family, n. “A social group of parents, children, and sometimes grandparents, uncles, aunts, and others who are related.” (Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary)
family, n. 1) “A bunch of people who hate each other and eat dinner together.”
2) “People you love and love you back, not neccessarily blood or biological, but you trust them and they trust you, and they take care of you and you take care of them.” (Urban Dictionary)
I’m having dinner with a friend of mine tonight. She has a slew of small children and both she and her husband work, so when she was in my office the other day she was preemptively apologizing for the fact that it would be a Friday night and the house would be a mess and then she said, “Whatever, you’re family. It’ll look like it looks.”
On Wednesday I had dinner at a different friend’s house with his family; he has a slew of teenagers who are coming and going from their various things, he works fairly late, and they have two dogs. It was a casual affair of showing up and making sandwiches eaten on paper plates because I’m family.
I went to visit a college friend and her parents over the Christmas break and rang the doorbell as I have every time I’ve gone to that house for the last ten years. The mother came to the door and let me in and said exasperatedly, “What are you doing? Just walk right in and shout, it’s unlocked and you’re family!”
I hope, Reader, that you can supply plenty of your own anecdotes of people along the path of your life who have taken you in and called you family, who have loved you fiercely and fought with you and laughed with you and celebrated the twining of your lives. This is something that matters so much to me because “family” is an incredibly laden concept for me. The family to whom I’m related by blood isn’t exactly warm and fuzzy and we aren’t exactly besties. But so many people have “claimed” me in some way, these secondary families who re-appropriate the word to mean something new and beautiful. It is, in fact, one of the coolest things in the world to me when Interpreter calls me “sister,” meaning that we are brother and sister in Christ.
We are currently in that strange part of the liturgical year in between Epiphany and Lent, that time of treading water until the Next Big Season. In this time is the growing up of Christ; in this time He grows from a boy to a man. We don’t get many of the stories of this time (unless you want to argue for the canonical attributes of the infancy gospels, which you’re welcome to do); we don’t get the family raising Him (except for when He steps out of their jurisdiction) or the friends who became family for Him. But once we dig into His adult life, He has some intense things to say about what family is and He models a fascinating family structure with His friends.
It’s been an unexpectedly fraught week here, Reader. I have officially officially started the candidacy process toward ordination—as attested by the proliferation of paperwork in my life, among other things. I am For Real in this idea of going into the ministry, which is scary and awesome and exhausting and overwhelming and many other things besides. And some of the stuff that I need to do in this process is hard, wicked hard in such a way that I need to be able to reach out to others and have them remind me I’ll be okay, that I’m not making up this Call, that it isn’t better just to stay where I am. These people function as my family, my support network, whether or not they’re related to me by the accident of blood.
I wonder if the disciples were like this for Jesus; He had to go find them first, of course, but they are the ones who gave Him room to discuss His ministry. They are the ones who told Him that what He was doing was necessary when His blood family just wanted Him to come home. (Of course, they are also the ones who encouraged Him to run when it got super scary because they were far more interested in keeping their Friend around than fixing the world.) They are the ones who, in their own incredibly human ways, were His family—what Jesus did would not at all be the same without them.
Perhaps today, Reader, I just want to give a shout-out to my family here in the Land of Pilgrims. I want to appreciate my brothers and sisters (some of whom style themselves mothers and fathers sometimes), my cousins and aunts and uncles in the faith and in humanity. Last night was rather rough as I was dealing with some health frustrations and a song came on the radio called Stand by You. It was the most intensely apt song I could have heard at that moment because I am surrounded by so many people who have walked and will continue to walk through Hell with me—and there are people who have asked me to walk through Hell with them, and that is its own incredible honor and test.
Family, I think, are the people who know what you sound like when you laugh and when you cry, and they are ready to handle both. That doesn’t necessarily mean they know everything about you—the disciples didn’t know an awful lot about Jesus—but it does mean that they know you, the core of who you are, and they love you in flawed and flawless ways. How good to have family! How wondrous not to have to do this alone!
“This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13, NLT)