At the moment, it's Thanksgiving day and I'm kicking my feet up in the cozy Africa-theme family room of my in-law's house. My wife and he mother are poring over a dizzying variety of yarns and fabrics discussing quilts, handbags and scarves while Wayne, my second father (third?), listens to NPR thoughtfully. In another hour or two we'll
drive to Ann and Dave's place, picking up Grandma Pat along the way and have Thanksgiving with Julie, Kenny, Ross, Jennifer, Annika, Frank, Codie, and Morgan. If we were in California this year, as opposed to Washington, we'd be looking forward to meeting Gus, Ade, Madeline, Mindy, Gene, Johnny, Pete, Dawn, Dante, Shelby, George, Michael, Scott, Nicholas...etc. etc. (That's the Italian side of my family, and I've frankly fallen behind in memorizing all the wives and kids).
At either venue, either over potato sausage or pirrogie (Gene and Ade are Polish...dear Lord I love their pirrogie!), somebody would say, "What are you thankful for this year?", and most folks, with genuine sincerity, would list 'family' as something they are truly thankful for. Without question, I've been deeply blessed when it comes to family. Not only is my first family large and loving, and generous with their affection, but my wife's family has done so very much to accept
me into their midst, and they did so immediately, even before Rebekah and I were married.
Jesus says, "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?" - Who is my family?
A few years ago, Rebekah and I stayed home for Thanksgiving. Our only guests were our friends the Foxes and their two boys. It was perhaps the best holiday of my life. For my entire life, holidays meant long drives to relatives houses, often two if we had to spend the morning with mom's family, and the afternoon with dad's family. Holidays meant pressure, business, discomfort and too much to do in too little time. But this one Thanksgiving at home was wholly different. I didn't leave the house once except to take the trash out. The Foxes drove all of 1/2 mile and then back again several hours later. The six of us realized that we were all cooking as if it were still the 30 person table we were used to and our table groaned with food. We all sat down, said grace, and ate like locusts before we all looked up and thought - what are we doing? Everybody laughed and took a deep breath...we spent the rest of the languid day sipping chocolate, nibbling on olives and napping near the fire. It was the best holiday in my life, the first that truly felt like a 'holiday' as in a break from normal life, and I want very much to repeat it.
Over the last several years, the Foxes truly have been our family. It's with them that we've shared our faith, our trials and triumphs, and the day-to-day of our lives. For every hour I've sen my own sister, I've seen Matt 100. I know more about Beth's real state of mind, her spiritual health, and the things that she wrestles with, than I know about my own mother. We've shared our lives and our money, and our time, not to mention our reciprocating saws and spring-form pans and whichever car is working. And it's not just the Foxes, it's also Lisa, and the McLoughlans and others. Quite unexpectedly my life has developed a very tight circle of friends that feels a lot like the book of Acts.
"Whoever does the will of my Father is my bother, and my sister, and my mother."
Christ's statement here about family has always seemed coy to me - a kind of hyperbole to illustrate a point. But I never took the next step seriously. "What point am I making then?" he might ask. "Well...you know...how Christians should be...um...kinda like a family...sorta..."
Listen, God is very clear that family (in the natural sense) is very important to him. We're commanded to honor our fathers and mothers and to do so grants us a blessing. I don't think Jesus is suggesting that Mary and James et. al. are somehow NOT his family while his disciples are, but rather that the language about being adopted into God's family is far more real than I suspected. Calling another Christian 'brother' is not just a euphemism, it's a true expression of the eternal relationship between two believers. Perhaps this relationship is more important than our earthly ties - after all, if a marriage dissolves with death, it may be that our earthly families are equally temporal. In contrast, our salvation is eternal - our integration into God's family is for ever.
When the Foxes moved north from California, I knew Matt by his first name, but really he was "Beth's husband." I knew Beth from my home town. We went to school together, had the same friends, and even dated for a spell. So when they came to Newberg, Beth was my friend and Matt was an acquaintance. Right away, they moved in with us and stayed for about a month. They had moved on faith with no job, no place to live, no idea of what to do next, but they moved and we put them up while they found their feet. I wonder if we would have formed the relationships we have now without that first experience but it set a precedent of intimacy that was unique in my life. Our lives were suddenly intertwined by circumstance instead of by choice. We were sharing a home not because we really wanted to, but because we had to. Rebekah and I were newlyweds at that time. We had purchased this home only a few months earlier because God had clearly orchestrated the purchase and we had three extra bedrooms. I suspect it wasn't the first choice for the Foxes either. One of the big reasons they moved north in the first place is because they wanted their own space - getting thrown into a 'communal' environment was doubtful to be their first choice,
Since then - not quite five years now - Matt and I have become very close. In many ways Matt has become the closest friend I've had in my life. And let my be very candid - it has not been all high fives and pork rinds. Matt and I have fought - hard. Matt and I have punched and kicked each other (literally (see Ninjutsu)), we've yelled and screamed
(OK - mostly, that's me. Matt's pretty quiet) and we've thrown up our hands in frustration, anger, and disappointment. He's offended me and I've offended him, many, many times.
But there probably isn't anybody on Earth I care about more than Matt.
He truly is the brother I never had.
He's forgiven me many, many times. He's corrected me when nobody else could or would. His counsel has been faithful. His peace has been a rock. His family has graced my life with more love and laughter, and joy than I knew was possible. As a man, friends like Matt are few and far between. The Foxes are to me the kind of family that I've never really understood before. Where the eternal reality of our God ordained relationship is thousands of times more meaningful than what somebody said last Christmas. Where we share a table with folks we spoke to yesterday, not six months ago at a Christening that everybody left before coffee was served. These are people that I will know FOR EVER -
but who I also know intimately RIGHT NOW.
This Thanksgiving, I find myself deeply thankful for Matt, for Beth, for Will and for Ben.Which I find to be the same thing as saying "I'm thankful for my family."