We’re mostly all here. . . in the big house. My husband’s family-gathered to say goodbye to the Spanish foreign-exchange student who’s really their “Spanish son.” Most people use the word family lightly, because I believe most people are born into theirs. But this family is a cobbling together of people who maybe wouldn’t even like each other if not for love and marriage. The fire in the brick oven is going and we’re all taking turns slinging pizzas- my sister-in-law and I making delicate pesto and garden-tomato creations; my husband and his stepbrother pouring hot sauce over dough and covering it in buffalo chicken. No matter- every single slice will be eaten while the salad sits slowly wilting in the corner.
This home is a weird in-between place. A place where the hurt flock because my mother-in-law is a soul-healer. She fights for the weak, she stitches up those places in the soul that are so often rubbed raw. Her 4th of July parties are legendary. She invites the head pastor of their church, along with the elder’s family who was asked to leave because of theological differences. She invites an elder’s oldest son and the girl who dumped him only a few months ago. Awkward young adults and self-assured mothers of 6 all find a place to hang out in her sprawling backyard. Most people I know would never dream of hosting a party like that. But her code is simple- love me, love my friends. Maybe that’s a little bit what heaven will be like. All these people, awkward for a few minutes, testing the sore areas, trying to find a place to land that won’t touch the tenderly-healed soul wounds. But eventually forgetting the pain in a whoop and a shout and a fiercely competitive volleyball game.
The triplets (my husband’s stepsisters) are here. I can finally tell them apart easily, and even in the waning light. And we’re laughing hard because we’re reminiscing. What is it about your 20’s that makes you want to reminisce so much? Is it the realization that you’ve lost your childhood forever? Is it trying so hard to hold onto the things you know for sure as you navigate this rocky thing known as adulthood? For the first time we’re laughing about those stressful years when my in-laws’ marriage was new and all 8 kids lived under the same roof. Preteens, teenagers, college students and adults. When my sister-in-law put signs on her door that said things like “No knocking” and “No talking outside my room.” When my stepsisters were 12 and had all the attitude and drama to go with it. My stepbrother Eric sneaking out and using the garage door right under my husband’s room. We laughed at all the awkward situations (a grown man, practically a stranger, at your breakfast table while you’re still in your pj’s and only 12 years old) and hurt feelings that ensue when you try to build a new family. And the laughter is healing, it’s beautiful.
And even as we tease our parents, parents-in- law, stepparents about the crazy situation we were all thrust into, I am thankful. Thankful for my family by marriage and love. Thankful that they drive me crazy, thankful that they show me a new perspective (even if that involves more country music than I would ever voluntarily listen to), thankful that these people choose to love me. They’re not forced to, like in the case of my own family who must love their too-loud, over-passionate, too-sensitive and oblivious sister/daughter. My in-laws choose to love me and I choose to love them, past hurt feelings, rude words, misunderstandings. We choose to love and in choosing create a family, perhaps more fragile than ones created by birth, perhaps more prone to pain or scars. But we are weaving this family together, laugh by tear by pizza. And one of the pizza crusts burns a bit in this outdoor brick oven and I can’t help think of Old-Testament sacrifices, because this moment is holy. It feels like a scent wafting up to heaven. I know a pizza isn’t much, but to me, it’s a symbol. A symbol that mercy was abundant and love prevailed.