For anyone who knows my family, you would agree that we don't look exactly like the images in the drawing. However, it holds a most precious place in my heart.
The artist is a man I'll never meet. He's a felon who was at one time incarcerated in the Fresno County Jail.
It was February 2005 - my 43rd birthday. Our oldest son was in jail, and our daughter was 700 miles away in a Utah drug rehab. Christmas had been almost unbearable and I was dreading celebrating a birthday without two of my three kids. And then this gift arrived from the jail.
What makes the picture extra special is that the artist used two different photos for his model. I'd sent the pictures in a Christmas card to my son. One featured Tom, me, and the boys and was taken the day before our oldest was arrested. The other was taken in Utah during our first parent week at the rehab.
My son knew how sad I was that our family was fractured and separated by addiction and miles and prison bars. He knew that a reminder of how it once was (and how it would surely be again) would be the very best gift he could give me. He was right.
Most families have a professionally photographed picture hanging somewhere in their home. You know the ones - where everyone in the family is wearing a complimentary color and the smiles practically leap off the canvas. It's the image of a perfect family. It's the image we want others to see when they meet us.
The crude drawing hangs on my wall as a reminder of where we once were, how far we've come, and how nothing can separate us. It's the imperfection of it all that I love.
Today, our three kids are scattered hither and yon, but they are healthy, happy, strong, and fabulous. Though there are miles and time zones between us, we're a family. Our hearts are forever intertwined and connected.
I'll never forget the day I received a gift in the mail from a son who knew the value of being connected.