Faith, Family and Friendships is a mouthful. For most people, these three F words are intimidating, exhausting, and challenging. They certainly were for me once, not too long ago. They all require work, vulnerability, and commitment - and sometimes, that's just feels like "too much" to give. But I learned the hard way that they were vital to my own survival.
At the tender age of 20, I found myself in the pool of unexpectedly single mothers. As a result of social and peer pressure, I too fell for the "I can do it all by myself" mentality. I thought that's how all single mothers managed their lives - by themselves. I didn't realize that the old adage "It Takes a Village" was so true and should have been welcomed. Without a network of fellow mothers to help me navigate these waters, I found myself very isolated. Supported by my amazing parents who offered free child care while I finished my baccalaureate program and held a full-time job in the banking industry.
Now, I should mention that I had a wonderful group of single women who were kind, good hearted souls and whom would have been my network of support - had I asked them. But I never did. That was my own mistake.
I Trust God, But ...
Fast forward to years of burning myself out, thinking I could do it all by my own strength and sheer will. Mind you, I've always had a strong faith. But it was more cerebral and an overlay on top of my life - not practical, tangible, relational. I knew God had a plan for me and I trusted that plan, but I was doing my best to work the plan myself. Pausing, so that you can <insert your laugh here>. I had no idea of what living a fearless life without worrying about every day would look like. I felt that I had to worry about it all in order to keep it (life) from unraveling. But I didn't realize, I wasn't the one holding all the yarn in her hands - it was Him, my God.
Family is a priority?
Growing up in a blue-collar home, I never saw the practical prioritization of family. Rather, I grew up thinking that work was the most important element of your life and that work ethic was a man/woman's worth. It's not that my parents didn't make us children feel loved and appreciated. I erroneously interpreted their pride in strong work ethics as their priority. They held those low-wage, blue-collar jobs because of the priority of family. They spent time with us every evening at the kitchen table. But I could never visualize them saying, "I can't go to work on Saturday, my family comes first."
Their workweek was a Monday thru Friday structure with minimal overflow into family time during evenings or weekends. This is so contrasted by the advancement in remote working capabilities that pressure today's employee to check work email during evenings, weekends, holidays, and family outings. There's a lack of separation due to our accessibility.
This transition into a fluid and accessible employee really sidelined me. I never saw it coming until I found myself working past midnight on regular basis while working for a Bay Area company at the age of 30. By this time, I had devoted the majority of my life to moving up the career ladder with one goal in mind, "never needing the help of anyone (especially my child's absent biological father), ever."
Feel the Burn?
I started seeing how often I became ill during that time. I was always battling something. I quickly developed a severe dairy allergy that would invoke the angriest of sinus and ear infections if left unattended. Within 48 hours, I would be overwhelmed by the sinus pain. This began a course of antibiotics and steroid prescriptions. These bouts of sickness continued for years. Until one day, my boss told me that the only way we could make my role successful was if I would move to the bay area to manage priorities and team onsite. We both knew I would never uproot my family, so that was the beginning of the end of a relationship. I took time to prep my exit plan and train my replacement. I was just as devoted to the organization on my last day as I had been on day one.
The first day of my unemployment during those years, I was overcome by the realization of, "what happened to those years of missed school events, date nights with my wonderful husband, time with God, and time to cultivate friendships?" Most of my friendships were distant by then, limited to writing annual birthday posts on Facebook. My time with God was continual daily prayer chats (e.g. Lord please help me with this today, it's a challenge), but never real conversations where I sat to actually listen to him (and be still). My time with my family had always been the left over from work. Often rushed and distracted. While I tell myself I put them first, I didn't give them the best of me - I realize that now and I regret it.
I vowed to change - and I did. A little, not transformed completely. I worked 60 hour weeks instead of 80. And I dove more deeply into my family, leaving little room for God and no room for friends.
The Morning that Changed it All
One morning in 2016, I woke up to a devastating family crisis which shook my entire world. It changed EVERYTHING about the way I saw life, faith, family, and friendship. I'll explain it in detail in another post, but what transpired was a health crisis that affected my husband. While I didn't make perfect decisions - there was a moment in the hospital room while I spoke to my husband (who no longer knew me) where I made a conscious decision - "I need help, I can't do this alone."
I reached out to an amazing support group called "Blended Families" at our local church. We'd been part of the group for a few years, but never truly became real family members until this season in our lives. I was very honest about where we were as a family and our spiritual and physical needs. It was horribly painful for me, but I found peace in being honest and transparent about our challenges. It was SO unlike me, to say that I could not do it all myself. It was freeing and scary at the same time.
What transpired was a series of coordinated, thoughtful and sacrificial actions taken by my Blended Family peeps as I call them. They were heroes and heroines in my eyes. They became the living, breathing, visible manifestation of God's love for me. It was so real, so touching, so honest - I couldn't escape it (Him). One of the ugliest seasons of my life, became hundreds of moments in time where God literally reached out and hugged me, fed me, counseled me, supported me from falling, made me laugh, encouraged me. It was AWESOME!
Okay, I give, I give!
And so, I learned my lesson. The more I try to hang on to my little world by myself - protecting my family from the elements, the worse I feel. The more resistance I will feel from life and the challenges that come with it. The more I surrender to the possibilities of my faith in God, my devotion to my family, and my vulnerability in friendships - the richer my life experiences become.
I truly wish I had learned this lesson in my twenties. That I had reached out to a community of mothers, leveraged my network and supported peers in doing so as well. That I had created a huge division between family and state (work) to protect those special moments and give my family the best of me much earlier on. That I had stopped to spend time with God more in my youth and truly listened. He would have helped me avoid so my of the mistakes that my free will inevitable allowed. And when I have these moments of regret, like I do this morning as I write this blog - I give these guilts and sadness to God. I know that there was a reason for the path I took. And if it meant that a single life was changed because of it, then it was worth the sorrow. I pray that he gives me the discernment to understand when I fall into old habits and helps me focus on my priorities. God, Family and Friends - yes, in that order.
I pray that he'll help you avoid my mistakes and that through reading this note, you'll see practical reasons why I truly cling to these three truths.
Raquel Gonzales (Kels) - Raquel is a 36-year-old wife of an amazing man, and mother of three beautiful blended teenagers (Elijah 18, Lulu 16, Abby 14). She has thrived in a creative career for over 11 years. Her passion is to empower others by the lessons learned in her own life and challenges through transparency and honest conversations. As a creative soul, she loves to write, design, create and publish. She hopes to please God in doing his work by leveraging the talents he gave her. This blog is but one of those digital artisan crafts. She hope it pleases Him.