Familiarity can breed contempt, but it can also give birth to the level of affection we are created to experience. The difference is whether I let fear or love lead the way. 1 John 4:18 says it best.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” (NASB)

Families fall apart when fear forces them to fuse together. They connect beautifully when love allows them to be who they are. God created us to connect, and our hearts cannot survive without those connections. The most valuable thing the homeless have lost is not their addresses; it is their family connections.

The family systems theory concerning differentiation of self makes a great deal of sense, and I believe God is the ultimate example of how it works. He makes it clear that He is the Great I AM. That isn’t as much about being all powerful as it is about being exactly Who He Is. I believe He wants each of us to be the amazing individual He created us to be, so we can  connect and live in community as He desires.

The Bowen Center has this to say about the negative effects of unhealthy interdependence:

“The more intense the interdependence, the less the group’s capacity to adapt to potentially stressful events without a marked escalation of chronic anxiety. Everyone is subject to problems in his work and personal life, but less differentiated people and families are vulnerable to periods of heightened chronic anxiety which contributes to their having a disproportionate share of society’s most serious problems.”

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Family brings a sense of belonging, and Christ made it very clear that His family is open to all. That doesn’t mean He sanctions abusive behavior. Abuse is the worst form of fusion, and it breaks God’s heart to see His children hurting. Parents and children alike understand the pain of such breaking. Society suffers alongside broken families. God has the power to make us love any way or any one He wants, but He knows better than to force love upon His children.

Family isn’t an easy word to define; but like love, I know it when I feel it. God has helped me see myself as He sees me, and I am so very thankful for a birth family who loves me just as I am. I can’t imagine life with my three sweet sisters and their families, my son and his wife, or my three adorable little grand daughters; but I also thank God for brothers and sisters who are related beautifully by the common thread of love. I am thankful for connections that surround me like a warm, cozy blanket and melt my heart into a sweet, still pool of peace.

Reaching out isn’t easy; it is much simpler to fuse into small groups who share a common love. It is easier still to form groups with a common hatred, and we all know examples of how that destroys families, churches, communities, and countries. It is easiest to simply stay out of sight and not connect at all. That lets you off the hook when it comes to grieving over the loss of a loved one, but it also leaves you with a deep sense of longing that is the worst pain of all.

God loved us enough to send His only Son. I haven’t reached that level of love and doubt I will understand it until I am with Him, but I have learned that God will provide connections that are good for my heart when I relax into faith and trust Him to know what is best for my heart.

Jesus was born into a beautiful family, but I’m sure His earthly family was filled with individuals who were far from perfect. This morning, I was imagining what a large family gathering might look like when He was a young boy. I bet He had a crazy aunt or uncle who made Him smile, and I’m sure there were squabbles and even a feud or two. That didn’t stop Him from loving them, and it doesn’t stop Him from loving us. I also know with all my heart, that He must have looked around when all were gathered in one accord, smiled, and said to Himself, “This reminds me of Home.”

A Very Sweet Feeling

I was expecting to see a spectacular display of fireworks last night as the family gathered at Pepe and Meme’s house for their annual Fourth of July party. The view of town is amazing, and blue skies were promising to hold back the torrential rains long enough for our celebration. I took my vegetable trays and headed up the mountain. Traffic was terrible because the streets of our small town are simply not equipped to handle the volume of people who flood the downtown area to celebrate the Fourth of July.

I opted to take the back roads and made the two-mile trek in twenty minutes. I loved the party, but I was the only person there who had to come off the mountain after the firework display. I imagined it would take over an hour to get back to my apartment, so I decided it was best to head home early because I knew I would be able to see fireworks from my new apartment.

The drive home was much easier than the drive up the mountain, so I got home in plenty of time to catch the show. I looked over at the mountain from which I had just come and thanked God for my son and his sweet family. I wondered if I shouldn’t have stayed and not worried about the traffic. I noticed the parking lot beside my apartment was full of folks sitting on their cars, so the view promised to be a good one. The revelers were setting off their own little fireworks, and the kids were screaming with delight at each pop. When the big show started, I had to laugh. The fireworks appeared to be right in my front yard. I had the best seat in town and decided perhaps I should have hosted the party!

Today marks the sixth anniversary of mama’s death. I always think of her during the week of the Fourth because she gained independence from her pain on the fifth of July. I felt her presence in a powerful way last night. I saw her eyes as Mylah looked at Tyler when he threatened to take a bite of her apple pie. I saw her smile on Lilly’s face when she sat with Gina and ate her pie and ice cream. I felt her love when I looked at my son and thought of how very much I love him. I also knew mama was getting a kick out of the special show taking place right in front of me. I had some difficult lessons last week, and she knew I was experiencing a new kind of freedom myself, one that wasn’t easy on my heart. She and God knew the Fourth of July craziness was just the distraction I needed.

I’ve been in my new place for four months now, and I absolutely love it. I took this photo from Pepe’s porch  and love it because it beautifully captures Bryson City. The town captured my heart decades ago when I took a job at Alarka Elementary in 1976. The 120 students ranging in age from five to thirteen won my heart and made me feel right at home. I had so many wonderful students over the years, and they still make me feel at home. They have children and grandchildren of their own now and seeing my precious students, grand students, and great-grand students everywhere I go reminds me that I am completely surrounded by love. That’s a very sweet feeling!

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