Building a Family

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My youngest brother arrives home from his mission in two weeks, and combined with my sister planning a wedding, and all the changes coming up this year to our family structure, I’ve been pondering the subject.

I have a family here on earth, they are so good to me. And I want to share my life with them through all eternity. But my family doesn’t look much like the posters that we use at church to help define “family” for primary children. It’s not only that my parents are divorced, it’s also that many of the people I consider my family haven’t met each other, and we probably have to go back hundreds of years to find a blood connection.

Chad and Elisa are, in some ways, parents towards me, but I am also a parent to their children. Anne and Steve have taken me in like a long lost cousin, and for 6 months I helped raise their children. Frances is a mother-figure, confidante and enthusiastic coworker. Glenn watches over my spiritual path, and Kirsty (related by blood to Shona, big sister of my soul) has helped me take care of my body. Sarah and Jocelyn are somewhere between sisters and mirrors of myself: their paths are their own, but reflect my possibilities back to me. And further connections, but no less loved and claimed: Kiri and Lara, housemates-in-law from my sister’s time in London, and Krystal and Taylor, whose marriage I’ll claim to have orchestrated until my dying days. And, thanks to the power of the internet, some people I consider family are people I haven’t even met in real life, but through sharing the depths of our hearts and details of our lives, we have bonded our souls.

Drawing out the family tree of everyone I love, and hope to be connected to for eternity, would be complicated and time-consuming, but I’ve often been tempted. If family group sheets are sacred documents (and I believe they are), there’s something important about recording this information. And though there is no temple ordinance (yet?) to bind these people to me, I have to believe that the connections I am making in my life are not going to disappear as I step through the veil. These people are teaching me to love and serve, through their examples and their gracious acceptance of my offerings. My heart swells as I feel I am growing closer (in the tiniest steps) to my Saviour’s individual love of each of us.

This is the reason we are here, to learn how to feel other people’s happiness and pain, to intertwine our experiences so much together that we are all raised to heaven together. It is difficult, exhausting work, and we can’t do it in the abstract. “Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.” fn1 We have to love one person in one moment, and build those moments into a relationship – and all that love, the very purpose of our being sent here, is eternally important. And just as one loaf isn’t enough to keep feeding us, we need more than one kind of bread in our lives. All these kinds of relationships are important.

When I think of families, being organised eternally through temple ordinances, I wonder if Jesus will be sealed to Mary and Joseph. I remember that in the early days of the church, sealings of adoption and servitude were available, and families were arranged along kingdom lines. I read the scriptures and see that families have been complicated since the beginning, and we still don’t, I think, have the full picture figured out.

I do still (selfishly?) hope for a husband and children of my own, but the times I feel closer to God and Christ are the times that my vision of “family” is expanded – and during those times, I feel certain that our institutional imagination will continue to grow, and families will be recognised in all their wonderful weirdness as people who’ve decided to connect their lives together. And maybe, one day far in the future, we’ll have the temple ordinances to match.

fn1 – This quote is from the excellent novel The Lathe Of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin

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7 Responses

  1. Spunky says:

    The concept of family is a hard one!

    A few days ago, I read a post by someone asking about Mormon temple sealings- they asked, ‘Really, is there some bouncer in heaven that keeps people separated from each other if they are not sealed?’

    The idea is ludicrous, of course, and gave me hope that sealings are what they say they are– sealing us as members of Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father’;s family– temporarily connected only on earth. The concept of being sealed in a single unit– rather than as family lines– makes much more sense to me. Plus, it means that I get to see the people who I love and choose to love, rather than those only situated in my earthly family- no matter how much people want to paint the word “sealed” over it.

    Thank for this lovely post. I ponder these things, too! They mean a lot!

  2. Lily says:

    I have a dear friend that dead several years ago that I loved like a sister. She was not LDS and we have never been “sealed” in any way shape or form. I don’t believe for a second that I won’t be able to see her or associate with her again.

    • Olea says:

      Lily, I love having that surety. I love that we have the theological depth to expect these connections. I’d love that to permeate some of our talk about defending families 😉

  3. Liz says:

    This is exactly the concept of sealing that resonates with me – the idea of knitting our hearts together in love, regardless of blood connection. I love the idea of Zion where there are no poor among us, and I’d like to think that becoming like God means enlarging our hearts enough for everyone to fit, to care for all, to mourn with all, and to lift all. It feels enormous and almost impossible, but that’s why it appeals to me so strongly. This is a gorgeous post!

  4. Heather says:

    I love the way you’ve woven together some of the truly meaningful connections in your life. Because of some wacky family circumstances regarding sealings, I used to worry about who would be at my family’s eternal dinner table. But the older I get the less it seems relevant who is sealed to whom, but that individuals have ordinances done. And then we choose who we’ll be with. Less of a great chain and more of overlapping circles. I think you’ve hit on something here. Lovely.

  5. Caroline says:

    Wonderful post, Olea. Your expansive vision of families resonates with me. I love how you articulated it here:

    “I feel certain that our institutional imagination will continue to grow, and families will be recognised in all their wonderful weirdness as people who’ve decided to connect their lives together.”

  6. EmilyCC says:

    This is so beautiful, Olea, and something I wish we heard more of in Church. I love this line in particular, “the times I feel closer to God and Christ are the times that my vision of “family” is expanded.” I saw this so often when I worked as a hospital chaplain as the ones who were by the bedside of the dying were not always bound by blood or traditional familial bonds.

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