What Makes a Family?
by LeAnn Rice

Thirteen years ago, I watched as a hospital bed was rolled into my living room. What an unlikely place for a bed. What an unlikely bed for my husband. Ron was young, athletic, my best friend, the love of my life and the absolute joy of our three-year-old son, Nick. How could this be?

Fragile days of hearing his raspy breathing became my “in between.” Life would soon be defined with the painful qualifiers of “before Ron died” and “after Ron died.” I hated that. I wanted to make these in between days rich with last conversations, last kisses and last memories. But Ron’s condition deteriorated too quickly and every “last” slipped by without regard to my desperate heart. Then I was alone.

Questions nagged. How would I raise our little boy alone? Who would play catch with him? Who would teach him to shave? Who would model a good husband and father to him?

Most people have a close support network … a soft place to land when facing such a loss. Not me. Physical distance separated me from my mother and in-laws, and differences in viewpoints created emotional distances with other family members. As a result, my landing place felt more like shards of glass. And it hurt.

Everything hurt.

Everything cut deeply with no concern for me being very alone.

Since then, I’ve walked through valleys I never thought I could survive. But I did. Finally, love for my son, Nick, helped me move on.

It broke my heart to think of spending holidays alone without family around. There would be no big birthday celebrations, and Thanksgiving dinner is quiet with just two. I missed the big traditional holiday celebrations. I even missed the noise and the mess. I didn’t want Nick to grow up without those memories. Clearly, we needed a family. But it wasn’t going to look like a traditional family.

The most valuable lesson I’ve learned in those 13 years is that marriage certificates and blood relation are not the only things that make a family. Over the years, God sent people to fill the empty spaces in our lives and in our hearts. But I didn’t let them in easily.

When you experience a tragic loss due to death or betrayal, it is hard to trust again. I was certain that any investment of my heart would return void. But there was one thing stronger than my fear of being hurt … my fear of betrayal … my fear of loss. I was motivated by my love for a little brown-haired boy who needed godly male influence, and a loving family with whom to celebrate life’s events – big and small.

God saw our needs, and over time, brought different people into our lives, each filling an empty space left by death, betrayal or simply the physical distance of 2,800 miles. I faced my fear of being hurt again, and slowly cracked open the door of my heart to allow these amazing people in.
Somehow God created a family by knitting our hearts together. My small “family” consists of people who love each other unconditionally, support and encourage each other, sit beside each other’s hospital beds, hold each other accountable and share in every achievement, failure and pain.

Do we look alike? Not so much. But we do share the same heart. Thankfully, God has given me a soft place to land.

LeAnn Rice is the Executive Director of Proverbs 31 Ministries. She and her son, Nick, make their home in North Carolina with their very high-maintenance cat, Angel (name not appropriate). LeAnn shares her life, laughs, family stories and yummy recipes through her two blogs: A Widow's Might and She Cooks.

To read more about LeAnn’s “family” the different ways God has filled the empty spaces in her life, and for ways you can reach out to others and create your own “family,” visit Proverbs 31 Ministries and click on Everyday Life.

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