The family I grew up in was small. I had one brother and one sister who were both in their teens when I was born. I guess I was a so-called “accident”.  By the time I was in grade school, my sister was married and my brother was serving in the Navy in WWII.  Being the youngest, I suppose I was pretty spoiled as a kid. Not that I was given lots of “things” but rather I was allowed a lot of freedom and encouraged to try new things.

I remember my mom gave me a book when I was about 8 titled The Boy Mechanic that was published by Popular Mechanics Magazine.  I loved that book!  It was full of ideas and things to make, and I spent many hours perusing it’s pages. Sometimes I would decide to try building one of the projects, only to discover I didn’t have the skills needed or I was impatient and grew tired or frustrated. Mom, bless her, would try to help me whenever she could, but so often I had to do things by myself. It was in those days that I longed for a brother nearer my age with whom I could read, explore, adventure. But my parents were older and had no plans for another child.

What made matters worse, for me, was that my parents decided to move to “the country” when I was eight, leaving behind the few friends I had in my old town neighborhood.  My new school was a small, one-room building and our young teacher was barely out of high school. There were kids in about all of the eight grades With two in some of them.  Most of those students were older and had little interest in this little “town boy”  who knew nothing of their lives on their farms.  Most of the boys smelled of the barnyard and seemed to like to hold their stinky hands over my face when I cried out at their teasing. Needless to say I didn’t fit in with their culture and felt lonely much of the time.

Fast forward, now, to about 1958.  I had finished high school and started junior college in our nearby town. I had recently started attending a small church where some friends attended. Although there were few young people my age there, the adults soon took me in and made me feel welcome and a part of their group.  Even though I was still living at home, these loving people made me feel like I was part of a new family.

About that time Mom and Dad decided to sell the “farm”, the five acres where I had grown up, and move to Joplin, Missouri, where my brother and his family lived.  Dad had retired early from his 38-year employment at the local electric company and decided he didn’t want to raise 1500 turkeys a year in retirement. When they moved the summer between my two years in junior college, I took a room in the home of an older, widowed lady whose family was grown and gone.  Living there I could finish junior college.  Although I Did little more than sleep in my rented room, I missed having family around and longed for the day I might have my own.

And then, into the midst of my small church family, God brought a new family, the Rohrers. Donald, the father, moved his own family from Mississippi to become our new pastor.  He, his wife, Ethlyn, and their five young children rented a small farm on the Missouri side of the Kansas Border east of town.  Before long Donald and Ethlyn started inviting me to Sunday meals with their family. I grew close to them and their children, and soon felt right at home at their house.  God had finally answered my boyhood prayer for a younger brother. He provided three young brothers and two young sisters!animals-back-light-beaks-733478

For the next year, I spent much time hanging out with my new family, helping them with chores on the farm and going to programs at the girls’ school.  Tom, who was only 5 years younger and a 9th grader, liked to run around with me in my little black Ford coup.  The two little boys would sit by me in church, snuggling against me while their father preached.  God taught me how to give and receive love from this special family.  He also showed me his call on my life:  to be a teacher for young children.

I remained in contact with the Rohrers for several years after I left my home town, until I moved to Colorado with my young wife in 1965.  But God brought another wonderful family into my life while I finished college in Emporia, Kansas.  And eventually three sons of my own during my first marriage.   Today, I count myself blessed to have six children and eleven grandkids.

So, just what is a family?  Is it just those who are related to you through birth into a physical group of people:  parents and siblings?  Does it include other children who may be adopted by your parents?  How about foster children or step-siblings?  Or, is family more than this?

In 1970, Bill and Gloria Gaither published a song they had written titled, The Family of God.  On the Gaither website, they introduce the story behind the song with these words:

“As Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year draw near, some people look forward to spending time with family while others find this holiday season to be an especially painful reminder of people they miss, broken relationships and their deep longing to be surrounded by a loving family.  The good news is, when we are children of God we have an unlimited supply of brothers and sisters!  We encourage you to gather with those you love, whether they’re actual family or your spiritual family!”

A few years later, I sat with my own family, on the front row in our church in Denver when The Gaither Trio sang this song in concert one Christmas Eve.  The tears on their faces as they told this story and sang the words bore testimony that Ephesians 4:4-7 was true:

“From the door of an orph’nage to the house of the King,
No longer an outcast; a new song I sing.
From rags unto riches, from the weak to the strong,
I’m not worthy to be here, but praise God, I belong!”

This was the family I first experienced back in 1958 with the Rohrers and the others of that small church in Southeastern Kansas.  And today we experience it when we gather with our small Cell Group on Wednesday evenings to worship, pray for, and care for each other.  A part of God’s family here in Western Colorado.

How have you experienced family in your life?  Are you a part of God’s family, enjoying His Kingdom now, and looking to that which gives us hope after this life is over?  Does “family” bring a sense of pain and separation, or does it bring you joy and peace?

If you are not yet a part of God’s family, I urge you to read the third chapter of the book of John in the Bible. There you will learn His plan for you to be born again, spiritually, into an eternal family where you will never be alone again.

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