My grandfather was essentially an orphan. His mother died when he was only days old and his father left him in the care of an elderly lady that he called “Grandma.” When he was thirteen his adoptive mother died and he became a ward of the court under the guardianship of an uncle. Somehow in spite of growing up in a most unusual situation he became a great man whose integrity and love were legendary. My father-in-law was raised by an uncle and then later by a group of unmarried aunts. He too is an incredible man who has never had any problems adjusting to life and forming healthy relationships with people. Then there are my brothers and I who grew up in a single parent home plagued by sporadic poverty and mental illness. Somehow we all turned out to be just fine, actually even better than fine. What was the key to all us navigating through life without major problems? I suspect that it was just plain and simple love.
We have a tendency in our society to create definitions of how things are supposed to be. We describe the ideal family as being a man and woman who are married and dedicated to one another. There is certainly nothing wrong with striving for such situations but the reality of life is that not only are there other feasible alternatives but also sometimes the so-called traditional ways of family dynamics are actually toxic. Life is far too complex to insist on easy and inflexible methods of doing things.
By definition I lived in a dysfunctional family as did both my grandfather and my father-in-law but the descriptors of a healthy home did not take into account the power of love. In each case someone provided us with a strong sense of safety and security in spite of the blows that tragedy had dealt us. The truth is that children are quite adaptable and as long as there is a selfless and loving adult in their worlds they tend to grow in wisdom and age and grace. I certainly missed my father, perhaps even more so than my brothers because they were so young when he died that they barely remembered him. I had enjoyed his presence in my life for eight years and was more acutely aware of the loss. Still I eventually tucked my grief away and made the best of my situation. Most of the credit for my ability to do so goes to my mom who dedicated herself to providing us with daily does of encouragement and unconditional love. The same was true for my grandfather who often spoke of the happy days that he spent with his grandmother. I actually had the pleasure of visiting with the uncle and the aunts who raised my father-in-law and their affection for him was apparent.
Family is not so much about an ironclad description as about a feeling inside the home. As an educator I have worked with students who were receiving so much abuse from a parent or parents that their spirits had already been broken at very young ages. Others witnessed so much anger and fighting between their parents that the very thought of going home each day made them anxious and fearful. The so-called traditional family sometimes does more harm to children than one that appears to be strange to the outside world and yet there are those among us who insist on marginalizing some non-traditional families simply because they are different from the morays to which we have become accustomed.
Jesus Himself was quite different and He often chose friends who were outcasts in His society. I have always believed that He did these things on purpose because He wanted to model the kinds of behaviors that He expected from each of us. He was a very non-judgmental soul and He continuously urged His followers to love, love, love. He never placed conditions on how that love should be spread around and He only truly became angry when he witnessed what he perceived to be grand hypocrisy from the Pharisees.
In today’s Christian world we have many individuals who seem to believe that it is their duty to be self righteous and to speak out against those who do not live according to their personal standards. They think that they must work to manipulate the laws of the land to fit their ideas. Often in the process they cast aspersions on those whose lifestyles they do not approve. I would challenge them to find one instance in the New Testament, not the Old, when Jesus behaved in that way. I suspect that they will be hard pressed to find a strong argument to support their stances.
One half of the world’s Christians are Catholic and on this day the leader of the Catholic community, Pope Francis, has proclaimed in an exhortation that it is high time that we extend the hand of love and understanding to the members of those families and individuas that are unlike the traditional models. He tells us that we should be welcoming to those who are divorced or in gay or lesbian relationships. “There is no stereotype of the ideal family, but rather a challenging mosaic made up of many different realities, with all their joys, hopes and problems,” he writes.” Every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration.”
I am proud that the leader of my faith has taken this remarkable step to encourage each of us to look inside our hearts and act in a manner that more closely resembles the teachings of Jesus. The schism that exists in our own country today between brothers and sisters who hold conflicting beliefs is tearing us apart and it is high time that we laid our differences to rest. There are far more pressing problems facing our nation than dealing with arguments over whether or not to embrace the gays and lesbians in our midst or to punish those who choose lifestyles that are unlike our own. It is time for all of us to acknowledge that we are all the sons and daughters of God and that He loves us equally. We need to follow His lead.
I have seen families with same sex parents that are incredibly well adjusted and happy. The children are successful and of the highest character simply because the parents filled the homes with love day after day. It is impossible to see something wrong with a situation in which children flourish so well. “Young love needs to keep dancing towards the future with immense hope,” the Pope tells us. What a beautiful picture those words create in my mind! It leads us toward a better world in which we spend more time helping those children who are trapped in daily cycles of terror rather than condemning those who are divergent from ourselves. Being inclusive will make a much more positive impact on the way we all live. Today is a good day to begin the healing.