Few would argue that the traditional family–birth or adoptive–is without parallel in providing nurture, guidance, and support to the rising generation. As a child of divorced parents, I salute my mom who provided these essentials to me despite running our family business and rearing six children. Not every child is part of such a family, but everyone benefits from belonging to less-traditional families who adopt members through shared experiences and association.
First, the extended family. Those fortunate to live near grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins have a wide safety net of love and protection. This sturdy net can be helpful even when greater distance is involved, especially with technology that allows us to have virtual gatherings and instant conversations. The net is woven by frequent interactions and expressions of love, counsel, and confidence. Even without modern technology in my childhood, I cherished letters, phone calls, reunions, visits from relatives, and occasionally weeks together at their homes or ours.
Today, my house is called grandma’s house and I relish every minute spent with my children, their companions, and my grandchildren. One teenage grandson even came here when he was running away from home to escape what he viewed as his parents’ tyranny. His mom rejoiced that his heart led him here. After about an hour, he reconsidered and went back home.
Next is my hometown family. I grew up in the lovely rural community of Mayfield, Utah, eight miles east of Gunnison, which was the home of our schools, entertainment, and most businesses. With a population of about 300 back then, it was a community family. We knew each other’s names, families, and even shared party lines for our telephones. Beyond that, adults welcomed us to their homes, taught us skills in 4-H, coached our summer softball team, shared their faith at our red brick church, took us camping in the nearby mountains, and occasionally even let us ride their horses. Parents took turns shuttling us back and forth to movies, school activities, and parties. We did a lot of bonding on the yellow school bus winding its way between Mayfield and Gunnison, stopping at farm homes along the way. My Mayfield family is a key influence in my life.
My high school family is unusually close. We were blessed with caring and talented teachers and administrators and a small student body–around 350 in grades 7 through12—which provided us opportunities to participate in a variety of extra-curricular activities. We were also known and recognized by other students and faculty in that close-knit school family. The Gunnison community was a huge part of this family, offering faithful support at every ballgame, concert, play, or musical. The nucleus of this family is the friends who have chosen to stay connected for 50 years. We hold class reunions every five years, just like clockwork, and some of us gather for a retreat annually. Social media and technology have enhanced our ability to keep track of each other and offer love, support, and encouragement, but there’s nothing like meeting face to face and being wrapped in a blanket of love.
Associates at work and service organizations are rich resources for creating families. My husband and I served people in Canada with a dedicated and diverse group of people who can only be described as family. That family also includes the Canadian friends we made while we served. We keep in touch and share joys, triumphs, and sorrows. They constitute a large portion of our friends on social media and own a special place in our hearts. When we gather, it’s a genuine family reunion.
My faith family has always been and continues to be an important family. Our neighborhood congregations are referred to as wards and even ward families. From my earliest remembrance I have been surrounded by this loving and supportive family, continuing through marriage, parenthood, and now the golden years. When we didn’t have family nearby, it was members of this ward family who cared for us in sickness and health as well as celebrated milestones in our children’s lives. I have changed addresses a few times, but I have always been embraced and inspired by a church family waiting to adopt me.
The largest and most far-reaching family, however, is the family of God. A phrase from the song, Let there be Peace on Earth, describes my feelings perfectly:
With God as our Father, brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother in perfect harmony.
It’s easy to see the black sheep in this huge family, but I am filled with reassurance and wonder when I see huge gatherings of good people, not of my faith or nationality, coming together to give service to one another and to praise the God of us all and ask Him to watch over and protect us.
Families give us roots and wings, connections and comfort, stories and songs, blessings and trials. No matter who you are or where you are, rest assured there will be families and family ties to encircle and bind you in the safety net of all sorts of families.