8,000,000,000 Cousins

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about what I call, “Prayer Points.” Each day of the week, I make a “point” of spending some of my prayer time on a particular issue– one day a week, I focus on the community; another day on global issues like poverty, war, and the environment. The other day, I was focused on “family and friends,” when I realized something, or rather, remembered something. I began by focusing on immediate family– my husband, our kids and grandkids. Then I spread the focus a little wider–our moms, siblings, and their families. Then aunts, uncles, and cousins…and their families! Pretty soon, I was thinking about second cousins and third cousins– the ones I see at family reunions, or catch up with on Facebook every once in awhile.

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And that got me thinking about my family tree. I research and work on genealogy for my family. My family tree stretches back several generations, and “branches” out several times over. There are nearly 28,000 names in my family tree, and I’ve only scratched the surface! My family tree is a tiny drop in the world population of nearly 8,000,000,000 people (7.96 billion as of this month, and growing). But it represents an incredible mix of people. Some of my family are of European origin; some are Native American; some are of African descent, or Asian. Many of us are a mixture of races, ethnicities, and native languages. Some of us are rich; some are barely getting by. Some of us are tall; others are short. Some are healthy; others have health or developmental issues. But we are all family.

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And, by extension, we are ALL family– all nearly 8 billion of us! We are all God’s children, and when we pray for “family and friends,” we can include anyone! That’s a mind-blowing thought, and I was really excited to be reminded of the fact. But it’s also a sobering thought. I certainly don’t know all of the living people I’ve included in my family tree– most of the information has come from public records and other family’s research, rather than personal knowledge. No one can possibly know 7.96 billion people– we’re lucky if we can remember the names and faces of more than 5 thousand in a lifetime. We could not possibly pray for them all.

But far more sobering is the thought that there are people I do know for whom I might not WANT to pray– people who have hurt me, or people I have judged unworthy of my time or effort. Yet are they not also “my family?” What difference does it make in the way I pray when I remember that I have, not 50 cousins, or 500 or even 5,000 cousins, but almost 8 billion? That the next person I meet on the street or at the post office, or at church–she or he is not just my neighbor, or my friend (or enemy), but my cousin? Shouldn’t I consider how I can pray for them– even a quick prayer? Shouldn’t I listen better, look closer, and seek out opportunities to show love for another of God’s children?

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It’s easy to speak in “relative” terms, but it can be a challenge to really live as “family.” Praying– sincerely and thankfully–for others can be a start.

My Father

One of my hobbies is genealogy. I have been tracing my ancestry (along with that of my husband and my in-laws) for many years. I am fortunate, in that I know who my parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents were, when and where they were born, and when and where they died. Most my ancestors lived in the same area for at least five generations, some for seven or eight generations.

My great grandfather and his cousin, c. 1885

I know many others who struggle with genealogy, or have lost interest in “finding their roots.” Some are adopted, or their parents were adopted. The records have been sealed, or worse, lost, and they cannot find out even the name of a parent or grandparent to trace. Others have a murky and mysterious family history– someone in their family was illegitimate or born out of wedlock and no biological father can be confirmed.

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Almost everyone who works on genealogy has, as one point, “hit a wall.” There are some people whose history is lost. They moved frequently, or they lived in a city or town where records were destroyed by fire or flood; some changed their name to avoid persecution or prosecution–some where enslaved and their names erased against their will; some lived at the edge of the wilderness, where few records were kept, and fewer still survived; some died young; some were illiterate, and left no written records. Many families have boxes or albums filled with unidentified (and unidentifiable) photos.

Some genealogists “hit gold.” They find in their family history a famous person from the past– a king or queen, military hero, chieftain, statesman, scientist, artist– some person of note. Often, however, these “finds” turn out to be red herrings. Early in my research, I thought I had stumbled on to a line of descent from one of the passengers on the Mayflower. How exciting! Except I had followed the wrong line. Two men of the same name in the same town had been born just two years apart. I had found the “right” name in a book about the Mayflower descendants, but it wasn’t actually the “right” one. A similar thing happened with the name of a signer of the Declaration of Independence. I even had a cousin who insisted that this signer was our direct ancestor. But it turned out to be incorrect. We WERE related to the signer, but not descended from him. It turns out he was a great-granduncle of our ancestor.

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Human genealogy can be a rewarding pursuit, or a frustrating one. But our spiritual genealogy can be crystal clear, and is full of exciting news! Our Father is the King of Kings! We don’t have to wonder who He is or whether we will be accepted and listed as a family member. His grace extends to everyone who believes on Him– and it comes with the fullness of being His Children for all eternity.

My dad

When I pray to My Father, that is not just a polite or wishful phrase. God IS my father– just like my human father, only eternal and omnipotent! I have inherited various traits from both my fathers–creativity, wonder, curiosity, a sense of purpose and responsibility, love for others and for the world around me, love of music and nature, and a love of puns(!)–and I am an heir to all the riches of my Heavenly Father’s mercy and grace. I am a descendant of all the heroes of the Faith– not physically through human birth, but by spiritual re-birth– a daughter of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. All that God promised to them, He shares with me. Not because I deserve them, or could ever earn them; because He has made it so.

Whatever your genealogy today–whether you know it, or take pride in it, or despair of it–you can live in the awe of being a beloved and privileged child of the King! And He wants to chat with you today!

Commissioned Prayer

Have you ever been part of something– some project or task– SO monumental and far-reaching that you wonder whether your efforts made any difference? Did you end up with “grunt” work– a seemingly insignificant part of the larger project that left you with lots of questions and very few (or no) answers? Something so tiny that most people would never even know if you did it?

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A couple of years ago, I took a temporary job as an enumerator for the U.S. Census Bureau. I was part of a vast team of workers who conducted “follow-up” visits, mostly to addresses that had not responded by April 1. I was excited, and a bit apprehensive; after all, the Census is a pretty big deal. These names and numbers will be part of our nation’s collective history. As someone who loves doing genealogy, the Census is invaluable for discovering information about my family history– names, ages, locations, occupations, origins and ethnicities, and so much more can be learned from Census records.

However, I soon discovered that most of my job consisted of traveling to out-of-the-way locations, and knocking on the doors of empty houses, or trying to find addresses that no longer existed. “Non-response follow-up” usually involves checking on rentals, second homes, vacation homes, and homes that have been vacated, condemned, or even demolished in the years since the previous census. It is a lonely and often frustrating exercise in trying to find what “isn’t,” rather than counting what “is.” Each day, I was given a new list of locations (including some I had already visited without success). But I was commissioned by the U.S. Government to trace each address on that list to the best of my ability, and, wherever possible, to get information about anyone who might have been in residence at that location on April 1.

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Sometimes, I was able to get an interview, and document names and ages, or correct information that had been collected earlier. But much of what I did will never be included in the final Census report for 2020. My name will not appear and I will receive no recognition for my efforts(unless as a footnote with the thousands of others who did the same thing). I did get paid for my work, for the time I spent traveling and knocking on doors. And some interviews were not just fruitless, but bordered on abusive. Homeowners were annoyed, or even outraged when I showed up. They had sent in their Census form– for their primary address! Worse yet, there were some times when I showed up after ANOTHER enumerator had come– I had been sent to follow-up on the follow-up! But I was under strict orders about where to go, when to go, what to say (or not say), how to report on each interview (or non-interview). I was under a commission. I took an oath, and I followed orders, just like being commissioned in the military. Looking back, I feel good about the experience. I served my country, and I learned a great deal about the local geography, AND about human nature. For every cranky homeowner, there were others who were friendly and helpful. At the time, though, I often felt drained and dazed at the end of a shift.

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As Christians, we are also commissioned. We are to go into all the world and preach the gospel, making disciples of every nation, teaching and baptizing, and being witnesses for Christ. (Matthew 28:16-20/Mark 16:15-18, etc.) Our commission is not to force everyone around us to become Christians, or to demand that they respect us or our message (that is the work of the Holy Spirit– our job is to go and to be witnesses, disciple-makers, teachers, encouragers, and helpers). And part of our commission is to pray–fervently and consistently– to pray for our nation and its government officials (1 Timothy 2: 1-2); to pray for believers around the world, especially for those under persecution (Hebrews 13:3), to pray for those who persecute, ridicule, or despise us (Luke 6:28; Matthew 5:44), to pray for, and interact with grace toward, those who have rejected Christ (Colossians 4:5-6), to pray for the healing and restoration of others (James 5:13-20).

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At times, we may not feel like praying for certain people or situations. We may not understand why God allows for corruption in our government or for neighbors to mock our faith or treat us unfairly. We may not understand why some of our prayers seem to be more about what “isn’t” that about what is. We may not understand why God sends us, where God sends us, or when God sends us to go, to act, and to pray. But God IS listening. He knows our every thought, and He sees every need– not just our needs, but the broader needs of our community and our world. May we be faithful with the commission we have been given. It’s a much bigger deal than any Census!

We Are Family…

The Bible is filled with images of family–long lists of “begats” and genealogies, parables about sons and fathers, brothers, weddings, brides and grooms…God is even described as our Father, with Christ as “the son.”

One of my hobbies is genealogy– tracing my family’s roots back through several generations and several different places. While the Bible warns that we should not get caught up in “endless” and vain genealogies that lead to false pride and foolish divisions (1 Tim. 1:4/Titus 3:9), there are many good reasons to pay attention to families, family histories, and family dynamics.

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First, the family is God’s design– God instituted marriage, parenthood, and family units. It is God’s will and purpose that we should not live in isolation and self-absorption, but learn to depend on and be responsible to others. Families honor, protect, love, provide, comfort, teach, encourage, build and work together. Even in a broken world, filled with dysfunctional and chaotic family relationships, the purpose and design of “family” is still part of God’s good and perfect plan for living. Broken families and toxic relationships are not a failure of God’s plan– they are the result of Sin’s power to distort and corrupt the Good that only God can create. The great news is that God also has the power to restore and redeem individuals and families; offering “rebirth”, adoption, and an eternal “inheritance” within His family!

Second, families can teach us about the astounding and limitless love of God. There is something about the bonds of familial love that stretch us beyond our regular capacity to hope, to sacrifice, to share, to grieve, to endure, and to forgive. Who has seen a mother or father go hungry so their child can eat; or a sister or daughter donate her kidney or bone marrow to help heal a family member? Or a father carry his son who could not walk, or a wife who visits her aging husband when he no longer knows her face? How can we see such devotion and not be struck by how much greater, wider, deeper, and more eternal the Father’s love is for each of us?

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Third, family (particularly the idea of genealogies and long family histories) teaches us the eternal nature of God. We live our lives as part of three or four generations– a span of 70 or 80 years for many of us–and we concentrate our efforts on “making our mark” for less than that entire span. But even the longest of our lives are so short in the span of God’s plan for His people. We have one lifespan to play an important role in the story of centuries. When we fail to understand that role, we can miss our sense of purpose in life. Sometimes, we overestimate our own importance or miss the significance of our own legacy. Even “important” people are forgotten, or have their legacies tarnished or rewritten in the pages of history. And those people who never made the history books are often the inspiration for actions and movements that span generations and change nations. When I study the history of my own family, I find lives that were cut short by war or disease– yet these lives shaped the lives (or were the lives) of my ancestors, and without them, I would not be who or how or where I am today. Maiden aunt, baby brother, empty seat at the table– every life touches others in ways that God alone truly comprehends. “Coincidental” meetings, “unplanned” children, migration patterns, epidemics– all loom large in a single generation, but they all become part of the fabric of each person’s “history.”

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Lastly, genealogy reminds us that we are all one enormous family! There is so much talk on the news and online about all our differences– language, culture, skin tone, beliefs, skills, abilities, interests, even diets!– and it is important to note that God loves variety and created us each with unique and precious differences to reflect His infinite character. But sin twists our differences into conflicts; sin spreads lies about God’s character, and thus, about how we (or others) reflect, honor, understand, acknowledge, or obey our amazing creator. Differences may cause division in our broken world, but they do not cancel God’s mercy or limit the reach of His love for us all.


This was brought home to me in a small way this past week, as I was preparing for two important reunions. My high school class celebrated the 35th anniversary of our graduation in 1984. I saw friends and classmates I hadn’t seen in weeks, months, or, in some cases, 35 years! But it struck me that our class is very much like a family– we grew up together; we learned to get along (most of the time), to share, to work together, to understand and appreciate our differences and our unique gifts–we send birthday greetings and share pictures, we laugh together, grieve together, share fond memories and special connections with one another. We pray for one another, argue with one another, encourage one another, and challenge one another. There are some who have distanced themselves–whether through physical distance or emotionally– from the rest of us. Some have even ended their earthly journeys. But that doesn’t make them any less a part of our class/our family. We are short and tall, thin and stout, hairy and bald, dark and light complected; we are single, married, divorced, and widowed– some with children still at home; some with no children at all. We are rich and poor, healthy and ill, walking around with scars and wounds and unresolved questions, arrogant assumptions, or chips on our shoulders. And we are optimists and mentors, healers and teachers, helpers and protectors. We are loud and quiet, social and task-oriented, driven and laid-back, dreamers and doers. And in my genealogy research, I have made genetic and marriage connections to about 1/3 of them! We really ARE family, and I can show how we are related! How small would this world seem if we looked at our brothers and sisters across the world, and realize that those connections are so much greater than the differences that divide us?

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The second reunion I attended this weekend was “family.” All of us descended (or married to descendants, or adopted by descendants) from my great-grandparents. Not all of us were there– in fact, this was mostly just one “branch” of the family, and a few “twigs”. We estimate that there are nearly 500 people who can claim the same ancestral “roots” from the same two people, and this “branch” contains over 250 of them! Once again, we don’t all look , or act, or think alike– some are tall, some are tattooed, some are old, some are newborns, some argue about college football teams, or politics. But we love each other, encourage each other, and many of us share our prayers and concerns and joys and pains. My great-grandparents (and all their children) left a legacy of love and faith that continues to influence and inspire the fourth, fifth and sixth generation to follow!

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When we pray for others, we are always praying for our family! Praying for our neighbors and classmates and co-workers– we are praying for family! Praying for our enemies, for strangers, for those who look and speak differently than us–We are praying for family! May God give us eyes to see and hearts to love our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, cousins and even the “long lost family members” and lift them up in prayer to the One who loves us and wants to bring us all into His family!

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