Psst. Guess what.
I don't want to tell you this. But, it's true.
A few weeks ago, I wasn't able to celebrate the holidays the way we all dreamed for ourselves, as a child.
Aunts and uncles.
And a gaggle full of cousins.
Instead, my husband Eric and I packed up a 9x13 pan of scalloped potatoes, along with four bottles of Martinelli's apple cider into the back trunk, and buckled our three year old CJ and six year old TJ in the back seat.
I turned back to smile at the boys and said, "Isn't this going to be fun? We're going to Auntie Merrianne's and Uncle Roderick's for Thanksgiving!"
But, as we drove off into the cold November air onto the freeway that quiet afternoon, I wondered -- What does Jesus think of all this? Celebrating with friends, instead of my family of origin?
Because the truth is, you see, Merrianne isn't really my sister. And Roderick isn't my brother-in-law.
I met her when I was just twelve. Merrianne was my junior high Sunday School teacher, a recent college grad herself. She became the first person to disciple me. She would sit across from me in our tofu-sized dining table, in a grimy, dimpled floor kitchen every Wednesday afternoon. It was a two-person book club really. We'd talk through book topics and pray.
After I went away to college, we didn't spend that much time together. I was often busy. But, she always made it a point to touch base with me, even if it meant swapping voicemails. When too much time passed between seeing each other, Merrianne would stop by, even if it was for half an hour. She had the gift of hospitality and it wasn't limited to her home. She would come to mine.
Even though I trusted her with a lot of my secrets, I never told Merrianne the truth of how dysfunctional my family life was growing up, how truly lonely and afraid I was.
It was a family code that had always been understood, that I never wanted to break.
Never talk bad about your family. Ever.
Like a sapling planted right under the downspout of a gutter, this message of family soaked down deep into the soil of my
childhood. The fear and shame of coming from a broken family seeped into my faith.
I never wanted to be seen as ungrateful or untrusting of God. I thought having faith in God meant not allowing anything difficult to break me, to never truly be sad and to always love by taking care of everyone and everything. I somehow adopted the notion that walking by faith meant being strong enough to cover the cracks that made life painful and putting the past behind me.
But, what I was really doing was surviving. I was ignoring the past, rather than facing the truth of it.
Because facing the truth forces us to make extremely deep and difficult changes. It calls us to truly walk by faith -- into the
unknown. It requires courage because we don't know what life looks like on the other side of renovation.
When we are truly walking by faith, we must face what we fear the most: we alone can't go it alone. We need others who can be God's heart to listen to us, God's voice to welcome us, and God's hands to open the door and hug us.
The old messages from our broken family of origins teach us that the safest place is to suffer alone. To keep silent and to never rock the boat. To never need -- to keep doing the same thing and hope that it gets better.
But, while writing a book earlier this year, I stumbled unexpectedly into PTS -- post-traumatic stress. My memories re-ignited and the truth of how much burden I've been carrying and the pressure of meeting others' expectations of me has been crushing.
That's why I called Merrianne. I needed to confide in someone, to help with the kids. It's a risky and vulnerable to exrpess
need. It happens when you're used to surviving without family to count on.
But, I've learned that Jesus understands the loneliness and the isolation of family pain.
Jesus understands when we keep it in, it separates us from the rest of the world and makes us feel like an outsider,
like damaged goods.
Jesus has been showing me He cares and He was there. Jesus tells me there is no shame coming from a broken family.
Jesus tells me the choice to joy and peace isn't always smooth, because the truth wants to set us free from old patterns of coping, especially if others are not happy with our choices.
So, a few weeks ago, on Thanksgiving, I truly needed family to celebrate with. People who I felt safe with, who really loved me and my family, without any strings attached.
So, when my oldest asked me why we were going to Merrianne's for the holidays, I tell him what I can. "This year, we're doing something different, sweetie."
Even so, I spent the rest of the ride feeling the guilt of unreconciled conflict in my growing-up history.
Now that I'm a mom myself, I wished more than anything I could fix things up, so my children could be spared of any broken stories. I wanted them to have something I never had.
A fairytale family.
But, that's not the family I inherited.
Instead, God has given me a new kind of family to pass onto my boys. A new inheritance.
It's a family that goes beyond what the holiday specials serve up on TV -- beyond the Kodachrome images I've culled from storybook expectations throughout the years.
It's a family that Jesus talks about when He calls us brothers and sisters.
Jesus didn’t respond directly, but said, “Who do you think my mother and brothers are?”
He then stretched out his hand toward his disciples.
“Look closely. These are my mother and brothers.
The person who obeys my heavenly Father’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
~ Matthew 12:46-40
It's a family that goes deeper than blood. It is spiritual.
This is the new family I'm creating now with my husband and my two children -- along with the spiritual family God's brought into my life.
To gain this new family, it's required me to let go of my fairtytale family -- to open up and let others in. I am breaking the old family code, to see if a new kind of family -- the one I read about in the Scriptures -- can come true for me.
I think of Jesus, how He spent his last meal with his spiritual family, confiding in the difficulty of the coming hours.
This is the spiritual family who can bring me comfort and acceptance -- during times that are uncertain, when I feel uncertain.
This new kind of family is one that Jesus offers to you and me: God's family of faith.
It's hard to confess that holidays aren't perfect -- especially when the truth for many of us, is that our earthly families have
It can feel embarrassing, when our families can't reflect the peace and unconditional love that we long for during the holiday season. Especially as Christians, we can feel tremendous pressure to reconcile broken relationships all in these last weeks of the year.
But, reconciliation isn't always possible because it involves two parties. Even though we forgive others, we may still have
to face the sadness of fractured relationships.
But, because of Jesus, we don't have to be imprisoned by this sorrow. Jesus can heal our hearts from the shame of hurtful family relationships.
Jesus Himself stands by us in the land of reality -- calls us family -- unashamed.
Jesus whispers --
I know what you long for. You don't need a fairytale family to be part of mine.
Jesus is creating a new family with us -- by bringing others to stand with us -- unashamed -- as new brothers and sisters.
If you're like me going through a difficult season of changes or facing a new reality, I'm sharing a bit of my story with you, in
hopes of bringing you a word of encouragement, from one spiritual sister to another.
You might have a quiet holiday this year. But, you are far from being alone.
It may not look the way it used to, but it can still be peaceful -- even though it is going to look different. Even though it is washed by the rush of tears.
You and I, after all, are not taking the easy way out. We are walking through the narrow gate, onto a path that Jesus is calling us to step forward onto.
I'm writing today's post to you, trusting that I'm not the only one who is walking through the holidays by faith. Join me, by
asking God how I can connect with Him -- and others in God's family of faith -- in the coming weeks.
It might mean for you, as it has been for me, simply letting others know: It's going to be a quiet holiday. I need to break from some dysfunctional family dynamics. I need to take care of me and my family this year.
I do get some prying questions. I smile softly and say, "Yeah, I can't talk about it. Thanks for understanding." But, I have found to my surprise, a lot of people ope up about their own family difficulties. I've discovered that maybe I'm not unlike a lot of people, going through a difficult time during the holidays. And I don't feel so alone anymore.
Then, I tell them about Merrianne, how God makes up for our losses by blessing us with friends in the body of Christ, to become our sisters, our brothers -- an extended family.
I've integrated this truth into the Christmas message with the kids this year: When God gave us Jesus, He also gave us a beautiful new family to add to ours.
God gave us a spiritual family, made of faith, so we can feel loved wherever we go. He gave us friends who are family.
Some of you can be a Merrianne. You've, have been blessed by a family who has chosen faith in God, rather than fear and
expectations, as the family code. You can bless someone else by sharing what you have, by inviting someone over this
Christmas season. You don't have to have a fairytale family either.
I wanted you to know, it makes a difference.
Give yourself the permission Jesus is offering to you. Embrace the spiritual family He longs to bring into your story, to
make tomorrow different from yesterday.
In fact, that's what I'm thinking as I look into the future of creating new family traditions with my husband and children.
I see a whole new way of celebrating the holidays.
No more fairytales.
More friends who become family.
How is God calling you to step out by faith -- and celebrate the holidays differently -- this year?
What has God's spiritual family meant to you?
Pull up a chair. It would be great to have you share. Click to share a comment.
Bonnie Gray is an inspiring Christian writer and blogger, offering encouragement to keep faith fresh in the daily grind. Her writing springs from the belief that the beauty of faith often takes place when life goes off script. Bonnie is the Founder of FaithBarista.com and featured writer for Hallmark subsidiary DaySpring's (in)Courage. Bonnie is currently working on her debut book, to be published by Revell Books. Bonnie is a native Californian living in the heart of Silicon Valley with her best friend Hubby, wrangling their two heaven-sent boys on the homestead.
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