I grew up in a large gregarious extended family. Every holiday or birthday I was surrounded with aunts, uncles, and cousins. I had a very close-knit neighborhood, where the kids banded together and created adventures, the grown-ups had regular yard sales, and we were in and out of each others' homes and lives constantly. Even my church was a tight group--my parents were always going to another couple's home or having kids from a family in the church to spend the night. My family was pretty close to ideal--including sit-down meals, yearly vacations, PTA meetings, and parent sponsored parties. Life was safe and comfortable and full of relationships. It isn't surprising that I married into the same kind of family. My husband's immediate family was full of brokenness, but his extended family relationships were very similar to mine--loud, busy, loving, and involved with each other. I felt completely at home with them. It was my every intention to raise my kids just the same way, in the middle of their very large, very busy, very relational family.
God's plan for them and for me was different. Over the years, my big extended family grew and changed, and some estrangements and grudges weakened the involvement with each other. He took my mother home to heaven just after my first son was born. Later He took my husband from our home when we divorced, and with it some of the family I loved. Not long after that my sister moved to the far away northern United States, and my dad was also called home to heaven. Suddenly I was left feeling very alone, an orphan AND a widow. I struggled for years with depression and anxiety, and as a result health issues plagued me. I couldn't sleep well, and over time my ability to think and focus weakened. I had severe bouts of loneliness as the many-times-over promised new husband never appeared on my doorstep. All along I wondered why after years I was still hurting so, whether God would ever heal my aching heart, and who would take care of me when I couldn't.
But let the godly rejoice. Let them be glad in God's presence. Let them be filled with joy. Sing praises to God and to his name! Sing loud praises to him who rides the clouds. His name is the LORD-- rejoice in his presence! Father to the fatherless, defender of widows-- this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy. But for rebels, there is only famine and distress. Psalm 68:3-6
The truth is, God prepared my life for these dark years even before I entered them. He had peppered it with older women who mentored me and loved me along the way, and they quickly stepped in at different points to offer their unique gifts of prayer, hospitality, comfort, counsel, and many others. God brought a special young woman into my life--a young mother who piqued my curiosity even before we were friends--who consistently spoke truth into my life and loved me even when I was more than a little unlovable. He gave me a mother-in-law and father-in-law who would so grow in their love for Him that they would let their own son go the way he wanted and refuse to desert me just because he didn't want me any longer. He almost literally surrounded me with families who repeatedly have said to me that they love me, they believe in me and in the choices I've been making (even when some have been foolish!), and that they will respond to God's leading when He chooses to provide for me through them. He's given me prayer warriors, counselors, moms with shoulders for crying on, and brothers in Christ who correct my female notions of how to raise boys. Many of these individuals and families have not stuck with me for a few months, or even a couple years, they have been with me all along, and continue to declare their love for me over and over again. They stick by me because we are joint heirs in a covenant sealed with Christ's blood, and I have found it is a covenant thicker than water, and even more than the usual blood.
It is still not unusual for me to still struggle with bouts of self-pity as I succumb to the loneliness and hugeness of being a single mom, but it is rare for me to get lost in it for long. God is still busy on my behalf, raising up women and couples and families who love me and my boys like we are their own family, because they understand that we are . . . for eternity. So if I could have shared what I am thankful for this year, it would have been that even though my story didn't end with the magical marriage reconciliation, or a new husband who treasures me, it still ended with the miracle of family--the kind God sets the lonely in, and the kind that bears with you in love. It is the kind of family that makes me long for heaven, when I will enjoy family at its fullest and best!