When my sister had her third baby a few years ago, we got the text in the wee hours of the morning.
“It’s a boy!” it read. “Everyone is healthy.”
I rolled over in bed and tapped my husband’s shoulder.
“Cait had her baby!” I whispered. “I’m going!”
“Oh good,” he murmured groggily. “Wait, going where?”
I was already up gathering things to stuff into an overnight bag.
“You mean, you’re going to her HOUSE?!” he exclaimed. We hadn’t discussed this beforehand. I had planned to go see Cait and the new little one a few weeks later, when stuff at church had settled down and I could take a few days off. But here I was, stuffing shirts and socks into a suitcase at 3am.
“You’re going NOW?!” poor Daryl shook the sleep from his eyes and tried to make sense of his wife’s sudden urge to head north. His wife who usually planned road trips for weeks and laid out Excel documents to make sure she didn’t forget any important items.
“You can come if you want,” I said. “I’d love to have you, but I know this is a bit…impromptu.”
He tried one more time. “You are going to leave right now, at 3am, to drive eight hours to your sister’s house with your own eight month old baby? You know you have to be back by tomorrow, right?” He gave me the “You-Are-Sweet-But-I’m-Doubting-Your-Foresight” look. I know it well.
“Come or don’t come,” I said. “Linc and I are going.”
He came. Even now we both talk about that moment as such an oddity in our relationship. I’m a planner; HE’S the spontaneous one. And yet, when I heard my sister had her baby, a team of wild horses (or a 16-hour drive in two days…) couldn’t have stopped me from heading up to hug and congratulate her, and to meet that dear new little one.
In God’s kingdom, the bonds of baptism supersede the bonds of blood. Cait is my sister, but so are other Christian women. We follow Jesus together, we worship together, we seek holiness and accept grace together.
Even so, family is special. God uses our families to shape and grow us, to teach us about him, to push us toward generosity and wisdom. Broken families can help us lean more heavily on a savior who knows our suffering. Dysfunctional families can cause us to long more deeply for the God who brings peace. Healthy families give us a glimpse of what the family of God can look like, filled with warmth, patience, and joy.
When Cait had her baby I had to be near her. The same thing happened when I had my firstborn. Cait drove all night and was the first to hold him.
Sisterhood shows up in the nativity story too. Mary, pregnant through the Holy Spirit, needs the encouragement of a woman in her family. Someone who has known her all her life. Someone who knows the God she worships. Someone who loves her, warts and all.
She heads off to a cousin’s house to talk it through.
Luke 1:39-45 (NIV)
At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
Elizabeth’s greeting fills Mary with joy. She has been seen and known, loved and encouraged, uplifted and blessed. She stays with Elizabeth for several weeks, letting the wisdom of her cousin soak into her soul.
In the best of times, this is what our families are able to give to us. They see us–not our clothes or haircut, old jeans or new boots. They know us–our complex histories, deepest hopes, most difficult disappointments. They bless our journies from near and far and offer gifts for the road. They love us, warts and all.
But perhaps this isn’t your family. Or maybe you are far from family, or near to a difficult family member, or you’ve lost someone dear to you this year.
Then know that Elizabeth’s hopeful words are for you, too.
The longing you feel is for a family healed and whole, and at its core it is for God’s kingdom to come and set all things aright. Feel the ache and let God come in and fill you with more of himself.
Family is a foretaste of the holy family God is building, in the holy city where he invites us to feast and dance and worship forever.
I’m so thankful for my family, blood and baptismal. And I can’t wait for my Lord.
Come, Lord Jesus.