July 3, 2008 · Updated 12:58 PM
"Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.Jane Howard, Families (1978)I remember thinking as a young, elementary-aged child, that I had a good family and if I wished hard enough my life with them - and only them - would go on and on and on. I could not imagine living without them.I could not imagine experiencing serenity any sweeter than the one I discovered the summer we toured the Pacific Northwest together.It was a camping trip and the adventurers included my mom and dad and younger brother Brian. There was my great Uncle Loren, the elder statesman, his younger brother Charlie, and my grandmother, their baby sister.It is a treasured and sweet gift to be able to think back on their weathered, lined faces smiling back at me. It is still sweeter to recall the interactions that included story telling, humor, and the simple joy that comes from being outside, observing new places, and eating pancakes at a picnic table so moist from the dew that your bottom gets uncomfortably damp. And you don't even care.It was a memorable vacation. Why, Uncle Charlie ran into the girl who had written him a Dear John letter 50 years before when he received the call to defend his country. We watched bears stride through the campground. And we learned to truly appreciate the wildflowers because Grandmother liked them so very much.Beyond the adventure, God was beginning to mold my understanding of family life. He began teaching me about its irreplaceable value, for He knew there would come a day when I would need to reinvent my concept of family so I could weather the storms of life and have others to tell of its joys. He also knew I would grow up and naturally regroup. I would live into the Age of Technology when growing numbers of us would think nothing of moving away from our places of birth. Or hooking up to the Internet to share heart and soul with complete strangers. Or come to believe that marriage vows, made before God and family, can easily be broken because it is no fun learning how to deal with personalities and life rhythms and agendas that defy your own.Uncle Charlie died first, back in Texas. Uncle Loren attended my wedding, bought me an egg poacher because he said every young bride needs one, and returned home to pass away within a matter of weeks at age 90. And Grandmother would remain the last person alive in her family until three years ago, when the call from Charlie and Loren would sound much louder than ours here on earth.But the beauty of family, clan, network and tribe lives on. I first watched it work as a young teen when I joined a church youth group. We played together, prayed together, cried and laughed together. And while all that bonding and growing took place, God moved in and dwelled us because we asked Him to. We eventually parted to attend various colleges, to marry, to work, and to live adult lives, but we also we took His lessons and His spirit right along with us.I did not fully understand the concept of family building until I moved far away from my childhood home and its comfortable structure to recreate from a community of strangers. I learned that when it is holiday time and family is too far away to eat your turkey, you bring in friends and ask them to bring their family's favorite holiday dish.I learned that when you need someone to hold you accountable to exercise daily you stop cursing the fact that your sister lives 1,500 miles away. Instead, you make a commitment with your neighbor to walk and out of that daily interaction grows sisterhood.I learned that you carpool and phone and touch base with those around you on a regular basis. You complicate your life because that is what family members do. That way, when your heart is breaking with disappointment and injustice, you put out a call and band together, to sit on the floor of your living room and cry together.I learned that when you start a new job you join the lunch crowd because one day they will be your work family.The business world calls it teambuilding. Networking. Restructuring. Partnering. Site counseling.I call it absolute necessity. ----------------Joan Bay Klope is a freelance writer and former editor of Christian books published by Gospel Light Publications. She can be reached at email@example.com. "