If you were to rank words in order of how 'loaded' they are, how full of meaning and potential for being misused or misconstrued, I think 'family' would show up fairly close to the top.
While in college, Audrey became pregnant during summer vacation. She had the opportunity to start a family, of a sort, and that's what her mom and dad would have liked, but without her degree, a job, or a father to help out, she didn't think that would be a good choice. There was even a family member that might have adopted the baby, but that felt a little too close to home as well, so she instead chose adoption through a private agency.
She kept in contact with the adoptive parents all the while Bryce was growing up, and eventually had the option of meeting him and his new family face to face about 7 years back. I won't lie; I had reservations about this. Knowing families to a be a delicately balanced chemical reaction, I was averse to messing with a proven formula. What if we were too different? What if we just didn't like each other?
It turns out I needn't have worried; we are very distinct households, but with far more similarities than differences, and I experienced the strange sensation of not just seeing, but feeling my family grow. The girls have called Bryce their brother ever since, and the fact that his father and I share not a drop of blood doesn't make him feel anything less than family to me. At that first dinner, I made a toast: "To the families of choice."
Last weekend, the boy called Robyn (still Bryce's middle name), now a man of 24 years (!), got married to his high school sweetheart, Sara.
We've known Sara for years, and she is a delightful gal. Bryce bought her wedding ring with money collected saving thousands of pop cans, hence the garland. When I introduced myself to her father last weekend, he grinned at me like I was mad, and said, "I know you! I've got your family picture on my fridge!" He gave me a hug, and once again I felt the familial geometry shift to accommodate him and his wife. It didn't feel uncomfortable; it felt overdue.
The ceremony was great, with a pastor who's known the two of them since they were children officiating. Audrey was introduced as 'Bryce's first mother,' and was warmly welcomed by everyone. There weren't a lot of dry eyes when this tall young man walked his two mothers to their seats just prior to the entrance of the bride. This photo shows Audrey, Sara's mom Barb, and Bryce's mom Rinda.
At the reception, there was a lot of reflection about the twists and turns life can lead us on, but Bryce's dad, Robb, characteristically hit it on the head when he said to Audrey's parents, "It had to be hard for you to see Bryce go, all those years ago, not knowing where your daughter's child would end up. And now here you are, and God's brought you full circle to a place you couldn't have imagined then, watching your grandson get married, and knowing you are still a part of his family."
I expressed my wonderment to Robb later on, and he shook his head in similar amazement and said, "There are so many ways each of our lives can turn; what can we do except look forward in faith, and look back in gratitude?"
Let's continue to define our families as much by our choices as by our blood, and remember to be grateful for all of them.