My brother and his wife and their four kids were here over Christmas and we had a fantastic 3-weeks together. It’s the second time we’ve seen them since 2014, the third time since 2010. Yet we feel so close to them. The same day they left our two older kids flew back to Kenya for their second term of school at Rift Valley Academy. Our house suddenly got a lot quieter as we dropped from 12 people to 4. (and to understand fully you would have to know some of those 8 who left)
Once again we have a shift in our family, these bonds that tie us to those closest to us. Two of our kids won’t be home for three months, and I won’t see my brother for who knows how long.
Family relations are an odd thing at the best of times, but being on the other side of the world from parents and siblings, and cousins and everyone else makes these bonds more peculiar.
A few months ago in our team bible study, we were discussing how true community has the same characteristics of a family, including non-selectivity. You don’t choose what family to be born into, you don’t choose what children to have, and even though you chose your spouse, the family that you will end up becoming is not the direct result of precise decisions along the way.
What does it mean to have non-selective compassion, concern, empathy for those around you?
It's is hard.
It is hard in Kibuye, it’s hard in urban Chicago, it's hard in rural Texas, and suburban Edmonton.
While it may look very different, there is nothing unique about God’s call to all who could claim to be his people to love those around them.
There have been many times in my life where I just feel like walking away from someone, or some situation entirely because it seems like the easiest thing to do.
And yes, while it is possible to walk away from family, most everyone has a stronger sense of tie to family than any other relations. Even as a child, you know that you don’t really have a choice. No matter how much your siblings aggravate you, there’s really nothing you can do about it. That’s why as a child the almost mythological option of running away is so huge. How many of us didn’t at least once in our childhood think / dream /threaten/attempt to run away? ( If you say ‘no' - you probably either don’t remember well, had no siblings, or are some kind of freakishly forgiving person)
I guess that’s why there’s a saying "you don’t get to choose your family" (at least I think that’s a saying, if not…it should be)
This is probably why in such independent and individualist societies, we’ve reduced the entire concept of ‘family’ down to it’s smallest possible division. Only your immediate, nuclear family, which have statistically become smaller and smaller. Fine, I’ll love my ‘family’ - but let’s make that word include as few people as possible.
The divorce rates we are all impacted by must be a sign of our refusal to accept this non-selectivity, this non-negotiable set of relationships. If a marriage turns south or gets too hard, we leave because “it’s not what I signed up for”. But isn’t that the whole idea of non-selectivity, that we may get something we didn’t choose?
Our kids will turn out the way they do - and for many parents, that will bring heartache, even disappointment at decisions made. But does that mean you ask them to leave the family? That you decide what they’ve done makes them no longer worthy of being a part of the family?
Non-selectively loving others is hard. It’s hard in extended family, it’s hard in your neighbourhood, it’s hard in all of our jobs, and it’s hard on this team. (Except you Greg - clearly)
Having kids travel two countries away to attend 9th grade seems strange to me, even though we’ve now done it two times. Does that make our family weaker? A few years ago I would have replied with an unqualified ‘yes.’ Now that we’ve experienced it, however, I have a very different viewpoint.
There are (by my count) 21 kids here in Kibuye who call me ‘Uncle George’ on an essentially daily basis - yet some of the children of my biological family really don’t know me that well, some I’ve never met.
I think the problem is made worse by my pathetic communication. There are many people who I care about, and think about often, but never get around to calling or writing.
Family is vitally important. The kind that we immediately think of when we say ‘family’ - our siblings, our parents, our kids. So is extended family. So is community. So is everyone else.
I guess what I’ve come to realize even more clearly regarding these kind of tight communal relations is that they go both ways.
We have to be open to seeing how we can show grace, compassion, kindness to those around us. Reducing ‘family’ down to the smallest possible definition is exactly what the bible scholar who was questioning Jesus was trying to do when Jesus responded with the story we call the Good Samaritan.
“Fine," the man seemed to be saying, "I should love ‘my neighbour’ - but let’s be clear who exactly is in and who is out when we say that. I need a clear line in the sand of how many people I need to be kind to - because it’s hard and I sure to want to show grace to too many people.”
The other thing is that not only do these bonds need to extend out, but we need them to come back towards us.
What is clear is that you can’t thrive without a group of people around you. This life does not work out so well as a solo gig. There are plenty of people who can accomplish certain things without a strong support network (accumulating financial security, personal goals, etc.) -but to really have a full, engaged, rich life like I believe God designed us to have you simply must have people around you who are more than just co-workers, neighbours, or people you spend holidays with because you share some biological bond.
We need each other.
The other needs us.
If being part of this team has taught me anything (and it has taught me A LOT - especially Greg) is that doing life with others in an almost completely integrated way (friends=neighbors=colleagues=church=school=etc) is that it’s hard - but it is such a full, rich way to live.
It is probably the most obvious when there is some acute problem, an emergency of some kind. Someone suddenly finds out a family member has died, someone needs a medical evacuation, someone gets very sick. As a team we've gone through a lot of really hard things over the last few years - deaths of parents, sickness, and many other really, really hard things.
However, that is only the most obvious. When you look closer you see that through all the mundane, the small hurts, the kind words, the grace, the tension, the loss of personal freedom, the gain of communal joy -that this is how God has made us.
To live - in some way - in communion with others.
To be part of a family,
no matter what that looks like.