6 Things I’ve Learned on Family
In between worlds is where my life exists as a Mission Coordinator. Between Haiti and Arkansas, to be exact. Between kompa and folk music. Between big city and small town. Between moderation and consumerism. It’s an everyday balancing act of life.
But one thing that is constant is this – Family, the desire for it, the struggles within in and the fact that brotherhood is more than just sharing bloodlines. Family, like life is a fluid state. Constantly morphing and changing, adapting to new obstacles, finding new paths to take and yet ultimately, moving forward together. When I think about the past two years and what lessons living this life has taught me, a million things run through my mind. But today I want to focus on this one aspect – Family.
1. We must communicate.
When it comes to challenges within our own homes, we must remain fluid and flexible.
In Haiti, generations of families often will live together in one home, or right next door to one another. Talk about the opportunities for struggles! I can only imagine if I tried to live with my entire family and stay sane, (no offense guys). But what is beautiful about the Haitian way is that problems are talked about within a family structure, something I had to learn about early on.
When I first got to Haiti, I would hold in my opinions and frustrations with others to myself, in typical American (read: Southern) fashion. But I will never forget when a close friend asked me why I wouldn’t share my frustrations about him, with him.. “Because that’s how we grow.” He said.
Okay, ouch. Gotcha.
2. We must be quick to forgive.
Forgiveness, while simple in concept, is difficult to enact fully. Within the family structure, there is no room for grudges or resentment. In those things lies the opportunity for long term dissension to grow, one small foothold can morph into a future family dynamic full of difficulties and heartache. Family is not heartache, it’s about being aware that we all make mistakes, and we all need grace and forgiveness in our lives.
But what is forgiveness? Our Pastor, Chad explains forgiveness as absorbing the wrong someone has done to you and setting them free of it. That’s a big pill to swallow and it’s so true. Why are we so hesitant to forgive others of their wrongdoings? Because then we are left with the pain of the situation on our own.
But within the family structure, what more beautiful of an example of sacrifice, selflessness and unity is there than forgiveness? Forgiveness is a powerful thing, it has the power to re-kindle romances, salvage marriages, close doors to our past, open doors to our future, restore hope, re-connect hearts and save lives. We must forgive.
3. We must have the freedom to fail.
In addition to #2, we must be given the freedom to fail within our family structure. To have the freedom to dream big and reach for the stars.. and fail. And fall flat on our face and it be okay. And in turn, ensure that forgiveness will be available. (Of course, this doesn’t mean there isn’t discipline if it is due, but the discipline is given hand in hand with a kind heart, laced in love.)
When pursuing risky goals, having a family net of support under you is an amazing gift. A gift like that can keep you moving forward and dreaming big. In my own life, when I wanted to quit going down the nursing path in college, my parents and Eric never tried to squash my pursuit of something greater. In fact, they wholeheartedly supported me and that gave me the courage to try. I knew even if I failed it was worth the risk for me, but having my parents and Eric support me and say “Even if you fail, it was worth the risk to us” was one of the most incredible gifts they could have ever given me.
Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today, in a job that is my passion; the freedom they gave me unleashed my fear and allowed me to dive head first into my future.
4. We need Community.
You’ve heard the old saying, it takes a village to raise a child. But here in the States most of the time, that’s not the way it works, in fact.. “don’t touch my child without my permission” is the way of our culture.
Many times in Haiti, women who are relative strangers to me will ask me to help with their children. Even if it is simply watching them for 10 minutes while they speak to the Pastor, or go to round up their other kids. Especially if they are busy and have a task to complete. I love it. It builds community.
So many times our teams ask me, “But where is that child’s mother? She’s really here by herself?” I love getting to explain that indeed, her mother isn’t around, but big brother is and grandma is and the neighbor is and the Madame Pastor is… it’s a big scale family structure, it’s community.
Living in and among this way of life, I have learned so many lessons on motherhood. I naturally find myself gently touching the heads of children in the country, mimicking the women and how they treat their kids – to get attention, soothe their tears or simply say hello. I can, in those moments, be a part of a community, a large network of family. But in the States I have to force myself back into the confines of “my family/your family” bubble.
(Btw, do NOT touch the heads of children in the local Gordon’s Jewelers when you are getting your rings cleaned.. their mother WILL stare you down like you’re a predator… yikes!)
But how does the village mentality work in our very private and personal society? It’s community.
We must reach out in times of need to those around us. Mom, when you are frazzled and at your wits end, call the young girl in the church with a passion for children and ask her to come and see the kids for an hour. Let her be a blessing. Dad, when you are struggling with balancing work and kids, employ the wisdom of elder fathers who’ve walked in your footsteps. Allow them to guide you. Take advantage new parents of all the attention you’re getting from the Grandparents or the next door neighbor. Have them babysit while you’re still in the house (if you are nervous) so you can actually take a real shower.
Community is naturally just a big picture family structure.
5. It demands selflessness and hard-work.
In family, out of family, relationships take hard-work. If you desire healthy and real relationships in life, you’ve got to put in the time, effort and commitment. As I sat in an orphanage in Haiti asking teenagers what they want to do when they grow up, I heard the same response from them over and over, “I want to take care of my family” “I want to live with my family again””I want to buy my mother a home” “I want my brothers and sisters to go to school.”
Over and over they would say that the biggest motivation for them to go to school is their family. To better their future, as a household. What was I thinking of as a teenager? Not that for sure.
Maybe it’s having the courage to forgive, absorbing the pain someone has caused you for the betterment of that relationship. Maybe it’s admitting guilt to restore trust. But no matter what, it’s going to require hard work, daily forgiving and commitment.
But it’s worth it.
6. It isn’t just about blood.
Within my life, I love believe there is a new definition of family – based on who is in your life instead of blood.
Families that consist of a Pastor and his wife, full-time missionaries, international staff, orphanage children, returning teams and community members. Family that is formed in openness of heart and mind, sharing our lives with someone else. Learning a new way of life and growing together.
In Haiti, I have my second family. Made up completely of these people, none of them blood. All of them very different in life experience than I.
I always say: I grew up with 3 brothers, but now I have atleast 70. I have approximately 4 mothers, 5 fathers, hundreds of nieces and nephews. And okay, only one husband. 😉
What it comes down to is this – Family is more than blood, its who you share life with.
But without love, it’s all null and void. Love must be the bottom line, the foundation.
One of the things Christ’s tries to get us to understand over and over in the Bible and through his example on Earth is unconditional love, a love like His. It is the heart of life. And if we cannot give love to both those sharing our bloodlines and to those of whom we are deeply connected, then we are doing it all wrong.
Family is one of the most beautiful blessings to us as humans upon this earth. It’s universal. From Haiti to Somalia, to France and China. No matter what.. family is a treasure. Family not formed solely from marriage or birth or blood, but from life experiences and living together. From connections and friendships. From communicating, from forgiveness. Born out of freedom to fail and connecting with a community of friends, in love.
So what is your opinion? Today I want to ask you, what is a truth that your life experiences have taught you about family?
I charge you, re-kindle those bonds and hold dear to one of the few things that are not bound by time and place and culture.