camelot was always an illusive grasp away. This post is a personal one; one I hope you don’t mind me sharing. It is one of stark honesty and yearning. This post is for anyone who longs for family- for home; anyone who may sit in a place of loss and loneliness.
This past weekend my husband and I had a marriage celebration for close family and friends in our hometown of Nashville. We both come from large families and were unable to invite everyone to our teeny tiny wedding ceremony in California. For this reason, we decided to have a small reception back home for those who couldn’t make the trip. I saw relatives I hadn’t seen in years and met several new ones I had just gained. It was truly special.
I waited until age 36 to get married. Though this wasn’tnecessarily on purpose, it was absolutely perfect timing. God knew that all along. I say this because I have never quite experienced anything like a wedding or shower where I felt the love of lifetime relationships joined together and funneled in my direction until the past several months. It is humbling, beautiful, and a bit awkward as I always just feel I make things a little bit awkward with my pointed strangeness in the center of an outpouring of goodwill. Receiving just for the sake of receiving doesn’t come naturally, I like to earn it.
The power of choice
I realize I am blessed. I realize something deep and glaring and worth its weight in gold: Relationships are the most important thing and should be intentionally nurtured over time. Sometimes this comes in the form of a family of origin; often times this comes in a family of choice, one we build.
I love how Elizabeth Gilbert puts it: “We must take care of our families wherever we find them.” The truth is, for many of us, the word family brings up immeasurable pain and anxiety as safety and protection were needs that went missing in our family of origin. In therapy, we spend a great deal of time unpacking that pain and trauma in order to rewire a narrative of value, love, acceptance, and possibility. Needs such as provision, encouragement, affection, play, and structure were denied and as a result, had to be met elsewhere. Survival became twisted resulting in unhealthy relationships, denial of our needs altogether, parenting aloof parents, acting out behavior, and on and on.
I have been watching, no bingeing on the Netflix series, Bloodlines, recently. Wow… Talk about some serious family dysfunction. They (the Rayburn’s) make The Sopranos look like a squeaky non-animated version of the Flintstones. It seems there is a dominant thread touching every piece of brokenness: dishonesty. As a result, everyone is operating out of their own best version of who they are and what might be happening.
More of my story
In Falling Upward, Richard Rohr aptly concludes, “When you get your, ‘Who am I?’, question right, all of your,’What should I do?’ questions tend to take care of themselves”. The first half of life is often spent grappling with identity, or at least mine was. Hell, some days I feel the ballot is still out. Our first mirror of identity dwells in the home and is largely held up by our families. This is the natural flow of life and development, however not always accurate and/or affirming for many. I have wonderfully loving, encouraging parents who instilled their values and beliefs into us five kids. This infrastructure is necessary for ultimately receiving, learning, doubting, questioning, and forming a collective of tested individual convictions from which we grow and live.
This was somewhat of a brutal process for me as I had to lay down that inherited set of values from my parents in order to refine and embody a set that brought peace and congruence into my daily experience. Anxiety, depression, and bouts of seemingly unending insomnia peppered that process. As of late, I am seeing more parallels with that of my family, however, in the underbelly of that journey of self-discovery, perspective is dim. This really sucks sometimes. Mostly because it is a scary thing to leave familiar tight places in order to risk finding something more spacious and free…something that fits and sounds like the truth of our voice and calling. After all, love looks an awful lot like letting go, so I am learning. Control in relationships is always fear-based.
The Human Condition
I can remember like it was yesterday sitting in my spiritual director, Gail’s office. She had this big old winged-back chair with robin’s egg blue patterned fabric and a worn-in seat. Her office felt like a dreamy English cottage or something; full of love, tears, books, a host of mismatched story-ridden antiques, and the occasional whip of tired laughter. During stretches in my twenties I would sit with her and shed stories of disappointment and loneliness as if she had an “all better” pill to give me in the end. Well, she didn’tand I miraculously was still okay. I remember her gentle response to my wounded, longing soul, “You know Katie, loneliness is really the human condition and stillness is not the worst teacher.” I know, I know, I would reply with a deflated sigh.
Coming to embrace this as truth has been a peaceful rendering for me. Because we are relational beings who long for and are made for connection, we all ebb and flow on that spectrum of connection, energetically. It is impossible to stay in a static place of fullness at all times. We are not machines. I know this when I ask my friends how they are doing that appear bulletproof and fabulous on Instagram only to find out in conversation that they are really struggling with a deep sense of disconnection and sadness. The rat race of keeping social media appearances may be a glossy and temporarily successful campaign, however it does not satiate the desires that well up beneath the surface after all those hearts and likes cease to flow.
There is simply no substitute for family: the one we’ve been given or the ones we have chosen. “Feelings of worth can flourish only in an atmosphere where individual differences are appreciated, mistakes are tolerated, communication is open, and rules are flexible — the kind of atmosphere that is found in a nurturing family.” Virginia Satir, family therapy innovator and guru, had it right. I take that a step further and add this: the flourishing of self-worth and acceptance can also be re-created in families we cultivate along the way; those safe people who have earned the right to hear and bear witness to our stories.
This, like so many things in life, starts with intention and openness. On your unique journey of cultivating family, community, and home, I hope and pray that you will not abandon ship when the space feels too big and the silence, too loud. Listen to that constant longing and echo it to the world, though your voice may crack and your heart falls flat. And then do it again, and again, and again. You’re on your way to a place called home and that journey starts within. You are worthy of connection.