We all have heard the adage blood is thicker than water.
We use it when we talk about the strength of family bonds and such, often to explain in some way that a relationship with a blood family member is stronger than a relationship with any other non-blood-bound friend or family member.
But I’m going to stop everyone in their tracks and say this is just not the case. This doesn’t have to be the case. And even in the case, it is not always the case!
In fact, family bonds by blood and by choice are just as strong as the members within it deem important to cultivate them.
That is, whatever bonds you want to be thicker than water can certainly be.
I was born into a family of two amazing, loving, very young parents. My mom 22 and my dad 17 made the commitment to marry and to bring children into this world together. They celebrated that day November 17, 1981. They continue to celebrate that year after year.
It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I learned that my maternal grandfather was not my biological grandfather. I was stunned. How could this incredible man not be genetically related to me? But that stunned state lasted about three seconds. In that moment, an epiphany hit me. He was my grandfather. He was no less my grandpa because he had married my grandma after she’d had her first three girls. He was just the same wonderful man who loved my grandma, my mom, my aunts, uncles, cousins and everyone down the line.
In fact, I have for years thanked God again and again for bringing my grandpa into my grandma’s life. While my grandpa had nothing to do with me being “born,” he has had everything to do with me being raised, being loved, and wildly being married! (That’s another story!!)
This story is on repeat across my life and in the lives of people I love.
Today was my niece Bentley’s adoption day–her adoption birthday she calls it. A year and a half ago my brother Zac married my sister-in-law Ashlie who has a beautiful seven year-old daughter Bentley. From the moment Bentley has been in our lives, she has been family.
From the funny ironies of her and Audi each sharing their own tenuous, dramatic arrivals into this world and their accompanying expensive NICU stays, to how strikingly similar they look, to how perfectly she fits in with our family, there could absolutely be no doubt in anyone’s mind that she is ours. She is our family.
When my brother married Ashlie, she remained our family. When she was adopted today as an Elsts, she remained our family. She is no more our family today than she was three years ago when we first met her, rather she is being raised, being loved, and one day perhaps being married off by a family who treats her with the same love they treat everyone else.
This story is on repeat in my friendships too. I have been startled by my overwhelming sense of connection with friends. Sometimes scared for sure. Why would I feel so close and so connected with these people, these non-family people? What gives them the right to be so close to me? Or me the right to want to be close to them? I have heard myself fight off friendship closeness with these questions. But family is not limited to blood relationships or even to step relationships within families. Family is a choice you can make with anyone at anytime in any place.
So it’s wonderful that I’ve developed my Nashville family.
I remember my babysitting family from Deerfield, Illinois with exceptional fondness.
And the family of swimmers I joined myself to in high school.
Our church family at Saint John the Forerunner Orthodox Church in Indianapolis. Our church family at the Fellowship of Two Rivers here in Nashville.
My Starbucks sister.
My lifegroup. We are sisters for life. You know it!
Even the wonderful, incredible, loving ladies at the YMCA who take care of my sometimes treacherous spawn. They are my Y family.
My more newly made doctor friends. Their children.
My pregnancy class sister and her family.
My wellness-focused friends who come together virtually on Facebook to share and support and encourage each other on to eat better, live better, be better. I love you ladies!
My Marvelous coaches who are driven to be the best they can be and help others do the same. You guys rock! I can’t help contain my excitement when it comes to praising all that you do.
This brings me to my final family, that is my family of Christian brothers and sisters. Bigger than the physical churches or communities that we meet within, we are family–Christ tells us we approach God the Father as siblings, calling him our Father. We thrive together as we love Him together and strive in step to serve Him. We are family across languages, terrain, and time. How many of us within this family are bound by blood? This family is one made completely up of members by choice as we look to a common person, the God of the universe, as Father.
Family by choice.
We are not only family by choice with our non-blood relations. But with our blood-bound relations too!
How many of us have a family member we would love to be closer too? Someone with whom no matter how hard we try to connect simply isn’t interested for some reason in us? These family members create an anomaly for us. How can a blood-bound relation not want to be family to us? How can a father not want to father us? How can a mother leave us? Or a grandmother? Or a daughter? We cannot fathom this.
Yet I will suggest that we should try a little.
All relationships are relationships by choice. Even blood-bound ones.
So I lay my claim on all of my blood-bound family as friends too! My mother and father, married for 34 years and going strong. My brothers and my sister purposefully staking out their lives, loyalty, and love for their spouses, children (and future children), families and friends.
My in-laws who have been married for 35 years who are still going strong and the family which has sprung from them.
This couple have brought two amazing sons into this world. one of which is my beloved huzby who has given me our four amazing children, the other his older brother and his wife, my sister-in-law and her five children. I can’t imagine my life without any of these people!
My extended family, my grandparents on all sides! The collective group of patriarchs and matriarchs who set the tone and actively leave legacies with each step and breath they take. Their children, their spouses, and the children from those families as well. I don’t even remember the last time I counted and I don’t have the space to picture them all (nor the pictures!), but they are all precious, each one.
Moral of the Story
It’s our choice who we bind ourselves to. The word family should not be limited to “by blood” relationships. The places and spaces we fill create the contexts in which these connections rise. We choose what to bring into those spheres. We bring love, we bring life, we bring light into others’ life. They do the same for us.
These are the people in our families. For me, these are what define family. I may have 20 different ones, and you may have just a handful. The moral of the story is that we should never let the degree of blood we share should define how close we let people be or get to us in our lives. BE FAMILY in your relationships.
If you connect with someone, if you love someone, if you bring love, life, and light into their life and they do the same for you, well, they are your family.