Like most children throughout the world, I learned to articulate my needs with the help of my parents. And, like most children, I did that by following their example first. I trusted what my parents said and did to be true and right, as most children do.
I was twelve when my parents divorced. My world and my understanding of what love was quickly crumbled. When I reflect on that time, my memories are tainted with the dark stains of devastation, insecurity, and the new question — who am I now? Now that my foundation has crumbled, where do I place my identity, and what do I do with all of these pieces?
I saw everything through the lens of my pain, so what I saw was tinted and distorted. I was angry, and I’ve learned that we become angry when we are trying to protect ourselves from feeling vulnerable So, as a wounded and insecure pre-teen girl I grew into a bitter, resentful and ashamed teen. I went searching for love again in an attempt to put the pieces back together.
I sought love in companionship doomed from the start, because I was drawn to what was familiar to me – conditional love and instability. I sought love in different churches with different friends, and while they were welcoming and warm, it never felt right nor lasted long. When I didn’t find the love I sought, I despaired, and even self-harmed.
Fast forward through the death of my dad and two younger sisters, add an infant into the mix, and welcome to Rock Bottom. Still, I sought.
And I sought until I found. Nine years after my parents’ divorce and with a 3 year-old of my own, I decided that not only could I not continue to live this way, but my daughter shouldn’t have to either. I was determined to break the cycle of dysfunction and conditional love, but I had to learn what stability and real love looked like first.
So we said goodbye to the life we’d known, rented a U-Haul and drove toward the first sign of what felt like real, true, and abundant life. That life was in the shape of a loving family—my aunt and uncle and their children.
I am often asked why I wanted to be near this particular part of my family. I had not seen or spoken to my aunt in over 5 years, and when I finally did, I did not receive what she intended as acts of love very well.
Before my sisters’ funeral, she mentioned to me that one of my song choices, which had special meaning to me and my sister, had an inappropriate theme, and didn’t agree with it being played since it wasn’t truly good. This sent me into a fit of rage, but I never forgot that moment. I respected her authority because it was a novel experience to be told that maybe my way was not the right way.
These small moments were what sparked change in me. None of what my family did was extraordinary – this was just how they lived. Witnessing their normal family dynamic and being welcomed to participate offered me not only a sense of belonging to something whole, but the boundaries I had lacked growing up. My less-than-stellar choices were addressed instead of avoided. I was encouraged to do the right thing instead of being left to figure it out on my own. Active participation in the family and routine dinners together were emphasized and enjoyed.
These pillars of respect, accountability, forgiveness and honesty help form loving, healthy relationships, all of which we innately crave, whether we are fortunate enough to grow up with them or not. If we don’t experience these things, we end up searching for them for the rest of our lives and oftentimes, where we search for them are unhealthy places.
While the paths to love will look different for every person, I believe that each of our hearts yearns to give and receive this love and they won’t rest until they find it. I believe each of us is deserving of love, but pain and suffering can easily become consuming and make that hard to see and accept. Earth-shattering loss and becoming a mother opened my eyes to my deep need for love, especially if I wanted to provide true love for my daughter. I looked to my family to show me the way, and found so much more than I was expecting. The things I once resented and resisted—boundaries, discomfort, accountability, and even God—I now embrace. I believe in Love because love paved my path to freedom.