Family connections

I have always found family trees to be an interesting aspect of our journey here on earth. If you have the privilege of being in possession of an extensive family record, you can’t help but wonder what life might have been like for some of those people on distant family branches. The stories that do get passed down can be fascinating chronicles of human achievement, struggle and a desire to leave a legacy.

Last week we said goodbye to Margaret Streelman, a saint of a woman who exemplified Christian love, hospitality and a true understanding of what it means to love your neighbor. Margaret provided the inspiration for Margaret’s House, which today has evolved into a hospitality home that provides shelter for families that are working towards stability in their living situation.

At the entry of Margaret’s House, there is a plaque. The plaque reads, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers for thereby some have entertained angels unaware.” This verse is from Hebrews 13:2, and it is a reminder that you never know who you will encounter each day. The key is to show the love of Christ to everyone you meet, not just at select times when we find it convenient.

From a perspective of genealogy, Margaret and I were distantly related if you pieced together a few branches from adjoining trees. The details are not crucial, but it is one of those grandparent-cousin-twice-removed-by-marriage situations. Regardless of how close our family trees aligned, it was one of those fun connections that make for good conversation. As people, we are always looking for new connections. Whether it is family, ideology, geography or rooting for the same sports team, we often look for ways to feel closer to other people.

As I think about Margaret’s legacy, I think about the writings of Father Greg Boyle, who founded Homeboy Industries while ministering to gang members in downtown Los Angeles. One of the prevailing themes of Father Boyle’s writing is that we need to have a sense of kinship as we approach our daily interactions with people. In other words, you aren’t ministering to a group of people. Rather, you are helping your brother or sister in Christ.

Kingdom Causes Bellflower works with a wide variety of people, including veterans, individuals who are struggling to find employments, and folks that are looking for a better housing situation. In particular, homelessness comes with a lot of labels. Over the years, I have heard people that are struggling to stay housed referred to as “bums,” “pan-handlers,” and “beggars.”

Without getting into a long discussion about the dangers of labeling and stereotypes, these names are an unfortunate reminder that we put people into categories. We may still acknowledge in a general sense that they are people, but by giving them a name that reflects their social status, we chip away at their humanity.

What is the point? The point is that everyone we meet is truly our brother or sister, or at least a distant cousin. The person’s family tree may be planted at quite a distance from yours, but to echo Father Boyle and emulate the love of Margaret Streelman, everyone is your kin. I understand why people are hesitant to reach out sometimes. People are frustrating, and sometimes they are in poor situations because they have a history of making bad decisions. That said, everyone needs love at some point in their lives. The love that is given can come in different forms. Sometimes it is a tangible helping hand, and other times it is loving, firm accountability. What we must remember is that the key aspect of ministry is attitude. You aren’t doing charity work. You are loving your brother, sister or cousin, even if you would have a hard time matching up your genealogies.

Today, we balance our sadness by remembering that Margaret is now sitting with Jesus, having fulfilled her calling to remain faithful during her earthly walk. May we honor her legacy by continuing to love the brothers and sisters that we meet each day.