Of Aunts and Lessons

Last week my Aunt Dotty let go of her earthly burdens and went to join my Gaga and Granddad on the other side. As is the case for so many of us in these times, we could not travel to attend the graveside service for her. Maybe because of this she has been on my mind all week.
I loved my Aunt Dotty in life and love her in death. Being with her always felt comfortable and safe. You never doubted that there would be laughter and plenty of smiles (I rarely saw her without at least the slightest of grins on her face) and certainly there would be plenty of food at meals and lots of snacks between.
She exuded competency. I was sure she could do anything if pressed because there was a confidence to her, one born of both knowledge and wisdom. 
There are two lessons in particular I learned from my Aunt Dotty that have played in my mind again and again this week.
The first is that it’s never too late to change direction. I am the youngest of all the cousins with my brother being the next youngest at 4 years older than I. All of my cousins seemed so big to me, so grown up and mature. I was just a kid and it infuriated me when they would spell words around me rather than saying them.
I remember when my older cousin graduated from college and was accepted to medical school, there was much celebrating her accomplishments. But we also celebrated my aunt, not for managing to raise an intelligent daughter and encouraging her to go on to study medicine, but because my Aunt Dotty had been accepted into law school at the same time her daughter was accepted into medical school! The family story told again and again is that my aunt started law school the same day her daughter started medical school.
I can’t tell you how many times I have told this story in my ministry. Whenever someone tells me they are “too old” to change their life or to go back to school or to try a new career, I pull out the good example of my Aunt Dotty. Not only did she finish law school but went on to be the beloved attorney for one of the large counties in the greater Atlanta area. I have bragged plenty about my cousin being a doctor but even more about my aunt the attorney.
The second lesson I learned from my Aunt Dotty, which has had an even bigger impact, is that there’s always room for whomever God brings into your life, whenever they might appear.
As a little girl, I wasn’t sure just whom I might meet at a family gathering. Aunt Dotty had the habit of regularly inviting people to live with them. I knew these extra “big kids” weren’t cousins but they were close, like family. They lived with my aunt and uncle and came to everything. They received gifts at Christmas and shared hugs and laughter like the rest of us. They might stay one Christmas or five and the next year there might be a new extra “cousin” around or not. 
These extras might have been friends of my cousins or, in my favorite case, someone my aunt happened to see walking down the street and who she intuitively knew needed help and a family.
My Aunt Dotty taught me our lives and hearts are bigger than we think. She taught me that anyone can be family if you decide to open your life and doors to them. And it’s ok to let them go when it’s time as well. Some people come into our lives only for a season but that doesn’t make them less worthy to become family, even if just for a little while.
We can be an aunt or an uncle, a cousin, a mother or father, a niece or nephew, or anything else someone needs in the moment they need it. We can love people fiercely and give them food and shelter and hugs and laughter and make them feel…No, make them KNOW that they are family for as long as they need it.
I guess a part of that lesson is that it’s ok to have your heartache as well. When you risk your love to welcome people as family, it means you risk having them hurt you; or, at the very least, risk the heartache of having them leave you. But the love was worth it. The smiles, the joy, the opportunity to help someone have a home and fell loved and protected, all of these things make that a risk worth taking.
Aunt Dotty, I know you are here, forever in my heart now with Gaga and Granddad. You helped form me and gave me good lessons for my life, not only for my vocation but for my family. Thank you.

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