I have a tendency to define myself in terms of what I do not have rather than seeing the many blessings I have been given. This is, of course, ridiculous, but every time I try to step away from it, I realize that it is one of the core definitions of who I am. And has been for quite some time. As a teenager, I focused on my classmate’s nice car and the fact that I couldn’t be on the cross-country team because my dad said he needed me to work for him instead. I noticed that my family didn’t get to hang with the “important” families at church (and maybe you think church shouldn’t be like that, but, let’s face it, church is as social as any other organization). I wish I could say that I have progressed beyond that, but I haven’t. At least not all of the time. I worry about different things now, the things I do not have, but I still worry about them. I stress about the fact that I wasn’t given the skills to make my home the way I wish I could. I focus on the loss of my dad. And I worry about Mike’s parents.
I do not talk about this very often: Mike’s parents refused to give us their blessing to get married. They did not come to our wedding, and we haven’t seen them in over seven years. We haven’t really talked to them in over nine. For several years after we were married, people who hadn’t seen us in a while would ask, “Is there anything new with Mike’s family? Are you talking to them?” and I would feel guilty because we had to say that no, there isn’t, and no, we aren’t. Over time, the questions have dwindled away, and I would be surprised to hear anyone ask at this point. We don’t often have those kinds of conversations about the topic anymore. We did our best, but it seems unlikely that there will be any kind of reconciliation any time in the foreseeable future.
It’s hard to say that. I feel the guilt that any good girl raised in the church would feel when I say that. How can I even think that there won’t be reconciliation? How can I close the door on that relationship? I hope that we have not closed the door completely, although sometimes I admit that I can’t see how any kind of relationship would work with them at this point. We have lived a lot of life without them, and they have lived a lot of life without us.
Here’s the thing. When I want to bless someone, it’s something I give freely, without making anyone jump through some kind of hoops or earn my approval. There is a legitimate balance between being true to what you believe and doing what is best for your family. I think we all know that’s not what I am talking about here. We did not act according to their script, and they chose to punish us for it.
Over the years, I have had people, both well-meaning and otherwise, tell me that we should not have gotten married without the blessing of Mike’s parents. Which was not the most helpful thing for me to hear. These are family issues, and they are complicated, and I have only barely scratched the surface with what I have said here. Even without knowing the details or the nuance, people have been certain that we did the wrong thing by moving on without Mike’s parents. For a long time, I wondered if we should have waited for their approval, and my guilt for the lack of relationship mingled with the questions I had about blessing and marriage and family. Does their lack of a blessing really mean anything? What would their blessing have meant? Should we have sucked it up and done what they asked? Does life work in some pattern of blessings and curses?
This Christmas, the things, the relationships I do not have hit me especially hard. We lost our friend, my grandma was in the hospital, we had some unexpected family drama. I see the people we do not have, and I feel the lack of them in our lives. It feels like a curse, and sometimes I am tempted to believe that’s what it means, that if I’d been better or kinder they would have liked me. If I’d been better or kinder, my dad would still be here. If I’d been better or kinder, God would have blessed us instead of taking away.
When I do that, I hurt the people closest to me. Why can’t I see that the friends and family I do have are enough?
I think this idea of living in a blessing or in a curse takes away from a much bigger picture. After the Andrew Peterson concert, I got Mike to put a Square Peg mix on my iPod, and as I have been running over the past few weeks, I have heard Andrew Peterson’s song “All Things New.” I haven’t listened to that album very much, but it’s been in my head the past few days:
Come broken and weary, come battered and bruised
My Jesus makes all things new, All things new
Come lost and abandoned, come blown by the wind
He’ll bring you back home again, home again
Come frozen with shame, come burning with guilt
My Jesus loves you still, loves you still
The challenge for me in this situation is to believe in that redemption. To see the friends and family who surround us rather than those who are gone and who choose not to participate in our lives. I love the life we have been given. The most random things fill me with feelings of wonder and gratitude. I love our crazy old house. I love it more than I loved our old house because we have had to work at it more. I love that Alisa has moved in and that we can hang out on Saturday mornings. I love shopping at the Farmer’s Market and cooking meals and attempting crafts and taking trips and playing the Wii with my friends. I love drinking Homeland Creamery milk in my coffee, watching the clouds form as I pour it in.
There is often no discernible pattern to the things that happen. There is certainly no system like the one I imagine I would have in place if I was in charge. But that is both the blessing and the curse of this life. Old things can be broken, and if we are patient and willing, perhaps they can be remade – maybe into the same thing, or maybe into something completely different. The cracks still show, and the brokenness is still there.
I wish I could wrap this up in a nice bow and say that God makes these broken things beautiful again, and that the beauty is in the brokenness, but I think that would be too trite, and it’s not really telling the truth as I have experienced it. Being broken isn’t really beautiful. It’s not beautiful when people die or when relationships and hearts are broken or when people we love are in the hospital. The beauty that I see and feel is that God is there walking with us. The redemption is that he teaches us that we aren’t alone, and that he can use our past hurts to teach that same lesson to other people. And that sounds good, but sometimes, honestly, that is not enough for me.
But every now and then I break, and as I pick myself up, I realize that I have been put back together differently, that I am seeing the world with new eyes. I have a hunch that those are the sorts of blessings that God is talking about. In those moments, I can begin to see what he means when he talks about making all things new.
This week, the things I do not have seem much more present than the things I do have, but I will hold on to the memory of redemption as I try to believe that change is possible in our lives. Even in those areas where the struggles seem the same, where there seems to be nothing but but darkness. Perhaps, they, too, can be remade.