One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Acts 17:26–27:
From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.
This verse is comforting to me when I find myself asking God, “Am I in the right place? Am I where you want me to be?” It reminds me that he placed me in the exact town, the exact family, and the exact home that he chose for me.
And sometimes, I think he places us in the exact row he wants us to be in at church.
As soon as worship began today, a new family caught my eye. (Yes folks, the church stories continue!) From what I could tell, the family consisted of a grandma, a mom, and three teenage-adult kids. It’s hard to explain, but even though I didn’t know them personally, I knew that they had gone through some tough times. But what caught my attention most was their love for one another. Throughout the service, they held hands, smiled, and leaned on one another. After the service, the daughter brought each family member communion cups and they took communion together. I felt a nudge to go meet them, so I walked a few rows ahead and said, “I was sitting behind your family today and I just have to say I love the love you have for each other.” They looked at each other lovingly and smiled. “Is there any way I can pray for you?” I asked and the grandma Karen replied, “Yes, I fractured some bones.” I noticed at that point that she was wearing a contraption of some sort along her rib cage. “Let’s pray!” I said, and everyone huddled around Karen.
We prayed and to my knowledge there was no immediate miracle, but you could feel the joy in the air. I hugged the mom and daughter and walked back to my seat. Later, the daughter came up to me and thanked me and I invited her to one of our small groups. And that was it.
But that wasn’t it for me. It changed me. As I reflected on the experience this afternoon, I realized that there was no grandpa. There was no dad. Maybe they were at home preparing for the Super Bowl or maybe they weren’t in the picture at all, but what I did see was a lineage of women who passed love down through every generation. A grandma, a mom and a daughter who brought her family communion held their family together with one thing — love. And somewhere along the line, that love brought them to Jesus’ love and they invited the rest of their family into that love as well.
Love changes everything. It makes the impossible possible. It sets hearts free. It breaks addictions. It softens pain. It invites peace. It rescues. It is the strongest and most tender force in the universe.
On Saturday, I spent an afternoon bowling with my cousins and after, we ate lunch at a place called “Grandma’s Restaurant.” It isn’t really called that, but it’s what we call it because our grandma worked there for 30 years. It’s nostalgic and fun, but it’s actually not what our grandma was most known for. Like Karen, our grandma was most known for her love.
She raised seven kids (could you imagine?!) and when her kids got mad at each other, she would sit them on the stairs and make them look at each other. Soon enough, the anger would subside and laughter would fill the stairwell. Well, our aunts and uncles passed that down to us and today, all 15 cousins (plus significant others) love getting together. Our grandma’s legacy of love that was passed down to our parents is now passed down to us. And we have committed to love each other through the peaks and valleys of life.
Maybe your family is the same as ours. Maybe your family has a lineage of fiercely strong and loving women. Maybe your family has incredible fathers. Or maybe your family didn’t teach you love. Maybe your family caused more pain than hope. Maybe your family feels more broken than whole.
That’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay to admit you didn’t have everything you wished you had. It’s okay to look at the wreckage of pain and grieve it. And it’s okay to be grateful you grew up in a beautifully loving family.
When you decide to follow Jesus, you realize that he is love and he can fill in all the gaps your family may have missed. One of the ways he does that is through the people he intentionally places all around you. In your church. In your workplace. In your school. In your extracurricular activity. These people can be Jesus’ love to you. And as you’re healing (and often as a part of your healing), you get to turn around and be Jesus’ love to them. And you come to find that you are a part of a big loving family that stretches across the entire world.
So today, I invite you to reflect. Reflect on where you came from. Reflect on how you grew up. Give thanks for the good. Grieve the pain. Notice what gaps are missing. Reflect on how God may have already filled in those gaps as you have grown up. Notice the people he has placed around you to love you. Invite God to fill the gaps that are missing. And thank those who have loved you well. And then go out and love the corner of your world that is desperately in need of you.