The cocker spaniel was the first to notice I had arrived. The younger boys were still out back playing on their bikes, a couple of the kids were hanging out on computers, dad had just made it home from work and was inhaling Papa John’s pizza, and mom was scurrying back and forth making sure everyone was on track to be ready for family pictures.
As I sat in the middle of the hustle and bustle, watching this crew of ten get ready for their time in the spotlight, I started to wonder: what makes a family?
What is a family? And – more importantly – what is it that makes a beautiful family? Why can some families just be a group of people who happen to live in the same house, but some families are a unit that operate in unity, community, and peace? What makes one family so real and true and lovely?
Its living in love.
Not a dorky, cheesey, seffish, disney kind of love…but a sacrificial, foundational, world-changing kind of love.
A I-want-whats-best-for-you kind of love, even when it means inconvenience or irritation.
A giving…even when its not easy.
A loving…even when its not noticed.
A living…with one purpose, one goal, one mind.
A family – a beautiful family – is one that lives with an underlying sense of common direction and purpose even when each path goes a different direction.
Its a unit that has a common foundation, a unifying philosophy, a deep understanding of living together and not just around each other.
Even in the middle of change, even in the midst of obstacles, even in bittersweet times.
Eli is a part of this family.
Plus, he’s heading out on a mission trip — a trip that means two full years away from his family, away from living around his family, away from being with his family.
I love what his mom wrote to me as we were planning their shoot. It truly sums up what they are as a family — it precisely communicates not only who Eli is, but also what this entire family is striving for… “He knows his strengths and gifts, and he knows how to use them to circumnavigate his weaknesses. He’s also not afraid to take his weaknesses straight on and work so hard they no longer are weaknesses. That’s what he’s doing with this mission. It is mostly his weak areas . . . speaking, teaching, switching companions he’ll serve with, switching areas he serves in, change, change, change. But, he has a pure heart and a strong testimony and through what appears to be a weak vessel, the Lord confounds the learned. Can you tell I’m proud of him? He’s pretty amazing and awesome.”
I’m pretty sure that’s exactly the best possible compliment anyone can pay. Ever.
“He’s not afraid to take his weaknesses straight on and work so hard they no longer are weakness.”
And I’m pretty sure thats what a family fundamentally needs to be in order to be truly a together family.
Now meet Adam. Adam will always live with his parents, and never on his own, but this boy is a gem…loves having his family around him, loves showing off his special talents (proof is below) and loves being outside. And, wow, his family loves him. Not in a cheesy, selfish, dorky way…but in a truly TRUE way. And even in such a short afternoon, I can see that.
(Getting a smile to show up for the camera required some pretty incredible teamwork from mom, dad, sister…everyone, really. But when we got it, we got it.)
Now, before you think that flicking money from the palm of your hand into a pile on the table is an easy task, try doing it at a rate of multiple-flips-per-second. Yes, that fast. And, yes, that’s hard. But man. Adam can do it. And he can do it well!
And then the real talent? Tapping each fingertip with the handle of a plastic spoon, then switch hands and doing it all over again. Fast. Real fast. Doesn’t seem challenging, does it? I came home and tried doing this. Its officially impossible. I should practice. Maybe then it could be less impossible.
And thats a family. Their family.
A family who lives, loves, works, laughs, and is together.
A family with common goal, philosophy, and purpose.
And a family who knows their weaknesses but strives to live – to truly live – beyond and above that.