Finding Family in Grace

Written by Melissa Smith

Being part of a family is something that, I think, we all want. As a kid, I remember playing a game called M.A.S.H. (Mansion, Apartment, Shack, House) when I was about 8 or 9. For those who haven’t played the game, here is how. There are several categories such as ‘who you want to marry’, ‘the number of kids you want’, 'type of job you'd like' and ‘kind of car you want to own’. You then write down your desired number, car, etc. under each category.  Finally, you'd say some little rhyme, land on a word on your list and cross it out. You'd repeat the rhyme and continue to cross out words until you’re left with one in each category. Somehow I ended up married to some kid from class and living in a shack with 5 kids working as a circus performer while driving a Corvette a whole lot of times!

As I became an adult, my idea of what family meant changed. No longer living through the imagination of a child, I began to develop ideas based on life experiences and my expectations. I filtered my description through the lens of teenage parenting, my parents' divorce when I was a young adult and finally through my marriage. Each of these circumstances were wrought with an endless attempt at fulfilling what I thought I should be during that particular period of my life. If you weren't aware, living life with the self imposed task of acting like who you thought people were looking for is not easy, fun or satisfying!

Family and the desire for one seems to always boil down to the need to be loved and accepted as you are. I know that's how it was for me. Sometimes the family I had was not planned. Having a child as a senior in high school does not exactly make life easier. However, I decided I would not let myself become a statistic and plodded forward through school and graduated right on schedule. I was pretty proud of myself and gave myself a mini pat on the back, 'cause yay me. I lived with my parents and sister at the time and thought we were a pretty good family unit. Sure we had some financial stuff and the normal family struggles, but we were in it together. 

Then, after we had settled into a nice house and things seemed to be really good, my parents' divorced. The impact it had on my interpretation of family was jarring, but I chose to cope with it in the best way possible: I ignored it and found something else to occupy my mind. Actually, I met my soon to be husband around that time. So, I shifted my family focus onto him and created a new family. Wasn't that clever? Well, actually it wasn't. 

My marriage is where I spent the most time in my adult life trying to create the environment of unconditional love and acceptance. I thought my husband was the one that was going to give that to me. I put the responsibility of my happiness on him as if that was the answer. When I felt like I wasn't good enough because of my insecurities, I molded myself to be the person I thought he wanted. I fought to get my kids (we added 2 more to the mix) to be the people who would fit into the mold I had created. I spent countless hours trying to figure out my flaws because nothing I did made any impact. I realize now that these flaws were mostly made up.

In the middle of my marriage I found a church and gave my life to God. I became a card carrying member and worked to mold my life to be like the Christian they were telling me I was supposed to be. With this idea in mind, I scolded my husband for his language, for his crass sense of humor and for all of the things he did that weren't meeting my new self imposed expectations. As a mother, patience was something I severely lacked. I tried to be patient with my kids. I can remember regretting asking God for help with that part of my life because I thought He was testing me by making my kids be terrible when they were just being kids!  When my self-righteous attempts didn't work, I went back to trying to change myself into someone else. I never allowed myself to just be myself and my husband to just be himself. I made choices that I thought would make him happy, because if he was happy, then we'd all be happy. I assumed that I knew what it was that would make him happy. Wouldn't you know it? My work did nothing and my marriage ended in spite of my best effort. Oh, the things I would tell myself if I could! 

My idea of family was so wrong. My focus was never in the right place even when I thought I was doing the right thing as a Christian. My membership card did nothing but sit in my wallet. It didn't make me feel accepted for who I was or loved beyond measure. It just occupied a slot. My attempts at creating the environment I craved were pointless. I wandered from relationship to relationship trying to find the person who would be able to create that with me.

Wouldn't you know it? That search never produced anything but a playlist of sappy love songs. It wasn't until the day I walked through the doors of this church, Grace Church, that I finally found a place where my lifelong search had come to an end. I embraced this church from that first day. I fell in love with Jesus all over again and knew beyond anything that He was all I ever had needed. I was finally with my family. I didn't know a single person other than my mother. I didn't know what programs there were or what groups there were. I had no idea what to expect from this particular church, but I knew that I was home.

It's been about a year and I could never tell you what my family means to me. God has blessed me so many times over and given me more than I dared to hope. I don't have a membership card, but I know I belong here. Membership cards are just pieces of paper anyway. What this church is for me cannot be qualified by traditional standards. It isn't the groups, although they're awesome. It isn't the storytelling opportunities. It isn't the worship team, even though they are amazing. It's not the lights or anything that you see. What makes this church is the people and the unity we have in Christ. It's how we know we are loved by our Father and how that love pours out. The friendships that are forged in this building and the connections that we have to each other stem from our knowledge that we are fully loved for exactly who we are. We don't have to pretend or act like who we think we should be. This isn't a church. It's a family.

 

WRITERS GROUP/ GRACE JOURNAL
MISSION STATEMENT

Part of Grace Church’s heart and mission is to inspire an awareness of the finished work of Christ. We are driven to help others deepen a renewed understanding of the finality of our Savior's sacrifice. As believers, we celebrate and share in the privilege of being an active and significant part of HIStory - The Jesus Narrative. We have been given a unique opportunity to share this narrative with others through insights of a grace engaged culture. Using powerful individual stories collected and woven together with the common thread of Christ, our hope is to display and honor the personal and ardent love that our Savior has for each of us.

It's our sincerest hope and desire to use the Grace Journal as an inspirational teaching tool, a demonstration of a life lived in the knowledge of our identity in Christ, and as a resource for our church family as well as those outside of our church.

Share your story or join our team of writers at
storytellers@graceorlando.com

We are looking for stories and devotional pieces that are fresh and present an authentic look at lives impacted by God and the Grace message. Our aim is to illustrate our faith and to love and edify people.