The formula for family
“Family isn’t biology – it’s chemistry,” says Shelley Neimer.
If that’s true, the Neimers, Rattans and Rushings have the formula down. Their tight-knit relationship is almost 15 years in the making. Amazingly, Lindsey Rattan says, they haven’t really experienced any rough patches over the years.
“I truly believe, first of all, that God knew we were a match,” she says. “He brought us together for a reason.”
That reason was a precious baby named Taylor.
In 1999, Lindsey – then Lindsey Rushing – was 17, pregnant and, together with her child’s birth father, Tyler, making an adoption plan for the coming baby girl. They chose Shelley and Brad Neimer from a stack of profiles of families waiting to adopt an infant through Buckner.
They met the Neimers less than four weeks from Lindsey’s due date. With the guidance of Lori Wilkerson, their counselor with Buckner Adoption and Maternity Services, the relationship between the families blossomed through open communication and respect for each other’s roles. Lindsey says she made a point to refer to Brad and Shelley as “daddy” and “momma” when talking to Taylor. Shelley always asked Lindsey how she was feeling and gave her space to talk about her emotions without holding anything back.
Brad and Shelley moved from North Texas to Waco shortly after they adopted Taylor. The timing and location were perfect, Lindsey says, because she graduated high school a year after having Taylor and enrolled at Baylor University in Waco in 2000. The closeness that Brad, Shelley and Lindsey had developed meant that Lindsey’s parents didn’t have to worry how their daughter would adjust to college – she already had “family” there to look out for her.
“It was not uncommon for Shelley to call me and say, ‘Hey, I cooked dinner. Come over to eat,’” Lindsey says. “It was the same with her parents [who also lived in the Waco area]. They would call and say, ‘We’ve got a home-cooked meal. Come on over and eat with us.’”
Because of their unique relationship and physical proximity, Lindsey was able to be a part of many of Taylor’s big events and milestones, like trick-or-treating and performing at dance recitals. When Brad and Shelley brought home their second child through adoption, this time a baby boy named Will, Lindsey was there when Taylor met her little brother for the first time.
“There are so many things that I got to experience that were such a huge blessing,” Lindsey says. “It’s a blessing because of open adoption.”
After college, Lindsey accepted a job in North Texas. She met her husband, Frank, and had a daughter, Emma, now 3 years old.
The families – including grandparents on both sides – are in almost constant communication with each other via group text messages. Sometimes they’re talking about their kids, and sometimes just sharing random, funny things with each other. They gather for the Christmas holidays each year. This past June, they took their first family vacation together. Birthdays, family weddings, graduations, baptisms – they’re together for it all.
One of the most important elements that paved the way for this close relationship was a commitment to counseling.
“As Lindsey dealt with her own emotions, her parents dealt with the loss as well, and then we moved into the counseling protocol of understanding what adoptive families go through,” Wilkerson says. “On the other side, the Neimers were very committed to education and counseling and really empathized with Lindsey’s grief.”
As Lindsey and her family continued to intentionally acknowledge the Neimers’ place as Taylor’s parents, the walls quickly came down and Brad and Shelley became more and more open to including Lindsey and her family in their lives.
“I actually went to Lindsey’s wedding," Wilkerson says. "It was amazing to see Lindsey getting married. Brad prayed at the rehearsal dinner, Shelley sang at the wedding and Taylor was the flower girl.”
In Wilkerson's 16 years of working as an adoption counselor, Lindsey, Brad, Shelley and the rest have one of the closest relationships she’s seen.
“My family is definitely made up differently than most, but I would not have it any other way,” Shelley says. “When I think of family I think of my core – my daughter, son, husband, then my parents and his parents, and then Lindsey and her family.
“I can’t imagine my life without Lindsey and her family in it. With all of the heartache I endured trying to get pregnant – I never could get pregnant and I never will be – with all the financial stuff, and the tears and heartache and disappointment, I would not change one single thing if it meant not having Lindsey in my life. I’d never, ever, ever want to experience not having her.”
Learn more about the ways you can be a family to a child through foster care or adoption at www.beafamily.org.
Lauren Hollon Sturdy is the web content editor for Buckner International. Contact her at lsturdy[at]buckner[dot]org.