Guest post: The courage to love imperfectly

If you’re struggling with how to be a good aunt, take heart. You don’t have to be perfect to share a lifetime of love with all those special children in your lives. Today’s guest blogger Shannon Hale shares a lesson she learned from an aunt who had the courage to love her imperfectly.

Shannon Hale, photo provided by the author

Shannon’s new book How to Pray When You Can’t Sit Still is hot off the e-presses. Her family has learned to live with ADHD, and in her book, she offers fresh, fun new ways to make prayer an integral part of your busy life – a great read for anyone dealing with ADD/ADHD or simply a mind too distracted with the busyness of life to sit down and pray. Be sure to check out Shannon’s blog, too.

That’s Charles on the cover (photo provided by Shannon Hale). I got to name him in a contest on Shannon’s blog last week. And speaking of contests …

Thank your good aunt contest deadline
Today marks the last of the guest posts for the Good Aunt series, and you know what that means: The deadline for the “Thank your good aunt” contest is upon us! I originally intended to stop accepting entries today, but knowing that many of you can’t always find time to sit still and submit your contest entry, I’m extending the deadline to this Friday, September 28. If you win, you could choose to receive How to Pray When You Can’t Sit Still as your prize. So get those entries in that describe a wonderful woman in your life who deserves a letter of love from you.

Now, here’s Shannon with some inspiration about being a good aunt:

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Christmas in our house was filled with love, but not with the anticipation of wonderful gifts. My single mom worked two and sometimes three jobs to raise the five of us girls, so presents under the tree usually consisted of necessities like socks and underwear, with one special exception.

There was always another box to open on Christmas morning, the one that came in the mail from Aunt Grace. My mother’s sister, she was also a woman of modest means. She’d lost her husband and her two disabled sons in middle age, and worked as a church organist and Avon lady to make ends meet.

While my mother’s other siblings were busy raising families of their own, Aunt Grace took the time to remember my sisters and me with hand-picked gifts at Christmas. Perhaps she did this for each of her nieces and nephews, but she seemed to make a special effort to send our struggling family a bit of extra cheer.

Aunt Grace gave of what she had – sample Avon products. Bottles of perfume, jewelry or an assortment of cosmetics; each year there were new surprises in the Christmas box. I must confess my sisters and I seldom appreciated them enough. Compared to the neighbor kid’s new three-speed bike with banana bars, a tube of lipstick seemed a bit embarrassing.

I sometimes wondered why my aunt even bothered. Mom made sure we sent a nice thank you note, but the reluctant gratitude surely came through on paper. Many aunts would have given up or even been embarrassed they couldn’t offer more. But Aunt Grace sent the box every year, no matter what, and it became one of the little threads that held our family together.

Perhaps the gesture was more a show of support for my mother than anything else. Aunt Grace knew what it was like to struggle, and she wanted to remind my mom that someone was rooting for her and her girls.

Looking back on Aunt Grace’s gifts from my adult perspective, I see them much more clearly. This woman, who had lived through the Great Depression, many personal disappointments, and the loss of her entire immediate family, had learned that life is far from perfect. And somewhere along the way, she’d given herself permission to love imperfectly. She knew that it was better to give herself away in the moment, even if the act was small, than to wait for the “perfect” set of circumstances.

In her example, I find freedom. Compared to Aunt Grace, my life is a cake walk: my family is happy, healthy and relatively prosperous. Yet, how often do I hesitate to extend myself to a friend or family member in need, simply because I’m afraid my action will somehow fall short?

  • For fear that the special sweater won’t fit my friend, I put it back on the rack.
  • I throw the birthday card away rather than sending it late.
  • Not knowing the right thing to say in condolence, I fail to recognize a loss.

Aunt Grace wasn’t able to attend a single family birthday celebration or graduation party, yet her presence is woven through the fabric of my childhood memories. Because she had the courage to love imperfectly, she made our very imperfect family feel accepted and loved. That’s the kind of love I want to show my nieces and nephews, my children, husband, neighbors and friends.

The truth is we are each in need of imperfect love. When you think about it, there’s really no other kind we can give. But loving imperfectly takes courage, and to have that courage we need to see it modeled.  My good aunt was that model for me, and I hope to live up to her example.

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Do you have an aunt, a great aunt, a family friend or other mentor from your childhood that Shannon’s Aunt Grace has reminded you of?

Whether she’s still alive or not, why not thank her publicly for the imperfect ways she loved you? You can do so by entering the “Thank your good aunt” contest. Details are at the bottom of this earlier post.

6 thoughts on “Guest post: The courage to love imperfectly

  1. Pingback: Thanking your good aunt | The Flourishing Tree

  2. Pingback: Less than | The Flourishing Tree

  3. this brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for sharing this and giving me such a good reminder to not be afraid to show love, even when we know it won’t be “quite right”

    • Thanks, Jennifer, for letting Shannon and me know what this post meant to you. I thought she did a wonderful job of reminding us to show love in whatever capacity, even if we’re worried it might not be quite right.

  4. Ooh, this is convicting. I, too, have chosen not to send a card rather than send one late, chosen not to give a gift because it might not be “just the thing.” The phrase “the courage to love imperfectly” puts the whole thing in a different light and inspires me to choose that kind of courage. Thanks.

    • Convicting is exactly the word I thought of, Tracey. Thanks to Shannon, maybe we’ll all do a little better and be a little braver about sending those little tokens that let our friends and family know we love them and are thinking of them.

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