BY HANNAH STAPLETON, GRACE ATTENDER
I grew up with an abusive parent. The majority of my memories with my dad involve someone getting screamed at (either me, my siblings, or my mom), being afraid, feeling not good enough, not feeling loved or safe. I didn’t call it abuse for a long time. I just thought my dad and I didn’t have a good relationship. When I went to college, I remember calling my mom frantic about what would happen if my dad found out I wasn’t going to take the math class he wanted me to take, or begging her not to tell him if I got a C. I started going to therapy in college and that was when I began to acquire the vocabulary to describe my home life: trauma, emotional and verbal abuse, narcissism.
It was also while I was in college that I met the man who is now my husband. Friends, I can’t begin to tell you how quickly his family took me in and loved me as their own. And not in that obligatory way, either. His dad would take me out to breakfast, just the two of us, and his mom and I would swap our favorite book titles while drinking coffee and loving on their cats.
And in 2017, when my husband (boyfriend at the time) was studying abroad overseas and I was beginning to realize that I would have to confront my dad about the ways he abused me and made me feel over the course of my life, his parents gave me ground to stand on. They spoke holy words of love and life into me. They were in my corner.
Long before my husband and I got married and they became my family through law, they were my heart-family.
For a long, long time, I thought that family was just the people that were related to you by blood. We used to always say “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family!” I grew up with the idea that family is just thrust upon you and there’s nothing you can do about it, even if parts of that family hurt you.
I look back now, and I know with every part of me that’s not what Jesus wanted. Romans 8:15 is one of my absolute favorite verses: “So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, ‘Abba, Father.’” My dad, my earthly father, instilled a spirit of fear. But Jesus adopted me. Jesus said, “No. Call me Father instead. Let me love you. You are mine.”
Family can be really hard. Maybe your family is hard and complicated like mine is. I have a husband who is strong, kind, and overflowing with grace and patience. I have two moms, one by blood and one by law, that I love desperately. I have a dad who teases me and teaches me new things. I have four sisters and one brother, who are all unique and delightful. I have one (soon to be two!) nieces that I adore. I have a man who calls himself my dad that I don’t have a relationship with right now.
And I have all of you, Grace Church. “You are members of God’s family. Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself.” (Ephesians 2:19-20). If you aren’t sure what your family looks like, look around you. Your church has got you. We will fight for you and speak holy words of love and life into you.
We sit in your corner. Jesus is sitting in your corner.
We’re your heart-family. And you are mine.