|Take me to the river.|
We live just over 2,500 miles from our nearest relatives. It's been this way since 2002. Before that, we were a six hour drive from family, so while it was something of an adjustment to realize that we couldn't get in for long weekends and the like, it wasn't a huge shock. It just ... well, it just was.
Many people can't imagine not living down the street from mom and dad, or at least within an hour or two or someone with the same last name.
For us, it's not awful. Perhaps it's because we have never in our married lives been closer than two hours to an extended family member. I really don't know. But whatever the reason, it always strikes me as odd when people are shocked or saddened by the geography of our family tree.
True, there are times when I realize that my children have missed out on having grandparents attend AWANA awards, or have never had the full-scale family birthday bash, complete with a whole line of cousins hiding behind the couch and sneaking M&Ms by the handful. They don't get random overnights with aunts and uncles, and they've never experienced the Sunday supper tradition of everyone crowding 'round a table after service and devouring three full chickens in less time than it took to put those things out of their misery.
They don't have those things. At least, not with people whose genes mimic their own.
And maybe this is where it all gets murky for me and finds its way around to me just not understanding the big deal:
My kids have these things. They have them with what we consider family.
There is Benny's family. When I look at her precious seven year-old, I remember his watermelon-streaked smile as he dug into his first slice that summer of 2004. I can't erase the image of her now-nine year-old as a stoic, tank of a toddler dashing past doughy little Logan all those years ago. I'll never forget the birth of her first daughter, the winter we learned to knit, or the fact that she was the one who passed on the pumpkin spice bar recipe that lights up our autumn palates.
There are countless others, too. The couple who ministered to my kids through AWANA for years and now regularly send me notes thanking me for sending on pics of some of their favorite kids. The lady who has bought Jo a birthday gift every year since she was six, just because she always wanted a little girl. The pastor who never passes by Seven without touching her cheek and reminding her that she was a blessing straight from God. The neighbor who taught me to make the most kickin' arroz con pollo you've ever tasted.
Like three of the children that I call my own, no blood ties bind us to these people. Somehow, doesn't that make the weaving of our lives that much more poetic? Our love is based not solely on history or shared ancestry, but on respect, on trust, on afternoons spent herding toddlers through zoos, sharing recipes for cold salads, and discovering new passions.
Family isn't always blood, you know. But it is always, always love.