“Who is Crystal?” Olive asked. “She’s Owen’s real mommy,” stated Ellia.

I tried to tell Ellia that I’m actually Owen’s real Mommy, but she disagreed.

“No,” she said matter-of-factly.  “You’re Owen’s step mom.”

Adopting a kid is packed with joy and grace and the sheer awe of God’s ability to provide.

But it’s complicated.  And at this stage of our adventure, we’ve noted new complications to the illusion of a simple adoption.  Ten years ago, we imagined a rainbow family of a dozen children who fell into our lives from various backgrounds and situations.  We imagined big Christmases and chaotic summer vacations and children who all got along and cleaned their rooms without having to be asked.

But time and maturity has changed our perceptions.  We know now that adoption has little to do with my plans or even mercy and everything to do with calling.

And we were called to Owen.  We paid attention to a gal who walked into the adoption agency and told them she wanted us to parent her 4 week old.

It hasn’t been simple from the beginning.

And new complications surface all the time—his current medical issues, news of his genetic history, Olive’s reaction to losing her “baby of the family” status almost overnight.

Open adoption offers plenty of frustrations and uncertainties.  But ultimately, open adoption means we gained a son and Crystal.

But we’re not always sure who Crystal is or how we’re all going to relate.

I was so excited for today—Crystal would see and hold Owen for the first time in five months.

But I also felt overwhelmed with questions I couldn’t answer:

Who am I if Crystal gave birth to Owen?

Why do I feel such deep guilt over changing his name from Hunter?

How do I communicate gratitude over such a brave gift?

And who is she to us?  To Owen? To Owen’s sisters?

We like black and white.  We understand biological.  We get the uncomplicated family reunion or the straightforward family tree.

Abraham begat Isaac who begat Jacob.

But just as neighbor meant something entirely different to Jesus than it did to the questioning lawyer, family might also need to look different.

We want titles and labels because it helps us navigate our relationships.  We feel the need to categorize so that we know what to expect or how to act.

But family according to Jesus isn’t so cut and dry—it often crosses lines and muddies clear boundaries.

Maybe we’re the ones asking, “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus says, “You can’t find someone who isn’t.”

Today held some awkward moments.  Crystal, out of habit, called Owen “Hunter.”  Out of habit, she occasionally referred to herself as his mom.  I felt the rush of adoptive mom-guilt anytime I talked about all he was doing developmentally or directed her on how to calm him.

Being family is a dance—a complicated, unpredictable dance.

But Crystal’s done something she didn’t have to do. She’s let us be family to her.  And right now, none of us knows what that means.

Brett and I don’t know, the girls don’t know, Crystal and her boyfriend don’t know… and Owen doesn’t care.

All Owen feels is the multiplied love of an extended community.

“Who is my family?”

Maybe Jesus is saying, “You can’t find someone who isn’t.”

Instead of controlling the arena of family, maybe we should start extending it.  Maybe being the church means we blow the doors off of what it means to be related by opening our arms to a title-less neighbor or stranger.

Less labels, more love.  Less formality, more family.

I’m not saying that being family isn’t stressful or confusing or chaotic.  But since when are we called to avoid stress and chaos?  And I think that the Good Samaritan in Luke walked straight in to some chaos and stress—unsure of the outcome of his actions.

People are worth it—all the unknowns and awkward moments—all the questions and unwanted answers.

We try so hard to control our families—we plan the exact moment we get pregnant, we control who’s invited to Thanksgiving, we’re obsessed with perfection instead of inclusion.

We want family to be neat, tidy, and “normal.”

But “normal” is broad.  “Normal” simply means that we love people—the kind of love that goes beyond tolerating others to embracing others.

After all, we’ve been included even if we’re wild cards in the family.  We belong even if we’re not sure how or why

Jesus says love—not out of mercy or pity, but because you’re called to do so.  We’re called to open our arms because we’ve been embraced.  And through love, we learn what it is to be family.