Our little family is on a road trip together this weekend. One day’s four hour drive and the next day’s six hour drive (with a one-year-old in the back seat) are almost complete, and I’ve only wanted to bang my head on the window a few times during the thousandth rendition of “The Wheels on the Bus.” The wipers. Swish. Swish. Swish. Please: Make. Them. Stop.
We’re headed west to a camp near Amarillo for a family reunion. It’s that season, where families get together and eat watermelon and try to figure out how distant cousins are related: Are you my first cousin twice removed or my second cousin once removed?
That may get a little interesting to explain at this one, because when asked how we’re related, we have a slightly awkward answer: We’re not.
That’s right, we’re attending a family reunion for a family we’re not even related to. Remember the movie “Wedding Crashers?” That’s us. We’re crashing some other family’s reunion.
This story goes back a few years to when my iHusband Jim was in college at Texas Tech. Jim grew up in a faithful Christian family in a very loving Methodist Church. But like a lot of us, he hit college not really owning his faith for himself. A year or so into it he had exhausted all the usual college options for trying to fill oneself up when not looking to Christ for fulfillment. He was tired of the party scene and tired of the story he was living. That’s when he met Kim. Kim was a clarinet player in the Tech band. Jim played saxophone. Their friendship led to spiritual conversations, and Kim re-introduced Jim to Jesus one night sitting on the hood of a car in a university parking lot. That one conversation changed his life story, and, down the road, it changed mine as well. Kim invited him to the Wesley Foundation, an amazing campus ministry dedicated to growing strong Christian leaders. That’s where my husband was really discipled, grew in his faith, and became the amazing Christian man I know and love today.
Kim is part of a big family. Her dad is one of four children, and between those four siblings there are ten granddaughters. That’s right, her generation is all girls, no boys. At least four of the girls were in college at Tech at the same time, and they all included Jim in their friendships, mischief, and fun. He went home with them on vacation and holidays, got to know their parents and grandparents, and somehow got unofficially adopted. They were excited to have a grandson at last. Once or twice someone in the family wondered which of the girls Jim was dating, but the truth was he was in love with all of them, with this whole crazy, fun family that loves Jesus and each other and truly enjoys being together.
Over time he’s been to reunions, birthday parties, ushered at weddings and even been given a copy of the family genealogy that one of the uncles wrote up. They think they may have even found a way that Jim is actually distantly related somehow! When we married, Kim’s husband Tom was Jim’s best man. Their daughter was our flower girl. That summer the whole group welcomed me with open arms at my first family reunion. Their grandmother gave me a big hug and told me how happy they were that “their boy” had found someone so wonderful.
I remember learning that the family we grow up in is called our “family of origin.” Much of our identity, our traits, strengths, baggage, hangups, and the trajectory our life heads in is formed in this family. We start a new family when we get married and have kids. I call that our “family of destination.” Although it’s influenced by our experience in our family of origin, this is where we get to write our own script of what we believe family should look like for ourselves and our kids. Jim and I are blessed with wonderful families of origin. And we’ve begun writing the script for our family of destination that I think Drew will grow up to be proud of.
But I believe there’s a third circle of family we experience in life. Think of it as a “family of choice.” These people are sometimes related to us by blood, but often are people we just choose to spend our lives with. Their presence in our lives is more based on choice and conscious effort than convenience. We choose them because there are things we love about them that we may not have found in our own families. The time we spend with them over the years means we have a good chance of absorbing the traits that drew us to them in the first place. That’s a kind of heredity no one taught about in my genetics classes in college: we can choose to inherit the traits of those we love and admire without any DNA linkages causing us to do so.
That’s what we’re doing here this weekend. Being with our family. Exploring our inheritance. This family helped make my husband who he is, and by doing so gave Drew and me a wonderful gift. If someone asks me this weekend how we’re related I might just say: “In the most important way of all.” And leave it at that.
Do you have friends that you consider as close as family members? How did that relationship come about?