Family. It Matters.

Family. Such a good topic for this time of year. I’m sure it’s a good topic any time of year, but especially so during the holidays.

Family? You may ask. Yes, I remember that we’re picking up this study of our issues once again, but having just spent some time with my extended family, I can’t help but see how our issues impact our family life.

We are in a generation where “family” now has several meanings. No longer is “family” limited to the dad, mom, and two-and-a-half kiddos. I think we’ve gotten to a place as a society that we can acknowledge “family” has many faces. Maybe it’s a mom and four kids. Or husband and wife. Or dad, mom, daughter, and grandmother. Or maybe it’s a group of friends who’ve done life together for so long that they’re truer family for each other than any blood-relatives.

Family loves unconditionally.

Family supports and challenges and encourages.

Family gives generously.

Family sets healthy boundaries.

Family accepts us as we are but pushes us to be better than we thought we could be.

Family offers strength we don’t have by ourselves.

Family is present – physically, emotionally, spiritually.

Family. My family.

I’ve had time to reflect on my extended family a bit lately…

I’m blessed to be part of a family that is full of life and love. We’re a family who has lived in separate cities and states yet have been faithful to come together every-other-year for Christmas. All the years we did Christmas together have given me memories.

Of gathering, crammed in the family room of my grandparents’ home, for Christmas carols and story-telling.

Of lining up sleeping bags with my cousins in front of the fireplace in an attempt to catch Santa in the act.

Of impatiently waiting our turn to open gifts.

Of setting places at multiple tables as we all lent a hand at feast preparations.

Of roller skating in the u-shaped driveway and climbing to the top of the huge pine tree with my cousins while our parents napped.

Of walking the neighborhood or my great-grandmother’s nursing home singing carols for others’ pleasure.

This past week our family had another opportunity to gather. Another chance to build memories to carry into the coming years.

I will admit that my own issues made me a little apprehensive about attending this gathering. You see, we lost one of our own. We were coming together to celebrate and mourn a life cut off too soon.

My fear (told you…fear is an issue of mine!) tried to get the better of me, telling me I didn’t know how to handle the depth of grief we’d be witnessing and experiencing. It tried to convince me I had too many other things to do, commitments to keep. It even tried to make me rationalize not going with simplicity – it’s too far away, no one will notice if you’re not there, or your parents are going in your stead.

Of all my issues, mostly it was my fear that was winning the mental battle.

Then I remembered. I remembered the regret of not going to my grandmother’s funeral (it seems I had the same fears back in the 8th grade). I remembered that my fear has a way of keeping me from the things I ought to be doing.

So I went.

And it was a beautiful experience.

Hard? Yes.

Sad? Oh my, yes.

But absolutely beautiful.

To the fear that said I’d be uncomfortable – ha! I was with family. We love well. And we loved on my cousin really well. His loss was our loss. Our love supported him. Being together helped him find strength he didn’t know he had.

To the fear that said I couldn’t handle it – ha! None of us could, so we leaned into God and onto one another. We talked. We waited. We watched. We reached out. We met strangers. We hugged. We handled it…together.

To the doubt that said I had too many commitments – ha! Friends and my immediate family stepped up and made a way. God took care of every detail and I left town worry–free. All bases were covered and I was able to be in every moment, fully.

And to the really stupid notion that no one would miss me – double ha! Every single one of my cousins and aunts and uncles were there. We were united. We were one. We rose to the occasion and made a difference – to each other and to my cousin. And the fact that all of us had to drive hours and hours to get there impacted my cousin and his immediate family more than words could say.

We showed the world who this family is and what family is all about.

And our job isn’t done yet.

We made it through the funeral, together. But our cousin and his family will need ALL the family for days, months, and years to come.

Can we rise to the occasion? You bet.

We can love unconditionally…even from afar. We can find creative ways to support, challenge, and encourage our loved ones who will grieve and grow through these “worst of times.”

We can certainly be present when the occasions arise. We’ll find ways to be there on the important days and demonstrate our love even when we can’t. And we most definitely pray every day. Every. Day.

For his healing.

For his heart.

For his strength.

For his hope.

He will know he is loved….by us and by our Father.

He will know it’s okay to grieve, to struggle, to wrestle, to lay down his burdens – and to discover the grace and mercy that await him in the arms of the Comforter…and in the arms of his family.

No judgment.

No disappointment.

No doubt.

Only love and grace and hope and faith.

Is our family perfect? No way! But even in the storms we find love and laughter. Oh the laughter.

We are 100% certain laughter is a really good medicine for so many things that ail us. Laughter helps us to let go of the things that have a hold of us – those fears, those doubts; the weight of responsibility and of grief; the stubborn way we hold on to wanting to be right; the uncanny way we can make everything about us.

So we laugh.

Really hard. (We might even pee our pants!)

Then we love some more. We forgive, we move forward with love and grace.

Family.

Mine happens to be blood-related. I was born into it.

If that’s not the case for you, find family. Surround yourself with others who are not connected into bloodlines. Embrace the fact that family has many faces.

But you need it. We all need it.

Start with one person, and as the two of you discover how to love and live well TOGETHER (and I do mean most earnestly brotherly love), you’ll be amazed to see how that love attracts others who also seek the love of family.

And it’ll more than likely mean you have to initiate that family-making project. As much as we all long to belong, it’s become more and more foreign for people to connect beyond social media.

Cook a meal. Invite a friend or two over. Laugh. Eat. And build a relationship.

Family doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. It takes commitment. It takes intentionality.

Our family doesn’t just happen even though we are related. We have to be intentional and committed to our traditions and to each other.

As we all went our separate ways the weekend of the funeral to start our journeys home, six of us found ourselves alone at dinner. We were tired and just a little stressed after a harrowing drive through a storm en route to the hotel. But we found rest and rejuvenation at our meal. We found family.

We sat facing each other, recounting stories, eventually laughing together about the poignant and even comical things that had happened over the last 36 hours.

No joke, by the time we got back to the hotel, wet to the bone from the thunderstorm and faulty umbrellas, we were unrestrainable in fits of laughter. We’d try to recompose, only to be thrown into another fit with someone’s offhand comment.

We crossed our legs (our bladders full) and wiped our tears after many minutes and managed to get ourselves on the elevator and to our rooms.

We had the best sleep we’d had in days.

Family does that. It loves well – through tears and laughter.

It’s my prayer that this holiday season you can reach out to your family with intentionality and love, overcoming any issues you might have with them (or yourself)…or reach out to a person or two and create family. You’ll discover what I was so acutely reminded of that weekend.

Family matters.

Embracing all my family – hugs and kisses to you all,
Shelley Johnson

Published by Shelley Johnson

Follower of Christ, wife, mother of three, daughter, sister, friend. Seeker of ways to share the love I've found in Jesus with others.

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