But that’s not my family, right? And of course, it’s not Jason’s or yours either. Because we all went to church and look super sparkly on Facebook, and the good, “godly” kids like us respect their family name and sing their parents’ praises and work a part-time job polishing their family image. Well here’s the truth folks: While all our parents have some great qualities, they also all have some rough edges. Some perhaps more jagged than others. No one can convince me that there was a more perfect dad on the planet to raise and nurture my heart and spirit and I’m thrilled that he’s also "Pop-pop" to my little guys. Even still, we are who we become partly because of our parents and partly in spite of them, and I find not an ounce of shame in that.
I will happily be the first to lay down the family polish. When you’re heart-broken you don’t have energy for pretense and so I lost the ability a while ago. My family, Jason’s family, is flawed and broken and dysfunctional. After staring into that hard reality many a 3am in which it felt like only a nightmare, I woke up to the gift that is. It’s easy to look at the absence of a family member here or there and see the lack, but I’ve starting noticing what that space is filled with instead - and that is the gift of choice.
I get to choose how I want to be treated.
I get to choose those who are loyal and kind and full of character and wisdom.
I get to choose, hand-pick even, those people who my sons will look up to and create special names for.
I get to choose who is trustworthy and privileged to be part of my most vulnerable.
I get to choose who sits around my table and loves on my babies - and we don’t necessarily have to share any resemblance.
Some of the people I have chosen I happen to share blood with, and some of the ones I've chosen, I don’t. But how is that any less? What makes us think that there is something in shared blood that creates exceptions? Shared blood doesn’t create loyalty or character or love, though sometimes a common interest of family image management can create the appearance of those things. When those qualities truly indwell a person, it doesn’t take shared blood to draw them out. And if a person doesn’t embody those things, shared blood won’t create them. Yet somehow we’ve come to see this type of blood family as a form of identity that it was never meant to be - that if I can make these people I share a name with appear flawless, then somehow that says something about me. To be quite honest, it’s those glossy families that I’ve become a little leery of the older I get. Sometimes, the more broken, the more the need to create the image of perfection. But the especially beautiful souls who have graced and enriched my life - some blood related and some not- tend to have one thing in common: They are not image managers.
They own their flaws and brokenness.
They are the ones who are quick to say sorry and have forgiven before I ask.
They aren’t in the business of self-promotion.
They are comfortable in mess, both mine and their own.
They are comfortable being “in-process”
... and vulnerable enough to share struggles and doubts while they’re still working through them.
They are quick to see their flaws and my strengths, and never try to fix me.
They are the ones I want to become more like.
They are the ones I choose to be family.
And what an incredible gift! A gift that I share blood with some people like that and a gift that I get to choose rest to fill the empty spaces. I can say that life down here at the bottom, in the humble and messy, it may not be very popular on Facebook or gain you a ton of Instagram followers, but there’s no place I’d rather be. When we trade in likes for the real friends who can weather the storm and aren’t afraid to be vulnerable, we find the best kind of family. To be honest, I’d have to say that mine is still small, but growing as I’m learning to trust people again. And one of my favorite things about this kind of family is that (because they don’t care much for image and pretense either) there’s room at the table for you too, and nobody cares if the extra dishes match. It may not be the kind of gathering you can post pictures of to become the envy of all the block, but it’s exactly where I want to eat. It’s where I can be my most authentic, vulnerable self. It’s where I want to raise my kids and navigate the hard questions.
And y’all, creating that kind of family IS hard work... because it requires all of me, showing up, being willing to be known, risking, rough edges and all.
It’s built when I choose to pick up the phone and call that friend when I’m about to lose my ever-loving mind instead of checking out and comparing my messy life to someone else’s seemingly greener life on social media. It’s built when I stop trying to impress and invite those friends over at the last minute even when my house is a construction zone and dinner is coming from a box and served on paper. It’s built when instead of judging I see that struggle in you and say “me too.” It’s when I choose to reach out for help instead of pretending to have it all together. It’s when I choose to be the kind of person I want to call family that I participate in creating it - flawed but together, broken but chosen.