By Alli Bobzien
As a child, when my eyes fluttered open on Christmas morning, anticipation built as I raced towards the gifts and hugs of the family who eagerly waited for me. Yet, in addition to my family, I knew there would be friends gathered close: my precious godmother, at times our widowed neighbor, coworkers of my parents — it was always a joyful crowd. Most were dressed in festive pajamas having woken up at the crack of dawn anticipating my inevitably early wake time on this exciting day. Many were rubbing sleep from their eyes, but all smiled with true affection. To me this gathering embodied what family looked like: a group of people united by love. All were family and all were welcome.
In fact, when I was an adult and considering godparents for my own children, my husband had to patiently explain that choosing a godparent did not transition them to our family like a football transfer. While growing up, my own godmother exemplified such a steady, loving presence in my life that I assumed we had some official claim on her. Another dear friend of ours held such a fixed place in my life that I was 12 before I found out she was not actually my cousin. My parents consistently modeled treating friends like family; they loved others generously and we were loved abundantly in return. Family was precious, but it was not exclusive.
At this festive time of year, commercials and greeting cards are quick to show us warm family gatherings with everyone cozy beside the fire. But for some, this image may ring hollow. They may be separate from family due to distance, others due to past hurts. There are those grieving loss, or simply a division in perspective. For these reasons and more, my immediate family opened their doors and arms to our friends, and God’s love shone brightly through these friends’ presence in our lives.
When I read the Nativity story, I wonder how the Holy Family approached friendships. Christ as an adult modeled deep and loving friendships with his disciples as well as his blood relatives; did he learn this from his earthly parents? Did Mary and Joseph ever pass through Bethlehem again and hug the innkeeper who offered his stable? Did their family ever reconnect with the friends they made during Christ’s early years in Egypt? In the story of the wedding at Cana, we witness Mary deeply concerned for their friends hosting the event. Going so far as to ask Christ to help, she spurs on both his first miracle and the start of his ministry, for the sake of their friends. I believe that Christ’s hospitality and love for his friends were nurtured by Mary and Joseph modeling community and inclusivity. I was fortunate to witness these traits in my own parents, and I strive and pray to model them to my two daughters.
Though I am fortunate to have dear family whom I am related to by blood, I am also immensely grateful for the family of friends who have crossed our path and walked it with us. The neighbors who love my children like nieces, my girls’ playmates whose mothers I have come to count on like sisters, the college friends whom my children call aunt and uncle — all these friends and many more comprise our extended family. This constellation of friends is connected by love, and their presence in our life shines forth God’s goodness.
God is present among family and friends alike. His goodness and the richness of community and love permeate our lives and relationships whether we celebrate with our family of origin, the family of friends we have created, or a combination of each. This Christmas, I pray that we see God in our loved ones, in those he has blessed us with since birth and those he granted us along the way. All are precious; all are gifts from above.
Alli Bobzien is a full-time mom and a nap-time graduate student of theology at Fuller Seminary. When she isn’t playing outdoors with her two spunky daughters, she writes about nature, family, spirituality and women in Scripture. You can find more of her work at allibobzien.com, through her monthly newsletter The Pondering Heart, or on Instagram @bobz.alli. Her writing has been featured in Grotto Network, Live Today Well Collective, Wallflower Journal and Wisdom’s Dwelling.