Time to extend the family boundary lines

Family gets special attention from me and a nearly unconditional pledge of support of one sort or another. (No, sorry. I'm not talking about blank checks here. I'm talking about support in the healthy sense.)

I love them and most of the time I like them, even if they're smarter, more talented, prettier or win Tripoli and all the cash.

Even better than warm feelings, I'm committed to my family -- to doing supportive and kind things, as much as I am prayerfully able.

I'm not unique. Many people have strong feelings of affection and commitment toward family members.

Over the years, I've been surprised how my definition of family has changed.
For me, family was mostly my husband and children. We didn't live close to other family members, so our tight nuclear family group was it for many years. Extended family members in the West were penciled into a busy calendar, as travel and schedules allowed.

Although some of our children's friends felt like family -- I loved to see them when they popped over, usually at dinnertime -- when our children left home, fewer young people dropped by. David and I had to deal with a changing family reality.

During the first empty nest year, when the youngest of our four children was deployed to Iraq, our Friday night pizza routine and our schedules changed and so did the way we thought of family.

A devotional insight widened my definition of family.
One day shortly before Matt left for bootcamp, I read a Bible passage where Mary was watching her son Jesus dying on the cross. It's a difficult ordeal for Jesus and I usually focus on his sacrifice. That day, I focused on Mary and her loss. I found it comforting that God didn't take away someone in her family without giving her someone else. God, characteristically, gave Mary a gift in place of her loss. Jesus knew how God operated, and he told his mother, "Woman, behold your son," referring to his close friend and disciple John.

Although scripture passages are written about specific people and events, principles in the passages often have an application for a reader. I felt as though I was losing the last of my children in a practical sense, so I looked around to see who else in my immediate environment God might be giving to me to care about. There was more than one person who I genuinely cared about. With fewer people at home, I had more time to reach out to others.

I've seen people who treat people in the church as family. I knew the "church family" concept, but it really hasn't meant a lot to me on a regular basis. After reading that passage in a different light and looking around me, my understanding of an extended family changed. Some of the members of the church became more important to me, so did a few neighbors and distantly located family members.

That was nearly five years ago.

I'm continuing to learn what it means to redefine the extended family concept. We had the privilege of meeting our beloved Lauren's mother yesterday in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We'd heard about her. We knew that we would someday meet her since Matt and Lauren have been dating for years with an ever deepening commitment. I expected to like Lauren's mom. And I did.

A comment Lauren's mother made surprised me and made me think. During dinner she told us she tells her fourth-grade class some of the funny events that include Matt or another of our family members. She said my family was like her extended family.

My ears picked up on that because I hadn't thought of her as part of my family. For the first time, I realized I could extend my family boundary lines to include the mother of my son's girlfriend. Lauren was already family, why not her mother? We can be friends on Facebook or MySpace or ShoutLife or even face to face.

So, why not let my heart care for her as though she were a member of my family?

It is fun having a heart that can stretch to include others.

So, does that mean a thousand people will be at our house for Christmas? Not likely. But, as I age, I find there are more people this old sagging heart can love than I ever thought possible. I meet new ones all the time.

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