Dropping your child off at a facility is heartbreaking. Watching your mom walk through cancer with the love of her life is heartbreaking. Watching your kid who has worked so so hard his whole life struggle to read and crying daily because he feels stupid is heartbreaking. Getting daily headaches and having days where whole sections of your body don't move and wondering how you will be able to parent your children is heartbreaking. I could write volumes of all the hurts we have endured in the last several months, but not all of those are my stories to tell. There has been lots of processing. Lots of tears. Lots of cursing at a very big God who keeps trying to remind me that he can handle all my frustration and then some. Lots of therapy. Lots of nights where I look at my husband and nearly freeze with gratitude that somehow these last months worked to bring us closer together rather than rip us apart.
Life doesn't always throw us the bone we are looking for. But sometimes we get glimmers of hope big enough to sustain us for a while. Last week was a glimmer of hope for our entire family.
Back in December, my mom and step dad decided that they would like to take all of their kids on vacation together. I am the only daughter with a brother and three step brothers (plus all of their spouses and kids). Little did we know that not long after that trip was planned that a cancer diagnoses for David was coming. Cancer is the worst stuff. The trip took on a whole different meaning.
My mom and David and their magnum opus.
Photo credit Liz Vignali Photography
So. Much. Love.
(photo credit Liz Vignali Photography)
God saw fit to deliver David to her doorstep. (Well, next door to her doorstep) In every sense of the word, he is the salt of the Earth. He loves my mom well. He loves us well. He loves my children well- and in these relationships there is not "step". Bonus dad and bonus papaw fit so much better. My mom brought two grown kids to the marriage and David brought three grown boys into the marriage. All together there are 23 of us and we just keep growing.
All 23 of us headed to Destin, Florida last week for a week of family bonding. Prior to this trip, the most time all of us kids had ever spent meshing our families was the duration of Christmas dinner and Easter. I'm probably not alone in saying that I had some anxiety about the trip. After all, when you've never spent more than a couple of hours together, a week together all in one house is a little daunting. We also knew that the expectations on this trip were astronomical. Cancer changes expectations a lot. We all wanted this week to be magical. Usually expectations are the killer of joy, but this week altogether surpassed every expectation any of us had.
There was cohesion and love and respect. Blending families is not an easy task- but I think it's a testament to our parents how well all of us children and grandchildren fell into our roles as one big unit. It was incredible to watch it unfold, and even more incredible to feel it as it was happening. All 11 of the grandchildren (all under 11 years old) played and loved and had fun from the very first minute. There was no "his family" and "her family". It was miraculously just "family". Our family actually grew a bit while we were there... on the second night of our trip my bonus brother, Jordan, asked his ridiculously beautiful girlfriend, Ashley, to be his wife.
The entire family was in on the proposal. It was entirely too fabulous and we were all just giddy trying to keep our excitement about the impending proposal a secret. My sisters-in-law prepared the beach site while Jordan and Ashley were at dinner and I helped all the kids make signs for the welcome home party. One of my favorite memories of the whole week was watching David pace the house/driveway/sidewalk/deck for two whole hours while he waited for his youngest to ask the girl of his dreams to marry him. Just goes to show you that Dad's never stop feeling their kid's emotions- no matter how old they are.
The kids all sang at least 400 rounds of "Ashley and Jordan sitting in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G"
That proposal really set the tone for the entire trip. It just radiated joy. There were late nights staying up laughing our heads off. And hours spent watching the kids jump waves in the ocean and playing mother may I in the pool. There were nights of go cart racing and epic games of football played on the beach. Cousins are pretty much the best.
We are boy heavy in the family. All five of these boys are only about 18 months apart. To say they had a blast together would be an understatement.
The thing about families is that they are made up of imperfect people. My brother, Bradley, and I are no exception. Several years ago we had a falling out and didn't really speak to each other for a couple of years. Reconciling our relationship over the last year or two has been one of the great joys of my life. For me, healing that broken relationship has been one of the most tangible ways I've seen God's grace at work in our lives. I think we also realized that if we really want to love our mother well, we need to love each other. Bradley is precious in every way imaginable to me and is such a loving father. My kids are obsessed with his kids. Also- he and his wife make beautiful babies.
Me and Bradley
Miles and Logan. My brother and I fear for all the trouble these two will get into together as teenagers.
Scarlett feeding Bella her breakfast.
Most of the week was spent just "being". Being present in all things. Soaking in all the goodness. We did take a few times for our little family to get off on our own. After the hard months prior we all just needed to check-in and reconnect. It was a week off from behaviors (thank you Lord for the break). A week off of worrying about residential treatment and recovering from surgery and mowing the lawn and and and.... It was so nice to feel like a normal family.
This boy. I love him so.
Families are a gift. In all their flaws and craziness and disfunction. I feel so immensely grateful for the time with all of my brothers and their families. They are all such extraordinary people. Godly and kind and oh so funny. It was such a joy to get to know them deeper and to fall in love with their children. In the hard days to come, these relationships will sustain us all as we rally around our parents as they travel the hard road that battling cancer brings. Seven rounds of chemo so far. David is a freaking Gladiator.
Sometimes you just have to take a break from the grind of daily life to enjoy all the things and all the people. That we did. That we did.
Sadie and baby Grayson
My mom. I heart her.
Donuts are Miles' happy place.
They did this for hours. I'm convinced I need a pool in my backyard ASAP. Kamron, not so much.
Sadie shot up about a million inches in the last year and now looks like a little lady.
David shouted, "Hey kids! I found a lizard!" And they all came running.
I don't even really know what's going on here? Later in the week Kamron shaved his head. Down to the scalp. I just can't even.
Someone on the pier had this dead stingray. Noah said it felt cool. Kamron said it felt like touching old lady arm fat.
Sadie teaching Lincoln how to play Uno.
Bella was all about the popsicles. We went through 200 popsicles over the course of 6 days. It was some intense popsicle action.
Cutthroat game of Head's Up. Never in all of history has there ever been a family more competitive than the Blackerbys.
We had a very strict "no swimsuit pictures of the women on social media policy". But y'all. My mother. Those abs. That photobomb. She can sue me later.
Sadie took that wave like a boss.
This picture makes me weepy. Even when our kids don't really know what to do with love, every little girl deserves this.
Bumper boats. Miles and Uncle J got drenched.
There was a sign hanging in our beach house that said, "The tans will fade, but the memories will last forever." So true. All of the kids from all of the families declared that it was the "Best Vacation Ever" and are already asking when we can do it again. The week was a moment in time so perfect that we'd all like to freeze it forever. In the midst of storms, blessings still abound.
“There’s nothing that makes you more insane than family. Or more happy. Or more exasperated. Or more… secure.” -Jim Butcher
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