Sunday, April 17, 2011

My Home is NOT Broken

Time for the second “truth” I came to know on New Year’s Eve 2010. 

From the time my parents divorced when I was 13, I had to live with a label: I was from a “broken home.” Words cannot express to you how much I came to hate that label.

At 14, I went to my first (and only) youth camp as a resident of the dormitory. I will grant you that I was not the easiest teenager. My favorite thing to do in any discussion, whether it was scriptural or social, was to ask, “Why?” and “On what authority do you base that?” Most of that was just my nature. I still ask those questions pretty regularly, and they have made me a better human being. To paraphrase one of my favorite plays (The Miracle Worker), “Obedience without understand is a kind of blindness, too.” For every regulation placed before me, I wanted to know WHY I was expected to obey.

One night, after we were supposed to be sleeping, I was lying there staring at the ceiling when I overheard a conversation between two of the counselors: “You really just have to excuse Alesha. She’s from a broken home, you know.” The end of my stay at that youth camp is part of family legend now and doesn’t really matter for purposes of this story, but the bottom line is that I was very deeply wounded by that conversation. They had labeled me defective, and there wasn’t much I could do to redeem myself.

When I married, I was determined that my home would NOT be broken. My family was NOT going to be defective, but as I wrote about last time, some prayers aren’t answered the way we want . . .

So, when it became clear that the traditional nuclear family was not going to be what I would have, I went looking for help at (where else?) the Christian bookstore. There were several shelves about “praying for your marriage” and “making a better marriage” and “healthy homes start with healthy marriages”… where were the books on what to do when you were on your own? I found them, though I didn’t buy them. There was one-third of a shelf (on the bottom, in the corner) dedicated to single parents. The covers depicted mostly women, looking like they were facing death, dismemberment and worse. I wanted hope. I got the message from skimming the contents: survival should be your hope. You won’t thrive. Things will be bad, terrible even. But eventually the kids will grow up and if you don’t mess it up any worse, maybe they won’t be cursed with their own broken home. That is, if they don’t follow the statistics and go to jail by age 9.

I am exaggerating, of course, but the material available WAS pretty bleak. I did finally get a good book to help (thanks Sis Mary Lynn Warren!!!!), but it was from a friend, because it had long been out of print. I didn’t want to survive. I wanted to THRIVE!!! But how to do that in a “broken home”?

I had rebuilding for a while on New Year’s Eve, and for the most part I was feeling pretty positive, but I was still wrestling with the idea of my “broken”, defective home. I HATED it. Why should my home be broken and defective? Why should my kids wear that label I had hated so much? It wasn’t fair.

And that’s when that still small voice came with the simplest answer: “Your home is NOT broken. I am there.” Wow, what a revelation! As often happens when God speaks into my spirit, I was speechless. So there came the voice again: “Go ahead. Say it, ‘My home is NOT broken.’” Again, I was dumbfounded. It couldn’t really be that simple, could it?

But yes, yes it really could. I said it quietly, sort of embarrassed. Since then, I’ve been saying a lot more loudly. Just because I’m a divorced mother does NOT MEAN MY HOME IS BROKEN. My children and I have built a very happy, loving home. We have fun. We laugh. We are very close. They aren’t statistics; they are happy, thriving children.

So why is this important? Because I think it’s time we stop accepting the lie that divorce is a death sentence for a family. It’s time to stop accepting the lie that children are doomed to failure because their parents’ marriages failed. We are not broken homes. We are families. We might look a little different, but we are NOT BROKEN.

As a child, I didn’t know what to say to those camp counselors. As an adult, I know what I might say. “I didn’t ask, ‘Why?’ because my home was broken. I asked it because I wanted to understand why I live as I do. Why I believe as I do. I needed you to give me answers, and while you didn’t, I found someone who did. And by the way, my home – the one I had with my Mom, my sister, and my grandmother – it wasn’t broken either. If you want to see the proof, look what I have become… MY HOME IS NOT BROKEN.”

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Living Another Kind of Dream

I began 2011 in Gatlinburg, Tennessee on vacation with my favorite people – my kids and my parents. Those who know me well know just how difficult 2010 was for me. It represented the death of a dream and a massive sense of failure, along with another really public betrayal. I spent most of the year thinking, “Haven’t I done this once already? Wasn’t that enough? Really, again?” But, the year was ending well, and while the rest of my family was sleeping shortly after the New Year dawned, I was up, asking the Lord about a thing or two. There were three very important truths I learned that night, and I’m ready to write about the first one.

I was 13 when my parents’ strained marriage finally unraveled completely. I was devastated on many levels, but the primary reason was because I had prayed so long and hard that God would save my family. I had begged and pleaded with God to turn my Dad around, cause him to change his life, change his mind, to MAKE him want to be part of our family again. I listened intently to every minister, read every Bible story, and I tried everything I could, from special offerings to Gideon-style fleeces. I bargained with God in my 13 year old wisdom. I promised to be a VERY good girl, if He would only save my family.

He didn’t.

From age 13 until adulthood, I was brought up by my mom, a hard-working, dedicated and wonderful single mother who gave me the best I could have needed. She worked very hard to give my sister and I every advantage, and she dedicated herself to building a happy home. We weren’t unhappy, but within myself, I knew that I wanted a REAL family, with a Dad. I wanted a Dad who would show up for my piano recitals, and my high school graduation. I wanted a Dad who would be proud of me, not from a distance, but right up close. I wanted a REAL family, not a single-parent one. I’d also taken to listening to Dr. Laura on the radio, and she was very fond of saying that you got two chances at the family relationship: the one you are born into, and the one you build. So I decided right then that I was going to build a REAL family – one that wasn’t a single-parent disappointment. And nothing would stop me or stand in my way. I was pretty convinced that my will-power alone could keep it together no matter what.

It couldn’t.

Flash-forward a whole lot of years and two divorces. The dream of a REAL family felt pretty dead. I’d tried building that twice, and both times, I just apparently wasn’t enough. Because I am an eternal optimist, staying depressed just wasn’t in my nature, so I kept putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward. Finding Nemo (Just keep swimming! Just keep swimming!) was sort of a motto and a battle cry, and I kept moving forward. I spent months rebuilding my self esteem so that I could look in the mirror and see an image of God’s child and not an image of the insults that had been thrown at me. It was a lot of hard work to find healing, but I did, and I could see myself truthfully again.

But it was that night – the very first hours of New Year’s Day – that God began to deal with me about that dead dream, the one I jokingly called a nightmare. The family I’d wanted – two parents, kids, dog, fence, me being the stay-at-home Mom who loves my babies and waits anxiously for the Dad who loves me and the kids to come through the door – was not the dream I’d gotten.

No, I don’t have the dream I wanted. I spend my days working so that we can have a place to live, food to eat, some comforts of life. Once the three of us walk through the door, there isn’t any point in waiting around. No one else is coming home. But I did get a dream. It just wasn’t the one I was expecting. Tonight, after my two mile walk with my mom, Noelle, David, and I came home, put together a puzzle, sang songs, read a story, and at the end of the story, I tucked the two most precious gifts any mother has ever received into bed. Oh yes, I am living a dream, and even if it wasn’t the one I wanted, I would not trade this life – this dream – for ANYTHING.