You see, I have experienced love in a new way in the last eighteen months and have received various responses from by-standers, some standing closer by than others. While the words from most people have been overall encouraging of us and Karlie, with them realizing the uniqueness and specialness of our relationship and respecting it, there have been a few that have been either not encouraging, silent, or worse. And I would be lying if I said it didn’t affect me. Outsiders had me questioning my feelings and my role in her life. That since I didn’t birth her or raise her that these maternal feelings couldn’t be real, right? Some people seemed to think I was just young and naive. And I admitted to my friend that I had felt somewhat hurt and disrespected by some and that at times I felt a need to hold back because of what others thought.
My friend and I talked about it a little and as our conversation started to change and I focused on my pack of nuggets, she interrupted me and said, “Wait - before we change subjects I want to tell you something.” Of course, she had my full attention, and I listened as she told a beautiful story of two children for whom she used to be a full-time nanny. She told me how she loved those children deeply - and that during the years she was their nanny, she prayed for them regularly, read parenting material to be a better nanny for them, and she felt like she was a second mother to them. She said people in her life told her she needed to be careful because she loved them too much, but that she felt it would have been foolish to withhold love, so she went all in. She then said that the children’s mother recognized my friend’s love for her children, and gave a card to her from the children on Mother’s Day and in it, she wrote, Thank you for loving my children as much as I do. Now, years later, my friend has a biological child of her own, and she looked me in the eyes and said said, “It’s different, yes, but I love them as much as my own child. While I did deliver my son and he has my mannerisms and gene pool and looks exactly like my husband, I love those other two children just as deeply. So I don’t know how it will be when you have a baby, but for me, I have equal love.”
And I felt a wave of relief sweep over me. It was like I had permission to not suppress my feelings. It didn’t matter what others thought - I have the freedom and the privilege to love someone fully and completely who is willing to receive it, and not everyone gets that kind of honor. What God clearly orchestrated in our family is not the traditional family make-up, but it is just a real, just as beautiful, and immensely treasured.
My friend also sweetly reminded me that the people who weren’t supportive do not understand. They don’t have the precious moments we have. They don’t see the hours spent in conversation making big decisions. They don‘t get the midnight phone calls. They don’t see the shoulder that has been cried on. They don’t hear about the cute boy from math class, what happened at volleyball practice, or listen to the speech being recited ten times for speech class. They haven’t been there during the eighteen months that she transformed into a confident, secure, compassionate and wise young woman. They weren’t there during the moments that she became a family member and not just “the girl that lives with us.” They don’t feel that tug on their hearts.
But I do. And I realize that not every teenager that lives with a person becomes a family member. But I truly believe God’s hand was so evident in all of this that he knew Karlie was exactly what we needed, and we were what she needed. And God began to stir in our hearts an affection that only he can bring. And we became a family. And Karlie became our daughter. And like my friend, I choose to not withhold love.
And so in asking the question, “What does it mean to be a family?” I have a new, simple answer: Love.