When I began to search for the misses pieces of my puzzle/what made me who I was, I had to look back to my beginning, and then some. I was born the baby of eight in a blended family. There were two brothers and a sister from my Dad’s previous marriages, two sisters and a brother from my Mom’s previous marriage, and one older brother from their marriage together, then I came along almost 4 ½ years later. Obviously, I wasn’t planned, but I don’t think any of my siblings were actually planned, so I don’t feel slighted.
My Dad was the oldest son of three whose parents were strong Christians in their community and who helped to “plant” churches throughout the valley where they lived. I suppose Dad was considered a “black sheep” in the family, once he was an adult. He had married and had his first child by the time he was 20, and soon thereafter, he and his first wife decided they shouldn’t be married. My oldest half-sister ended up living with her maternal grandparents. Our Dad was in the service and went to Korea for a short time, but he was discharged after a severe break to his leg. Sometime after his return to the states, he met and married his second wife. My two half-brothers were born over the course of this marriage, but Dad, once again, couldn’t stay settled, so he left and divorced her, as well.
Meanwhile, my Mom was living the best she could as a widow with three small children. Mom married her first husband when she was 16, right after an early graduation from high school. They had their first child, my next oldest half-sister, when my Mom was 18. Two years later, they had my half-brother, and then in 2 ½ more years, my younger half-sister was born. My Mom’s first husband, who was 15 years older than she, was battling heart disease that he had contracted due to having rheumatic fever as a child, during their entire marriage. When their youngest daughter, my half-sister, was 3, he died of heart failure, leaving Mom with an 8, 6, and 3-year old. Mom worked for a while and family helped to watch my siblings, but it grew too much for her, emotionally as well as physically, so she drew unemployment, and made do with what little they had. She survived alone for about 6 years before her neighbor introduced her to their cousin, my Dad.
Mom went on a couple bowling dates with Dad, at the insistence of her neighbor friends. Mom didn’t feel sure about the thought of marrying my Dad, but then my Dad’s parents got them to go to church. Both Mom and Dad became Christians and decided to marry, just a month and a half before my one full brother was born. By the time I came along, my oldest sister was married, with a child of her own and my next oldest sister was going to college. I was the baby of this incredible blended family, a puzzle of its own, and as I grew, I felt we were a wonderful family.
I began to consider how my heritage had shaped me when I had to do a family tree project for that infamous high school psychology class, and then again, in college, when I wrote a paper about compulsive overeating. Yet, it wasn’t until 1993, when I pursued official counseling for the first time in my life, that I more earnestly sought to discover how the lives of my family had shaped me.
The counselor I was seeing had been trained to use geno-grams to enlighten his clients as to why they behaved and felt certain ways. As I met with him for several months, my husband joining in from time to time, we worked through each person on my family tree and discussed their lives. When we came to someone about whom I didn’t know much, the counselor would give me the assignment of finding out more. I spoke with my Mom quite a bit during this process and uncovered truths which enlightened me on my journey. Some of my behaviors began to make more sense. The way my parents had raised me took on new meaning. I started to see how my life, my actions, my feelings, combined with the lives of my family members, added up to a more complete picture of who I was and why I was that way.
Piecing together the elements of my life passed on to me from this amazingly blessed and crazy family has been the grandest part of my adventure, to say the least. So many good memories are mixed with so many hurtful memories, when I think of my family. There are too many details to divulge here, but maybe someday I’ll share it all in my book I keep saying I’ll publish.
Suffice it to say at this point that one of the pieces of my puzzle affected by my family was the ages of my siblings and parents. Due to the fact that I came along last in this mosaic of a family, I have been both blessed and cursed. The blessings came when I was young, the baby, and received loads of attention from my oldest siblings. As they grew and moved away, starting their own families, I was blessed again to have nieces and nephews close to my age. Yet, I never knew what it was like to actually walk through life, growing up together, with my siblings. Even my full brother, who’s 4 ½ years older than I, faced some stages of life at a different time than me. I didn’t have a sister close in age with which to go through all the changes of becoming a woman, a wife, a mother. My Mom was so much older, from another generation, that she didn’t quite know how to approach this. The absence of my siblings in my day-to-day life has continued as I’ve gone through adulthood. They are mostly all at stages far ahead of me, to the point that our lives don’t mesh together enough to be able to exist in consistent, daily relationships.
My parents’ ages also affected me. Mom was 37 when I was born; Dad was 45. What a different perspective on life they had compared to the parents of my friends! My parents were one generation ahead of those of my friends, and they were tired, facing physical issues that my friends’ parents weren’t. It left me feeling like I was raising myself, emotionally. Though I was well-cared for physically, they simply weren’t there for me for the basic emotional and social nurturing that I needed. Dad was ill, with his heart; Mom worked full time nights, so she could still be there in the morning when I left for school and in the evening to cook dinner for us. They didn’t relate well, not really having a love relationship, and I did not see an example of what a true marriage was supposed to be, nor were the relationships between them and my siblings of the greatest quality. My ideas of love, family, and marriage were shaped by television shows like Happy Days, the Love Boat, and General Hospital. My perception of life was way off, and this made those pieces of my life puzzle very misshapen.
These are only a couple pieces of the family part of my puzzle, yet these were big pieces. I am affected today by these aspects of my journey. I am still learning to work with these pieces of my puzzle, to embrace them, and accept them as a part of who I am while I allow God to transform me into who He meant for me to be. There are times when these family dynamics re-open old wounds, and I have to allow God to continue to re-shape those pieces of my puzzle so they can fit the way He meant for them to fit, instead of allowing the enemy of our lives to continually rob me of the wholeness God desires for me. I’m thankful for my sibling relationships having come through some rough spots and being at a mostly good place at this point in my life.
There is no doubt that family affects the development of our life puzzles more than any factor, other than God Himself. If you are going to fit the pieces of your life together, you will need to spend much time in pulling together all those pieces that have been shaped by your family experiences, the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s a journey full of highs and lows, but how rich and colorful my life puzzle has become as I’ve allowed God to fit these pieces together. Amazingly, God has revealed much to me through my family relationships and He continues to use my siblings to impact my life, to guide me, to learn from their examples and their mistakes, and to be His love for me at times when I need it most.