Friday, May 25, 2012

What I Learned About Love

I was sitting across a table at Chick-Fil-A from one of my dearest friends on a Friday. The place was packed and noisy with children and toddlers as they were eating their fill of chicken and turning the play area into a zoo. My friend and I were sharing our hearts and most recent life stories while keeping a watchful eye on the kiddos. Our friendship is precious and skips the surface talk, jumping right into what really matters. That day we were talking about love and family.

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.



  1. Amen! Love doesn't hold back. Love gives. God's love is the greatest agent of change. It beautifies our lives.
    "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love."
    Love makes the best kind of family.

  2. One question I have had from early on when you announced via your blog that Karlie was apart of your family was how you handled this decision financially. This might be a bit personal, and you certainly don't have to answer, but were you financially prepared for supporting a college-student so early on in your marriage? I think having a baby is intimidating enough, but at least you have 18 years to save for one of the most expensive adventures of their lives!

    I think what you are doing for Karlie, the loving and obviously blessed home you have provided without a second thought, is an incredibly precious gift. I'm sure, given the way you describe Karlie, she is fully aware of how lucky she is to be your "adopted" daughter. I'm also sure, given the way you talk about this experience, that she has probably blessed you as much as you are blessing her through your actions and selflessness.

    I was a nanny, as well, for a year to two young children. I actually had to leave that position because of my differences of opinions with their parents (not enough discipline). They were total pills, but I loved them very much. I didn't realize how much I loved them, until I realized I felt responsible for them. Not just their physical well-being, but for who they were going to be one day. The biggest struggle I had in quitting was leaving my unfinished work behind: I had to weigh if my needing to leave for personal sanity was greater than the good I could do if I forced myself to stay. It was very hard and I still think about them often and wonder who they are growing up to be. Love is an investment. You can love anyone like family if you make them your responsibility. God obviously gave you and Mark this important responsibility. And you accepted it.

    You are doing an honorable thing with a heart full of love, and though it is a bit unusual, don't question that it is the right thing to do.

  3. Kathryn, I think this is beautiful! I am so glad Katie was able to encourage you. This reminded me of a character in C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce - have you read it? She's in heaven, and she's surrounded by people.

    Someone asks, "Who are all these young men and women by her side?"
    "They are her sons and daughters."
    "She must have had a very large family, Sir."
    "Every young man or boy that met her became her son - even if it was only the boy that brought the meat to her back door. Every girl that met her was her daughter."

    This woman obviously didn't hold back her love from any child she met, let alone a girl she had taken into her home. I know this is fictional, but I've always admired this character and feel that's what God would have of us.

  4. I'll be honest and say that, at first, I didn't understand your and Mark's relationship with Karlie. But what I quickly learned was that it didn't matter what I did or did not understand, because it was quite obvious that it was a "God thing". You guys needed her, and she needed you, and that was all that mattered.

    You are also very correct in your answer to the question "what is a family?". Over the past few years, I've learned that your family extends beyond the people with whom you share blood. It's who you love. I have a relationship with a woman who is my mother's age, and she could easily be my surrogate mother or sister. We're not kin, but other than Kyle, she has been the "family" I needed while my parents go through their divorce.

    It may not be typical or even ideal, but your family is very special and I'm so glad that you found each other when you did.

  5. Love the thoughts in this post. It's true, "family" transcends sharing DNA, or even amounts of time. I don't know much about Karlie's background but it sounds like she needed some "parents" who loved her and needed a picture of a godly marriage...and I think you're amazing for being willing and eager to be that for her.

  6. I love this. I think God places people in our life that we need or that need us. (or both!!) And the fact that you guys have opened up your home and your hearts is amazing and wonderful. I think it is so easy for people to judge others whether it's in regards to their style, their parenting, the way they manage their money, how they handle prosperity or adversity...the list goes on and on. It's easier to take a hard look at someone else's life than it is to examine our own. What I would say is to follow your heart. God is urging you in a direction that only you and your husband are privileged to know. He is speaking to you and moving you to a certain way and you will be blessed. XO

  7. I really enjoy reading this blog. It touched my heart today just as it often does. I know the feeling. I have had children in my care that I loved deeply as well. God puts people where He needs them for people who need to see His love through others.

  8. Wonderful post, Kathryn. I fully understand, you two are great parents and Karlie is easy to love! She is my granddaughter and our family is truly blessed! It has been an amazing journey and I have seen a beautiful picture of Christ's love through it. Only God can receive credit for such a melting of hearts. Love you!


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