“To us, family means putting your arms around each other and being there.” Barbara Bush
I love this description of what family is. Nothing in it implies that you must have a blood bond to consider someone family. It’s about the people that surround you, love on you and are there when you need them.
Growing up as a military brat, we rarely lived near any family. I did spend lots of time with my mom’s parents while my dad was stationed in California, but when we moved to Hawaii and then to Alaska, we no longer had the ability to see them easily and often. Honolulu was really the first place I started to understand that there is more to family than blood ties.
My first experience with a Chosen Family was with our next door neighbors in Hawaii. We shared a driveway with the Cathey family. They had three boys. In fact, Mrs. Cathey gave me my first babysitting job. At the ripe old age of 10 I was put in charge of those three boys. (Before you freak out, my mom was right on the other side of the carport.) Those boys could be a handful, but the experience they provided me with was invaluable. In many ways, they reminded me of the myriad younger cousins I had left back in California. One Christmas their grandparents came for a visit. Sadly, that was to be their grandfather’s last Christmas as he passed away suddenly while in Hawaii. I remember the shock and grief that struck not just the Cathey family, but us as well. It was my first real experience with grief. It was also the first time I can remember feeling as if these people were my family. I felt like I had lost my own grandparent. It made no sense to me at the time, but I loved them like I had known them my entire life. Why? Because they were always there when I needed them.
Fast forward many years later, and I found myself newly married, in a new city, knowing only a handful of people. Adjusting to the difference in climate and topography was rough, but nowhere near as rough as adjusting to life without friends and family around. While it took a few years to find, I did finally start to form connections that grew into a familial bond. That experience helped set the tone for how I live out my adult years. I have embraced the idea that family is not just dictated by blood. You can choose some family too.
The interesting thing about Chosen Family is that they can come from very diverse places. From a job, church or even across the street. The unifying factor seems to be a willingness to serve each other and to share true community. Do I mean that every mutually beneficial relationship ends up to be a familial one? No, but that’s at least where it starts. And honestly, many of those “for a season” relationships turn into a somewhat extended family. One that you may not see or interact with on a regular basis, but at the same time you know that they are there. And all it takes is a phone call to have them come running should you need them, and vice versa.
When my son was five years old he fell and dislocated his thumb. (He explained later that he “might have been hopping down the stairs.”) It was a Saturday, my husband was out of town, and I wasn’t sure where to take him for treatment. Thankfully, I have a friend that’s an orthopedic PA. She called around to the local ERs to see who was on call and then told me which one had the best orthopedic physician on duty. She also offered to go with us, but I assured her it wasn’t necessary. I hadn’t even finished the sign-in paperwork when she came strolling through the ER doors. My friend didn’t want us to have to be there alone and wanted to make sure my little guy received the best possible care. In addition to the support she offered by just being there, because of her training, she was allowed to stay in the treatment room with my son while they fixed his thumb. It’s a very painful experience that the staff usually asks parents to leave the room for. Thankfully my son didn’t have to suffer through it without a familiar face. When I returned to the room my usually stoic friend was wiping a tear from her cheek. Despite having performed and assisted on a multitude of painful pediatric procedures, this one was much more different. Why? Because that little boy was more than just a patient to her. Through the course of doing life together we had become more than mere friends. We were family, bonded by love – no blood relation required. So bonded are we that our children consider themselves to be siblings.
In my years in Texas I have had lots of people come through my front door. Some have been there for a short time, and others are still around, 20 plus years later. Some still live near me, and others have moved onto other states, but the bond remains. We have shared far too much to let time and distance separate our hearts. Even if we rarely talk or see each other, the love abides.
My Chosen Family has blessed me, and my blood related family, in too many ways to count. From something as simple as sharing carpool duties, to sitting with each other while a loved one has surgery, or stepping in to care for a younger child when the ambulance is at your door to help your older child. We have shared childbirth, toddlerhood, teenage malaise, illness, divorce, loss, great amounts of joy and lots of coffee, wine and chocolate. Simply put, we have shared life.
This Family that I have cobbled together is one of my greatest joys. No other way would I have this many sisters, brothers, cousins, nieces & nephews, etc. It’s a beautiful, diverse quilt that brings warmth to even my coldest, darkest days. And it’s a quilt that just keeps growing. I hope that it’s never truly finished.