Monday, April 20, 2015

What it means to be “Family”

Martin Cousins

I had the joy this past weekend of spending time with cousins and extended family from across the nation. We are a large family with cousins spread far and wide, but a handful of us have stayed close despite the miles separating us.

My dad was the youngest of eight children who were all raised in a pioneer West Texas family. One of his older brothers fell in love with a girl from another pioneer West Texas family in this area. They married and had three children.

In 1946, Dad’s brother packed up his family and moved west from Texas to Oregon, where he lived for the remainder of his life. As the couple left home ~ leaving their parents and siblings and everything they had known ~ they promised faithfully to return every two years to see the family. While many people make such promises when they move far away from family, seldom does it work out that way. But my aunt and uncle made sure it DID happen, and they brought their children back to Texas every other summer for a month’s visit with both their families until their children were grown and their parents were no longer living. Even then, they came back whenever they could until their own health and age prevented it. Those visits were some of the highlights of my growing up years. And because of the connection by marriage between these two families, we all felt like “almost cousins.”

Two of my cousins from that family now live in Oregon and the third in Alaska. This past week, two of them traveled to Texas for a Cousins Reunion. What made the reunion somewhat unique was that it was not only the cousins from their mother’s side of the family who gathered, but those of us from their father’s side were also invited to join them!

Our two families have been intertwined now for three generations. So it was fitting that we joined together over the weekend to enjoy the company of our mutual cousins. The day was filled with much laughter, many stories, photos, and of course food to be enjoyed. The “shared” cousin who hosted the event sang a song with his own lyrics to kick off the day. Here are the words:

“Let’s hear some memories.
Let’s see some photography.
Let’s share a meal while we enjoy each other’s company.
Come on and sit a spell;
We’ve got so much to tell.
So glad you came today to be with Family.”

The reunion made me ponder, “What does it mean to be Family?” One dictionary definition describes it as “a group of people related to one another by blood or marriage.” That would describe the two distinct groups who were at our reunion. Another definition I read gives it even more meaning: “a person or people related to one, and so to be treated with a special loyalty or intimacy.” Amen to that definition! The third definition I found is, thankfully, not accurate (at least not to my knowledge!): “a group of people united in criminal activity.”

A fourth definition, however, is significant because in my own experience and observation, sometimes we are “family” with those with whom we have no blood ties. This definition describes “a group of people united by certain convictions or a common affiliation.” I am fortunate that with most of my blood relatives, I do have common convictions and beliefs that help bind us together and provide meaning to our relationships. That commonality was evident this past weekend in the gathering of cousins. I realize, however, that not everyone has that experience. Some people have little or no significant connection to their blood relatives. Fortunately, God provided a way for everyone to know what it means to be family, even without close blood ties.

I am a woman most blessed because I have both: close blood relatives as well as a small fistful of folks who I consider to be my Family because of the level of intimacy we share. I have been through tough times with each of those people, we have shared intense moments, and we have sweet memories of time spent together. Our values connect us. These people will always be family to me. Each of my children have non-family members they have connected with over the years in that same way. One of the cousins at our reunion this weekend was called away early because of a death of someone so dear to her that she considers them family. I’m sure most of you reading this blog can describe your own experience with someone who has become family to you, despite no blood or familial connection.

Regardless of who you consider to be your family, I pray you will realize what a valuable gift you have been given. Nourish and cherish those relationships. Make time to be together. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then pray for those in your family circle, whatever that circle looks like. Let them know how important they are to you. Show love, grace, and forgiveness to them. Shower them with kindness. And please, don’t forget to laugh together! Share the memories of precious times you have spent in their presence, and thank God He has allowed you to be in relationship with them. Those connections are gifts from God; don’t you dare be guilty of taking them for granted!

The Copeland "Almost Cousins"

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