Love makes a family.
That was the phrase I saw on a t-shirt in Arkansas in a booth raising money for a family trying to adopt. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to have it. I bought one for me, and one for Steve. Had there been children sizes, I probably would have gotten one for each of our 5 children. Cheesy, I know.
Since then, it has become a theme incorporated in my life, in our wedding, and in our family. In my life, blended families are outside of my knowledge or level of expertise and something I've prayed a lot about. But every time I think about this phrase, or read my t-shirt, it really breaks things down to the basics for me. Every once in awhile, I change it in my head to also say 'God makes a family.'
The truth of the matter is, I loved Steve's daughters before I loved him. I loved them way back when we were just acquaintances and our kids were just friends who hung out once in awhile. But my heart melted for them, and ached for them in their hurt. God allowed them to tug at my heart in many ways before I really understood why.
This weekend was a stressful one, and yet God once again showed me a future outside of what could have ever been my understanding before. These sweet, wonderful girls filled up my heart in so many ways. Zada had picked out a craft with some money she'd earned, which was a box of 4 stepping stones. She graciously shared them with her soon-to-be siblings and her sister and they each made a personalized stepping stone. It was her suggestion to make them for Jeremy and maybe we could take them to his memorial at the college - they all loved the idea. Heart squeeze number one. While we were making them, she thoughtfully asked "if Jeremy is a part of our family, what would he be to me?" Let me stop right there - the fact that these girls have already incorporated Jeremy into our family means more than I could possibly tell you. They understand what an important role he plays for me and my kids and I love that they ask me questions about him (Zada asked me last week if I remembered what the last thing Jeremy said to me was....and I loved being able to tell her yes, and sharing the story with her). I remembered that when we went to Jeremy's grave in Canada, she wrote him a little note on the balloons we took that said 'you were a great friend' so I told that since he was a friend to her when he died, he could stay that to her always. Heart squeeze number 2.
We took the stones to Jer's memorial. After that, they asked to walk around campus to see where Jeremy worked. We held hands and talked, laughed and raced, and watched Carter tumble his way around. Steve noted this precious time while we were all holding hands and said "I love this family." Heart squeeze number 3.
I grabbed Reagan's hand a little tighter and holding back tears, said "Yeah, we're pretty much rock stars."
Reagan smiled. "Yeah, pretty much."
It was the first time I remember taking a deep breath and feeling so proud of the family I had since Jeremy died. I always felt a sense that something was missing and that I would never be able to give my children a whole family again. But there we were, all together and complete, carrying Jeremy in our hearts as we walked around and shared stories of what he did and where he worked. It was so very precious to me.
When we walked down to Jer's shop, my ache was strong and my grief surprised me as I seemed to suddenly realized for the first time that this was place I last saw Jeremy alive. The last time I touched him, heard his voice, kissed him. The lump in my throat was huge as I showed Steve's girls where we used to sit at the picnic tables and bring Jeremy lunches in the afternoons and heard Faith and Caleb remember in such detail little pieces about their daddy and that campus. It was like two different lifetimes overlapping each other, two different loves coming together.
We continued walking together. We took the kids to McDonalds to eat and play. When we got back, we sat on the couch and played charades, laughed and tickled each other. Moments I will never take for granted. And every time I held one of those girls' hands, or played with their hair, or felt them crave my affection and attention, I thanked Jeremy for teaching me to love fiercely and to never again take my life for granted.
I'm so proud of our blended family. I know it won't always be easy. I know that there will be many challenges ahead, and I know it's not the family I ever had planned, but there's so much beauty there. So much healing and hope to be found and shared. I feel such purpose in this family God has made.
This family that love has made.