Thursday, January 24, 2013

Turning Weaknesses into Strengths

The last year or so, I have confused a few people who watched me grow up as the youngest child in a large family by making occasional reference to "my baby sister".  I meant, of course, the wonderful Rachel, Doug's baby step-sister.  I didn't meet Rachel until she was 10 and I was 19, but I very much think of her, and love her, as my baby sister.

We ran down to Rexburg in November and stole her away to spend Thanksgiving with us.  She and I were able to have some really good conversations while she was here.  Rachel's mom had some health problems already when she got pregnant with Rachel (who was very much a surprise and a trailer baby--her oldest brother is 22 years her senior).  She didn't live very long after Rachel's birth, and Chuck, Rachel's dad, was suddenly left with a couple of young adult sons, a teenager, a five-year-old and tiny infant to take care of, all while trying to keep his business together and deal with his own overwhelming grief.  He had some very difficult years trying to find his way forward, and Rachel and her older sister spent several years living with Chuck's younger sister, who lived close.  After several years, Chuck was able to start putting his life back together and heal. When Rachel was a little girl, he started courting Doug's mom, Katy, not long after her own difficult divorce.  They courted for several years before being sealed in the Fresno, California temple.

As Rachel and I talked about her mom, her dad, and her brothers and sisters, and her step-mom and step-brothers and step-sisters, she expressed a thought that resonated with me:  as much as she would have loved to have known her mother and grown up in a traditional family right from the start, she realizes now how much she has gained through the people and experiences the Lord has placed in her life because of that loss, and she would likely be a very different person without those challenges and losses, and somewhat compensatory blessings.  She is grateful for the things she has gained and understood because of the things that were missing.  Though I lacked far less in life, I had often had this same thought about my own life, and I was impressed to hear this 19-year-old girl coming to such a wise and mature view of her life and blessings.

What I don't think I'd ever thought about much, or at least articulated any appreciation of, was how the difficulties and losses in Doug's family, and how the respective individuals responded to those challenges, have blessed my life.  I am not grateful that Chuck had to experience the heart-wrenching loss of his companion, at a relatively young age, and all the many challenges that spring from such a tremendous loss.  I am not grateful that Doug and the rest of his family had to live through a difficult marriage and messy divorce.  But I am tremendously grateful, having joined the family after all that was in the past, that those losses and difficulties provided Chuck and Katy with the opportunity to find each other.  Chuck and Rachel have been such extraordinary blessings in my life, I honestly can't imagine a version of my life with Doug's family to which they are not essential.  Chuck is the kind of man that you hope your daughters will have in a father-in-law: affectionate, kind, patient, and wonderfully generous.  He's exactly the kind of grandpa you want your kids to have: playful, gentle, and, again, so wonderfully affectionate.  Rachel dotes on my children--she is the half-generation, several years older than all the grandkids, but several years and a life phase or three behind all of her siblings, and instead of resenting that, she has found delight (and delighted all of us) in lavishing attention and affection on her nieces and nephews.

I am continually impressed by my husband's ability to hang on to the good things he learned from his parents' marriage and parenting, and let go of the rest.  I have watched him and all of his sisters try (and usually succeed) to build on the good things that they were taught at home, while simultaneously trying to change the things that didn't work.  It is much to their parents' credit, as well as their own, that they are all themselves good parents and generally kind, supportive spouses to their companions.  Even if execution of principles was sometimes elusive, they were always well instructed in how things should be, on what was truly important, and they paid attention to those things.

I think that while individuals lives vary in difficulty, its probably safe to say that no life is easy.  I am grateful to have married into a family--that is actually two families--that has shown me a wonderful example of using the weaknesses and deficiencies in life as opportunities to learn and grow and become better, all the while building on the strengths with which they've been blessed.

No comments: