Sep 29, 2021 | by Andrea Stephens

    Our family beach week is one of my summer favorites. This annual highlight started years ago when my nieces and nephew were toddlers. Spanning nearly three decades, I have photos of sandcastles, sunburned faces, wave surfing, and most recently—just sitting in beach chairs. Thirty years has led to a little less activity but an even greater appreciation for sunsets, sandy toes, and the traditional passing of a bag of Oreos enhanced by the scent of suntan lotion.

    God was very clever when He created the family. He chose to bring together a man and a woman, whom He intricately designed Himself, bond them in a spiritual covenant, and then give them a lifelong goal of becoming one. Of course, that’s not all He gave them. He gave them children! Yes, little bundles of energy that would keep them up at night, on their toes during the day, and laughter along the way. One of my favorite memories occurred years ago when my sister’s family picked me up at the Richmond airport. Driving back to their home, my (then) three-year-old niece proudly announced, “My daddy has nose hairs.” Lingering in the air were those brief seconds of silence as I carefully weighed my response.  Hooting laughter was all I could come up with! Then I graciously offered my tweezers to my brother-in-law just in case there were some strays he wanted to pluck. Kids can be so funny.

    Back to God and family. Then those children would all too soon grow up to become sometimes tender, sometimes terrifying teens. They, too, would grow (and struggle) to be young adults who would most likely fall in love, marry and start a family of their own. That’s the basic plan.

    Family was God’s idea. It is designed to be a place where we learn to love, to be patient, to be kind, to be aware that there are others in this world who have feelings, needs, and opinions. We learn we can’t always have our own way and that misunderstandings are inevitable, but that compromise, forgiveness and unconditional acceptance reap blessings untold.

    God knew that friends would come and go, but that our family would always be our family. They would be there for us to laugh with, cry with, and pray with. They would be there to help us up when we fall, help us through when we’re weary, help us over when we’re weak. Wait, what? This may or may not be your family experience.

    Did God, our Heavenly Father, know that within families there would be conflict and struggle, anger and pain, heartbreak and betrayal? Yes, He did. He knows all. He knew that Cain would kill Able, that Lot’s daughters would sleep with their father, that Sarah would give Abraham her maidservant for him to have sex with and produce a child, that Jacob would steal Esau’s birthright—on and on! Genesis alone is filled with family issues and downright dysfunction.

    Yet in the midst of all that and all that we go through, I believe God longs for us to mend broken fences, keep loving when none is returned, continue to reach out even when the risk is great.

    To make this possible, we must lean on Him. It’s not easy being in a family. Each person is unique—in both positive and negative ways.That’s why God promises to supply us with the inner “stuff” we need to do what He asks. Do we need courageous love? He’s got plenty to fill us with. Do we need the will and the ability to forgive? He will empower us to do it. Do we need patience? He will supply it through the Holy Spirit. The list goes on. We must trust Him and lean on Him to give us what we need in order to be the kind of family He has in His mind’s eye.

    I’m pretty sure He wants us to do one more thing. To be thankful for our parents, children, siblings, and spouses. Learning to be grateful for our family members goes a long way in keeping relationships healthier and happier. Statistics tell us that one of the most stressful times for families are the holidays, which are on the horizon. But we can prevent being part of that statistic by implementing these suggestions now and getting ahead of the game: pray for each family member, tell them you love them (or at least care for them), encourage them, forgive them, be genuinely interested in what’s going on in their lives, write them a note, send an email or text, randomly treat them to one of their favorite things. Whatever it takes, as God enables us, let’s make the effort to be thankful for our families and let them know it. After all, they were His idea.

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