In The Storyteller, one of the most poignant scenes is between Daphne and Olivia, the mother of Cole’s friend. In Me, Clayton’s family is a big part of why I love the story; his father, Pete, forever melted my heart with how he treated Abrielle. Michael W. Smith gave the sermon (he starts at the 21:10 mark) that made me laugh, and then feel my heart burst with tenderness. It was about fathers and remains one of my most favorite speeches ever.

My sister has always been my best friend, the person I’d do anything for. I’ve wanted to be like her my whole life. She’s seen me laugh for no reason at all. She’s seen me at my worst. I remember telling her stories at night to help her go to sleep, and I remember us both checking on the other when we woke to scary. We’re very different people… but, without her, I wouldn’t be me.

My mother spent her entire life devoting herself to us. She’s sacrificed and given up dreams, taught us to dream, and to believe. Anything positive to have come from our childhood was a direct result of her love and care. Having her example of faith built mine. Having her support enabled me to write, thereby giving me a constructive way out of enormous pain. My love of country music was shaped by her. Without her, I wouldn’t be me.

I was 23 when I became a mother for the first time and 26 when Alight was born. These girls transformed my life. Suddenly, I had something bigger to focus on than me. Protection mattered. Beyond the life-changing, pivotal freedom they inspired by fighting me a reason to break my silence, they taught me to see life through a lens of joy. Playing “elephant in the jungle,” “human obstacle course” or “Picasso Days” reminded me what it was like to live a life free. Chatter Chats, trampoline camp outs, making homemade bread, trips to California and MLP Fairs, hang gliding and white water rafting—these adventures have encouraged me to live outside my comfort zone, to believe in a world of possibilities and color. These girls have made me happy. On good days and on bad days, they give my life purpose and joy. They have shown me how living for someone else enriches and enlarges and makes invaluable life.

Family is sometimes a complicated word for many, one that conjures complex emotions. Ours is not perfect; it has evolved over time, and there are painful memories connected to the word. But did you know that the word family comes from the Latin word famulus, which means servant. The word servant comes from the old French verb servir, which means to serve. When we truly love someone, we have an altruistic desire to bring joy to that person. Really loving someone means that we are willing to put that person’s dreams and needs before our own. The only ulterior motive is their well-being. In essence, to love someone is to want to serve them. Not out of obligation. Not out of force or expectation or any negative purpose but it is an a self-imposed desire. I sacrifice for my girls not because I really have to but because knowing they are well truly is my heart’s joy. That being said, then, family can be anyone around us that inspires that longing to care for someone other than ourselves.

In my case, I am blessed. There are far too many people whose mother never prayed for them, or said, I love you every single day, or who fought to ensure they had enough. There are millions of people who ache for the chance to be a parent, but who can’t. There are so many people for whom Christmas is a sad and lonely time because they don’t have anyone waiting on them to “come home.” There are people whose parents are dead or dying; there are those whose only family members don’t acknowledge their existence or invite them to be part of gatherings. There are girls being given as a “reward” to soldiers; there are still slave markets. And there are children who will spend the holidays being abused. I am beyond blessed—and I always have been. Because, for me, family has always been a reality, first in my mother and sister, then in my daughters, and always in God.

Today is the second post of the “My Greatest Gift” series. I don’t know how many there will be. But I do know that, all day today, I have been overwhelmed with gratitude for what I have. Memories of playing cards, watching Little House on the Prairie, singing songs, camping out in tents fill my heart. One of the greatest blessings of my life is that I am surrounded and supported by a family that champions, encourages, and celebrates each others’ dreams. Souls are nourished, confidences are built, and hearts are protected when we are gifted the opportunity to share that which is important to us.

And this gift has given me how to dream.