Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Redefining

Growing up, my view of family was pretty simple. I lived with my parents, brothers, and the dog (yes, the dog is family). When we saw extended family, it included grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins. I had a pretty stable nuclear family system, and so I didn't consider much beyond that.

At this point, though, my definition of family is a bit up in the air.

I recently had an opportunity to talk to a gentleman at my church. In my post here, I refer to him as a 'good family friend.' I wrote that description originally without thinking much about it, but when I returned to the draft it occurred to me that it wasn't quite that simple. Yes, he knows my parents. His wife is closer to my mom than any other direct link between families, but I don't know that he himself is close to my family. This is couple is *very* close with my boyfriend's family, though. While TJ was in the hospital, they were always present. They even brought me pizza very late one night while I was sitting post in the waiting room. I already feel close to Jonny's family, but that time in the hospital also made me feel closer to his family's friends.

All of which brought me to think about what my family is. My parents are now two hours away, and I see them about once a month or so. My oldest little brother is only 10 minutes from me, but I probably see him about as often. My extended family is many states away, and so none of my nuclear family that was always so constant is around any more. So what is my family?

Pastor Jim once told the youth volunteers that each person only has time and emotional energy to invest in 6-7 people on a deep level, including your family. The purpose was to remind us that we can't be superman to 50 kids at a time (not that I don't still try). I was already away from my parents and brothers, but I was engaged at the time and Jim pointed out that my fiance would be considered my family, leaving 5-6 others I could invest in. Now, I'm in a relationship, but we're not engaged, but Jonny still easily qualifies as the one person I invest the most energy to.

I went to get my oil changed recently (the place is fabulous, but I won't say names, for fear of getting them in trouble with this story), and the manager very generously gave me the employee discount on a pair of wiper blades. He's since given me even better discounts on an oil change... all because Jonny used to work there. Yes - used to. They promised him employee discount when he returned for service. When I pulled in, the manager told me, "Well, the owner says discount is only for actual employees, but I think it should extend to family too. And as far as I'm concerned, girlfriends are as much family as anyone else."

Several weeks ago, I went out to watch my little brother play basketball. It's a little bit of a hike out there to watch 7th grade basketball, but Rob seems to enjoy it when I make the effort. I invited Jonny to join me, but he was working on homework and couldn't make it. When I got back, however, I was drilled about all the details of the game, which I thought kind of odd. Jon finally explained, "I was thinking about it, and I was sad I didn't get to see Robbie play. It occurred to me that I really think of your little brother as family."

I was at church one Sunday alone. I had come alone, no one from Jon's family made it that day, and my family left my church a couple years ago. I didn't have anyone to sit with, and I was already having a bad week, so I was just really incredibly lonely and quickly becoming discouraged. My friend Maegan, as always, knew something was up. As I was explaining this feeling to her, she understood what I was saying. She looked at me and motioned around the lobby of the church as she said, "This is your family now. Here, we are your family."

So, transitions continue. I'm still not sure what definition family takes, but it's far from settled just yet. It will be interesting to watch the process.

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