By Karen O’Connor
I remember well the day my Grandpa Ennis, my mother’s father, came to live with our family. We had to change the sleeping arrangements to make room for him in our small apartment and again in the new house we moved to a few years later. I thought it was special to have him so close. I could talk to him every day.
Some of my friends envied me. Their grandparents lived far away and they only saw them on holidays. On the other hand, I thought they were lucky to have two grandmothers and two grandfathers. I had only the one grandparent. The others had died before I was born.
As I look back, Grandpa’s move to our house was my introduction to living in the mix—from traditional mom, dad, and kids in a household to one that included someone from the former generation.
The popular television show Modern Family displays an unconventional family in the extreme. The creators Steve Levitan and Christopher Lloyd conceived their show around a different kind of family tree: Jay Pritchett, the patriarch, his Colombian trophy wife, Gloria, her son, plus their baby together; Jay’s grown son, Mitchell and his partner, Cam, and their adopted Vietnamese daughter; Jay’s high-strung daughter, Claire, her goofball husband, Phil, and their three suburban children. People from all walks of life and ethnic backgrounds can relate to one or more of the characters since their own lives have become a mix as well.
My family as an adult has expanded well beyond the borders I once knew. I am divorced and remarried. My extended family now includes a gay stepdaughter and her partner, my son and his wife from Japan, a divorced daughter and her male friend, a sister who was once a nun now married to a former priest, a sister married to an Italian native and living in Italy, “adopted” grandchildren whose biological grandparents have died, and at one time a Kurdish refugee family who referred to my husband and me as their American grandparents. In addition to our blood relatives, we’ve also included in our family life young men and women from other countries such as Germany, Switzerland, and Spain who have lived with us from time to time as foreign exchange students.
Each of these relationships has stretched us, matured us, and given us countless opportunities to learn and grow in our faith and in our ability to love and include people we considered different from us. We learned to set aside prejudices that at one time we didn’t even know we had! But what a blessing each individual has been. I now count my life rich in diversity, love, and opportunity as I share in the lives of so many of God’s creations that I might never have known if it weren’t for this amazing mix.
“After having three biological children with my husband,” said Sherry, “I brought up the subject of adoption. Doug’s response surprised me. ‘I’ve known you wanted to adopt since we were dating in college.’
“And so our adoption journey started 15 years ago,” said Sherry. “We decided on a local agency that specialized in foster adoptions since our budget didn’t allow for an international adoption.
“We prayed for our baby for nine months as we went through the home study, licensing, fingerprinting, and training before God matched us with a little Filipino girl we named Grace. Now she’s 15 years of age, and our relationship goes through ups and downs. She’s learning responsibility and respect. She wants to be independent. Not much different than my three other children.
“Grace is a blessing to our family. She’s artistic, funny, and charming. We accept and love her for who she is—even though she’s different from the rest of the family in looks and personality. I’m glad we didn’t have to go to another country to find our daughter. God brought the girl of my heart to me—here in California.”
“It’s been a long and sometimes grueling season living with my grown daughter who has been addicted to pain medication and alcohol,” shared Trina. “She’s been in and out of rehab, in and out of college, and in and out of trouble, including stealing money and jewelry from me. I’ve had to change the way I live—wary of my own child.
“Thankfully, she is now in a sober living environment with other recovering addicts, under supervision, and learning to live without drugs and drinking. I’m optimistic but not naïve. I never expected my life to take this turn, but it has. I know God is in the mix and the mess. He has a plan for my daughter and for me. It’s been a tough journey, and I’d never have made it this far without God’s grace.”
Rita and Ken’s Story
“We’re raising our daughter’s two girls as our own. I’m 60 and Ken is 65,” Rita reported, “so it’s been a challenge to keep up with a 7- and 9-year-old, but so far so good. We take turns with driving and homework so they’ll always have one of us available. We rest while they’re in school and then start up again at 3:00 and stay at it till bedtime.”
Rita chuckled. “I’m making it sound terrible, but actually it’s a joy. Their mother is unable to be there for them. She’s in another city and maybe even living on the street. Their dad has disappeared as well. We love these kids and they adore us. We are a family. The girls bless us as much as we bless them. Ken and I could be off on a cruise somewhere or playing golf every day like many of our retired friends. Instead we are starting over as parents. But when I feel sorry for myself, I stop and thank God for the privilege of giving the girls a stable home with grandparents who love them.”
Whenever we’re tempted to feel at loose ends about the family mix we live in, we can look to Jesus for comfort and encouragement. He lived in a mixed family his entire life on earth.
His mother was a virgin when he was conceived. He was born in a stable, depending on strangers—shepherds and kings—to welcome him into the world. He called 12 men of various levels of intellect and faith to join him on his ministry journey. And soon they became a family, eating and sleeping, preaching and healing together. He welcomed women, even some with questionable reputations, into his fold—a highly irregular action to take during that time in history. The bond they all shared led to the establishment of God’s family, the church as we know it today. So the Lord is no stranger to unconventional families.
Help and Hope for Living in the Mix
You may be in a mix too, maybe even a “fix,” as you provide a family experience for those who are on the fringe of your life or who are different from you or whose lifestyle you don’t approve of. If so, take heart. God is at the center of it with you. He created and loves each one of you, regardless of the situation or behavior. You can leave the details to him and rest in the knowledge that he will provide everything you need to carry on when the going gets tough.
The following are some Scriptures to cling to and to share with your loved ones as you navigate the waters of living in an unconventional family:
• God’s faithfulness: “I will not violate my covenant or alter what my lips have uttered” (Psalm 89:34).
• God’s help in trouble: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (73:26).
• God’s grace in growth: “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge” (2 Peter 1:5).
• God’s correction when necessary: “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8).
• God’s love that covers all: “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them” (1 John 4:16).
Karen O’Connor is a freelance writer living in Watsonville, California (karenoconnor.com).