Nearly ten years ago, in early 2002, I moved from Western Pennsylvania to Westchester County, NY.  Other than being cities in the Northeast, Pittsburgh and places like Mt. Kisco and Chappaqua, NY are about as foreign to one another as you can get.  Shovel the snow off the cars and people and things look a lot different above and across just one state.

I moved to New York because my boyfriend, now husband, had already moved there and we were planning a life together.  A seven-hour drive or expensive airfare weren’t exactly good options for us in our cash-strapped mid-twenties.  Even then, I could see God in the process of the move.  He helped me to adjust quickly to being away from family, including my one-and-a-half-year-old niece who had lived with me for her entire life.  He responded clearly to the cry, “Where do I go? Where will I be employed?” through one response I received to the more than 50 resumes I had faxed (showing my age now, huh?).  I interviewed for that position, ironically (or maybe not), at Lutheran Church as a preschool director.  No matter than I had an Elementary degree and had less experience than many of the other applicants.  The School Board that was seated to hire the first director (the school was a start-up ministry) included the pastor and several church members.  Unfortunately, the Board’s treasurer was out of town, so I hadn’t met her, but she entrusted the decision to the rest of the group and I was quickly hired.  Three weeks later I moved to New York, and three weeks after settling into my tiny new apartment in Ossining, I began work.

Turns out the the treasurer was not a native New Yorker either, and that she and her family had moved just one year prior from Southern California.  She, her husband and children, were still learning the ropes, making friends and finding their way, and generously offered to host a welcome party for the church’s new preschool director at her home.  Being an introvert, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Everyone seemed so much older and more experienced and financially successful than me.  I was nervous that the party was some sort of an “interview” and that I would say or do something that didn’t fit and be immediately discovered as an “impostor,” someone less than qualified or ill-suited for this important position.  At the gathering, instead I found an incredibly good-natured, easy-going and welcoming group of more than 50 people who made my husband and I feel right at home.  It was clear that this group was no stereotypical bunch of wealthy Westchesterites, but instead a diverse community of people who put their faith and family first in life.

Throughout the two years that I served at the preschool and while we lived in New York from 2002 to 2004, M. Kelly, the treasurer I’ve been referring to, and her family helped my husband and I feel like we were special and became like a family to us.  We celebrated holidays with them, enjoyed long, leisurely dinners and worked together on church projects.  Their children became like nieces and nephews to us and we enjoyed watching them grow and change in the short time we lived nearby.  When my husband was asked to move to Atlanta to open an office for his company there, the Kellys were the first people we shared the news with, valuing their insights and wanting them to be part of our decision-making process.  With their confident enthusiasm for this new opportunity paired with our grief that we wouldn’t see each other as often, we packed up and moved South.  As promised, they were some of our first visitors and we continued to enjoy a strong relationship with them, even from afar.

During the ups and downs of life, including weddings, marital struggles, family issues, job concerns and more, we walked the journey together, even with a thousand miles separating us.  The Kellys, being 15 or so years older and at a different stage of life, provided us with valuable hindsight and modeling that can only be offered by those who have walked a similar path some time before you.  They continually offered examples of good parenting, loyal spousal relationships, conflict resolution, church leadership and generosity.  In small groups at church, no matter what the topic being discussed, it seemed that my husband or I would always go back to, “Well, the Kellys …”.  They were and are our rock, our chosen family and our model of function in the midst of our being the products of divorced parents and other challenges in our childhoods and early adult life.

God clearly placed the Kellys in our life (and we hope us in theirs) for a reason.  When I had my first child in September 2007 and fell almost immediately ill, it was clear that we wanted to choose people as godparents who epitomized the qualities that we hoped our son would possess and learn as he grew.  We asked them just before Christmas that year, and they accepted and traveled to Atlanta for the service on February 17, 2008.  It was a wonderful day of celebration, our closest friends from New York meeting our close friends from our church here over a luncheon.  By that point, I had mostly recovered from postpartum depression so it was also a celebration of my “re-birth” into motherhood.  One that I was now managing and even enjoying at times.

Since 2008, the Pulines and Kellys have traveled to see one another at our homes and even to vacations like Disney World and the Berkshires in Massachusetts, creating incredible memories and always sharing deep and valuable conversations about the things most important in our lives: God, service, family and work.  We have created traditions together, managed to work through challenges and each other’s quirks, and never stopped loving and supporting one another.

A couple of weeks ago, for Strong Start Day at Postpartum Progress, I wrote a blog post entitled How Buster (and Postpartum Progress) Changed My Life.  I sent a letter and a link to the post to many people who had walked my postpartum journey with me.  I asked them to support Postpartum Progress by offering their time, talent, or if they were able, their treasure.  I expected a few of my closest friends and family members to donate, knowing that I am blessed to have many generous people in my life.  On the Our Partners page, I was pleased to see several names I recognized, some who had given in my honor and others who hadn’t.  However, I was not at all prepared for what happened Monday at dinnertime.

I had stepped outside to play ball in the backyard with my eldest child and then came back in about 20 minutes later to get us drinks.  I glanced at my computer and noticed that my gmail account, which had had only four emails in the inbox when I had gone outside, now had 14 messages.  Looking closer, I noticed they were all from Twitter.  “What’s going on?” I thought.  I clicked through and saw Katherine’s tweet that someone had just given a single donation in the amount of $2500 in MY HONOR! I burst into tears, began shaking uncontrollably and then froze.  Who was it?  How would I find out? Within a few minutes I saw that Katherine had indeed shared with me the name of the donor: M. Kelly.  Oh my goodness!  How do I even begin to thank someone for doing something so amazing, generous and humbling?

Well, my friends, I am not sure exactly how to thank you, except to say, I continue to be in awe of and more than grateful for the fact that God chose us to be your “Godfamily.”  Clearly, this is an example of His grace.  We have done nothing to deserve the support, love, kindness and abundant generosity that you have shown us, Kelly family.  I hope this open letter lets you know just how grateful we are that you are one of the most important parts of our lives and we can’t wait to share more fantastic memories with you.  We also continue to pray that through your example, God helps us to become a little bit more like you … humble, faithful servants, each day.

~ Amber Koter-Puline, Beyond Postpartum

P.S. As an aside, for those of you who have friends and family members who would like to make a tax-deductible donation to Postpartum Progress in your honor in any amount — as every single dollars counts — please visit this link.  Sometimes all it takes is sharing an opportunity to encourage someone to give.