My family is blessed with dysfunction. We have divorcées, self-righteous proselytizers, hypersensitive feelers, fiery debaters, and of course, crazy people. From this bumbled collection of personalities, achievements and beliefs – I begin to see myself. I see pieces of them, for good or for bad, shaping me in every which way. Learning to accept me, and learning to accept them? That’s been a long journey.
While I was growing up, “broken families” seemed few and far between. It was the 1990’s, but issues like divorce still didn’t seem real. I felt alienated because I was alone, shuffled from parent to parent and always without my entire family. Everything was split in half – my cheering crowd at flute recitals, weekends with Mom and Dad, the allegiances of family friends, and my desire to be a part of this painfully difficult situation.
My struggle for self-acceptance only intensified when I moved away from home. I took the opportunity to leave my family and their history of dysfunction behind me. Throughout most of my college years, I attempted to define myself through friendships, groups and various interests that consumed me. My new life was about being popular, committed and involved. I tried to blend into the crowd of do-gooders, denying all along that a darker family past preceded me.
In the span of one morning, I shattered my own false pretenses. It happened while I was serving breakfast at a local shelter for the homeless. Through with my turn scooping eggs and flipping pancakes, I decided to talk to the people I’d served. It was an instant decision, the kind that bubbles from your heart like a breath to the surface of water.
I walked over to a middle-aged woman sitting all alone at a table. She was silently and deliberately cutting her pancakes. Her face was stark and blank, yielding hardly a credible read on her disposition. But something stirred within me. It was my heart again. I began to feel her. I could read her without words: She consumed her food purposefully because she wanted to savor the pleasures of a real meal, her first in quite a long time.
Throughout the course of our conversation, she resurrected both posture and temperament. No longer hovering over her plate, but erect and enlivened with personal tales joy and sorrow, she came to life before my eyes. I smiled, almost breathlessly clinging to every word of her bottled history.
She stopped abruptly and said, “You have Jesus in your eyes. It’s a light, darling. And it’s very bright.” My smile faded and my jaw hung agape. Moving my gaze to the wall behind her, my eyes fixed upon a row of fellow volunteers, talking amongst each other and oblivious to the throngs of needy people before them. It was my heart again, and the message was beautifully clear.
To this day, I can’t remember that wonderful lady’s name. I can only remember the lesson she taught me: I am different because of the way I love people – because of the way I accept them.
I spent years denying my differences. I was ashamed of my family and the precariousness of my upbringing. The more I came to understand the uniqueness of my gift – my propensity to love and accept people as they are – the more I understood the beauty of my broken family. I realized then as I realize now that my family, through their dysfunction, has encouraged within me a spirit for giving endlessly that which I never felt I received. Acceptance.
It is one of the most profound lessons I have ever learned. The human heart pours that which it secretly craves. My family taught me how to accept myself, and how to accept others. I believe that family is about acceptance. And so I’m proud to say that my family wouldn’t be complete without the crazy ones. They have taught me to accept the world, and how to love it.
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