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Photographer: Selim Ucar CAM, ©istockphoto.com/uchar
Ashlee Birk learned a lesson about being normal from her broken washing machine.

A few months back, my washing machine started acting up and wouldn't add water into the tank. I experimented and found that if I ran it on the delicate cycle, it worked just fine. Then I tried the bedding cycle — worked perfectly. So I tried, on the third load, to go back to the normal setting and run it again. Nothing. Dry as a bone.

So for the last few months — instead of calling a repairman like a normal person — I have just run the machine on all the settings except normal. Recently, my frustrations were reignited when I forgot and tried to run the machine on the normal setting, figuring out at the end of the cycle that the machine hadn’t even begun to do its job. The clothes had gone through the cycle, but since no water had been added to the machine they were still dry and dirty.

Normal. It is just a setting on my washing machine, but as of right now, even on my washing machine normal is pretty useless.

What is normal in an individual? And in a family? I think we all have an idea of what a family should look like — an ideal setting in which we want to strive to live. As individuals we set goals to become something we are not currently living as. Only in families, when we have our heart set on normal, we almost always fail, because the truth is, normal isn’t real.

None of us are normal. And just like my washer, no matter how many times I try to force it into that setting, or we try to live in the belief of becoming normal, something is going to go wrong. We stop living life as us, and begin aspiring to an unachievable goal. We go through the motions of what we imagine is the normal life, but in the end we are still just a pile of dirty clothes.

So how do we reach that goal of being better people? Can it ever be achieved in the un-normal settings we have all been placed in? We want to be happy, but our belief that we first have to be normal is making us miserable.

Look at your family. They are everything but normal, right? Yeah, me too. But we are right where we belong.

Every family looks different. Some have only one parent. Some have no children. Some families are two families blended together into one. Some kids have to go back and forth between two houses. Other kids wished they had a house to live in. Some children have a birth mom and live with parents who look nothing like them. In some households, everyone looks almost exactly the same. Some couples wish they could have a baby. Others don’t know what to do with the news that a baby is on the way.

Not one of us is the same. We each have a story, a unique journey that has made us who we are, but not one of us is normal. And we were never supposed to be. We are unique and different from one person to another and one family to the next.

So many nights I have cried with a prayerful plea that I could just be normal again. Some of these moments have been a cry for the pain to be taken from me; others a hope that my past could be erased. Normal began to be a destination I thought I could fight to reach, but every day I see that it is a mystical place where no one was ever supposed to be.

So in light of my very un-normal blended family’s anniversary, I petition that we ban the normal setting in our minds — just like I had to do with my washing machine — and start seeing the good that comes from looking at our families, and ourselves, with the delicate setting as our goal.

God believes in you. He believes in families. He believes in love. He believes in making right our wrongs. He believes in us, as broken, blended, delicate, fractured and imperfect as we are.

Normal really is just a setting on a washing machine, and, if you ask me, it is overrated. You are delicate and your life is beautiful, with all the bumps, bruises and smiles in between.

Ashlee Birk is the author of "The Moments We Stand," a blog and book series of her healing journey after the death of her husband. She is the founder of "A Reason to Stand" healing conferences, a Utah State grad and mom of six. themomentswestand.com