Growing up, I was taught by example that family consists of people who unconditionally love each other even if they are not necessarily blood-related. Family can consist of the traditional group of a mother, father and children, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents. But it can also consist of people who are around so much that they've become a permanent fixture, giving and taking as every other member does, loving unconditionally and being loved unconditionally as well. As the children get older, that love can branch out to specific friends and boyfriends or girlfriends who have stuck around, then spouses and new children, siblings of these outsiders.
My parents' house was always buzzing with not only the seven children that were their children, but several friends who would come and stay for days or at least visit on a daily basis. My parents always joked that they had many more kids than seven. They always treated our friends as if they were their own children, as the case often was that these kids had no real home to call their own, or parents who cared enough to be distracted from their busy lives to notice their children and fulfill their needs. Though my dad was often one of those parents himself, there were times when he was around, times when he did take notice and payed attention to not only us but our friends as well. We also had several of my parents' friends who we considered part of the family. Oscar. Leo. Pat. Patty. Sherry. Mike. Trudy. Cristal. Rosemary. They were all in essence members of the family and became constant factors in the ever-changing tapestry of our childhood.
When I got married, I was so excited to carry on this tradition- welcoming others into my life as part of my family, not just in the sense of in-laws but on a deeper level; a real true connection. I wanted so badly to share the love I had been given and I wanted so badly to be given that same love in return. But I quickly learned that there are all types of families that are different than mine and the one I married into, while not awful, was not the type I was used to having. I realized through many tragically crushing events that I did not know how to exist in a family such as this and I found myself on my face a lot.
It took me quite some time (and one last crazy event) to really understand that all those times that I was on my face, I should've been praying. But I didn't. Not a lot. Sometimes I would but the hurt I felt and the consistent struggles I went through did not allow me to be mindful of the fact that I should have been reaching out to my Father on a constant basis, and showing this family the love I knew I had for them. And it took me a good portion of my healing process to realize that not only did I need to reach out for Him to truly heal me, but I needed to reach out to Him and pray that He would heal them as well.
After all, we don't necessarily have to have a close and perfect bond with others to give them unconditional love. There doesn't have to be a deep connection or friendship with them to love them despite how they make us feel. And we shouldn't base our love for them on how much or how little they love us. We don't even have to ever see them. But we should pray for them. And that is the ultimate act of love, especially when there is a treacherous ocean between us that seems impossible to cross. This has been such a hard lesson to learn- to come to an understanding that the equation that makes up a family can include all sorts of factors, but the one thing that remains constant is the end result. It always equals family, even if only one side factors in unconditional love.