I ran into a friend at the store right after Christmas. We live fairly near each other but rarely get to get together because our kids are on such radically different schedules living just one school district apart and my work schedule is different from everyone else’s.

She came into my store and it was slow. Painfully slow. So I was able to chat a few minutes with her while she shopped and then she came through my line. We were talking about holidays and how crazy the new year already was when I mentioned that my brother-in-law would be getting married in October and my brother also most likely in 2014. Her response surprised me.

“So, will you be in both weddings? What about your boys? Will they be ring bearers? Do you think they’ll let Shelby walk down the aisle with Jeff? How adorable would that be?”

She had thought a lot more about all that in a few seconds than I had in all the time I had known about both engagements.

I smiled and said, “Actually, only Jeff was asked to be in his brother’s wedding. My nephew will be the ring bearer. And I don’t know if we’ll be asked to be in the wedding party for my brother’s wedding. Last I heard, there hadn’t been any decisions made or a date set just yet but we’ll see!”

I felt like I said that really optimistically and diplomatically but her face registered embarrassment the classic “Awk-WARD.” I didn’t think it was awkward at all, but I could tell she felt sorry for me and that did make me feel awkward.

My friend comes from a large family. Lots of brothers and sisters and everything is a “family” event. Using the wedding party example, no one in her family would ever ask a friend to be in a wedding party when they could ask a family member. I’ve seen pics on facebook. They are all family who are wedding attendants or Godparents or whatever.

I related this story to Jeff who told me his brother had told him his fiance’s parents were divorced and remarried and apparently it’s not all kosher. Which is interesting because Jeff’s brother is the son of Jeff’s dad and step-mother who are still married. For all of his brother (half-brother technically but who cares)’s life Jeff has had to shuffle holidays, vacations, and major life events. His parents are civil to each other but it did often create awkward situations at times. That only got more complicated when he got married and now had to work my family into things. The rotation he had perfected over the years had to be altered. Again. The irony of his half-brother marrying into the situation Jeff has lived most his life in wasn’t lost on either of us. As Jeff told me he told his brother, “Just wait, there’s only so many times you can have turkey on Thanksgiving Day.”

Families are beautiful and rich and definitely complex. I look to the Holy Family as a model of what we should be for each other and what we should project to the world. But the reality is, I married into a family way more complicated than the one I was born into. Jeff sometimes marvels at how simply things run around things like anniversary parties and weddings in my family. My family has chosen to be gracious about the situation I married into and tries not to be territorial about much. They are also the ones we vacation with and are comfortable leaving our kids with overnight. There are only certain people who can handle Shelby for extended periods of time and this happens in the family as well as outside so we do our best with everyone and usually fall short, but it is what it is.

Family dynamics can vary so wildly in our world today, that it often leaves one wondering what exactly it means to be in a family much less what is a family? About 50 years ago, there were answers to those questions. Not anymore. There are families where no one speaks but they are all together every Christmas. There are families without a father or a mother or with two of one or the other or no children or children that belong to each parent but not to both. There are families where no one is married legally (much less sacramentaly) and ones where grandparents are raising children. There are families like my friend’s, where everyone gets along and loves in and out. Then there are those who would be surprised to get invited to a sibling’s wedding, much less be in the wedding party.

In all honesty, the little family Jeff and I created is similar to how a family was defined 50 years ago. There are some subtle differences (I work, we come from different religious backgrounds, we have a child with special needs who is not institutionalized) but for the most part if you took someone from the early 1960s or before and plopped them down they’d probably say we have a “traditional” family. But just removed one generation it’s anything but. And that plays into our dynamic now. There is always more than a little awkwardness when discussing any kind of family event because we come from different families anyway but when you add the complication of his family of origin’s fracture…yeah, awkward is a mild term sometimes.

And all those complications are frequently the cause of awkward moments with people like my friend who emailed me later and said she just felt bad, and realized she shouldn’t, at what she felt like was me and my kids being left out of my brother-in-law’s wedding. She said she hoped that we were okay with it because that was all that really mattered (she’s right there) and she hoped it all worked out for the best whatever happened with my brother’s wedding, as long it it worked for me, Jeff and the kids it was cool. I thanked her for being so sweet and concerned (because she’s awesome like that) and we chatted later on facebook about how beautiful and messy families  can be and how God created families for a reason but sometimes family complications are a cross we’re given to bear whether those complications are from a blended family or an ill family member or whatever. We’re not given perfect families, but we’re given the ones we’re supposed to have and God in His infinite wisdom has given us the various challenges we face in our family lives both immediate and extended because we’re equipt to handle them. Well, if not, He equips us pretty quickly. And have you seen some of those family photos? What are families supposed to be if not awkward afterall?