As a child, I never worried about living without my family. My parents were always around, I had my sister, and we would visit our extended family every year. I have so many fond memories as a child, playing with my cousins at my grandma’s house, going fishing with my dad, or baking cookies with my mom. I realize that not everyone may have these exact same memories, but I do believe that they are fairly similar to memories that many others share.
As I grew older, these kinds of experiences occurred less and less often. I became more and more independent, and family became something that I simply took for granted. They were still there, but I wasn’t. That is to say, I was absent in the sense that I wasn’t as interested in doing all the things that I had done as a kid. When I joined the military when I was 20, this was confounded even more because I literally wasn’t around anymore. I shipped off to Texas for several months for training, and then I moved to Germany right after. I took my wife Rachel with me to Germany, so luckily I had someone, but besides her, there was no one else. We spent three years there and then we moved to Guam for another three years.
Suffice it to say, being halfway around the world from your family takes its toll on you. The things that I took for granted in my late teens became the things that I missed most in my mid-twenties and now into my thirties. I miss just hanging out with my dad watching football games, or going to the movies. I miss grabbing a coffee and talking about life with my mom. I miss spending time with my grandparents, who also live where my parents do. My wife and I have missed so many life events because we’ve been geographically separated from our families for so long – the deaths of close relatives, family vacations, and holiday gatherings just to name a few. Family has also been absent for the births of all of our three children.
I’ve found myself missing all of that, especially the small things, a whole lot more in the past few years. It’s been so much so that I applied to get out of the military early so that we could move back home and be closer to family. I was very hopeful that things would work out, trusting God and praying that whatever happened was where he wanted me to be. Though I was expecting a ‘yes’ to my application, that was not what I received. I was sorely disappointed, but luckily for me I’ve grown a lot over the past 5-6 years, and was able to accept the fact that this was where God wanted us for the time being.
This was around the beginning of October, and about a month and a half later God showed me something that I hadn’t seen before…
My little family was prepared to spend another holiday together, just the five of us. Sometimes for Thanksgiving we hang out with friends, and on several occasions, we’ve had friends over at our house. I think for most military families this is common, though we do know quite a few people around here who have family close by, which has made it a bit more difficult for us.
This year we were invited over to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving, and there were several other church families who we knew well who were also going. When we got there, there were about twenty or so people, with a mix of our friends, and a mix of the host’s family as well. By the time everyone had shown up, there must have been around fifty people including kids. To be frank it was chaos – a beautiful, turkey and stuffing-smelling, love without limits kind of chaos. After we prayed and everyone started getting their food, I just had to stand back and soak it in for a minute.
This was when it hit me…
Even though we didn’t have ‘blood’ family around to celebrate the holidays with, we still had family. I took a picture and shared the post on Facebook because I wanted to capture the moment, and I wanted others to see that the family of God can make a big difference when you’re feeling lonely and separated from your own kin.
As a military family, being separated from relatives is something that we’re quite used to, though the feeling of missing them never really goes away. As we’ve allowed God in our lives more, he’s given us good friends to help fill the void of missing our families. Of course, it’s not an exact replacement – no one can ever do that. But, it’s about as close as you can get to the real thing. And for many people out there who may not share a strong bond with their families, perhaps it could even feel like a suitable replacement altogether. When you have God in your heart, and when you allow others into your life, then God will bring people to you to build you up and be there for you when you need them. And the great part is, no matter where you go, there will always be someone there as long as you’re open and paying attention.
Another great thing about the family of God is that it’s always growing, and we can always add more brothers and sisters! This family crosses boundaries that blood typically does not – race, skin color, culture, as well as many other things! You will meet people you probably wouldn’t have normally, and it will make you a better for it. You will grow as a person, and you will grow in your faith.
With God as our Father, and countless brothers and sisters surround us everywhere we go, there’s no need to ever feel alone. If you do feel lonely, perhaps you only need to look around and realize, as I did, that you are surrounded by more family than you think you are.
If you don’t know about the joys of a family shared through Christ, then we invite you to attend Severn Run (if you live in the Baltimore-D.C. area), or otherwise look for a local church to get connected to. Wherever you go, if they make you feel like family, then you know you’re probably home.
And if that’s the case, then…
…welcome to the family!