We are in the vortex of the holiday season. A time of merriment, wonder, love, and community. Or is it? For some of us, yes it’s true this is a time of joy and gathering. However, for others, it’s the opposite. For some of us, the holidays bring about a spirit of depression, loneliness, and even dread. Some of us have no families or communities to gather around. Some of us may have families, but we know a seemingly harsh truth, and that is family and relatives are not the same.

When I was younger, my father would find random moments to teach and philosophize with me about life–or as he called it, to spit venom. A simple request to go to the store could be met with “Let me tell you this”, as he would then proceed to give me whatever was the lesson of the day. He would even tell me, “You may not understand what I’m saying to you right now. But one day you’ll look back on things and you’ll see.” Well of course, tiring of him always being right, I vowed that I would never understand. And I swore to uphold that vow until my dying day. But today, I am happy to admit that I was so wrong. My father was right. I do understand. I understand a lot of what he said to me and what he tried to instill in me. I initially thought he was so cold, for attempting to teach me this lesson. I now know better. And that is what I said earlier. Family and relatives are not the same thing!

My father’s version of this lesson went something like this: “Don’t get caught up in the titles of folks. Just cause somebody is your family doesn’t mean they have your back. Family will do you worse than a stranger on the street. You know Cain killed Abel.” Yikes! Sounds harsh doesn’t it? I certainly thought so. I couldn’t fathom someone in my family not being happy for me, not supporting me, or being there for me. Until one day, I found myself having to face this very truth. There are more than a few family members who I learned did not want the best for me. They are not happy for me when things go well for me, and they actually seem happy if things don’t work out in my favor. The experience left me shell shocked because it went against everything that I thought I knew. I felt robbed. I felt cheated. I had been had, hoodwinked, bamboozled, and well you know the rest. I went into victim mode: “How could they?” And I really did wonder how could they. I certainly hadn’t done anything to them. I lamented over my pain and let my heart bleed. I picked at the scabs on my bleeding heart just so that it would bleed again. I did this for a while until one day, I found myself surrounded by a group of wonderful people who were encouraging, supporting, and nurturing. They praised me where I was strong and offered loving reproof where I was weak. A couple of them have been around for many years and others were new additions to my life, but they shared the same thing: they all genuinely love me. I looked around and heard my father’s voice telling me “I told you!”. I believe Oprah would call it my “Aha moment”. I got the lesson: Family and relatives are not the same thing! Oh! So I’ve had it wrong all this time? So it takes more than a shared genetic link to make someone your family member? Having the same last name does not a family make? Being born into a group does not necessarily make that group a family? If not, then what does make someone your family? Well, as I mentioned of my group, a family is a group of people who come together in the name of love. And when I say love, I don’t mean merely in words. I mean in action. It is very easy to tell someone you love them, but if you are not acting in love, those words are in vain. Such is the case with my relatives. Family is the group of people who seek to understand you, love you, offer you support and encouragement, help when they see you need it and loving reproof to help you become better.

Now sometimes, some of your relatives are also your family members. But there are those relatives who just are not your family. And the thing is, that’s ok. I know this is the time of year when we focus on love and family and some of us feel bad because we don’t like being around relatives, or maybe we don’t have too many family members to gather around. But if you have a group of people who you know love you and have your back, you can rest assured that you have a family. And sometimes those people won’t have your last name or genetic link. And again, that’s ok. Whether your group is as large as the multitude that Jesus fed, or as small as a party of 2, you have a family. Most times, your family won’t look the way you imagined. (I certainly know mine doesn’t.) And while they may not be relatives, a family is much better than a group of relatives any day.

Regardless of what it is, I hope these times find you happy and full of joy. And if you are feeling a bit bah humbuggy, I understand.