‘Family’ is Relative (an Afterthought)

We arrived in Germany on a Monday, and by Wednesday I was getting nervous…

Thursday was family-arrival-day.

My daughter and I made the long hop together, arriving to meet my parents who had done their pilgrimage the week before. When my husband and son hit the tarmac running, we might have been singing ‘The Gang’s All Here’ – but we weren’t. All here. Yet.

The wedding wasn’t until Friday morning, and the bride was getting a little bit nervous, too. But just a little bit. She has always been strong and very capable of holding things together and keeping herself in check. It’s been that way since she was 16 years old – the year she came to live with us. Eleven years ago.

When she moved into our spare bedroom as a teenage exchange student, she was a stranger – to the desert. To American culture. To family life with younger siblings. To the branches of our Family Tree.

When she moved out one year later, it was like losing an appendage… She had been grafted into the Tree in ways we could not have anticipated, and when her plane lifted off and turned toward the east, our hearts broke apart so that she could take a piece of each of us home with her.

That was ten years ago. And here we were – sitting around the table in her apartment – getting to know the man who, tomorrow, would join her on that special branch of our Family Tree. And awaiting the arrival of the rest of the family.

The car pulled up to the curb and my heart began to race a bit. Outside stood the mother of our dear almost-daughter – a woman whose name and photos and story had become part of our own history, in spite of the fact that (until today) we had never even met. Face to face for the first time, with language barrier firmly in place, we looked at each other and watched a decade of pictures come to life. Our embrace betrayed her nervousness, too, as this oddly assembled family began to take shape with each person who walked through the door.

One of the sweetest moments of my life took place on that Thursday, as we gathered in the living room before dinner. A quick visual roll-call confirmed that everyone was present: Sue (our student, the bride) and Max (her husband-to-be), Sabine (Sue’s mother) and her parents, Karl and Hanna (Oma and Opa – Sue’s grandparents), Uncle Ingo (Sabine’s brother), Ray and Bea (dubbed Sue’s American grandparents – my mom and dad), Britton and Joffrey (Sue’s sister and brother – my children), Dallas (‘Papa Dallas’ in Sabine’s words – my husband), and me (‘second mother of the bride’ as I was teasingly referred to by my kids).

Through tears of joy in the midst of a truly surreal moment, Sue lifted her glass – for the first time in a lifetime – to her family. In German and in English. And Sabine, who was standing beside me, took my hand in hers and squeezed, but I could hardly see her through the tears that had filled my own eyes.

Paul talks about this mystery in Romans 11, in terms of the Kingdom Family Tree. He assures us that God is more than able to graft into His Tree those of us who, though wild olive shoots by nature, have within us a heart to belong. He makes room for us in His family. And He asks us to do the same in ours.

‘Family’ is relative. Who occupies the branches of your own Family Tree isn’t determined by biology alone – it’s really up to you.

That moment in the living room on a continent far away from home is proof positive that God is at work in my Family Tree. In fact, He’s been pruning and trimming and fertilizing and watering that Tree for a very long time, so that I could have this memory to cherish and treasure and ponder for many years to come.