What exactly is Family?

I have a deep bond with blood relatives.  They are family.

I have blood relatives that I have no bond or association with at all, neither good or bad.  They are family.

I have blood relatives that I have no bond or association with at all and, should the opportunity arise, I’ll put a fist in their eye. will more than likely never have a relationship with them.  They are family.

We all understand this category of family.  It is the basic mathematical expression of essentially a legal relationship.

I have a friend who has extended grace to me when I did not deserve it, listened to me when I was venting or ranting, and has made trips to come see me just to hang out.  He is currently letting me store some of my furniture in his garage.  He is family.

I have a friend who just got married.  He lived with me for a little while and we spent several years nurturing our relationship.  He asked me to perform the ceremony, but I was unable to get the time off from work.  He is family.

My wife and I decided to call one of the grooms-men during the reception and have him put us on speaker phone, then hold the phone next to a microphone so that we could give our well wishes and toast to the couple.  When the folks who were attending the reception heard my voice over the sound system, the place erupted with shouts and cheers.  These people are family.

It takes 10 entries, but eventually gets down to:

a group of people who are generally not blood relations but who share common attitudes, interests, or goals and, frequently, live together
Key phrases here… generally not blood related… sharing common attitudes, interests, or goals…
Jesus was sitting around one day teaching a bunch of folks.  As the day started to come to an end, His mom and brothers came to get him to bring him home.  I guess it was family supper night at Team Josheph’s table.  Jesus looks at the messenger and says,
“Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”
Jesus seems to pretty clearly give us his definition of family.  It seems as though he is saying that family is not so much those who share a last name, a historic lineage, or genealogy.  Family, to Jesus, were those people who “do the will of the Father in heaven.”
Those people who live for the same goals, sacrifice for the same reasons, commit their time and resources to the same tasks, rejoice and celebrate in the same victories… those people are family.
I am so very lucky to have blood relatives that live, sacrifice, commit to, and rejoice over the same things that I do.  These people are family of the most intimate kind.  Such sweet minutes and hours of talking and connecting on an almost unspeakable level.  I love these folks so much.
I am so immensely blessed to have non blood relatives in my life that live, sacrifice, commit to, and rejoice over the same things that I do.  These people are family too.  These people are closer to me, have a deeper bond with me, than blood relatives who do not value or engage in things similar to those in which I am engaged.
I have felt guilty for this at times.  Having spent some time having coffee with Jesus before my little world starts to stir, I no longer feel guilty for having people who are more “family” to me than my blood relatives.
To all of you who have shed tears with us, for us, or because of us, who have laughed with us, been afraid for us and with us, endured the loss (and potential loss) of life with us, who have celebrated the victory over addiction and new life with us, who have let us live with you and argue with you, who have spent days upon days in the wilderness with me, who have let me be in the way in your environments while you worked and I “helped”, who have prayed with us and for us, who have encouraged us and been encouraged by us, who know Christ and live to make Him known…
Thank you for being my family.
Relationships with relatives can be difficult.  I understand this well.
Life with family is rejuvenating and encouraging.
Please feel free to delineate the relationships in your life  according to relatives and family, and understand that blood lines are not the lines of demarcation for these groups.

She doesn’t hold it against you…

It’s not your fault Matt.  The blame for how my life has turned out does not rest upon your shoulders. I can think of nothing for which to blame you.

If you did anything at all, it was provide an open door for my escape.  For my testing.  For me to respond to a visceral call to manhood.  For that, I am grateful.

This came at a price.  I know that you saw some things change in me.  I know you saw the raging anger and the bitter cold that took up residence in my heart.  You are correct.  I did get that in Ramadi.  I lost my ability to control the pain of my past and hide the brokenness from the rest of the world, and I took on a lot of things that turned cancerous to my soul.  You have no part in contributing to this brokenness.

I appreciate the phone call you made.  I wanted to belong for a long time and my heart was crying out during that time of my life to feel like I was wild and dangerous and free.  I was working in a warehouse in a tiny medical clinic in Key West.  Nothing wild.  Nothing dangerous.  Not free.  Caged, contained, pacified.  Not challenged.  Not encouraged to concquer.

Your phone call inviting me to return to Camp Lejeune could not have come at a more opportune time.

Jessica knew there were some ugly spots in me.  She had already experienced some of the poison that I had to offer her.  The things you saw change in our marriage after my deployment were not completely new or fully unexpected.  There were storm clouds on the horizon from the moment we said our vows.

While I did sustain some deep wounds from that deployment, you did not give them to me.  You did not make me deploy.  You did not make me act the way I acted, or respond to the circumstances I was in in the manner which I responded.  You simply made the phone call.  I filled out the paperwork.  I moved my family.  I tried so hard to earn the respect of my platoon and fully integrate into one of the teams.

I do not know if you still feel as though the hard things that Jessica experienced because of the negative change in me is your fault.  She holds you responsible for nothing.  Again, she doesn’t hold anything against you.  My wife loves you like she loves my little brother.  She cares about you and honors our relationship deeply.

Not all of those bad days resulted in unmitigated floods and storm damage in my life either.  That time of my life can easily be called a blizzard of blizzards.  Ice cold, raging, furious, and violent.  Over time the snow has laid quietly in my life while I tried to figure out what do with it.  Because of the good counsel and the encouragement I have gotten from several men in my life, spring has returned.  Now that the storm has passed the snow has melted and nourished the roots of some really amazing things.  My character has developed really well.  I understand my identity, purpose, and values now because of some of the work I had to do to mitigate the damage from the blizzard.

I know what the winter is like now and I can appreciate the spring that much more.

Thanks so much for calling me that day.  It was one of those unexpected moments, walking around in a grocery store, and I get a phone call that ended up changing my life.

Thank you so much for that fateful phone call.

Jessica holds nothing against you brother…

… and I am so very thankful that you made the call.


Scary Noises

** Disclaimer**    or warning… or whatever you want to call it… I have been told that this post has caused difficulty for some readers to sleep… it looks like the scary noises I heard still have the ability to scare folks, so do not read this before bed, or having just finished fish tacos, or if you are particularly sensitive to scary stories…

And she laughed at us for saying that.

I loved her though.  I felt like she was a distant step-mom in a way.  Her son and I had been roommates for years… and years.  We lived in Okinawa together, we deployed together, we did pretty much everything together.  I would tell people he was not home while he hid in the bathroom, and he may have done the same for me.

We did a lot of growing up together… and because of each other.

So when his family would come up to North Carolina to visit, it was just natural that I would tag along.  He spent Thanksgiving with my folks, I took my wife to spend a week with his family in South Texas even though he wasn’t going to be home.  We were family.  This guy is my brother… not as in, “He is close to me like a brother”… this dude is my brother.  We don’t talk very often because he lives in a state that might as well be a different country from me and our jobs keep us ridiculously busy, but such is life.

So there we were… (the way every legit story begins)

Hanging out with his family, sitting on a screened in porch at a little cottage on a quaint lake in coastal North Carolina on a warm summer evening.  So peaceful.  Crickets chirping in the background, the animals bedding down, and that warm breeze coming across the lake.  Everything felt right in the world.  We were just sitting there talking as the night closed in around us and the last tendrils of conversation were working their way out as we started to settle down for the night.  The tea glasses were mostly ice in the bottom and the last cigarette was smoldering out.

And then we jumped…

His mom started laughing at us, and then attributed our action to our combat experiences.  We looked at each other and said, almost in unison, “Scary Noises.”

And she laughed at us a little more.

I understand.  I laughed too.  We had both deployed, we had both engaged the enemy, we had both treated casualties, and yet we were spooked by scary noises.

I also understand what noises my brother and I had heard before.

We were both very spiritual and pretty disciplined with our individual faith.  His was not mine.  Mine was not his.  Somehow we forged a bond in spite of our religious differences.  I really have no idea how.

I do not believe in Ghosts.  I’m not sure what he believed.  I am not entirely sure how to explain some of the things we heard.  Sometimes it was just little stuff.

Coins falling in the hallway but nobody outside.

A girl talking and then calling for help in the laundry room… with nobody there.

We heard a cat stuck in the air ducts one night and decided to rescue that thing because it was keeping us awake.  We could hear it out in the hallway, and followed the sound to the laundry room, and then it went quiet.


One night in particular, we stayed up talking and laughing until sleeping was kind of pointless.  We both had to work the next morning and we were going to have to go about our tasks on a fewer than 4 hours sleep.  I feel a little embarrassed to say it, but we kept giggling and then laughing and then trying to stop and go to sleep.  Then one of us would say a word or make a sound and the other one would lose it again.  Just like a couple little kids who share a bedroom and have to have their mom chastise them for not sleeping.  Finally we let our fatigue get the best of us and we knew it was time to call it a night.

“Good Night Bro”

“Good Night”

And then the conversation got started

From the foot of his bed I heard a voice, clear as can be, speaking calmly and deliberately in a language I had never heard.  The voice started, spoke a few lines, and then stopped.

I was shaking…

And then another voice, very similar, answered in the same fashion, but this time from the foot of my bed.

I considered throwing up.

The voice from his bed responded, and then from my bed, and back and forth.  The voice from the foot of his bed became more and more agitated each time until I genuinely thought my life was in danger.  A response came from the foot of my bed that sounded curt, as though it was finished with this conversation and was invoking it’s authority or superiority.  Then from the foot of his bed this voice was furious, made an outburst, and then silence.

I could not breathe.  I could not cry.  I could not scream.  I would have urinated 2 days worth if I could have mustered the courage.

I just laid there.

I have never been that afraid in my life.  Not on any of my deployments.  Never.

I wanted to know that this was not in my head, but I did not want to wake up my brother because he needed to sleep for his shift the next morning.

As I lay there in my fear stricken turmoil, I heard the shakiest, fear drenched voice I have ever heard come from him.

“Did you hear that?”

That was all I needed.  Like lightning I was out of my bed, had the lights turned on, and was in the hallway…

I don’t know what he thinks that was.

Quite frankly I do not care.

Sometimes I think my life would be a lot less complicated if I were not a Christian.  Sometimes I think it would be easy for me to reason away my faith in Christ or the Bible since I have never seen anything tangible or concrete to affirm my beliefs.

But I cannot shake those voices.  My hair stands up on my arms to this day when I think about that.

If I accept that we both heard this, that it was not a shared delusion, then I have to accept that there is a world beyond the one which I can see.  Two plays on the same stage.

My search for answers to define and explain what I heard in that room that night has caused me to evaluate my spirituality and the way in which I practice.

That happened close to 11 years ago but I still remember it and feel it like it was yesterday.

So yeah…

That’s why we jump when we hear scary noises.