Can you imagine growing up with over 50 first cousins? Just on your dad’s side? (I had about 13 more on my mom’s side.) I love being part of a large family. My dad had twelve sisters, one died before I was born, and one moved across the country but otherwise, they all lived nearby. (In the picture above, my dad is the little boy in the very front leaning over to get something. These are my grandparents and their children, spouses and grandchildren at the time. One aunt has not yet been born.) When I was 11 years old, my dad bought the family home where he had grown up. Years prior, he had made an apartment of the upstairs for my grandma (my grandpa had already passed away). For about 10 years or so, Grandma continued to live in the upstairs apartment while we lived downstairs.

Almost every weekend, at least one of the daughters would bring their family to visit Grandma. And their kids would come down to visit us and the ones around our age would play with us most of the afternoon. The cousins who were older than us were our guides to how young adults lived, through their many stories we raptly listened to. For me, as a young girl, they were who I wanted to be when I was grown up. They had exciting marriages, beautiful babies, happy lives. My memory today has a constant stream of family at our house growing up.

We had our share of dysfunction. Alcoholism. Abuse. Divorce. Arguments. But we were family and in our house, nothing was more important. When I think of the time we spent with cousins and aunts and uncles, it feels like a lifesize warm blanket surrounding me. I had many good friends among my cousins and I loved every single one of them but even better, I liked them all. We even had what we called kissin’ cousins. Those really cute boys we girls would have wanted to date if they weren’t our cousins. I remember chasing one around the yard trying to get that kiss when I was really young. Then I got the bad news that you couldn’t date or marry a cousin. Sad, sad day for me because Danny was so cute.

Today, all those aunts and uncles are gone. Only my mom and dad remain. And we have lost several of those many cousins. Even though we are getting older and most of us are now senior citizens or nearing that age, when we get together, we are still those cousins who played together as children. Like good friends who rarely see each other but can talk for hours when they do, we cousins never have to renew our friendships or get to know each other again. We are just family all the time.

My aunts, uncles, and cousins are my genetic family, one bonded with memories and love. But I have a second family. That would be my husband, children and grandchildren. I love bringing all the kids and their 12 kids together so the cousins can play and form bonds. I know, compared to the number I grew up with, 12 isn’t very many but bring them all together in our little house, and it’s a lot. And so much fun. As my siblings and I were life for my dad and mom, these kids and grandkids are life for me and my husband.

These are the families I get to treasure here on earth. But there is a third family that I get to treasure for eternity; the family of God. The Bible says over and over that those who are followers of Jesus Christ are brothers (and sisters). When we accept Christ as our Savior, we are adopted into the family of God, joint heirs with Jesus, worshiping the same Father. 1 John 3:1 says, See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. Titus 3:7 teaches that by being justified by His grace we become heirs with the hope of eternal life.

Bill and Gloria Gaither wrote a song called Family of God. The Chorus is one I love.

I’m so glad I’m a part 

Of the family of God-

I’ve been washed in the fountain,

Cleansed by His blood!

Joint heirs with Jesus

As we travel this sod,

For I’m part of the family,

The family of God.

I have families bound by genetics and love. This family is bound by Love alone. The love given to us by the Triune God and the love we give back. Then the love we give each other.

When my husband and I are traveling or camping, we will attend church wherever we are. We have attended church in a hotel room in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in a Pentecostal church in the State of Washington, in a Lutheran church in Mesa, Arizona, in a renovated small restaurant in Duluth, Minnesota, in campgrounds sitting on logs, at a children’s camp near our home, Free Churches in Washburn and Wausau, Wisconsin and other places.

There is a oneness of spirit that joins strangers into family; visitors into brothers and sisters. I don’t know if I have ever walked into a church as an adult where I felt alone. My spirit feels the presence of the same Father, same Savior no matter what church I have attended. That makes everyone else there family. Some treat me like a long-lost sister. Others just give a warm smile and go on their way. During praise and worship, I love to just stand in silence a moment and reflect that one day we will all be singing in the presence of God in His heaven. I listen to the voices that surround me and think of all those voices surrounding me in heaven. I think about the brothers and sisters I won’t meet until heaven who will come from all times and places. From Iran, Ethiopia, Australia, every place on earth will be represented in heaven.

I picture myself hugging those members of my genetic family I will get to spend eternity with and having the same joy I will have hugging a brother or sister who lived in 200 AD. My aunts and cousins genetically came from my grandparents and down. This heavenly family will come from Jesus Christ, from the Father, from the Holy Spirit.

Like my family, there is dysfunction in the family of God here on earth. We are broken vessels who need mending and so we go to the ONE who can best mend us. It was the brokenness of my divorce that brought this broken vessel to her knees before the God who would save her. It wasn’t until I was broken that I knew I needed a Savior.

But like members of all families, this family of God is not perfect here on earth. We make mistakes. We are hypocrites at times. We get ourselves lost. God didn’t promise perfection here. He promises grace. He promises everlasting love. I think that grace and love is what makes strangers feel like brothers and sisters.

God placed me in a large family when I was born. He gave me a taste of the family of God’s vastness. He gave me a taste of the love found in this family. He prepared my life and heart to be part of His forever family. He showed me how to be comfortable within family, all my families. Someday, only one family will remain and I hope it is filled with all the members from my other families. What a joy that day will be.

How about you? What’s your family like? Are you part of God’s forever family? If not, would you like to be? Leave a comment. I would love to hear from you.

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