Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Family: Defined

I am redefining "Family".

The dictionary says that Family is: People living in the same house usually under one head (that is my paraphrased definition).

Of course, there are a million other sub definitions but the first definition is the one I am concerned about. A family is your mom and dad and siblings. In Ghana, you take care of your grandparents and older relatives as well. So when someone says they have no family... it generally means no parents, siblings or grandparents. Sometimes it extends into aunties and uncles as well.

We met a lot of orphans in Ghana. Some of them were sold when their parents were ill, some by other relatives after their parents passed away. The may have siblings but they don't have any idea where they are. They don't know their names, their birthdays, their surnames. They oftentimes don't know where they are from or how to get there to find family.

I talked to a sweet girl in the dark under a sky beautifully decorated with stars one night. She is 16 years old and she was telling me about how she has no family. Her parents died and her grandmother raised her. She was sent to the lake when she was quite young and while she was away her grandmother also died. I assume she has siblings somewhere but that is just the conclusion I draw because most of these kids have a few to several siblings. But if she has them, she doesn't know them or how to find them.

She still feels such a deep sense of loss and loneliness. And in ways, I understood it. Many things she didn't know about me because this was about her. This was about these young women. Not about me. But I had been feeling such similar things for a long long time.

I have obviously made my own family. I have Kyle and the boys and they are my family. But family needs to extend beyond that for me. And for most people I think. And for several years, I have felt like I am so different from my extended family that it is even confusing to know how we grew up around one another. I have made choices to cut ties with people in order to get myself to a healthier place. We live several hours from family and really had no support system here to help with our kids. I felt like... I had no family beyond the people who lived in my house (well and my best friend, Amanda and her husband Andy but even they live quite far).

So we discussed it. We talked about feeling lonely and how it is hard to feel connected to people. I have the same problems. Different life but the connections are beautiful. We discussed the pain of not being understood and feeling like we just don't really... fit in.

But then we discussed how God places into our lives people who become our family. That family is not just limited to mom, dad, sibs, grandparents. That God expands our family far beyond that and that we have to keep our eyes open for our "new family". I explained to her about my best friend and how I met her at a time when I really felt like, other than my (then) fiance, I had no one. She became my sister... fast.

I told her about my neighbor, Natalie, and how she is our family. How she has dinner with us and helps with our kids and how we pretty much share everything. I told her how my kids think she has the same last name as us (true story).

I told her about Shannon and Brian and how Brian works with my husband and they are so similar its scary and when I met Shannon I discovered... we are so similar that it is also scary. And how our families do things together and we help each other... and they, too, are our family.

Church family, neighbors, divine meetings... God arranges it if we are open to it.

Then I asked her about her friends (there are 6 older girls who do... everything together). I asked her who her best friends were. And she told me that the girls she lives with are her best friends. She named them one by one and told me how much she cared about them. And I looked at her a bit teary eyed and told her "you have a family! These other young ladies, they are your family. And in your life, you will meet people to add to your family and they will love you just like family. They will love you in a way that you will just know, they were meant to be a part of your family. They will love you like your best friends love you." We hugged with tears in both of our eyes. And I let her know that I loved her and would support her in any way I can. And she called me Mommy Deborah (I have to spell it that way because that is HOW they say my name) and told me she was so glad that we came and spent time with them.

But the truth is, maybe I did help her but she helped me. Because I had been struggling with this concept for such a long time. Longing for people to change so they could be what I expected them to be. Knowing in my head that their change is out of my control and trying harder won't bring it about but not really accepting it with my heart. And she taught me in that conversation that I need to absolutely embrace my God chosen family. The people that have been placed in my life to expand my family and to teach me and love me and help me expand.

And that is how I found most of my time in Ghana. Going into it to help and being absolutely humbled at how much the children and the experience taught me in turn.

I pray for my young friend every day that she finds her God family. That she recognizes them and pulls them into her heart. And I pray for myself that I am open enough to do the same.


Natalie's Fate said...

Aww.... I do feel like part of your family! And guess what, you are part of mine too! And Chachi and Jade are siblings.

JD said...

I remember having a similar conversation about redefining family and the personal danger of our expectations of others with you prior to our travels to Ghana in regards to your struggles with family -- so beautiful to see that God helped you teach this to the girls, and that in return, He helped them reinforce it back to you.

So many great conversations with the girls! I miss them so!

Debra said...

I know JD. It is amazing how God seems to reinforce the lessons you really need right when you need them. I am feeling better about the relationships I have lately and dwelling less on the ones that are not great at the moment. Thanks for helping me get there.