Finding Family - The Broken Road Home

I’m not sure if it’s the Holiday season 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. 

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 has 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.  

“What the….?” you ask. 

 Ah yes, the “F” word.  Not that one, the other “F” word: Family.

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. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t always like this. I’ve had some long dark stretches of distance from my family. Sure, there were disappointments due to impossible expectations, but what I’m realizing is many of those expectations were really for myself, not my family.  They were just the closest, easiest targets. 

Do you relate to this longing for family—for home? If you find yourself in a place of loss and loneliness this season, keep reading.  This is for you. 

Last Thursday, as I sat around the Thanksgiving dinner table surrounded by family and an arsenal of casseroles that would make Paula Deen squirm, I cried.  Fear not. There was no drama to speak of and the sides were superb.  I cried because of how far we’d come and how much we’d grown in awareness and compassion for one another despite the broken road that’d led us to that place and those casseroles.  

A convincing bolt of insight hit me as we went around the table sharing what we were most thankful for and not one person talked about their careers, accomplishments, or stuff.  Each colorful character gave high praise to the same gift: relationship. Relationships are the powerful connections that sustain human life on this earth.  For the record, I wasn’t the only sap who cried either.

I realized something deep and glaring and worth its weight in gold: Relationships are the most important thing in life..  More important than money, power, ideas, and influence (especially influence), relationships are King and must be intentionally cultivated and nurtured over time. (Read: not only on Thanksgiving.)  

Sometimes this comes in the form of a family of origin; often times this comes in a family of choice—the one(s) we build.

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, which isoften traumatic, in order to rewrite 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 a fight, resulting in unhealthy relationships, the denial of needs, parenting aloof parents, acting out behavior, and on and on.

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 natural flow of life and development, however, is 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 out the second half of life.

Now this can be a brutal process as we must often lay down that set of values inherited from our parents in order to refine and embody a set that brings more congruence into our daily experience.  For me, that process was peppered with anxiety, depression, and bouts of insomnia.  With age and maturity (we hope), the invitation is to take responsibility of our today, and offer compassion and forgiveness to our family of origin.  Our parents, after all, are just people.  They were never meant to stay up on that pedestal you put them on.  It was just too far to fall.

I can remember sitting in my spiritual director, Gail’s office like it was yesterday.  She had this big old winged-back chair with robin’s egg blue toile fabric and a worn-in seat.  Her office felt like a dreamy English cottage or something: a collection of kindness, tears, books, mismatched story-ridden antiques, and the occasional whip of tired laughter. During stretches in my twenties I would sit with her and shed my stories of disappointment and loneliness as if she had an “all better” pill to give me in the end.  Well, she didn’t.  Yet,  I miraculously made it out of that decade alive.  I remember her gentle response to my weary, longing soul, “You know Katie, loneliness is really the human condition. Stillness isn’t the worst teacher, either.” 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 constantly ebb and flow on that spectrum energetically.  It is impossible to stay in a static place of fullness at all times.  You may be an over-achiever, but you’re not a machine.  I realize this when I ask my friends who appear bulletproof and fabulous on Instagram how they’re doing 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, 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 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 and requires patience and time.  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.

Love & Gratitude,