Family Is Expansive



[Image Description: I took this photo in Austin, Texas at Lady Bird Lake. A support pillar of a bridge reads, ‘Live a Great Story’ in black print. This print is inside a white circle, and is surrounded by colors of blue, yellow, green, and red. The pillar itself is surrounded by water, and two people are paddle boarding in the distance. Also in the distance are green, leafy trees on both sides of the water and a light blue sky with darker clouds.]

–We sat around the kitchen table, adding chairs and making space for more each time people walked through the door. We placed ourselves in a circle around two gorgeous, homemade birthday cakes, and we were there to celebrate his special day.

He made introductions of all of us to one another.

“This is ________” There was a pause. “How do we describe who we are?” he said, both of them smiling at each other, and laughing in the connection. “He’s my chosen, adult son,” he ended up saying. Then he said the same about one other person in the circle.

“This is Ian,” he said when he arrived around the circle to my husband. “I’m just meeting him for the first time, but he’s married to Renee, and she’s family, so he’s family.”

Basically, my dear friend introduced every single one of us to each other as family. And for those two hours, laughing hard, and having a serious sugar rush (Seriously, that cake was phenomenal) we were truly a family gathered around the table. And it felt like it too.

–I have a chosen parent. When I was much younger, he chose me in this way. Though I had technically reached legal adulthood (not much older), in many very real ways, he participated in raising me. He continues to be one of the most formative people in my life. I’ve discovered a lot of who I am and who I want to be in relationship with him.

When I was with him a few weeks ago, we spent some time at a sports tournament. He was standing around and talking to another person there. I walked up while they were both in conversation, so I introduced myself. I said my name and mentioned that I was visiting this weekend. That’s when the conversation partner asked,

“Are you related?”

No one has ever asked us that before.

The man was looking at me when he asked the question, and for a brief second or so, I tried to figure out how to answer. I didn’t want to just say a simple, firm “No,” but I also didn’t want to be confusing in some way.

But that’s when he jumped in and said,

“Yes. By choice. But yes! Chosen family.”

And it was lovely.

–I invited her to church with me.

This was the church I had loved but had lost, at least, for a time. I had received a recent invitation to return and participate as much as I would like, and that meant the world to me.

So I went to worship, and I brought her along with me. We sat in the pew, praying, singing, listening to the sermon, and a few times, connecting with one another through church giggles. She’s very funny. At one point, we locked arms, standing close together while singing.

Later, after the service, I went upstairs to find someone, knowing she would delight in seeing my return. And when I did, I introduced the guest I brought with me:

“This is my kindred, _______,” I said, saying her name after the word ‘kindred.’ In that moment, I didn’t simply introduce her as my friend. She is that certainly, of course. But she’s also so much more than that. She’s a member of my family.

Kindred is not an often used word. So… maybe that was an odd choice of words for an introduction… But it’s what came out. And it’s definitely accurate too. This person and I have some shared, overly specific, parallel life experiences. It’s uncanny, frankly, and on a regular basis, I marvel that we actually found each other. Kindred spirits, indeed.

–He’s an older friend, a mentor, and colleague, and he’s soon to be my work partner.

As soon as we met each other, I marveled at all we had in common. There’s plenty of life experience unique to each of us, and areas of identity and life history that are not in common (as an older, African-American man, he has taught me a lot) but we do have a similar orientation to how we’ve built community and a sense of family.

“You scoop people,” one of my youngers said this semester. “How do you do that? You choose people and then keep them for life.”

It is true that I do this, and that I aim to do this. And my older friend, mentor, colleague, and soon to be work partner does the same. Only he has done it much longer. He keeps in touch very intentionally with five hundred former students. This is amazing to me.

Once, he said this about his oldest set of former students, who are ten years younger than him:

“I’m a paternal figure for them. But we’re also friends.”

And I sat there and nodded in recognition, because I knew exactly what that was.

–A couple weeks ago, three of the most beloved people in my life each initiated conversations with me about the exact same thing, asking why I had chosen not to have children but instead build a large family by choice.

And all three of those conversations were such a delight to share.

In large part, this pathway has emerged directly from what I have received. I have received family by choice. I myself was received, chosen. (In just a mere sampling, I have written about that here, here, and here). Why not continue to expand this gift?

This was exactly what I wanted, and on a regular basis, I marvel at all the choosing and being chosen, which continues to weave through my life in a rhythm of giving and receiving in every direction. I will keep choosing that over and over again.

Renee Roederer


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