By Brenda Jo Wong

Family Beyond Blood

A close friend that I consider family has been married for the last 40 years. She has three children who are married to godly spouses and 8 grandchildren. They gather regularly for family dinners and do powerful ministry together. I’ve prayed diligently for a husband, never got married, and have lived with over 100 different housemates. Though my friend and I are about the same age, our lives are very different.

For many years, it was difficult for me to be with married couples because God had blessed them with a spouse but I was left alone. When my friends started having babies, my pain increased and I questioned even more whether God loved me. Why would he provide for others and not answer my prayers? When friends started becoming grandparents, I felt again the ache of being left out. My family, relatives, and lifelong friends lived 2,500 miles away and my household was never as stable as I hoped.

I longed for security, my own family, unconditional love, and acceptance. I wanted the rich experience of belonging to a loving family.

Scripture says, “God places the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6) and, “Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35).

God’s Word is true, and he has blessed me abundantly with many families-beyond-blood. Numerous people are committed to me like family, and I am included in their families and celebrations. God has given me the security of knowing that I belong, I am loved, and I am accepted unconditionally.

How did I receive such a rich gift of family-beyond-blood both in San Francisco and Hawaii?

Choose “Family” Even When It May Be Uncomfortable

A former roommate got married and had twins in their first year of marriage. I wanted to continue that friendship, so I visited her often as she was raising her twins, even though I knew seeing her with her family might stir up my own desires for a family in painful ways. Not only were my visits helpful, I also enjoyed the babies and experienced great joy as they grew and developed. It felt deeply satisfying to be part of a family.

Over time, the youngest son moved to Hawaii for flight school and then stayed and worked here for a few years. We shared many dinners and movies together and had a lot of deep conversations about the difficulties of life. He lived with me for almost a year. As a trained pilot, he also took me and my friends on many beautiful flights. His friends and coworkers all know me as his aunty.

Unfortunately, his mom had an unexpected stroke and is still struggling physically and emotionally. I visit their family regularly when I am in California, and another “sister” and I take her out. Instead of loading a stroller like when her children were young, we load her electronic scooter. For over 30 years we have been family in the good times and through the storms.

My household often feels like there is a revolving door with so many housemates coming and going. Currently, I live with three single women. God keeps stretching me to welcome all my housemates as family as we share a conversation, meal, or prayer, or simply relax. I may not have imagined every housemate to be family, but I believe God has brought each person into my household for a purpose.

A few years ago, I took a risk and took in a young student who had just aged out of foster care. She and her dog lived with me for three years. Even though there have been challenges in our relationship, I am thankful that God called me to be family to her. She came to know Jesus, is growing immensely, and is using her spiritual gifts. My faith grew when God reunited her with each of her parents. She is currently a worship leader and starting a new ministry on her college campus. A year ago, she moved in with some friends, but we are still family and spend time together every month. She knows that I am committed to her, much love is shared, and together we see God mightily at work (you can read more of her story here).

Are there people in your life whom God is calling you to go deeper with but it feels uncomfortable? As you open your heart and take a risk to love, God will surprise you.

Choose to Meet a Need

A family in my former church has a son with autism. God led me to move into the same community, so we live a few miles apart. For many years, I was honored to be one of the few people that watched their son. We have been family in all types of situations, both fun and difficult. I am a sister and aunty not only in their family, but also in their extended family.

I started babysitting the daughter of some friends of mine regularly so they could have date nights. She has become like a precious granddaughter to me. We are very close and always look forward to spending time together.

A houseless couple became family after some friends and I reached out to them. They rented a hotel room a few days a month and regularly invited us to dinner. Throughout the years, we shared many meals together, and we walked together through many difficult challenges. It was our honor to host a memorial service for each of them when they died. Another houseless friend just lost her life partner. She asked us to go to the hospice home to pray over his body before they took him to the mortuary. Though he has passed away, we praise God he came to know God in his final months.

Is there a need that God is tugging your heart to care about? As you get involved in a deep way, you may find that you’ve become a part of that family and you may experience rich relationships that you have never imagined.

Choose to Be Consistent and Committed

It’s easy to choose to be together when it’s fun and easy, but being family means we are also committed when it is hard, inconvenient, challenging, and difficult. Families share meals, finances, rides, prayers or encouragement, or anything we can give or receive. We walk together in sickness, death, and unexpected struggles. We share prayer requests in person or through texting and we rejoice together when God answers our prayers. We choose forgiveness, grace, and the hard conversations.

Several people that I considered family-beyond-blood no longer relate to me because I challenged them about an unhealthy romantic relationship. However, there are many more relationships that have persevered and grown through hard conversations and conflicts and together we see the fruit that God is building in our lives and relationships.

My families-beyond-blood supported me when I struggled as a single woman longing for a husband or children, and when I faced the discouragement and fears of an unexpected transition in my household. They were present when my parents faced health challenges. Even though I currently live in Hawaii, I also choose to consistently visit my families-beyond-blood when I visit San Francisco, and God continues to grow our relationships.

I flew from Hawaii to New Jersey to support my friend who lost her husband to brain cancer and to celebrate the life of an amazing man. Then I hosted a memorial for him in Hawaii and supported her when his ashes were released. We have continued to journey as family together across many miles.

We may become family with others because of a common fellowship or household, a shared purpose in ministry, or a common interest. Along the way, we need to make a conscious choice to be committed and involved as family, even through unexpected challenges. Communication about this strengthens the bond. Every family relationship is unique and will differ in intensity and closeness.

Celebrating birthdays, weddings, births, holidays, and vacations are some of the joys of family.  As close friends got married, I made a choice to open my life to their husbands, welcoming and loving them as a close friend. Instead of losing a friend to marriage, I gained a brother. God has also opened the door for me to walk with couples in difficult times and I have experienced great joy as God brings healing. I’m thankful for the joy of dinners, vacations, and many adventures, not only with other singles, but also with couples and families.

As you think about your relationships, is there anything difficult in a relationship that you are trying to avoid? What might God do if you stay committed even when it gets hard? Joy may not always come immediately, but as we persevere in God’s love, he will always fill us with his presence, power, and joy!

Choose to Look to God

Family offers one another prayers and encouragement, we laugh and cry together, we share honestly, and we go through joyful and difficult seasons, looking to God to always make himself known.

I’ve learned that whether we are single or married or parents or not, we all struggle with intimacy, unfulfilled longings, and loneliness, and we need God and one another. We all share brokenness, fears, failures, and weaknesses. We can choose isolation ,which may seem easier, or we can choose to find connections, and take a faith risk to love someone, especially someone in need. We will find that our lives are richer when we love as God desires and are connected as family even in a non-traditional way.

Because I have so many relationships that I consider family-beyond-blood, it would be tempting to decide not to grow deeper with other relationships, but that would be limiting God. He is the one that knows exactly who should be in our lives.

As we choose to step out and love through the good times and the hard times, we will be surprised by the family that God gives us. He has continued to bring me great joy in becoming family with many who are single, married, parents, and grandparents. Children of close friends have become nieces and nephews that I love deeply. It was especially exciting this past summer to have children of former roommates participate in an InterVarsity immersion into the Hawaiian community. I never imagined that I could enjoy and minister as deeply to college-aged children that I’ve known since birth.

Jesus says in Mark 10:29 and 30, “Yes . . . I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life.”

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Brenda has spent over 40 years leading, discipling, and developing InterVarsity students and staff in San Francisco and Hawaii.

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