For the last month, Lily and I have enjoyed the special gift of hosting Lily’s sister Eleni and her beloved children Naomi (12), Nolawi (11), and Naodi (4) from Ethiopia in Illinois. We have shared a wonderful adventure of playing, learning, and serving together in a time of much-needed renewal.
This week, five of our families gathered at my parents’ house for a farewell celebration. After all of the yummy desserts were eaten, conversations were finished, and games were played, I opened my phone and looked at the picture I had taken. There was nothing surprising in the image — not even the mischievous bunny ears and mirthful faces 🙂
But what I saw deeply moved me. It struck me as a living icon of what is possible in our world through God’s love: a family bound together across so many of the differences that contemporary culture says should divide us:
We were born and raised as citizens in different nations — Ethiopia, Mexico, and the United States.
Our bodies have different skin tones — various shades of brown, tan, and white.
We speak, joke, and work in different mother tongues — Amharic, Spanish, and English.
We were baptized in different Christian traditions — Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant.
We embody vastly different experiences in various aspects of our lives.
And yet what I saw in this picture was something so simple and sacred: a loving family — at home with one another, embracing one another, gathered around a table, telling our stories and sharing our lives. Our children are growing up experiencing that family stretches far beyond national borders, ethnic identities, skin colors, languages and cultures.
What makes us family is not our sameness but our shared commitment to love one another in God’s love as our eternal Parent.
Many powerful voices today are telling us that our differences must divide us. And thus they call us to separate ourselves into tribes that look, sound, and think the same. They stoke a siege mentality and polarization driven by fear, hate, and the power that fear and hate so effectively mobilize. They often disguise themselves in euphemisms of cultural heritage, political loyalty, and religious faith.
But there is a better, more beautiful way rooted in the love of God.
In the Bible’s story of humanity, our ultimate destiny is not enmity and isolation but the wildly diverse togetherness of heaven. John writes from exile, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9).
This is it. This is the Bible’s final vision for humanity, the endgame where everything that lasts is going: an uncountable “multitude” that embraces all people from every identity and place as a massive family with no hint of hierarchy. This is what the throne of Christ creates around itself and will sustain without end. (By implication, if we’re creating something less diverse and inclusive, even in the name of Christ, Christ probably isn’t at its center.)
My family is far from perfect. We have frustrations, conflicts, and sorrows like every family does. But in a time of escalating culture war and military conflict in the places my boundary-crossing family calls home, I celebrate this sacred gift: God’s love makes us family in all of our differences.
As we gathered, we caught a glimpse of the reconciled multitude that God will gather forever in heaven. We experienced together what Paul names as Christ’s most basic purpose: to destroy the wall of enmity between people and created one new humanity (Ephesians 2:14-18).
Whoever you are, wherever you come from, I want to be family with you in God’s love without end. May we grow in this love daily.