This is a love letter to my family – the one I grew up with and the ones I have chosen for myself as life goes on.
Gratitude has been on my mind a lot lately. If I had to count my blessings today, I feel like I could start and never stop. I seem to be in a perfect storm of blessings, where every part of my life is full of happiness and satisfaction. My life is not perfect, but there is so much good surrounding me, that even the less-than-ideal bits aren’t too troublesome. I know this can’t last forever – there will always be those valleys of disappointment, sadness, and troubles – so while it does, I desperately want to soak up every little drop of wonderful.
Two people have recently come into my life who have made this more clear than it ever was before. Megan and Grace originally came to stay at our bed and breakfast because, as I’ve evasively told so many people, they needed to get away from a difficult family situation for awhile. But it was so much worse than that. The family situation wasn’t bad, the family was completely lost. Not lost in the sense that they’re far away, across the globe in an remote location where communication with them is difficult, and visiting nearly impossible. Not lost in the tragic sense of death, by some horrific accident.
No, Megan and Grace lost their family because their family chose to cut them off. Completely. Forever. Megan and Grace chose to leave their family’s church, and to their family, this means they are worse than dead. They are traitors, sinners, and to be regarded only with scorn. A family who loved them – cherished them, even – only three months ago, has now turned them away with no room for negotiation or communication.
The girls are, understandably, heartbroken. Imagine what it is like to understand why your family has done this, but to wish beyond hope that it did not have to be so. Imagine knowing that your family is still there, doing the regular things you’ve known all your life, laughing and working and playing and pretending that you never existed while you struggle to figure out who you are apart from them, and what you should do with your life now that everything you knew is gone.
In attempting to imagine this, in attempting to sympathize with such a devastating situation, I find myself returning again and again to gratitude.
I have made some choices in my life that my family does not approve of. Like Megan and Grace, I left the church I was raised in to follow a different path. And though I know this occasionally causes my parents distress, they have never rejected me. Despite emotional disputes and confused expectations, they continue to love me for all they are worth. They love me with the kind of love that involves hugs, tears, rowdy family dinners on long weekends, difficult conversations over tea, confused phone calls about unimportant daily problems, and gifts of marshmallowy treats because they know how happy such a small gesture makes me. We see each other often (thought not as often as we all might like), we talk every few days. I know what is happening in their lives and they know about mine. For every difficulty that has ever come between us, there has been infinitely more love, support, and forgiveness.
And I am overwhelmed by gratitude.
Mom, Dad, Megan, Tommy, Grandpa George, Grandma Shirley, and Grandma Lorena: Thank you for being there. Thank you for loving me unconditionally and for always challenging and encouraging me. Thank you for being there through ups and the downs. I hope you know how much I love you in return, and how much more I wish I could express this. There is nothing in the world like family, and I could not be more grateful that you are mine. I love you. Forever. As Grace would say: Every day and every day and every day.
Megan and Grace: if you read this, I didn’t mean to make you cry. For all that your family has turned you away, I continue to believe with all my heart that they still love you. I disagree with the way they choose to express their love, but I deeply, firmly believe that their love for you is still there, and I deeply, desperately believe that we can always continue to hope for a day in the future when perspectives may be changed. Maybe in this life, maybe in the next. Whatever the case, I want to be your stand-in family for as long as you’ll let me, and you know I’m not alone. You are surrounded by people now who want to help you and love you and take care of you. Our ideas of what this means may not always match yours, but if that doesn’t make us more like a real family, I don’t know what does. But know this: you are not alone. Every day and every day and every day.