It’s not easy when you have to be away from home in order to provide a living for your family. It’s now been over a week since I last saw my wife. It’s been several weeks since I’ve been home in Mena where I could see my son and my dog. But life doesn’t always work out like we hope. Sometimes we find ourselves in circumstances where we just have to make do. But even in hard times one can find glimmers of joy, good among the bad, and points of encouragement.
Being on the road this week has brought me in close proximity to my father’s house. Therefore, I have been able to see family that I don’t get to see very often. Dad picked me up on the 13th for a short visit so I could do laundry. I didn’t know that I would be passing by again the next day. This time I would get to spend the night.
The last time I was in this area of the country was right after Thanksgiving 2012. Tabitha and I did a road trip together to visit the family. During that trip I was able to see all of my father’s siblings: John, Jerry, Gail, Liz, and Tommy. I think this may have been the first time Tabitha got to meet my aunts and uncles on this side of the family. We didn’t spend much time, but it was a special time for me, and I hope it was for Tabitha as well.
Visits to Ohio have been few and far between. The only time Paula has been with me to Ohio is when she was still pregnant with Tabitha (Christmas break 1991). She has never been back. My grandparents were still alive then, and dad was living in Olmsted Falls just down the street from his parents.
Each of my children have come to Ohio with me at different times, but never together. Caleb and I came once which must have been around 1999. Then, Tabitha came in August 5-7 2001 and then again in November 2012. Each time I came, it was only for a couple days, and there was a lot crammed in those couple of days. Even though I lived in several places growing up, Olmsted Falls, OH, where my grandparents lived has always been one of my favorites. I liked to take my kids down through the park by the falls and old rock quarries. This is where I grew up. I have so many memories from there.
It is hard to believe how much the kids grow in such a short time. Alyssa is now 13 and almost as big as her mother. She still seems really sweet. The teenage brain damage hasn’t set in much yet. Ben, pictured here is at a very playful age. It didn’t take him any time at all to warm up to me. He immediately started bumping into me to play. I don’t think any of the children really remember me, but that didn’t matter. I’m family.
Sunday afternoon, I got to visit with my brother Bobby, at his house. Bobby is a musician, and we were able to do a few songs together. I was able to teach them the “I don’t look good naked anymore song.” We were celebrating K.J.’s birthday, and it was a lot of fun playing together. I’ll have to post some videos later.
Family is a wonderful thing. Even though I don’t get to see family often, I am welcomed and everyone always seems glad to see me. Time and distance may make us practically strangers. But we are family. You can see in the eyes, the facial expressions, the gestures we use, even the sense of humor we share. There is a connection. We share the same blood. There are many differences as well. Perhaps that is one of the benefits about short visits. We don’t notice the differences so much and offensive behavior is easily overlooked in favor of enjoying the unity we share.
While in LaGrange, I was able to visit with another family as well. I had never met any of these people before, but we are family, and I was welcomed as such. Right down the street from my father’s house was a little Church of Christ. They met in a beautiful old building that I thought was very nice. The week before that, I worshiped in Searcy, AR, at the Downtown Church of Christ. Downtown has thousands of members. I’m sure there are more children in the nursery at Downtown, then there are members in the little congregation in LaGrange. However, I was not extended any greater welcome than I received from this small town congregation. I believe I was greeted by everyone there.
There was only like sixteen people present, but it was family. Even though there were few people, those people attended as often as they could. This was the only congregation I have been to where Sunday evening and Wednesday evening assemblies attracted the same amount of people as the Sunday morning assembly.
Both biological and spiritual family are so important. They offer friendship when we are lonely. They provide help and encouragement through the difficult moments in life. You don’t have to know each other to be family; you are family because you share the bloodline. But family is never perfect. The more time you spend together the more our flaws begin to show. This isn’t a bad thing; it’s all part of growth. What is a bad thing is when we cut off family. Instead of working through the differences with mutual respect, we may try to exclude those who we find offensive. There are all sorts of problems with this, but the biggest one is that we will eventually find ourselves all alone because sooner or later, we discover something we don’t like about everyone. It’s easy to stay away from our family. It is much harder to love each other through the differences.
I wonder about that little church. If they knew how my understanding of Scripture differed from theirs, would I still be welcomed? Would I be free to teach the Bible as I understand it? Would I be able to think for myself? Could I ask questions from my own study even if they challenged the traditional understanding of others? Or, would I be shunned like I was at my last congregation? Would I be silenced, rejected, and expected to leave? Would everybody turn their backs and act as if I never existed? Would I just disappear from their lives like a bad memory?
Family doesn’t always get along. Sometimes they refuse to talk to each other. They may even fight and bring lawsuits against each other. You may not like your brothers and sisters, but they are still your family. People may even divorce themselves from the family, but if you’ve had children, the blood is still there and so is family. It’s the blood that makes family. This is true for Christians as well, it is through the blood of Jesus that we become family. Humans don’t add people to the church, Christ does. Like it or not, we don’t get to decide who’s in or who’s out.
It breaks my heart to see family who can no longer stand to be in each other’s presence. It is such a shame when my own parents can hardly be brought into close proximity of each other because of the resentment my mother has held for almost a half a century. It is a shame when I must visit aunts and uncles separately because they can’t stand each other.
It is so easy to hate and so hard to love. For Christians, love is not a choice. We are commanded to love. We are commanded to love even our enemies: those trying to harm us. Why? Because we are all God’s children and God loves all of us. God is not willing that any of us perish, he wants all of us to repent and seek him. He may not like our behavior, but he loves each of us.
Unfortunately, Christians struggle with loving each other just as much as anybody. We try to justify our hatred by referring to the behavior of others we consider intolerable. Yet, when our behavior is intolerable we desire forgiveness, patience, and understanding; the very things we deny to others. I’m convinced God’s grace will cover our shortcomings, but God’s grace cannot be sustained when we are unwilling to offer to others what we have received ourselves. We will never have perfect knowledge. There will always be doctrinal issues we don’t understand, and people we disagree with. There will always be behavior that doesn’t meet our approval. But we can still love them. We share the same father. We are family.