I’ve spent a good bit of time browsing stock photography sites in my career, and to be honest, 90 percent of stock photography is ridiculous. My current favorite stock photo is titled “Woman Riding Rhinoceros in Rural Field.” It’s everything you’re imagining and more.

When you search “family” or “parenting” on a stock site, you get all these stereotypical, idyllic images of a mom, a dad and a couple kids at the table laughing and eating a healthy salad. But there’s nothing stereotypical about my family made up of my foster son, L., and me. I’m like, “Where’s the picture of a frazzled mom standing over the sink eating blue Jell-O from a mixing bowl for dinner after putting her kid to bed?” Because that’s what my parenting journey looks like a lot of days.

Plus, there are people that wouldn’t even show up in our picture. We live with the invisible presence of the rest of our family—shadows of people who aren’t there. Because in a convoluted sense, L.’s biological family is my family, too. I’ve never actually met them, but we are inseparably bound in a unique and intangible way. This can be the cause of many questions for a child in foster care, and L. has his own way of processing it. Sometimes.

He talks a lot but won’t talk much about serious things. I get little nuggets and hints dropped here and there about his past, but he doesn’t like to talk about it.

At his therapist’s office, they have a photograph on the wall of a multi-racial family.

“I think they must not be a family because they don’t look like each other,” he said as he looked up at the picture.

“Maybe,” I replied, “But sometimes families look different. Like if the mommy and daddy have different skin color, then the kids would be a mix. Or if the kids were adopted, they wouldn’t look like each other.”

“Yeah, like maybe the same thing happened to her that happened to me…” he said in an unusual moment of transparency as he studied the little girl in the picture before quickly ending that conversation. “I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

“Okay, what would you like to talk about?”

“Pickles.”

Since we don’t have a lot of the shared history many families enjoy, L. and I like to point out the things we have in common. Foods we both like (pickles). Books we both enjoy. Jokes that make us both laugh. So tonight as I put him in bed, I said, “I love you, bud.”

“I love you, too!” he replied, adding, “Hey! We have that in common!”

We may not look like a traditional family, but that’s what we are. Family. God doesn’t have just one way to bring people together. Whether it’s marriage or birth or foster care or adoption or friendship or church or something else, He created us to live in relationship with each other to reflect His love to the world around us.