I live a pretty weird life. There’s nothing conventional about the way I do things and honestly, I’m okay with it. When I was four, I was involved in a freak pencil accident that blinded my left eye and caused me to wear glasses, eye patches, a contact lens, and a whole bunch of other stuff. My brothers started calling me “The Terminator” because of that scene where Arnold Schwarzenegger’s face melts off and reveals a metal skull. Apparently my metal eye patch covered in stickers (I was four, what did you think I’d do with it?) reminded them of this epic screen play. When these are my earliest memories, of course I became an adult that does things a little differently.

Nearly my entire family, immediate and extended, lives within a 25-mile radius of each other with my grandmother in the center, both geographically and figuratively. For as long as I can remember, we have done absolutely everything together. There are photos of me as a child meeting my cousins for the first time as newborns. When I spent years in and out of the hospital after the eye incident, my parents, siblings, aunts, and cousins were with me every step of the way. Dance recitals and basketball games were family reunions. Graduation parties shut down entire neighborhoods and weddings felt like national holidays.

My grandfather, or “Papa” as we all know him, was an abused foster child and McKinley High School dropout who left his family a legacy of hard work and love built on a foundation of “never again.” Never again would abuse, poverty, and pain be the story of his family. When Papa met my grandmother, he vowed she would be his wife and to give their family every thing he never had.

And, that’s precisely what he did.

Papa married my Grandma, got his GED, and together they raised four children to love the Lord. They worked tirelessly and made sure every one of their kids graduated from high school and college. When they became grandparents, they developed family traditions so rich and rooted in love that I had no idea I was actually poor as a child. My family was so broke that my only dresses were homemade until I was almost five years old. I actually had no idea you could buy cookies from the grocery store. In our house, if you wanted it, you made it or called Grandma and she made it.

As a result of my experiences growing up, I have come to value family deeply. I truly understand unconditional love and believe with my entire heart that generational curses like abuse, poverty, and addiction can be not only broken but those affected can be redeemed and restored. I believe that family is a basic human right every person should get to experience, even if it is not with their biological family.

Jesus called people away from their families to follow him, and he even told people to hate their father and mother in comparison to the way they love him. As a young Christian, this was a difficult concept for me to grasp. How could I possibly hate the people that had loved me so well? However, once I became a truly practicing and Truth-seeking Christian at 22 years old, I understood more deeply the faith-founded lessons my parents had been modeling and the depth of what Jesus was calling me towards. The love Jesus calls us toward is not about hating anything, it’s about trusting the love of God in a way leads us to follow him in obedience, no matter the cost.

My life today is not unlike the life I lived as a child. It’s filled-to-the-brim with people, home-cooked meals, rich with tradition, and saturated with faith. However, my family now includes many young people who need a place to be known and loved. My husband, Corey, and I live in a way that makes many tilt their heads sideways, but it’s the only way we can imagine. My heart breaks for people who have never felt the unconditional love of family and struggle to understand the relentless love of their Father in Heaven. Corey jokes that some people have to worry about their wives bringing home pets, but I bring home people. But, if we have the space, why can’t we share it?

Our biological babies have older siblings who enrich their lives in ways we never could. Their “sissas” and “sister sisters” and big brothers have brought music, basketball, movies, bearded dragons, face-masks, mall trips, and so much love into their lives. They stand in the gaps of Corey and I’s parenting in ways I can never adequately express my thanks for. Our girls pray for every single sibling by name, and each night when we ask what they are thankful for from the day, it never fails that they name a person not a thing.

I adore this family we’ve built. Our home is never empty and the fridge rarely stays full, but I have come to know the heart of God more deeply as he shows me how to love all his children as my own.

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