Social media has changed so many things in our lives. In addition to the benefits of picture sending and status updates, we also receive and onslaught of new traditions. Like "30 Days of Thankfulness." I'm not knocking it, because it's been neat to read the hearts of my friends. I, however, have rebelled against joining in. Instead, this year I am going to share the blessings of the various forms of family that I have been given. People are the most precious thing in my life. I don't always know how to tell them I love them, I don't always spend enough time with them or call as often as I should. But I understand the value of an individual. I have been shaped and pruned and protected by these people throughout my life. If one of them had not been there, the person I am today could be very different. Many are "official" family, and others have been adopted over the years. This is not an exhaustive list, but it is the list on my heart today. There is no way to list them in order of importance, so I will do my best to list them in rough order of appearance. :-)
The first I have to mention would be my grandparents. Grandma and Grandpa Eavey are part of my earliest memories. They are in some of the most precious and also some of the most painful moments of my life. We have not always agreed, but I have never felt unloved by them. Grandpa's hug and Grandma's smile immediately take me back to a time before I knew there were problems in the world, when every hurt could be smoothed away by a kiss. To these incredible people, I have this to say: When I have been angry at you, I have still been influenced by your steady hold on your convictions. When I have expected resentment and coolness from you, I have received acceptance (if not always agreement). I have come to realize that you are not as perfect as I thought when I was five...but you are still my grandparents. You still love me as you did when I was little, you still want the best for me, you still pray for me, you still encourage me, you still make me smile, you still make me feel loved. There are parts of my personality, the unshakable parts, that can be traced back to your influence on my life. I am, and have always been, blessed to have you as grandparents. I have loved you even when we haven't been close, and I hope you never doubt that.
Next, obviously, would be my mom. My mom is...there just is no one word to describe her. She is the thing that has held our family together. Her stubborn love (as best as I can say it) has endured much pain and difficulty for the sake of her children and husband. Her reasoning behind each rule and consequence left no room for argument or escape. And yet her personal sacrifice never allowed us to doubt her love. I cannot remember a time when my mom wasn't actively pursuing a way to benefit our family. She rarely worked outside the home, but she was never idle. Foster care, babysitting, bagging little plastic parts for a factory up the road...there was always something she was doing to supplement my dad's income while still being available to us whenever we needed her. She pinched pennies and sewed clothes and never complained openly (if at all) about anything we didn't have. Looking back, I can see that I grew up with little (financially speaking), but she never allowed our home to feel like it was missing something. I never felt deprived. She always did what she had to do, and she did it for us. It may have taken me a while to realize what a deep expression of love this is, but as I have grown up, I have come to truly appreciate my mom for all that she did (and does).
My dad did not come into my life in the normal way. Somewhere out in the world, there is another man who gave me his DNA. I have never met that man, and I probably never will. Very early in my childhood, I didn't realize there was a difference in my family. My grandpa filled the "man role" well in my life. But there came a day when a very special man entered the scene. I still get emotional when I think about how I was given a daddy. In our world today, single moms are not uncommon. And these single moms fall in love, and that's not uncommon either. We see kids with mom and step-dad, dad and step-mom...that's just how it is. But this was different. This man wasn't content to be step-dad. He wasn't OK with a family full of different last names, to be viewed as a "mixed family." He did not just marry my mom, he joined our family. I was at the wedding. And I was there when the adoption papers were signed and I legally became his daughter. I still remember the judge looking at me and saying, "young lady, you have a daddy." If you have not been that person, you cannot know what that moment was like for me. And as I have gotten older, it has become even more precious to me. I know that he didn't have to adopt me. But he did. Because of the way my dad showed he loved me, I have a very tangible picture of God's love for us. I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard my dad say, "You will always be my daughter, nothing can change that." When I read in the Bible about how God has adopted us and made us co-heirs with Christ, I hear my daddy say, "You will always be my daughter. Nothing can change that." He has always worked hard for us. He has never just wanted to "get by," but always wanted to be able to give us more. He has always been quick to forgive. He obviously isn't perfect, but he is smart and loving and generous; I am more than blessed to call him Daddy.
I will not forget to mention my siblings. Being the oldest child, I was often responsible for them in one form or another. I am thankful for that experience. It taught me to love different personalities. It taught me patience. It taught me to be proud of the accomplishments of another person. It prepared me for motherhood on many levels. And now that we are adults, our relationships have changed. I'm not "the boss" anymore. But I still feel responsible, I still try to set an example. And I dearly cherish friendships with them. Each one is unique. I have precious memories of our childhood together, and I am amazed that those little ones are the adults I see before me today. I have great hopes for them and their children. I am so proud when one of them accomplishes something. We have times when we are frustrated with each other, but I am thankful that we always have tried to work it out. I am so thankful that I was not an only child!
I will take a moment to mention extended family here. The list can get so long that I dare not begin mentioning individuals! I will say that my aunts and uncles made me excited to BE an aunt. To have a niece or nephew think my house was the best place in the world, to watch my kids play with their cousins...those impressions came from my own childhood, and the blessings I had in that type of family. And my cousins...I loved how we were always friends, no matter how much time had passed since we'd been together. It taught me (though I didn't know what I was learning at the time) that love reaches past time and distance and simply loves.
Here along with siblings and cousins, I have a few very dear friends. Again, I won't list them by name because 1) they know who they are 2) not all of them are still with us and 3) I could never do credit to the individual reasons why they mean so much to me. These friends have known me for years. They have laughed with me, cried with me, been happy for me, and even been upset at me. They have been dependable. They have listened when I've vented, they have called and sent cards when I've been sick. They are also the type of people who will still love me even if years and states are between us. I am thankful for these few who are more than acquaintances. Who will pray for me, who will chastise me, who will hug me, who know me and love me still.
And now for Brad. My husband, my best friend, my leader, my provider, my protector...that one man can be all of these things amazes me. I will be brief to spare my readers. :-) My husband is exactly what I need. He is steady and strong. He is compassionate. He is honest. He probably knows me better than anyone, and he has seen me at my very worst. And instead of walking away from me, he has helped me become better than I ever was before. I could be the first to tell you that he's not perfect, but I didn't need perfection (perfection wouldn't have known what to do with me!). God knew what He was doing when He put us together. If it weren't for Brad, I don't know what type of woman I would have grown into. I am thankful for his steadfastness. I am thankful for his partnership. I am thankful for his love.
And now for kids.
Trinity is my princess. Smart, sassy, funny, beautiful. She thrives on order and desires to create beauty. She is my right hand in so many ways. I have never wanted to be my kids' friend. I am a mom, and that's my job. But even though I have not set out to make friends with my kids, Trinity and I do have a very special friendship. Maybe it's due to us being the only girls in the house. Maybe it's because she's so like her dad that I am already friends with her personality. No matter why, I am thankful for the relationship that we have, and I pray it only grows stronger as the years go by.
Andrew, my firstborn son. Andrew is a genius in his own way, but if you don't know him, you'll never see it. I am thankful for Andrew because he makes me slow down and take individual time with him. It's so easy as a mom to get into a routine and just do what you have to do that day. One day slips into the next and the kids are cared for, but you're so busy you forget to have a relationship with them. Andrew slows me down. He reminds me that the same thing doesn't work for each kid. That my family is made up of individuals and they need individual love and attention. When that time is taken, I see the beauty of each moment and creative thinking. Some days he is my greatest frustration...but he is just as often my greatest source of wonder.
Johnathan is my cool kid. Smart, but a bit lazy. Handsome and fun, imaginative and energetic. He is comfortable talking with adults, and sweet enough to play with toddlers. He does everything in slow motion, but generally with a good attitude. He is easy-going and fiercely loyal. He is sensitive and genuinely repentant when he's done something wrong. If all of my children were Johnathans, we would have a very easy time being parents...but we would always be late to everything! I am thankful for his sweet spirit. He reminds me to look for opportunities to make others happy, and to enjoy simple things.
Michael is the one who makes us laugh the most. He is growing and changing so quickly! At four years old, he claims the same rights that all the big kids have (he insists he IS a big kid). He is nick-named "Monster," and there are moments when it is a very fitting title. He is determined to accomplish whatever he sets out to do. He is articulate and opinionated. He is both stubborn and spontaneous. He has taught me to be thankful for unexpected relationships. He has stretched my patience and tested my consistency. I am thankful for his bursts of love and the joy of watching a new life grow and a new personality develop.
You thought I was done, didn't you? Nope. You see, these are the children that were born to me...but there are more that my heart has claimed.
Dalton is the oldest (as in, with us the longest) "extra" son in our family. He is fun and loving, and the kids always look forward to his visits. He is smart and well-read. The type of person you can have deep discussions with about everything from theology to the most recent super hero movie. The type of guy who has influenced my daughter's idea of what a man aught to be, and who has given my sons someone to look up to. He gives me hope that there are still young people who are passionate about the Word of God.
Gordon came to me by way of Brad. Dalton brought him to men's Bible study, and Brad adopted him. There are times when he annoys me, and I never cease to be amazed that Brad (the impatient one) has such an easy time being with him and mentoring him when I (the "patient, nice" one) just want him to stay out of my kitchen! Gordon is a picture of the power of God to change a person completely. He is a miracle. He reminds me to never write someone off because of the way they look, or where they come from.
Jazzy (most of the world calls her Jessica) is the blonde daughter that Brad always wished for. We were not looking for her, but she needed us. I have grown to love this small package of emotions wrapped in a tough-looking shell. As she matures, she is becoming a beautiful young lady. The stubborn child is falling away and a soft, strong, loving woman is emerging. She has taught me the importance of always being available, of always being willing to reach out, even if it's not convenient. The rewards of this relationship far outweigh the small sacrifice we made when it began.
Josh is my first son-in-law, by way of marrying Jazzy. He is another wonder to watch as he takes on the role of husband and leader. Seeing him listen to wisdom, accept responsibility, prepare to shoulder the weight that a Godly man needs to carry is exciting and encouraging. Here I see a young man who will one day be a strong leader in our church. I am so thankful to be a part of his life as he matures and seeks God's will for himself and his young family.
Can I mention someone I have not met yet? My heart is flooded with love for a precious little boy named Konner, though he is not even born. He is Josh and Jazzy's son, due to arrive in late March. I have heard his hearbeat, I have seen him move, I have seen him stretch his mama's tummy as he grows. I have seen Jazzy's face glow as she feels him move or hears his quick heartbeat. He is the promise and wonder of new life. I am honored that I will get to be a part of his life. He makes me realize that my influence can reach years and generations down the road. I am thankful for this reminder to live as the best example of a Godly life that I possibly can.
My family continues to grow. There are others that have come into my life, and more who will come into my life. Each precious person is unique and stretches me in ways I didn't know I needed to be stretched. I am thankful for the influence they have had on me, and the ways they continue to help me mature. I pray I am always an example and encouragement to them.