Where You Go, I Will Go

The holidays that we’ve just come through sure made me miss my family (my growing up family). I ’m sure I’ m not alone in that. Last year (2013) my mother and one sister came and spent Christmas with us. We had two infant grandchildren, ages one month and three months, as heavy drawing cards.

“Where you go, I will go, where you lodge, I will lodge, your people shall be my people.”

For many years, while our own kids were small, we traveled across several states to be with my parents and family. It has been many, many years since I was able to celebrate Christmas with all of my siblings in any location. We do try to get together every other summer. I guess you could say we had an alternative Christmas this past summer, with most of us gathering for my mother ’ s 90th birthday.

But it seems that for many of us, when we leave home to go away to college or service, we are blissfully ignorant that leaving home likely means we will spend our life either traveling “home” for Christmas, or wishing we could be two places at once. But miles or kilometers and airfares make it impractical or even impossible.

At least we are not crossing wide oceans in ships knowing that likely we will never see our families again—as many of the early settlers did. I think too of one friend who met a man from New Zealand online 10 years ago—and eventually married him. They are now exuberantly expecting their first child. At least my mother—and my grandchildren—don’t live 8,000 miles away.

So I am thankful for my adopted, nearby relatives. My husband grew up here in Virginia and most (but not nearly all) of his relatives are here. Like Ruth in the biblical story of her dedication to her mother-in-law, Naomi, my husband ’ s people have truly become my people. Whether they like it or not!

Sometimes we forget the circumstances behind this beautiful story of family love that goes beyond blood. Naomi and her husband, Elimelech, had two sons. When a famine came to their land, they needed to migrate to find food and livelihood. A crisis or a perceived opportunity have long been the sources of motivation to make the difficult choice to leave one’s home country, or area—sometimes moving many miles at great risk to find a better life for one’s family.

But when Naomi’s husband dies and her sons marry Moabite women, I imagine she wished they had never migrated. In fact, she called her life “bitter.” Over the years, the Moabites and Israelites were at times in conflict, although apparently relations were peaceful when Naomi and Elimelech lived there. Still, she ended up with wonderful daughters-in-law—Orpah and Ruth. Eventually Naomi’s two sons also died. Naomi pondered what the three widows should do, and encouraged Orpah and Ruth to stay in their own land, she would return to Bethlehem because the famine had ended.

Eventually Orpah decided to stay in Moab, but Ruth begged Naomi to continue accepting her as a daughter. They headed back to Bethlehem together, and it turned out well. (In Bethlehem Ruth finds a new husband, Boaz, and it is through their genetic line that the ancestry of Joseph, the father of Jesus, is traced.)

Back to my husband’ s family. My sister-in-law here is as close as my own sisters. My nieces and nephews and greats and now great-greats are close enough that I can see much more frequently than my own. They are also my family now. I’m very thankful. I hope that if you live away from your family, there are others who substitute for you—and perhaps they are not even related by marriage.

Over the years, we have struggled together through the aging process of my husband’s aunts and uncles—their struggles with technology, recoveries from major operations, losses of memory and hearing, need to move to assisted living and nursing homes. I have been to all of his aunts’ and uncles’ funerals—and to very few of my own relatives’ final services. Not because I didn’t want to go, but because it goes, “If I go to this one, I will need to go to that one too.” With 14 aunts and uncles on one side, and living 600 miles away, well, it just doesn’t work out very well no matter how special they are. On the more positive side, with my Virginia family, I have been to the weddings of cousins, the bridal and baby showers as invited, and reunions every summer and Christmas. They and we can pop over when the house is a mess, when the only thing we have to offer to eat is popcorn and Kool-Aid, and it’s okay.

I’ m so thankful for good relationships with this dear, large, extended family. With Ruth I happily say, “Where you go, I will go, where you lodge, I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, there will I be buried” (Ruth 1:16-17).

How do you manage family get-togethers? At holidays or other times? I’d love to hear from you. Send to Another Way, 1251 Virginia Ave., Harrisonburg, VA 22802 or comment at the Another Way Newspaper Column Facebook page.