Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Be a Life Preserver

On the ferry by C Carlstead
flickr.com_photos/cristic/560163635_CC BY-ND 2.0
Life was smooth sailing until the summer before my tenth birthday when my father walked out on us. Forever etched in my mind, it was the first day I ever felt lost.

Everything in my life changed that day--holidays, church gatherings, even after school routines--and I found myself gasping for air, barely keeping my head above water.

Our home, once overflowing with family during holidays and birthdays, now sat eerily empty as half our extended family wondered what to do with us. After-church dinner invitations halted and television noise filled the air instead of friendly conversations and kids' laughter. And, worst of all, a locked door and empty house greeted me after school because my mom now worked.

Oh, how my heart yearned for normal and the family comfort it once knew. So, I sought out family wherever I could--looking for hope for my future--praying that God would somehow allow me a glimpse at what a forever family looked like. And He was faithful.

While I bobbed in a sea of raging chaos and change, God threw me four life preservers that helped me navigate those choppy waters of a fatherless childhood and adolescence:

  • An attentive teacher. Mr. P was my first male teacher and one I'll always remember. Rather than coddling me, knowing my family situation, he taught me courage. Oh, he had my back, like a good father, when the class bully picked on me, but most importantly, he helped me discover my voice. He gave me the courage to speak up for myself and to be comfortable with the sound of my own laughter. 
  • A caring faith community. Shunned from our "family" church, my sisters and I sought out a loving faith community across town; one with an active youth ministry. The youth group became my family; a place of comfort and belonging, spiritual encouragement, and growth. It's where God grew me up into who He created me to be through the leadership and friends.
  • A loving extended family. Newly married, my eldest sister and brother-in-law took me under their wing. They welcomed me to their extended family celebrations where I witnessed numerous godly marriages that extended decades. One celebration, in particular, a fiftieth anniversary, stood as the catalyst of hope for me. Attending with my then boyfriend (and now husband of 32 years, yay!), it hit me...there is such a thing as a godly, forever family. 
  • A generous friend. Adolescence was a tough road for a single-parented child, especially one whose sisters were both married. God graciously gave me a friend from seventh to twelfth grade who generously shared her family life with me. Her parents meant the world to me as they often invited me to stay for dinner, go on vacation with them, and allowed me to share the day-to-day routine of their family. It was in that home that I caught a glimpse of a normal, loving family; the one I longed for someday. Truly, a gift from my heavenly Father.

I am forever thankful that God placed these people in my life. The lessons I learned from them remain even decades later. And as I welcomed my children's young friends into our home, I prayed that God would use our family the same way He used those precious life preservers of my youth; that for those seeking acceptance, normalcy, family, and God, they would find it all under our roof.

Are there children or young people in your life who might be drowning in some rough family seas? Are they seeking some resemblance of normalcy in their world? How might God use you and your family to ease them through this tough time?

(If you joined me here from the Christian Children's Authors blog, Welcome!)

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