When I picked up my mail the other day, there was an invitation to one of my very special "other" daughters' wedding functions for which I did not expect an invitation. She is one of Jill's best friends, and actually one of mine...and she's getting married in less than a month. That invitation was one of those really cool surprises in life...like finding a $20 bill in your pocket, or finding out something you really wanted but talked yourself out of because it was too expensive or impractical is suddenly half-price. Better that all of that, actually. You can't put a price on the feeling you get when you are truly honored.
When she and Jill were in high school, they - along with another schoolmate - a boy - were always out here working on one project or another. Sometimes other classmates showed up as well...but that core group of three was pretty constant. I'd make a pitcher of tea, converse with them awhile, and sit with them while they got through whatever it was. They'd bicker back and forth like brother and sisters and it just felt like I had four children instead of two.
He'd tell stories to try to shock me, but I honestly believed at the time (and still do) that he was testing me. He soon realized that being obnoxious verbally wasn't going to change how I felt about him...or alter the fact that he was accepted in our home. Yes, I whipped out the Bible a time or two to prove my points...but he was always pretty respectful in spite of his bravado. In fact, even after the girls left, he still came around through his freshman year of college for help with English. I still made tea for him, and he retained that habit of giving me way too much information. Except without the others, I could tell him honestly where I thought he was messing up and how he needed to shoot higher in life than he was. I don't know if it made a bit of difference to him or if he just tolerated my opinions as a tradeoff for having some free tutoring. Perhaps one day I'll know.
I was so proud when the three of them walked the stage at graduation, and then was excited for them as they started off into college. Three different colleges. Three totally different college experiences.
Life is richer, I've found, because God gave me that extended family to fill in the gaps of what I wanted - which was a lot of activity - and what I needed - which were the two children that I have because I work full time and any more would have pushed us over the edge financially and every other way. But during those years...it felt like I had four children.
If I think about it...my extended family also includes my wonderful friends who have the ability to do anything I might need done at any point in time. Some have more resources, some have more talent, and some have more time than I do. They make me feel like I can do anything...because even if I can't do it...I know someone who can. On the other hand, I've felt needed and valued as I've helped my friends with scrapbooks, photo-taking, calligraphy, planning and execution of parties, and even cleaning out spaces and organizing...which are things that are not difficult for me to do. I've attended events, hosted parties, cheered them on, or written notes of encouragement because that is what I have to offer. But for every thing I've done for any friend...I've been blessed ten times over.
In some cases, a thousand times over.
The extended family concept has also helped me really enjoy my children more as well. Our kids cannot do everything that we'd like to support, and they may not have an interest in things that we get all fired up about. Sadly, neither of my children likes the same music I do, and they take after their father more in temperament...which honestly...is not a bad thing.
The gaps between what we hope for and what we receive are often filled by a whole host of wonderful people that come in and our of our lives. We just need to get excited about it instead of resenting their good fortune.
I'm not boasting when I say that I have a beautiful daughter. She is. That is the way God chose to create her. While this is wonderful, there was a downside to it...and according to her...more downside than you'd think. I was mortified to discover at a point in time that there were actually grown women who thought it was okay to tear her down for reasons that make little sense to me as her mother.
Some people just get hung up on that scarcity mentality. As in...there is only one pie. If someone has a bigger piece of it...then that means that we have to tear into someone so that their piece of the pie is smaller...and ours is bigger. Never mind if we have to belittle another person or attempt to ruin someone's reputation in the process. Nor does it seem to matter than instead of one pie...there is an entire room full of pies!
(Note: in case you are literal...like my Jill...what I am talking about is the tendency of some people to see someone else that is prettier, more talented, more together, or more popular...and combating that perceived threat by talking them down until people begin to see them in a different light. Sadly, a lot of this goes on as some women never outgrow the pain of their own high school experience and refuse to see it replicated in the next generation. As such, they view popularity as one big pie. What they don't realize is that within each of us is a special ability to do something that we were uniquiely placed here to do...and that there are many pies...talents, gifts, skills, things we are dedicated to, blessings, etc. This is often figured out in college...but high school is another matter entirely.)
When Jill was a sophomore in high school, she dated a boy that played varsity football and was the catcher on the varsity baseball team. We went to all of the football games...including the out-of-town ones...and many of the baseball games. We had the best time!
As a result of sitting in those stands, I got to see the sons of my sweet "boy-Mom" friends play and I stayed in those stands with them for those two years after the boyfriend graduated. Our family felt like we were a part of everything even though we didn't have a child of our own on the field...and I wouldn't trade that feeling for anything.
Brian played football in junior high, but it became clear that athletics were not going to be his path. He struggled through his Crohn's Disease diagnosis when he was 15 and the two hospitalizations that followed it. But we don't think we missed a thing even though he didn't play in high school. We'd already had the wonderful experience of following the team and enjoying being in the bleachers for all of those years. I'm really, really grateful for that.
I've known kids that are honored for athletic and academic achievements, win full scholarships, star in the school play, sing in a band, become an Eagle Scout, win the Junior Miss competition, compete on an academic level nationally, be a state champion tennis, soccer, or football player, be cheerleaders for the Alabama Crimson Tide AND the Auburn Tigers, play on college football teams, model, become newscasters, go on mission trips to China, Africa, Alaska, and other places, assume leadership positions on campus, or become the president of their sorority or fraternity...among other achievements.
And I'm about to witness one of my favorite ones get married. Three more her age are right behind her along with at least six other kids I know. This is wonderful...but it is also hard to believe!
This extended family that I have is not because I am lacking in actual family, because I'm certainly not. David is one of four children (the middle child at #3 because #2 is the only girl), and with marriages and births, there are sixteen of us. That's not counting their aunts, uncle, cousins and their families. I won't even get started on my side of the family because I have thirty-six first cousins on one side...and two on the other. I also have been blessed with other family members as my parents remarried and I got to know those families as well.
In fact, since 2004, I am now related to sixteen people (eight by marriage...and eight by birth) I was not related to before. By the end of 2011, that total will increase to eighteen because my cousin's wife and my niece are expecting.
But I have found that no matter how much family you have...God knows the desires of your heart. If He doesn't see fit to answer those desires in the normal course of life...He will often find a creative way to fulfill them. Sometimes, that fulfillment comes through that "extended family."
I miss the days when there were kids sitting around my table doing projects and arguing over something silly. I miss the girls in braces and ridiculous clothes doing skits in junior high school or hanging out of my car singing "Pour Some Sugar On Me" because I thought that they deserved something better than Backstreet Boys and Nelly. I miss cooking steaks for two young men who had just graduated six years ago...that enjoyed coming out here and hanging out with us (okay, probably more Jill than us, but whatever) the summer before they started college and the Fall of freshman year. I miss the kids who came out during the summer to grill chicken wings and play in the pool during the summer of 2007. I miss the New Years' Eve parties where boys would play "Capture the Flag" and stay up until all hours of the night...a tradition they kept up for something like seven years.
Each kid that crossed our threshold enriched our lives. Every friend that I have gives me the opportunity to be loved...or to be a blessing in return. Every person that I know is my personal mission field...and I am theirs...or we wouldn't know each other.
And when you think about it like that...aren't you blessed? I know I am. After all...if you are reading this...you are probably part of my "extended family."
Thank you for that.