My overwhelmed heart tonight stretches underneath my chest. It aches, it longs, and this evening I am sure that I’m not alone.  Over the last five days, I have been surrounded by my family, sharing both grief and joy, intensity, and rest with them. We’ve sat down for meals together, remembered times that were once so simple, and created  memories that I will forever keep within my heart. I have shared some of the best memories of my childhood and adult life with them all. They are the ones I have grieved with time and again. They are the roots that keep me grounded even when storms come. They share my history.  They are a hedge that surrounds me–reminding me that I am never alone and that I am loved just as I am. What began with two grandparents in love who followed their dream, grew to five. Then when we factor in the grafting in of spouses, births, and adoptions, we have a strong fruit-filled branch upon our family tree.

 

    Too many years I’ve taken them for granted. I suppose I assumed my family would always remain near and never leave. How wrong I was. With most of them by my side, I witnessed my sister Sara take her last breath and I watched my aunt Judy pass away. Together, we have celebrated the lives and legacy of our late grandparents and this week, we were humbled before God after my five year old cousin Thao entered into his eternal home. We stand united as witnesses to God’s mercy in midst of our pain and testify that God’s promises are true even when we feel like we’ve been abandoned.

 

Some wonder why our family remains so different. They have watched us hug as we greet each other and as we say our long good-byes. Some may have wondered why we go through such great effort to gather together. At these times like this, we offer  support through our presence and availability for God’s use. Distance separates us now, but in spite of it, we choose to gather a few times a year to affirm our love. We love worshipping together, encouraging one another, celebrating, and laughing with each other until our sides hurt. Holding each other close matters to us, we know that we are not promised tomorrow and we want to make the most of today–without regrets. I’m grateful we cling to this small glimpse of what heaven may be like, when we will be together forever.

   What kind of a world would we have, if love knit us all together in this same way? What would it look like? How would this unique, sacrificial, and consistent love change us and those around us? I believe our world would look so different. Our family bond would model unity. Our friendships would last. Our churches would feel warmer. Our countries would reflect what truly matters in this life and make a lasting difference. It begins with us. It begins with my family and I. I hope we may become a vessel of God’s love and grace without being bound by hindrance, bitterness, fear, or insecurity. I pray we will make the most of every moment by erring on the side of loving those around us generously. I pray we’ll show gratefulness for them, even if it makes us look like a fools.  It’s this kind of love that will melt the hardest of hearts, warm the coldest of spirits, and become a salve of healing. Family by blood, or family by choice–for me, there isn’t much difference. Whether we are near or apart, we are presented an opportunity show those in our world that God’s people love each other without condition and announce that family matters.

“How wonderful, how beautiful, when brothers and sisters get along! It’s like costly anointing oil flowing down head and beard, Flowing down Aaron’s beard, flowing down the collar of his priestly robes. It’s like the dew on Mount Hermon flowing down the slopes of Zion. Yes, that’s where God commands the blessing, ordains eternal life.”

Psalm 133:1-3 (The Message)

“Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sin.  Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.

I John 4:7-12 (NLT)