I never knew how much I loved my family until I moved to Chicago.
It would be an understatement to say that my family works hard on being a family. We have literally gone to hell and back together more than once, I have seen any one of those trips cripple other families in similar situations enough to realize that the connection we have to one another is sacred. That is not to say it is easy. We work really, really hard. Over the years, we have learned to be honest with each other, which is hard. We have learned to be transparent with each other, which is hard. We have learned that when we say “we’re sorry” to actually mean it and that saying “you’re forgiven” is not about forgetting the past but a step in working towards being reconciled with one another. It has been a process, one that still causes us to stumble at times, but we keep on keeping on because our love for one another is based on more than blood ties. I know that this is not possible for all families. I even know that this is not always possible for some members in my extended family, particularly on one side which is so fragmented that more people don’t speak to each other than the ones that do.
Coming to Chicago has been an awakening to me for all of these things. Last night was the last night my mom was in town, and while we were at dinner, I asked her a lot of family system type questions, both about our immediate family and her years growing up. In hind sight, I now realize what a bizarre conversation that was. Over the years I learned that learning about your family helps you learn about yourself, but I never quite felt safe enough to ask them because I didn’t want to come across as a gossip. Something has shifted, mostly in my trust level, and I know I can ask my mother about her mother without fear that she will think that my intention to be the paparazzi of my family.
Maybe it’s because I’m older and theoretically wiser. Maybe it’s because I’ve healed wounds of my past. Maybe it’s because being in seminary allows one to study human nature in a way that is based on trust, forgiveness, and perpetual new starts. I don’t know why the shift happened, but I do know that I long for my family constantly and with each fleeting moment we have together I recognize how much they mean to me.
It makes moving forward hard.
Over the past few days I have really struggled with where I should do my CPE (clinical pastoral education) field work this summer. It came down to two choices, one site in Cleveland near my family and one in a different state. There will be few opportunities over the next several decades that I will have a strong choice in where I will live. The call process to pastor a parish is more often than not a process not based on individual choice. When I have been practicing ministry for 15 years or so, then possibly, but even that is no guarantee. So the notion that I can choose to be near my family and not take that choice is a really hard decision to make. My niece and nephew will only be little kids for so long, and I miss spending time with my parents and sister. Eleven weeks are not long when you’re studying, but it is forever when you are missing people you love. How could I not choose them, even if I felt that I would learn more from another program? I have already made such huge transitions on behalf of my sense of vocation, but when will the time come when the decisions will be more clear?
With my mom at my side and my friend on the other, this morning I accepted a position at one of those two sites – and it was the one away from my family. My heart feels settled that I have made the choice. In the midst of excitement of what this will mean I am also experiencing the small tinge of grief that comes with knowing I am missing out on more time with people who I love so dearly. I am so excited about the summer and know this was the right decision, but I also realize that this decision came at a cost. This joy is not without sacrifice, and even as I move forward into an exciting future I am still leaving a part of myself behind.
Once again, though, my dear four-year-old niece Phoebe saved me from my melancholy. This afternoon when I checked my mail, I received a valentine from her. She drew me a picture of me in my bed (thanks to my sister, Tricia, who wrote captions!). Phoebe may have drawn that picture she knows that Aunt Tina needs a lot of sleep to be healthy against lupus. Maybe she just learned how to draw beds. But I’d like to think she drew that picture because when she comes to visit me we snuggle together in my bed. I’d like to think she remembers how we used to read books together while lying underneath the covers. I’d like to think she drew that bed because she knows that even though I’m not with her most of the time, she will always have a welcome place in my home – wherever that may be.
Tonight I give thanks for my family, and the hope that they know that even when I can’t hold them in my arms I hold them in my heart.