This past spring, my nephew, Jack, played on his first sports team. Jack was naturally stressed about this new experience. Before his first game, I asked if it was ok if I came. He looked up at me from his car seat, nodded sweetly, and said, “With a sign?”
On my drive home, I made a pit stop at CVS to gather all of my supplies. His game rolled around and the first time he came up to bat, I could see how nervous he was. Next to my sister, I held his sign high behind the fence of first base while praying that the poster drew his attention and gave him some assurance that he was not alone.
Supporting Jack, my niece, and my youngest nephew is one of the greatest honors of my life, but I did not always treasure my role as a single aunt in our family. In fact, the first time my sister, Amanda, told me she was pregnant, my initial reaction was sadness.
Growing up, Amanda and I were mistaken for twins so often that it became our family’s inside joke. I internalized that our similarity is what caused the depth of our relationship, so when our paths began to differ I feared the veering would lead to separation. Her path towards marriage and a family looked so different from mine. Would this hurt our relationship?
Feeling unsure of what God said about my family, I turned to scripture. What did God think of my status as a single woman looking to stay connected to my nuclear family even as I watched my sibling build a new nuclear family of her own? More pressing: Where did I fit? What I found was a story told from the beginning of scripture to the end that prized family—biological and spiritual. As I read God’s word with eyes for family members like me, I began to see it in places I hadn’t observed before.
In my recent Bible reading, I noticed that Jesus’s aunt was present at his crucifixion. In John 19:25, we’re told that Jesus’s “mother, his mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene” stood nearby as he was being crucified. I was moved that the Bible highlighted his aunt’s dedication to her nephew. “Jesus’s aunt” isn’t a Bible character I can remember being referenced in a sermon. Mothers and fathers are the dominant influencers; aunts and uncles often become supporting characters. But what is a cast without the supporting act? Or what is a family without aunts and uncles, both blood and chosen? I imagined the grief Jesus’ aunt experienced at his crucifixion as well as the importance of her presence to support her nephew and sister.
Aunts and uncles tell another story of unconditional love. They quietly witness the most significant times within a nuclear family while rarely standing under the spotlight. Their love is freely given, even knowing that it is secondary. Their role may be behind the scenes, but background colors make a picture even more beautiful. Aunts and uncles bring light and life and contrast and detail to the picture; they belong there.
My sister, niece, and nephews teach me about this belonging. On Mother’s Day, my sister writes me a note and gives me a present. I told her this year that the gesture was unnecessary, but she responded, “I should be giving you ten times as much for the way you love and serve my kids.” Her words and desire to recognize and include me touched me deeply. On a day that rightly highlights the importance of mothers, the diversity of roles within our family unit forces her own focus outward and stretches her imagination of what raising these children looks like. And it includes me.
The story of scripture and the actions of my sister and her family reveal to me that love is not meant to be hoarded. Turned inward, love diminishes and self-concern blooms in its place. I worried that my place in my family might vanish as it grew. It took experience to learn that the nuclear family is not threatened by adding more people to its rhythm; rather, the nuclear family is enhanced when it grows by marriage, birth, adoption, and by including friends who become family. As we open our hearts to include more people—more family members by birth or by choice—we find that where love is widespread, it only deepens.
Amanda’s and my day-to-day lives could not look more different, but our veering paths did not separate us. They were the unveiling of a beautiful map leading to deeper relationships and a richer meaning for our growing family as individuals and as a unit.
My niece, Carrington, has a vivid imagination and loves to play “make-believe.” Several months ago, she created a storyline with my old Beanie Babies. Picking up each one, she said, “Here is the mom, dad, child, and aunt. Together, they are a family!”
Cover image by Julentoo Photography.